Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Paddled Away. . .

I woke this morning to the news that a dear friend passed away yesterday afternoon, only hours after Pater visited him in palliative care and less than three weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer, less than a month after he'd experienced symptoms.

I mentioned my friend here a few months ago when I recognized, on the blog A Cup of Jo, a painting based on a photograph of his  Mark was modest, but not surprised really, when I told him -- he already knew that his influence as a photographer was widely felt.

I hope he knew how widely his influence was felt as a friend. He was a good one. He will be so much missed by so many. And for the rest of the week, I think, I'm going to close the blog and take some time just to mourn his loss and think and feel its repercussions. We're getting ready for a GrandBaby who's already a week overdue, so we're in an emotional space throbbing right now with sadness and joyful anticipation. Seems time for gathering in. Hug your loved ones. Be sure you're spending your life as best you can. . .

Monday, March 2, 2015


I'm trying out BlogGo, a new app I downloaded to my iPhone. I'd love to leave behind any tech equipment when traveling other than the phone, yet still be able to post a few photos and observations. But my first attempt this morning disappeared into the ether. Crossing my fingers this will do better. Have you had any success posting from your phone? Ever tried? Any tips?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sunday Blooms and a New Acquisition

Another busy Vancouver weekend, and really, all I've got for you are a few pictures. . . but aren't these magnolias stunning, especially against the blue spring skies. I spied this particular tree along my run out to Spanish Banks, but they're blooming all over town, as are the ornamental cherry and plum trees, snowing dainty petals all over the sidewalks. . . .

I might be noticing the blooms even more than usual, because on Friday night, after a particularly annoying incident with Hermès over my watch (I won't say more until I've calmed down a bit, but let's just say that an investment piece isn't that at all if the leather safety hoop breaks down in only three years and can't be repaired, but rather requires the expenditure of a whole new strap!), Pater decided a distraction was in order. Said distraction involved directing me into a Rogers store to sort out a new cellphone (mine, apparently, is 5+ years old -- which, to me, just means I've finally figured it out!).

I've been thinking about a switch to an iPhone ever since I got an iPad Mini for my 60th birthday. I've come to like the "eco-system" quite well, although I still rely on Google/Android apps for a number of functions. But given that I'm using iTunes and Facetime and iMessaging with our kids, an iPhone was making more and more sense. And also given that I seem to be carrying my iPad Mini and my cell around in my purse most days, I thought I'd try the iPhone6Plus and see if I'd end up leaving the Mini home, lightening my load. I know, I know, everyone comments on how big it is, but since I generally have it in my bag rather than my jeans pocket, I don't see that as a problem.

But I've dithered and procrastinated and wondered and decided and changed my mind and thought my old phone was just fine despite its increasingly obvious limitations. Finally Pater, who excels in decision-making, said "Enough." While he had reservations about the 6Plus's size, he listened to my reasons for favouring it and then, essentially, just said "Wrap it up" to the Sales Assistant. Of course, as soon as we got it home and I started playing with it, I realized my error -- How could I take this "BIG" phone on my runs?!!  Oh no, what have I done?!

In fact, Saturday morning, I took my new iPhone -- yes, the 6Plus -- out for a test run, slipping it into a waist pouch. It snugged neatly up against my back and didn't feel anymore annoying than any other phone would have been. I'm still playing around with it, FaceTiming the poor kids and posting to my new Instagram account, but so far, as they say, so good. And I love the legibility of the larger screen. For those of you wondering if this could be a phone for you, I should add that I don't often use my phone for speaking on, odd as that may sound. Texting, checking web for info, FaceTime, yes, but voice-to-voice conversations are limited. So I don't find it unwieldy at all.

Turns out the baby we have been waiting to meet wants a March birthday rather than a February birthday. So much for having that Reading Break class-free time to get down to his or her city of birth for a newborn visit. Instead, I'll be heading back to class tomorrow with my students on the alert for a cancellation. . . .

Meanwhile, there's a ferry to catch, and a week to organize for, and a last few hours of weekend to savour. Happy Sunday!

