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.

 

 

the reason my house and car and pockets are filled with stones

 

They line stairs, window ledges and bookshelves; fill flowerpots and bowls beside my bed. And that little space in my car, the alcove-esque area above the gear shift, is for what if not stones…?

My theory for the why of this (apart from stones are lovely) is the way my dad would every now and then on a summer night after working in a factory all day and after mowing the lawn and after supper… announce that he was heading to the beach to get some rocks.

He didn’t ask me to come with him. I was a skinny kid with noodly arms. Not super helpful in the rock lifting department.

But something in the way he said he was going to the beach… different from the way he said he was off to Canadian Tire… sounded like an invitation.

And so we went.

He and me.

He to collect rocks for alpine gardens, to edge various beds or frame his collection of seashells.

And me, to skip stones, bury my legs in cool nighttime sand and wonder how long it would take to swim across Lake Ontario and what, if anything, was on the other side.

It’s possible he took breaks from the rock gathering. He may have sat on a length of driftwood at some point, lit a cigarette and wondered too about the swimming and the other side.

I don’t remember the details of these beachy missions.

Only that cool nighttime sand.

And my first pocketful of stones.

 

 

 

closing time

 
It took the better part of two days to install.

Just over an hour to take down.

The weeks in between were a sheer loveliness of spending time with my own couches in a public space and meeting people and having conversations start out of the thin air of upholstery.

The woman who told me her grandparents were happy as clams all their livelong lives together and maybe not in small part because of the mickeys of hootch they kept down the sides of their respective armchairs.

Another who said her first couch was an old door on top of bricks (for legs) and a slab of foam with fabric wrapped around it and several pillows propped against the wall.

The couch someone had forgotten but suddenly remembered hauling from a curb in Whistler and how much they loved it for the year they lived there.

The people who left me postcards.

And the strangers who sat down and talked as though we were old pals.

The kid who told me that sleeping on a pullout feels like a vacation.

And the kids who came on the last day to play the lava game and the scavenger game and ran around looking for things in the photos… a fire hydrant, geese, a porch, leaves, a rock, curtains, stairs, a dog wearing sunglasses. I loved their names— Violet, Autumn, Pandora, Audrey, Lucas, Madeleine, Maxine, Susie… I’ve forgotten some, but not the boy with the glasses and the girl who was so painfully shy.

The friends who brought me greenteacoconutmilkmachalatte, and those who were there when wine was on offer. Friends who travelled a distance to see this show and those who couldn’t come but were there in spirit. (I felt that spirit!) To friends who gave up part of a Sunday afternoon to hear me talk about how underwear affected furniture design. And to friends I missed seeing… sorry I missed you! Thank you all for coming and making this experience exactly what I hoped it would be… a stirring of memory and invitation to story.

Above all, thanks to The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, and the amazing gift that is Gallery A, for allowing me and my orphaned furniture this time and space.

Putting rubbish to some good purpose is my whole thing, after all.

That, and writing mystery thrillers set in art galleries…

 
 

wordless wednesday

 
Not encouraging anyone to be wordless today.

indexIt’s #BellLetsTalk and every single form of online communication using that hashtag (until midnight) will generate five cents for mental health initiatives.

Am writing this not so much for a friend as because of them, someone who is an inspiration to me in ways he’ll never realize. Twenty something years ago his bipolar disorder and psychotic episodes got bad enough that it was recommended he move into a residence designed for people with mental health issues at every level. It’s become home and he says he’s lucky to be there and feels safe, but he also says that most other residents are very low functioning and it can be a depressing environment. So he keeps busy. He listens to the radio in his room. Local news stations, every kind of music, sports. TV is less interesting to him, too much an assault on the senses and, anyway, it’s in the common area, which he prefers to avoid.

Not that he’s anti social. Quite the opposite. He’s forever in search of a good conversation. It’s just that where he lives it’s impossible. So, every day, without fail, he does something to work around that.

He once told me he tried to speak to at least three people a day. Even if it was just to say hello in passing on the street.

He loves the phone. Computers are beyond his ability. He’ll spend weeks composing a letter he sends by mail. He doesn’t have a lot of money but he likes to go out, so he spends afternoons walking and drinking coffee or tea in various cafes where he always asks if there’s anything he can do to be helpful. One place said they’d be grateful to have him tidy up their bulletin board occasionally. He does this with extraordinary devotion to detail and all kinds of pride and tells me why he arranged things on the board as he did that day. This place has become his new favourite haunt and he’ll spend money he can’t really afford on too many muffins just to support them, so grateful is he to be able to tidy that board.

Sometimes at night he’ll go out to hear a local band and if likes them he’ll tell everyone he knows and several he doesn’t that they need to hear this band. Not pushy, just passionate.

He goes through phases of doing things left-handed, brushing his teeth, holding the phone, eating soup. Someone told him it’s good for your brain.

For awhile he took it upon himself to report street lights that had burned out. He would note the location and call the city works department. He gets involved with various local groups, folds envelopes, whatever needs doing. He discovers a second hand shop that’s struggling to make ends meet but the people are nice so he buys a belt he can’t afford, just to help them out.

What he doesn’t do is complain. Which is astonishing to me.

He knows how some people see him. He doesn’t fool himself, he knows what his limitations are, what he’s dealing with. He’s just somehow able to override all that and keep going.

Though he gets weary of it all sometimes.

Occasionally his disorder turns psychotic and he ends up at The Royal, the mental health centre in Ottawa, where he might spend months at a time.

There are aspects of his life that are so frightening I don’t know how he copes as casually as he does. He says he’s used to it. But surely becoming used to something awful can as easily destroy spirit as it can be the reason to work even harder. That his spirit is not only intact but shines as brightly as it does…. is extraordinary. I never take it for granted.

