Friday, July 31, 2015

Towards a Renewed Blogging Practice

Thank you so much for all the birthday greetings extended to my wonderful husband on the last post. We spent a very good day together, cycling and celebrating with family. I have some photos of the day to share with you last, Meanwhioe, I hope it's okay if I save some blogging energy by thanking you here collectively rather than individually on that post. Comments are much more time-consuming to respond to from my mobile set-up, much as you know I appreciate them.

And I've been doing some thinking about ways that I can use my blogging time more effectively to more clearly defined ends. In fact, I started putting this post together with the words that follow and then thought I could (efficiency again!) add this preamble and even throw in a photo or two because otherwise all those words, no colour....

Urban cycling gear, my J Crew linen skirt and a sleeveless COS tunic bought in Bordeaux last summer lin

As much as I have loved hunkering down on my island for the last several weeks, Pater and I have really been enjoying our days in the city. Something about the alternation of active days with lazier ones, of visits with family and quiet days on our own, something in this rhythm here and now is loosening up some of my thinking. I'm moving toward some potentially bigger decisions, but littler issues are beginning to sort themselves out as well.

The blogging recalcitrance, for example. What's becoming clear to me is that as much as I value and enjoy chronicling the daily aspects of my life (the garden, what I wore, food, family, going out, etc), I will feel dissatisfied if I don't also connect the daily with something larger.

Honestly, I find so much remarkable in each and every day, no matter how ordinary, that I could spend all my blogging time and energy--and, dangerously, enthusiasm--on sharing anecdotes and activities and joys and frustrations in a jumble of what I like to think of as quotidian miracles. But if, as American poet and essayist Kim Stafford says, "Coherence is Born of random abundance" (and I hope and believe that it is), then perhaps once born that coherence needs a bit more nurturing than I'm currently organizing and prioritizing for.

What I'm thinking I need to sort out now is a balance between posting on the abundant random and spending some time working toward coherence. I suspect this may need a more systematic proactive than I've employed thus far in my eight years of blogging. I think, for example, that it might be useful to sort how how many hours a week I spend on the blog and then work toward saving, say, a third of those hours for a more focussed post that develops a theme I can move forward with, flexing my writing muscles.

I'm also hoping to articulate really clearly, for myself and for you readers, what my priorities are here. I began the blog as a kind of antidote to an intensive period of a academic writing that had me overly self-conscious, overfly editorial, about my own voice. I wanted to develop a writing voice in/with which I could integrate my personal, domestic, familial life with my academic one. I don't think I had any expectations of community when I began writing here, except I suppose that I must have hoped my writing would engage someone "out there." I could surely not have known that I would go on to meet many of you and to feel close to many more, simply through chatting with you here over the years.

Me, of course, you're an important part of why I blog, but I want to balance keeping you here with keeping me here, and I hope you won't mind if I use this space to think through an approach that might keep us all engaged. More to follow....

I think I need to queue in this line, the Wisdom Line. What a name for a freighter! Shipping Wisdom!

I'm off now to run with my sister. She's such an early bird, so we're starting at 6:30 (and she's already been putting in some time at the office!). Any responses or suggestions you have about my blog-thinking (or any other remotely relevant topic!) are very welcome.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Happy Birthday, my Love!


Happy Birthday to a fabulous Granddad, loving, supportive Dad, and really the best partner I could have found. Yesterday, as I mentioned in this post, he babysat so I could take our daughter out for a belated birthday lunch. Today, it's his turn to be spoiled, and as soon as he wakes up, I'll be doing my best. On the agenda: cycling and dinner with "the kids," and, I hope, breakfast or lunch at a favourite restaurant where we might talk about plans for our next year. Paris, Bordeaux, Rome....and our own sweet little island garden.

And yes dear, I do still love you, when you're 64!


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vancouver Visits and Restaurant and a Book Recommendation

So far, here in Vancouver, when the apartment hasn't been full of young parents and!or their little ones, I've mostly been alternating between reading and napping. Not particularly exciting material for the blog, but I do have a few photos to share from Nana's Brag Book (some of you may already have seen these on Instagram) as well as a Vancouver restaurant recommendation and a book title to insist you read. 