Now perhaps you'll tell me -- do you have a tough time making technology decisions? How often do you replace your cellphone, on average? Do you resent or enjoy the learning curve of adjusting to a new system? Any tips to offer?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Our Vancouver Weekends, Family-Style -- More Steps to Retirement

On the cusp of retirement, we've begun thinking about where we might be living five years from now. I suspect many of us must be mulling over possible changes -- Duchesse at Passage des Perles addresses the issue in a useful post about the possibility of uneven aging in a couple's senior years and the wealth of responses suggests this is a widespread concern. Duchesse's specific reference to hanging on to the family home in anticipation of grandchildren's visits resonated particularly loudly -- it certainly touched a chord with me.

I have long dreamed of having the grandchildren playing together here on our beach and cycling the dirt roads of the island, enjoying considerably more roaming latitude than they have access to in the city. As I've shared in numerous posts over the past few years, we've already made many happy memories here with Nola, and Harriet is now at the age when we hope she and Nola might be able to visit Nana and Granddad's together, sans parents. This summer, I'm planning to nudge a treehouse project into reality and we're also hoping Nola will be back for sailing lessons again.

But keeping up two places may become too much over the next few years: island life can be logistically challenging, the travel back and forth can be costly, and servicing two homes isn't cheap -- my pension will be very modest, given my late entry to the plan. Much as it will hurt to leave this place, if we have to choose, a downtown condo in the city that hosts some of our kids and grandkids makes more sense. Our current apartment, bought years ago when Pater worked in the city while I worked over here, is satisfactory but small -- about 500 square feet. It lacks some of the amenities we appreciate (no in-suite laundry, for example); the location is convenient but north-facing and without a particularly attractive view; there's no extra bedroom for grandkid sleepovers or visiting guests. Should/once we move, we'll be looking for something more suitable.

While we settle into my retirement, though, I'd like to sit with both possibilities. I don't want us to rush into the financial constraints that would come with buying a bigger condo now (Vancouver's housing market is absolutely nuts -- the income--average house ratio is one of the toughest anywhere). Still, we enjoy that parental/grandparental role of bringing the family together, regularly. And we find that it's surprisingly possible to manage, even in such a small space.

This past weekend, for example, we offered (begged?) to baby-sit Frankie -- her dad dropped her off on his way to climb some mountains (really!) while her mom headed off to yoga. We waited anxiously for the Sleeping Baby to wake and wonder where she was and who she was with . . . in fact, it took her about five very solemn minutes, looking, blinking, looking, thinking. . . and finally a careful smile that gradually dissolved into a more relaxed demeanour. By the end of the morning, she was quite happy to sit with a dapper uncle (see above photo) and keep track of all the goings-on.

After Frankie settled in, the rest of the family began to arrive. Nana plays a silly little game whereby I head down the hallway to the elevator as soon as I've buzzed the visitors in. I was crouched there with Frankie when Hattie exited the elevator -- huge grin! Baby Frankie! big hugs. . . .I'd love to think that might someday be a memory (Perhaps they'll tell their own little ones: "Nana used to wait for us at the elevator -- we always pretended to be surprised").

Hattie and I did the same elevator surprise for Nola who, I think, rather expects it by now but still looks delighted to see us.

Once inside the apartment, things are a bit crowded. Shoes pile up in our little hallway, coats get piled on Nana and Granddad's bed. But there are seats for all, and plenty of food and, very quickly, a happy din as we catch up on each other's news. The little girls seem to approve of the menu: Pater bought an electric grill, which simplifies the cooking considerably, and he stuck with a classic menu -- bacon, sausages, eggs, pancakes, and his superlative baking powder biscuits. (I questioned why he'd double the starch -- pancakes and biscuits? -- his reasonable answer: everyone likes his biscuits and they like pancakes as well)
I'd love to have more space so that the kids could really sprawl with their toys, the baby crawl without the risk of being stepped on. . . The little girls wanted to play with Nola's Playmobil dollhouse  (best Christmas present I've ever bought, I'd say, for hours of entertainment value, but the proviso has been that it stays at Nana's; Harriet got the Playmobil Noah's Ark, same proviso). Nola was hesitant, at first, to expose its many small pieces -- the teeny dishes, the toilet brush (!) -- to Hattie's curiosity, but her natural generosity reigned. And although the apartment is tiny, they made themselves a cozy little nest on our bed, pushing the coats to one end. Granted, this might not work with all kids, but for now, it's surprising how much fun this limited space can offer.

