things i learned in a few patio hours with my favourite eccentric

A teaspoon of red wine vinegar tossed into a bowl of lentil soup just before serving apparently turns lentil soup into nectar.

Shivasana is THE most important yoga move. Ten minutes is good.

Persimmons for arthritis.

Raccoon poop is best disposed of with a) gloves, b) crumpled newspaper. Forget the trowel or shovel because then  how do you clean off the toxic??

Margaret Carney, nature writer and birder extraordinaire, once upon a time worked as an editor at Harlequin.

Lima beans, aka butter beans, will last — tops — three days in the fridge once the tin is opened so after you use half a tin for making a butter bean flan, use the other half — straightaway! — in a butter bean salad (red onion, celery, dressing of choice).

A lavender farm has opened not a million miles away from my front door.

And if that isn’t enough there’s ANOTHER lavender place even closer.

Ways of peeling garlic. (The knife crush is but one.)

Levine Flexhaug.  (1918 – 1974)  Famous for more or less painting the same cheesy landscape scene over and over in audacious colours and with various ‘differences’. So bad it’s brilliant.

The word minim.

 

 

if i ever write a mystery thriller it will be set in an art gallery and called ‘The Hidden Plywood’ and here’s why:

 

Installing the couch photos I learned four things.

1–   I’m no Meg Ruffman with a power drill.

2–  It’s an exhibit  in a museum, an exhibition  in a gallery.

3–  I thought you only needed a bag of nails and a hammer to properly hang photos. Apparently, a magic formula is also handy, which has something to do with math and therefore will constantly be just out of my reach.

4–  Gallery walls only look like ordinary walls. They’re actually lined floor to ceiling, side to side, with plywood, which means you can hang anything you want anywhere you want anytime you want and as often as you want without the whole thing falling down.

**

Which brings me to the idea of a possible mystery thriller, which I may as well write since I’ve been making notes about the comings and goings of people that visit the upholSTORIES show… and I have all those spare minutes between people (i.e. future characters) wandering in.

So here’s the outline, the who, what, when, where, why and how of my soft furnishings potboiler in progress… (SFPIP)

**

Who—  The guy on a downtown heritage walk who takes a wrong turn and accidentally finds himself in a gallery surrounded by couch photos and couch memories and when asked if he has a couch memory of his own he chuckles like Errol Flynn and says oh, yes, he has, but it’s not something he can tell me. Har har. He does tell me he’s 86 and that his wife has Alzheimers and it’s hard for him, he doesn’t know how long he can continue taking care of her. I sit on the edge of a coffee table as he talks. He sits back comfortably against the cushions on a striped couch.

—The two women who hold glasses of white wine as they tour the exhibition and say what a great place it would be to have a dinner party.

—Three grey-haired women with walkers who, by the time I get there, have been sitting on the couches a while. They eventually totter off, having established it’s already 3 o’clock.  They leave the cushions alarmingly askew.

—A man who tells me that after he left the chaos of the former Yugoslavia and moved here, the first thing he did was buy a couch from Leon’s.

—And the woman with the long white blonde hair, visiting from Manchester, who doesn’t say or do anything particularly memorable… she’s just so lovely.

What— A dinner party during which it’s suspected that the soup course has been tampered with. There is what looks suspiciously like a trace of gesso, a dollop of resin and a practically-impossible-to-see splash of Castilian brown in the otherwise scrumptious vichyssoise. The party is held on the eve of an 86 year old heritage walker’s birthday, in his honour. But will he make it to midnight? (Therein lies the mystery.) And I don’t mean will he stay awake that long… (therein lies the thriller).

When— The dinner party takes place in June. The weather is unseasonably warm, torrid even. The night is young. There is a full moon. Love is in the air. Or not. There is soup. There is definitely soup.

Where— A swanky gallery in a swanky town.

Why— Why a mystery thriller? (Because the world can never have enough mystery thrillers. Obviously.) Or why did someone tamper with the vichyssoise… in which case I’m hardly likely to tell you now am I…

How— Who knows. But based on the title you can guess it will have something to do with those genius gallery walls.

Look for it at better book stores everywhere.

 

visitors

 

When people come to visit, I never know where to take them.

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Inevitably, we find ourselves at this diner or that café or the restaurant that does the excellent veggie naan even though the server is a pill.