First, the photos 
My grandson, appreciating his new blanket (clever me, giving it to him on the only rainy weekend this summer!)
His big sister liked hers as well!
Such fun getting these cousins together, but I'm glad we only had one to babysit overnight! We managed very well though, thanks to Eloise's easy nature, her reasonable nighttime feeding schedule, some teamwork strategies honed over four kids' worth of nighttime feelings and that good old 21st- century baby-wrangling technology: white noise on the iPad. 

All fun and games with the wee ones, then. On to the restaurant for your Vancouver list...

Paul and I walked over the bridge to Vancouver KidsBooks yesterday, a wonderful place to browse, although dangerous to the credit card. On the way back, I realized we were just in time for an early seating at Au Comptoir. Casual French dining (even the menus are partly  en français), in a room that could conceivably have been lifted from somewhere in the 10th arr. (I.e. traditional enough but with an innovative edge). Badoit water on offer, Cafés Richard china. . . And all the servers with accents that had us slipping into our own French, reciprocating accents, if you will.
We kept the meal fairly simple, opting for a velvety, cold velouté of fresh green peas. Perfection.

And then I had sablefish with ratatouille (rolled inside thinly sliced zucchini). The sablefish had the lightest crispness to its outside--a wonderful contrast to the buttery smoothness of its flesh. I order sablefish (often called black cod although it isn't really cod) fairly often and I've never tasted this finish--so good!
Paul was heavily influenced by the Paris/French vibe and ordered the magret de canard (duck breast). 

On a bed of kaleand accompanied by blocks of compressed scalloped potatoes. Garnish of cooked cherries, thin slices of beet, and a beet purée.

Then instead of dessert or coffee, we topped our meal off with this view, on the way home

And the book recommendation? I'll write more about this soon on my book blog (I'm almost caught up there, having recently posted on a great Parisian mystery series), but meanwhile I have to tell you how important I think Atul Gawande's Being Mortal is for anyone who thinks that she or a loved one might become ill or old or, let's get to it, die in the next 5 or 20 or 30 years... Gawande, a surgeon himself, talks about how poorly Medicine has done with allowing us to live as fully and comfortably as possible in illness and old age; instead, efforts have been directed to fending off death, with the resultant hospitalization and medicalization often obscuring our hopes and desires for our last days. His narrative is thoughtful, honest, thoroughly engaging, sobering and inspiring and illuminating. Despite its somber topic, I read the book in three days and I've now pressed it on Pater .... And you!

Lunch with my daughter soon while Granddad babysits her two-- wish him luck, wish me a yummy lunch, and I wish you a Happy Tuesday!





Sunday, July 26, 2015

An Italian Detour

As you may have read, I've been battling some recalcitrance about blogging lately, although I nonetheless managed to post a What I Wore post that shamelessly revealed my lazy summer style. Now, we're over in Vancouver, getting ready for our first overnight baby-sitting gig with Baby Eloise (5 months; we suspect sleep loss tonight!). I'm heading out for a run, hoping to beat the thunder, lightning, hail, and heavy rain forecast for later this morning. And still not ready to write a blogpost.


So imagine how pleased I am to be able, instead, to offer you a little outing to a gorgeous little-known seaside resort a day trip from Rome. The tour guide is my daughter, who's pictured above, at said resort, with my granddaughter whom I'll be cuddling again in less than two months. Can't wait. Meanwhile, if you'd like to meet her mom and take a little trip to a Tyrrenhian island, step this way.

and now, if you don't mind, I've gotta run! If you feel like coming back to tell me how clever and gorgeous my daughter is, well, you know what we proud mommas are like . . .


Thursday, July 23, 2015

What I Wore, Island Summer Style,

Oh, you're all so kind, and I thank you for the understanding and encouragement about my temporary (I hope) recalcitrance about writing on the blog. Honestly, there's no worry about my stopping, especially right now as I enter retirement. The blog provides a continuity, a structure, a community, and a creative outlet, and I can't imagine being without it. It's just that I'm sorting through wants and shoulds and trying to match those categories with time and energy available, and I suspect it may take a while to get the balance that works.