And when the quieter play gives way to a need to move more energetically, we do as we did later on Sunday afternoon, when all the brunch guests but Nola had left. For the first hour, she was very happy to have her doll family and their house all to herself, and we could hear her happily chattering them through a number of grand narratives. But when she started looking for something new to do, we all got our coats and shoes on and headed to the beach -- a five-minute walk from the apartment! From the beach, we strolled to the grocery store, again only minutes away, and then back home to roast chicken and pasta -- both high on Little Girl's approved menus.

It's funny how wedded we are to the notion of sprawling interiors, given how many people in how many cities around the world make do -- and live rich lives -- in much less square footage. Although I'm occasionally disappointed that we can't have all our kids gather in our larger island home more often, I'm glad we're pushed to see how much hospitality can be fitted into 500 square feet. What about you? Have you lived in a small city space? Or a small space anywhere? Got any tricks to share? (and on that note, Ikea's pretty clever, no?) Would the cramped area drive you nuts? Are you contemplating a move once retired? Looking forward to it or dreading it? Do tell -- I've been keen to follow the conversation Duchesse started and interested in hearing more about this particular aspect of it.

Of course, the city also offers many simple, easily accessible pleasures for Granddad and Nana as a couple -- more on that in my next post. . . .

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dressing for the Dance. . . for Watching it, that is. . .

 Zig-zagging back and forth from Vancouver this week -- back on the island yesterday so that I could go to a performance by Compagnie Marie Chouinard. I wouldn't have gone if a friend hadn't asked me weeks and weeks ago -- I said "yes" after realizing I'd be in Reading Break, so a gentler schedule, but without thinking of the grandbaby due to enter the world sometime this week. I've worried, since, that baby-meeting might trump dance-viewing, but so far, all's quiet on that front.

So very glad I said "Yes." In fact I'm hereby resolving to say "yes" to more contemporary dance performances in the near future. The link above contains video excerpts that might help you see why -- exciting, fresh, innovative, moving, amusing, compelling -- and beautiful! How beautiful the human body is in its movements and its intelligence and its emotions, dance reminds us.

 And then we were treated to an after-the-show chat with two of the dancers -- wonderfully illuminating discussion that pointed to the depths of experience and time and experimentation that the 75 minutes of actual dance drew from. Plus the astonishing revelation that the three or four dancers who took turns at the piano playing Satie's Gymnopédies learned to play, some of them almost "from scratch," specifically for this programme. As a long-time piano teacher who has prepared many students for conservatory exams, I was amazed at this challenge, this commitment to understanding the music, to changing one's body by asking something difficult of it.

If there's no opportunity for live performance near you at the moment, I see that Wim Wenders' gorgeous film, Pina -- a documentary film about the legendary German choreographer Pina Bausch -- is available on Netflix, here in Canada, at least. Of course, viewing it that way won't yield the same 3D experience I enjoyed before I posted about the film here. But I suspect there will be enough to grab your attention and hold you mesmerized in front of the screen -- last night's Co. Marie Chouinard performance has me antsy for a Pina rewatch, and I'm sure it will hold up on second viewing.
 I'll admit to thrashing around a bit at the last half hour, trying to find something to wear -- I wanted to dress up a bit for a live theatre performance, but I also needed to ride my bike to the ferry and to fit in with the crowd on a mid-week evening in a casual-dressing small city audience. A few items got rejected, a few outfits wouldn't work because I'd left part of them behind in Vancouver, but this came together and I was really pleased with it (although I'm not completely convinced by the partial tuck). The flat shoes were an experimental concession, not so much to the bike as to the steep boat ramp of a low tide. I wasn't sure they could work with this skirt length, but I liked the combo so much I may even wear it to the opera in Vancouver Saturday night.
 Interesting that Sue at Une Femme d'un Certain Age should have posted on her version of Classic today, because I've been recognizing that I'm moving toward my own iteration -- which seems to be something involving clearer, simpler shapes and proportions that work for me. I also love that she's using the term "Flattering Enough" -- It covers what I decided my flat shoes were, with this outfit -- clearly, a heel would have given me a more flattering leg length, but I opted for a funky comfort that, I thought, was "Flattering Enough."