Almost always we walk. Through the ravine, downtown, around the ‘hood, the beach. I point out the tree with windfall apples I use to make a crumble each October. And the place where once the kids and I ate pistachios and played Daniel Boone eating pistachios. It’s not a high end tour but there are almost always stories that spring from it… mine, the visiting people’s.

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We’ll go to the galleries of course. There are a lovely abundance of them here. The market. The bookstore. The emu farm.

A concert maybe. A slice of local theatre.

There’s a junk store I might think of taking them, depending on mood and whim and inclination, where you can barely move for the amount of crap and treasure and the owner’s hoarding instinct, which prevents him from ever wanting to sell anything. The only store where when you ask how much this is, you’re told it’s not for sale. You don’t go there to buy, you go there to do anthropological studies.

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If it’s summer we’ll paddle a rented kayak and have fries from the best chip truck in these parts or sit on a patio in a trailer park luncheonette and drink iced tea with some not too bad grilled cheese sarnies.

If it’s winter we might stay home and light a fire. I might make a feasty meal or maybe just keep it simple, make an omelette… I’ll mention that final scene in the movie Big Night and I’ll put on the CD and we’ll talk about first times… first omelettes, whatever…

We might drive. To see the xmas lights or the country lights.

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This is what I do… and sometimes I wonder: is it enough, these emus and sunsets? And then I wonder why I feel that way because when I visit someone this is exactly what I want. NOT the Eiffel Tower, not a string of organized entertainments, but the experience of actually living in a place… the small slices of everydayness.

(Although I will not decline a quick dash into the Louvre.)

So tell me… when visiting, what is it we want?

And by we I mean you.
  

 

 

 

simon says

 
A boy in his driveway the other day shouts hello as I pass. He says his name is Simon, what’s mine? I say Carin and he tells me he has a Batman tee shirt. He opens his coat. I say that’s some great tee shirt and he says yeah, then tells me he’s seven. Not that I asked. He continues talking, about being seven maybe, or the tee shirt, just chattering away… all of this in only seconds; I’ve barely slowed my stride. His mum is raking leaves, smiling. And in all the chattering somewhere the boy asks… in a way he might ask a chum at school, or anyone… “How old are you?”  His mother’s smile immediately turns into a nervous laugh, she puts down her rake, edges Simon toward the house and tells him that isn’t the sort of question he’s supposed to ask. Meanwhile I’ve answered by saying “Well, I’m not seven!”, as I continue on my way. Also laughing nervously.

And for the rest of my walk all I can think about is why.

Why is that not the sort of question Simon should ask? And is it only not the sort of question Simon should not ask people of certain ages? And how should Simon know which ages those are? And who decides that anyway? And doesn’t the whole way his mother reacted give off a vibe that suggests to Simon, if only subliminally, that there’s something *wrong* about certain ages and THAT’S why we don’t ask.

And if there’s something wrong with certain ages… what, exactly  is that wrongness? I mean if Simon were to ask his mother Why can’t I ask?  what would she say? Something about politeness probably. But why is it polite NOT to ask someone their age when you are seven and you ask everyone ? (And everyone asks you.)

Of course I was taught the same lesson as a kid. (But we’re back to the why… Is it to spare people the embarrassment of admitting they aren’t seven, or twenty-seven or thirty-seven or whatever decade + seven it suddenly becomes an embarrassment to *be*?)

North America’s twisted version of age aside, what really bothered me was my own response, that weird bit of laughter I threw out in order to make Simon’s mother feel okay about the whole thing. By laughing it off, by saying “Well, I’m not seven,” I condoned her discomfort and was party to the stupid lesson Simon was being taught.

Why didn’t I just answer the question?

Conditioning, that’s why. (And, mostly, conditioning almost always sucks.)

The thing is I happen to be a non-ageist kind of person. Even as a kid (just like Simon) I barely noticed someone’s vintage. I still can’t see how it matters. It’s their energy that registers with me. One of my favourite people to hang out with lived to be 101 and it never struck me as an unusual match.

I also have friendships where *I’m* the 101 year old.

And a few in between.

The thing is this: dullness and negativity, ego and bullshit appear at every mile marker. So do joie de vivre, curiosity, kindness, engagement with life, humour, a creative spark and the balls to be yourself. A tedious schmuck at sixty was probably a tedious schmuck at thirty.

Only with better abs.

My walk takes me on a loop and eventually I’m heading back toward Simon’s house. I resolve to tell him my age as I pass. I’ll throw it out, casually, maybe mention that I have a fondness for the colours green and orange and yellow and that I do not  know how to tap dance. Not that anyone asked.