I'm toying with a few different approaches for structuring the blog as I move forward: more regular appearances of certain topics on a predictable calendar, for example, or photo-only or featured sketch or short anecdote days, saving my more wordy essays for less frequent posting that, nonetheless, gives me a chance to indulge my thinking or remembering in ways that might be interesting for writer and readers both.

Meanwhile, though, I'm going to stick to the approach a friend once shared with me, one that her counsellor had offered her as one tool (among many, don't worry) for getting through depression: "Just keep showing up." Quick disclaimer that yes, sometimes that's not a good enough answer for clinical depression and, disclaimer # 2, I'm not currently depressed, although my blog may be mildly so. But I have often adopted this path when I'm faced with doubts about my abilities or the worth of what I'm doing, and I've generally found it useful and productive.

Today's instance of "just showing up" is a round-up of What I Wore shots taken over these last lazy, hot weeks of island life. You can look at these and know that I'm retired, and that I've completely given in to Pacific Northwest Island life. You can also see why, much as I loved Sue's unpacking of the word "chic", I know that it's beyond my aspirations. And even Lisa's change of shoes and application of lipgloss wouldn't help me (although I should perhaps consider copying her attention to hair -- my wild curls, oh dear!).
But I've been living in these Aritzia lightweight cargo pants (elastic waist!), the faded Levi 501s, the JCrew T and sweatshirt, as long as it's below 25 (anything higher and I'm not taking photos). And my orange-strapped Hermes watch, as my only hope for outfit elevation...

I did decide to dress up a bit when Paul and I headed to a local restaurant's lakeside terrace for lunch last week. Two more J Crew pieces that I love (hmmmm, are you sensing a trend here?). This Boy Shirt is the softest, lightest, airiest blend of silk and cotton -- I love it! And the skirt is linen -- isn't it a great colour? Yes, I should have searched harder for more credible shoes, but I'm thinking I may try going for a twinned claim of age's impunity and a modicum of eccentricity as I move forward.

Not sure it will be a credible claim, but sometimes you just want to get out the door in flat shoes that don't clash and you don't care if black is a bit stark against your lily-white legs. . .
And then for a complete change of pace, but still an example of island lifestyle, I wore this combo to a house concert just a few doors up. My neighbour's beautiful house hosted 50 or 60 of us to listen to some islander musicians who had just returned from a two-week tour and were amenable to one last performance. Not sure if I'd wear this outfit off-island, but I thought it was island-boho fun for that evening. The little Gap shift I wore in Bordeaux last summer but have been finding too revealing of my sweet old knees. A bit too short as a shift, it may be just a bit too long as a tunic over my long silk skirt, but I loved them together. Then I draped my latest scarf (bought in Paris, le Marais, bien sûur) over my arms so that its gauzy silk organza might keep the mosquitos at bay. . . and I added Birks and my usual watch and armload of bracelets, pinned my hair up, and even added that slick of lipstick.

If you're thinking I should have swished the iron over it all before heading out, you might be right. But trust me, we islanders are a very accepting group, and this outfit is about as dressy as it gets here, wrinkled fabric and all.

Not much more than a month from now, and I'll be in Paris again (and then Bordeaux, Rome, Turin, and who knows where else along the way). One of these days, I'll have to rouse myself from my Island Mode and think about what wardrobe items might play well in the European City. For now,  'tho, it's Summertime and the Island Living is Easy.

And what about you? Does your Style change considerably in the summer or does your workplace demand that your sartorial standards remain firm? Have your feet lost all memory of imposed structure or are you still wearing closed toes and even an occasional heel? And do you have a vacation place you go to that allows for an all-easy wardrobe, or do you prefer going somewhere that promises the excitement of dressing for restaurant dinners or an evening at a jazz bar?  Now that I've exposed my lazy summer style, I'd love to read your comments on the topic.  . .

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Sketchy Post. . . Against Recalcitrance!

I'm feeling oddly recalcitrant about the blog at the moment. I suspect it's because, having made some steps toward more social activities, I'm wanting to be more selfish about the time that I'm on my own. Reading's taking priority over writing, and there's been some napping and some hammocking and perhaps some Netflix. Piano-playing, sketching, knitting. . . .
Not too much writing.