And made me smile. Thanks to Pater for following me outside with the camera to give my What I Wore photos a change from that mirror.

So have you been fortunate enough to take in a contemporary dance performance recently? Would you like to? Have you ever? And I know I've chatted about Pina here before, but some of you weren't visitors then, so let me ask again if you've seen it? and if so, did you love it?
And, of course, I welcome any comments I haven't posed questions for. I just like to hear from you. . . 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Garden. Sunshine. Awakening. . .

I feel as if I've been playing hooky from my blog, which is rather a silly way to conceive a few days away -- my last post was on Friday, and today's only Monday. I'm sure you've all been quite happily busy doing all manner of interesting things and scarcely noticed I'd slipped away to a family-filled weekend in Vancouver without telling you. But there it is. I felt a teeny bit AWOL and a teeny bit defiant about it, and that's all a bit silly, and I'm trying to sort out why that might be and what I should do about it.

Meanwhile, though, I've had post drafts full of photographs to write up, and I'm going to send those out into the world as I had originally planned with the hope that you might enjoy them. We've been sorting a few bigger things that I'm not able to write much about here but that are getting in the way, rather, of my urge to write about much else. Very bad news about an old friend balanced with some exciting and happy news that will, however, change our family dynamics considerably. Retirement rushing ever closer, insisting as it does that we should make some concrete plans for the next year. Insisting loudly, in an argument with inner voices that suggest perhaps staying put and taking stock might also be valuable.  Wonderful to have choices. But sometimes confounding. . .
 Luckily, the garden is very distracting these days and a gentle but firm reminder of the wisdom of trust, of cycles, of acknowledging ups and downs, of the way change and continuity are merely two sides of the same coin, and that so often the hope that we can't see is growing beneath the surface even as all might look tired or difficult.

 The action is speeding up now, after a week of temperatures creeping toward the low teens (Celsius, of course). The photo above, of a white currant flower ready to burst into bloom, was taken 8 days ago. When we get home tomorrow, I suspect we'll see that the shrub is in full bloom.

And even those plants that aren't giving us flowers yet are painting the walkways and garden beds in all sorts of delightful ways -- here a bit of chiaroscuro, brightened by the sharpest, sweetest greens.
 The spring sunshine dances so tenderly with this burgeoning new growth, but would it be so sweet if not set against the sere colours of last year's faded vegetation?

So we move forward, wondering, secretly, how much more life can toss at us, how well we'll be able to weather it all, aware that some of it (there will be, inevitably, more and more and more news of old friends laid low, felled) requires strength beyond our youth's imaginings. Better keep looking for the restorative moments, then. Better keep tracking the beauty, the kindness, the sheer fun (little girl cousins giggling together, 6, 3, 6 months -- perhaps I'll tell you more later. . . )

Today, a new week. Dig in. Make the most of it, shall we? And I do hope you're patient with the garden photos. . . .I do hope someday there might be more substantive writing here. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Fountain Bamboo -- Once in a Lifetime!

My fountain bamboo (fargesia nitida) is blossoming!  I was both excited and, honestly, a bit alarmed when I noticed this on a walk 'round my garden earlier this sunny week (more photos to come).  As wonderful as it is to see a plant bloom for the first time after some ten or more years in one's garden, it quickly became apparent that this clump of bamboo -- chosen carefully for its limited tendency to spread, at the recommendation of a very knowledgeable gardening friend -- might be remarkably prolific in its seeding.