And so he is an inspiration like no one else I know.

I tell him all the time. But I’m not sure he believes me.

He called the other day to remind me of #BellLetsTalk. And he’ll be calling everyone he knows today, at least once. It’s what he can do, so he does it. So, yeah, not wordless today. Let’s talk up a storm.

This one’s for all of us, but especially for E.

Shine on, my friend.

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Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

 

 

i drove to barrie

 
I’ve never been to Barrie before.

dsc08000I’d heard there was a nice waterfront.

It’s true.

dsc08006dsc08008But I didn’t go for the waterfront. That was simply a bonus, a nice way to spend the hour before sunset.

dsc08010 dsc08014At 7 p.m. I was in the living room of people I’d never met, about to be entertained by one of my favourite musicians, Laura Smith.

And Paul Mills.

A house concert, my first.

dsc08015 dsc08016And I really can’t even begin to describe how extraordinary it is to hear a concert quality performance in the comfort of a private home.

dsc08036And Laura Smith’s voice… well, if you’ve ever heard it, you might understand the mind-boggling effect of hearing it up close. If you’ve never heard it, listen to this…  And more, here.

It was Laura’s voice on a couple of CD’s that kept me company as I drove back, solo, from Prince Edward Island last year. For me, her voice and driving, travelling, looking and seeing and finding new things… are all connected.

I’ve also been known to dance in my own living room to her tunes.

I did not dance in the living room of strangers, though I suspect they might not have minded.

dsc08048I must have had the feeling I wouldn’t be able to describe anything and so I scribbled down lines throughout the evening… some from stories Laura told about the origins of the songs, why and how she wrote them; others from the songs themselves. This is a sliver of things, my concert mash up…

 

I Drove to Barrie to Hear Laura Smith

I was never safer
because of my smart dog
—the hardest part was starting.
Only an echo will answer my name;
I look into your eyes and see stories
that will never get told, like a father
and a daughter—love to have you here
havin’ a beer, right about now, steamin’
with toil, with the seagulls around me
and crows on the plough; you are loved
and you are loved always, you’re home.
I hear voices in the salt spray, the last
light of the sun going down; I sit in the
same chair every night, Jordy—
a bad hair day in a cheap motel—I’m a
beauty. I’m a beauty.

dsc08049

Nothing else to say.

Except, thanks. It was the best…

fave pictures taken this weekend, with not a care in the world (nor a chip in my camera)

 
Me on George the tawny horse with a butterscotch mane at the trail ride stables.  I say to the trail guide, “Take one of just me and George… I want to put it in my office to look at every day.” George is magnificent and uninspired to moving too quickly. His whole raison d’etre being to follow the lead horse at a reasonable pace and sneak the occasional bit of greenery, which is often as I have no ability to use the reins and George knows this. We are happy together.

Kayla the trail  guide.  All blonde hair and freckles, a country lass unaware of her sweetness and the charm of her stories about being home-schooled and how she lives for horses, has five part-time jobs to keep one horse and how a horse will tell you what’s wrong with you, emotionally or physically, because if you spend enough time with it the horse takes on your problems and you can see yourself in them like a mirror.

Children in my house eating watermelon and jumping on a mini trampoline. Occasionally at the same time. To which I say: “No choking please…  because
I am not in the mood today for children choking in my house.”

Tiny hands shoveling spoonfuls of peaches and ice cream.

Tiny hands picking fat blackberries. Also argument over how there isn’t an equal number of ripe ones for all three sets of hands.

Three orders of poutine at the beach. Most of which is eaten. None of which is mine. Mine is an order of fries.

Seagulls awaiting poutine.

Flip-flops flopping in the water.  Until they’re nearly stolen by the lake and the better idea by the wearer of the flip-flops is that I carry them.

Skinny legged beach cartwheels.  Dozens it seems, one sweeter than the next. Not mine, by the way. I have neither skinny legs nor ever been able to master the sweet cartwheel… only the kind that goes by a different description. After that, some other gymnastic moves that need only ribbons to make them an Olympic event. (Now there we have something I’m good at: ribbon dancing.)

Lad skipping stones. Correction. Lad trying  to skip stones. Lads, I discover, aren’t especially amused when aunties come along and say Want me to show you how it’s done?   And then do.

And other stones. Especially those as described in the wonderful Pinny in Summer, which is read aloud to the soundtrack of Lake Ontario waves. (Smiles all around when we find JUST THE PERFECT ONE.)

Cloud shaped like the skeleton of a rabbit.  Sad but true.

A radiant palm holding five colours of beach glass:  white, green, dark blue, brown and possibly yellow, or just pale pale brown. Either way, ridiculously exciting haul.

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thoughts from the sand whereupon i sat

 

multicultural beach today

DSC06200where stones

absorb laughter

in many languages

DSC06212DSC06202and hot pink sari struts sandy terrain

in search of…

…self?

DSC06205 DSC06207 DSC06208 welcome, we say

welcome to this sandy strand

of laughing stones

and now,

DSC06214hot pink sari.DSC06204

The beach was busy today and so many families of various cultures and dress and reasons for being here. Family picnics on the grassy bits, and BBQs fired up, all kinds of games and happy shouts and wet dogs and I sat there taking it all in as I’ve done two million times before because there is nothing especially unusual about various cultures and dress and reasons for being here but something about everyone today made me think that some of these people were new, that some of them had not long been in this country, this town. And the vibe, if that’s what it was, was especially good. It’s extraordinary really, people leaving their own countries for bad reasons and hoping for something good at the other end though they don’t know exactly what that will be and then on a sunny summer day maybe it turns out to be something as simple as a swim or grilled chicken or a pocket full of beach glass.

And I’m so glad to be a part of this day, to extend a smile to the wet dog and the laughing children.

To in some small way, say welcome

Welcome.