I think that the 15th anniversary, yesterday, of my Dad's death might be a factor as well, stuff to process again and all that. And then I'm heading to campus today to finish clearing my office; to decide, which, if any, files to transfer from the university computer to my own; and probably to hand in my set of keys. So, yeah, emotional. . . Too much to bare here in the time I'm willing or able to spend on writing at the moment.
Recalcitrant, then, about being here. Dragging my feet when it comes to The Blog.

But. And it's a big one. . . I do know that The Blog is really all of you, and I want us to stay connected. So I thought perhaps I'd share a few pages from the Illustrated Journal I've been keeping.

That's it, that's really the best I can do this morning, so I hope we're still good. Actually, I know we are, because you've always been the kindest, most generous, most supportive readers a blogger could hope for. Which is why I couldn't abandon you no matter how recalcitrant I might feel. Happy Tuesday!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Five Things Friday: Toe-Dipping Activities. . .

This photo, which I took yesterday at dusk, captures some of what I've been feeling lately: a sense of, to use my big words, liminal plenitude. An almost paradisical fullness here, beauty and comfort abounding, nothing demanded of me, a husband who enjoys paddling to town daily to pick up groceries, is happy to prepare most meals.  In the summer, quite honestly, it seems almost folly to leave this place with its beach, garden, pleasant breeze, A stack of books I want to read, a pretty little island to run around in the morning, yoga classes only a boat ride away, babies and dear little girls who come by occasionally for snuggles. . .  But there's also that sense of liminality, of impending change, of threshholds at the ready. And my own rising restlessness. It's not quite boredom, but lately there's been just the hint of that along with just a breath of melancholy.

I've always believed, though, that a bit of boredom is ultimately productive, and that it perhaps need to be nurtured a bit, to be allowed to ripen. I remember feeling it, as a kid, towards the end of summer, and it made the return to school welcome each September. I did my best to keep my own four's summers free enough that they could play around within their own rhythms, find how much boredom they could tolerate, and see what they might do to alleviate it when it became uncomfortable. And my husband has always used his own restlessness as a benchmark of a good vacation, needing to reach that point of boredom so that returning to work always reminded him that his job was a happy choice.

As for me, right now, with a whole Sea of Retirement stretching out ahead of me, I'm still enjoying the option of sinking back into the teak chaise longue or the leather armchair with a book. But increasingly, I'm looking around and finding or imagining new landmarks I might want to set out for.
I know I want a bit more structure in my days, but I don't want to impose it too early. What I do want, much as I have enjoyed being able to respond freely to any and all invitations or requests from family over these last few months, is to be able to know, and to say, what makes me happy. I want to be confident I'm making my own choices rather than simply being reactive to others. I saw both my mother and my mother-in-law lose that knowledge and confidence in their last 20 years, and it put much of the responsibility for their happiness on family -- an impossible burden, really.


Early days, yet, and all kinds of time to figure this out, especially with a lovely big trip to France and Italy only several weeks out.

But I've taken some steps this week to organize space and time around me to explore what I want to do while I'm home. As wonderful and fulfilling and engaging as Travel can be, it won't work indefinitely as a solution to boredom, especially as age inevitably exerts its influence.

Five things, then, that I've been doing lately, that Make Me Happy:

1. Photography. I'm very pleased that I've already made some progress on the goal that I set when I began thinking concretely towards my retirement.  This photo, for example, which I delayed my run for yesterday, darting back in the house for my camera when I spotted Nature's Botanical Sculpture in the sunlight

2. Sketching and Painting. As you know, this is a continuation of something I've been playing with, off and on, ever since I took my girlfriend's wonderful weekend course on Journal Illustration (If you're interested in following my progress, such as it's been, you might click on the subject label at the bottom of this post.)

What's new, though, is that as part of re-organizing my home office as a response to clearing out my campus one, I've taken some steps toward making my art supplies more quickly grabbable. I've also managed to draw and/or paint something in my sketchbook at least three times a week for the last while. Yesterday, I even painted a card and popped it in the mail to two-year-old Hattie with a few words for her to read someday. . . Again, something I've been meaning to do for ages and finally got to. Very satisfying.