I went immediately to Dr. Google, and found this fascinating article on the long-awaited possibility of these plants blooming in North America. By a wonderful coincidence, the botanist author of the article is writing about plants at UBC, in Vancouver, so the same horticultural zone as my own. I'm summarizing some of the article here, but my grasp of the nomenclature and the basic taxonomies of botany is very limited, so please forgive this layperson's rendition and check out the original should you wish a more satisfying explanation.
 Writing in 2007, the scientist, Jeffery M. Saarela first surveys the scientific knowledge about woody bamboos in general, pointing out their taxonomy has been "particularly challenging because much of their biodiversity occurs in regions that are physically and politically difficult to access, and because many species have long intervals between flowering hence reproductive morphology is often not known." Indeed, the flowering intervals can be as little as 3 or as great as 150 (or more!) years.

From Saarela, I learned that many bamboo species will flower simultaneously and then the flowering individuals, having set seed, will die -- often with serious ecological consequences. As well, I learned that because the flowering occurs at such long intervals, there has been limited availability of reproductive material to describe, so knowledge of these plants is still emerging. Such has been the case with Fargesia nitida, one of two Fargesia species that Saarela was able to observe flowering at UBC.

The back story about my own plant, a F. nitida specimen, was almost as interesting to me as its current flowering. An alpine bamboo, the species is native to China, where it grows at high elevations, and it was first grown in the UK from seed collected in China in 1886 (so right around when my English grandparents were born).  As Saarela points out, "All individuals of these species now grown in the West are believed to originate from these original Chinese collections." That's pretty cool, no?
 But the plot thickens. Apparently, since that seed was collected in 1886, it didn't flower in Great Britain until the early 1990s -- over 100 years later!  Gathering some of the reproductive material from these newly flowering individuals has allowed scientists to "resolve several taxonomic and nomenclatural problems" -- i.e., if I understand correctly, to better sort out affinities and morphological differences that establish family trees.

Observing flowering bamboos at the University of British Columbia campus in 2006 (Saarela acknowledges on-line reports of F. nitida's North American flowering in North America in early to mid 2000s), Saarela went back to check on the plants in early 2007 to see if the expectation of their death after flowering was, in fact, going to be realized. His report is mixed: of the three flowering plants, two had been significantly depleted of foliage, while another looked as healthy and vigorous as the nearby non-flowering individuals. Saarela cautions that "since the flowering cycle in these individuals is presumably not yet complete, it seems premature to determine conclusively their ultimate post-flowering fate."

The article was written, as I say, in 2007, but I can't find any reference online to what happened to those particular bamboo plants later. I'm also curious to know how quickly -- or even whether -- seedlings were identified in the area. I do know that when/if you're buying a Fountain Bamboo (and it's a lovely plant, clumping not spreading, very graceful, quite hardy, lovely in a gentle breeze), any reputable nursery is going to help you make sure you're buying a new generation plant which is unlikely to bloom within your lifetime. So while I'll be sad if we lose this F. nitida -- and face a big void in the garden! -- I'm thrilled that we have ringside seats at a once-in-a-very-long-lifetime botanical phenomenon.

My mother was a keen gardener. A school-teacher by training, home raising her large family for most of her life, she told me once, in her 70s, quite wistfully, that she'd finally discovered what she would have loved to have been -- a horticulturist. She would have been thrilled to see the flowering of this plant, a descendant of seeds harvested before her own mother was born -- and to think that should these seeds bear fruit, the resulting plants would likely not flower until my granddaughter Nola's grandchildren are parents. . . .

Now tell me, do any of you have a Fargesia nitida growing in your garden? (Or do bamboo terrify you with yourtheir colonizing propensities?!) If so, has it bloomed? And if not, any other botanical delights to share this February Friday (and many apologies to those of you who must take botany on faith these days, hidden as it is under a depth of snow). . . . or just shout out a hello on the way to a Happy Weekend!

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