But the leaves in front of Simon’s house are raked and no one’s there.

Too bad. Because I think Simon would have found that particular line of chat quite normal. And that would have been so much better a lesson than the last.

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every party needs a pooper, that’s why you invited *me*…

 
Here’s the thing.

The Blue Jays.

Winning.

How great. I mean, it’s really great. I get that. Even though, in the spirit of full disclosure, I don’t give much of a rat’s back-end about sports.

I do, however, like happy people, I like the excitement, the joie de vivre all over the place (on game days), the way revellers make room for traffic. I love us. We deserve this, the winning, the mad happiness. Who wouldn’t love it?

They say this kind of thing brings people together. On game days. And the economy gets a boost. Liquor and beer stores, junk food purveyors. Hotels, TV networks, airlines. You know, the people who need a boost.

Oh, and Rogers Communications. Owners of the Blue Jays dynasty. Apparently their shares have gone up rather noticeably during this period of frenzied winning/not winning/winning. The TSX, on the other hand, went down during the same period. But let us not concern ourselves with negatives.

The Jays are winning!

And we are being brought together as a community.

On game days.

However, in between and especially after the game days are over … it is, sadly, business as usual. That’s to say the homeless (‘boosted’ too by all the Blue Jay excitement) will still be homeless. Children will go to school hungry. If they go at all. Women will be beaten by spouses, some of them sports *stars* high-on-winning  adrenaline, some just assholes, others on welfare, most somewhere in the middle. Old people will still die alone and prisons will continue to fill and the rest of us will still hate and judge and hate some more. No matter how big, how grand or how much money is thrown at sporting events, no matter how exciting or how often we are told these things bring people together… there are no games that have brought the world, or even a city, or even a community, together in a way that sticks beyond the game days. As far as I know, no Olympics or World Series has erased persecution, corruption or any manner of ‘isms’. After the winning, a handful of men will wander off into the horizon with truckloads of gold while the rest of us are scraping cold pizza off our couches. Nothing will be any different. Aboriginal communities will still have undrinkable water and mould on their paper thin walls and the oceans will still be clogged with the debris of our need to turn away, to be distracted by something more pleasant than reality, like the easy god of sports and winning. (Remind me…winning for the sake of what again?)

Oh yeah. Because winning is fun.

Right.

I get that. I do.

It just seems so trivial. The players and owners, I understand why they want to win. (And it’s not for the joie de vivre.) But what do we get?

(I know that certain players and individuals contribute privately to various organizations with their time and money… it’s not about individuals. This really is about the owners, the corporate aspect of sports.)

So I was thinking, what if we got something too… what if the corporate aspect, the people that make the ten trillion dollars from our love of the game celebrated each win by donating some of their gold to the community. To feed those kids or build some housing or offer opportunities to people who’d otherwise have none. There are agencies in every city that would gratefully accept a few thousand bucks. A few hundred  thousand, for every game won during playoffs… well, that could change  a city.

Now that would be worth cheering for, winning  for, no?

“Big Sports” (and it’s always ‘male sporting events’) are a powerful vehicle. By adding this element we lose none of the fun. All we do is add ‘goodness’. It stuns me that we don’t demand it.

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Just an idea.

From your neighbourhood party pooper.

xo

(p.s. go jays.)

great full

 

This couch, these cats, this morning, my handwriting, breath, this page, that light, the sun waiting to rise, the way my mind wanders to pumpkin soup vs puree the moment I congratulate myself on achieving something close to a state of meditation, the backyard, the large hostas that need dividing, a bushel of garlic, fresh string beans, tomatoes in a silver bowl, friends for lunch, the wine last night, the olives and raw milk cheese and crumbs of baguette, the new tradition of running away at xmas (already exciting), the poem about Edmonton, the pillow of peace and a shoelace with feathers tied to either end, the Benjamina and the fern, the ferns outside, the way something smells both sweet and spicy under the honeysuckle arch but I can’t work out what—catmint?, the beautiful green success of the kale and spinach and chicory, the nasturtium leaves (in October!), the way the red dress hangs in the park and the boy who said to his mother after they stopped to read the sign on it: what if we get to 30,000? , that painting of oranges and a vase of yellow flowers, a laundry line, the homemade chairs on our porch, always enough toothpaste, these feet and these hands and the way Laura Smith sings about joy, that open window, these books, this tea, breath—I said breath already, right?

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