3. Cooking and Baking. Yes, I'm working my way back into our kitchen which has mostly been in Pater's charge the last few years. Again, this has been at least partly prompted by some long delayed organization: I finally had time to sort through the pantry cupboard and have big plans to shift my baking supplies and spice drawer closer back to the way I once had them. When someone is doing almost all of the grocery-shopping and meal preparation, the one who is NOT doing those things has no right to suggest they be done in the kind of kitchen the NOT-doer prefers. And if the Not-doer hasn't time nor energy, because of her work, to maintain the kitchen her way, she learns to zip it. But now, I'm judiciously taking steps toward a sharing of joys and duties in the kitchen. Recent recipes I've put on the table have included Stuffed Squashblossoms, Beet-Chèvre Millefeuille, my favourite go-to grain-based salad, plus a blackberry pie, chocolate-chip-peanut butter-pretzel cookies, and banana bread. I'm beginning to browse my cookbooks and favourite foodie blogs again, and remembering the rhythm that's necessary to having ingredients on hand when the urge or the need for something special hits.

4. Social Activities. This has been my challenge as I seem to roll from an overly busy week into one which sees me laying low. I find it very easy to stay home for a week at a time, only going out for runs or a walk around the island: because I get up quite early (between 5 and 5:30), run 8 to 10 kilometres after playing in blogland, my desire for a bit more social stimulation doesn't generally hit until midday at which point it's hot and I'm drowsy and the idea of a nap followed by a swim appeals much more than a trip to town. But the desire for more company and conversation surfaces again late afternoon. I'm noticing a rut now, as we sit down in front of something Netflix with our dinner each evening, and I've realized that I need to take a more systematic approach here as well.  So I've written a couple of yoga classes a week on our calendars and I've booked a few lunches with friends -- one this past week, two next week, all three solo outings for me, lessening any potential dependence on Pater. Watch this space to see if I'm commenting here about being fatigued again or complaining about another cold sore. Developing a rhythm that works to support a balanced lifestyle is taking me a while, but I think I'm at least beginning to see what's needed.

5. Playing the Piano Again.  Last night, though, I was really tempted toward grumpiness and despondency. A third episode (Strange Empire, a great, feminist Western TV series which, sadly, didn't get renewed past his first season despite widespread critical acclaim)  seemed important to resist as a tipping point toward some long downward slide, and much as I was enjoying my novel (the 2nd in Elana Ferrante's marvelous Neapolitan novels), I didn't feel like reading. I felt restless --and, truth be told, irrationally tempted to blame Pater (a particularly egregious temptation as he'd just arranged a lakeside restaurant lunch for us the day before -- and we have tickets for a house concert tonight).  Fortunately, instead of giving in to my Inner Whiner (oh, she's allowed out Far Too Often, don't worry!), I decided to clean out yet another corner, this time the shelves holding a lifetime's collection of sheet music. The day before, Beth had posted a shot of some notes my fingers instantly began playing, I recognized the Gigue from one of Bach's French Suites, but couldn't find my own copy, despite recalling precisely its Peters Edition soft green cover.

A photo posted by Beth (@cassandra.beth) on

Somehow, that was exactly the incentive I needed, and not only did I push past my grumpy temptation to melancholy last night, but I found the Gigue and then moved on to a Chopin Nocturne I love. My fingers are too stiff to play anything satisfactorily, but I've sorted a good stack of my once-upon-a-time repertoire and I expect I'll be whiling away some hours at my sweet old Kawai over some upcoming evenings.

It's happening, in other words. One or two or even Five Things at a time, I'm beginning to sort out a schedule that might work for me, and I'm figuring out for myself what will make and keep me happy (including, for sure, time and activities with Pater and the rest of the family). Rereading what I've written here, it seems that rhythm and balance and a modicum of organization are key. Does any of this resonate at all? Have you been rejigging your own schedule to accommodate changes of one sort or another? Have you found yourself reacting to other people's plans and emotions and activities rather than sorting out your own? Do you have a really clear sense of what activities make you happy or do you find that sense can be obscured by fatigue or depression or simply by being too caught up in responsibility? If so, how do you find your way back?

Or just ignore those questions as simply too weighty for a Friday afternoon, and I'll wish you a wonderful weekend! 
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