Saturday, November 22, 2014

Steps to Retirement, Little Steps,

Strawberry tree (arbutus uneda) with its magic trick of  offering fruit and flower simultaneously!
 I've been disappointed with my posts lately, wishing I could find time for some of the reflective writing I really enjoy and that often seems to elicit a more sustained conversation with you wonderful readers. Life intervenes, however, and I rarely seem to find time to Think about what I'd like to write, never mind actually Write It!

Beautyberry bush (callicarpa) doing what it does, beautiful berries!  last leaves of the Burning Bush (Euonymus) ; first fragrant flowers of Viburnum bodnatense 'Pink Dawn'
 Something occurred to me recently, though, probably on a run -- that seems to be my best version of multi-tasking lately, thinking while running (although I am only just emerging from a three-week slump in my fitness schedule, dialing down the running mileage and dialing out, completely, the yoga classes -- first class back yesterday and oh my, I'm feeling it today!).
Island walk, first frost. . . 

 Hardly a major epiphany, but what occurred to me was that I might occasionally blog toward a list of hopes and plans I have for my retirement. I have advised HR of my intention to leave by the end of next year, and meanwhile, I'm trying to organize a productive, positive, and restorative transition into the next phase of my life.

So over the next several weeks, I plan a series of occasional posts listing a few of the activities I mean to make time for.

And the first that occurred to me, particularly as I have this backlog of photos from last week's garden and island walkabout, is that I really Must! refine my camera skills. I've been yearning for another lens or two for my Nikon DSLR (D40X), but really, first I should learn how to make this camera do more of what it can do. For every one of the photos here, I relied on the camera to think for me. Yet years (okay, decades) ago, I took a 6-session community-ed class in which I learned how to use my SLR Pentax (the Spotmatic).  I'm fairly confident that I could revive that technical knowledge and transfer it to the digital realm with several hours of instruction followed by countless hours of practice. So much cheaper to do that now than when there was film to be bought and developed!

Berries -- rose hips, hawthorn, arbutus, holly, snowberry -- and Seedheads (sedum Autumn Joy)
It's pretty clear that I live in a place of great beauty and that capturing that however fleetingly satisfies me enormously. So there you go: Retirement Plan #1,  Improve Photography Skills, probably through classes.
And if I take enough decent pictures, perhaps those will reconcile me, eventually, to another Retirement Plan, leaving the island home . . . .

One step at a time though, right?

So where are you on the retirement-planning spectrum? Are you far enough into yours to have realized some of your plans, jettisoned others, and modified a few to better meet reality? Or is it still far enough away that you idealize it, imagining a wide swathe of time for a myriad of long-delayed activities? (My hair-stylist, for example, maintains she'd "give up her right boob" to retire. I remind her that too many clients would protest too loudly. Luckily for me, she's not even 45 yet!)
 Or perhaps, as for me, your retirement is on the near-horizon and you're gradually becoming accustomed to the notion, some days with happy anticipation, others with more than a tinge of anxiety.  . . .

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What I Wore: A Few Recent OOTDs but no smile. . .


Winding down toward the weekend, and I thought I'd share a few outfits I've felt good about lately. Camel is a new colour for me, one I used to think was impossible to wear. But this J Crew Regent jacket turns out to be very wearable indeed. I wore it over a simple white v-neck t-shirt and a pair of black wool pants. Mind you, I did wrap my favourite hand-knit alpaca lace shawl around my neck, so the cherry might just drown out the camel....

The pants are J Crew as well, Campbell Capri also bought at 30% off. I wasn't sure what to think about the slight flare at that cropped length in the slim cut, but it's growing on me. And they are gloriously comfortable! But remember when we thought it was a huge fashion faux pas to wear "floodies"?

I love wearing the blazer with my new wool skirt, Aqua merino turtleneck (both J Crew, what can I say? It was a good sale, and I'm still replacing wardrobe I dieted myself out of).

I'm always a bit leery of having an outfit be too new, and these do verge on that, but in both cases, the footwear's got some heavy mileage. The black patent oxfords in the top photos and the boots pictured here with the skirt are both 4 or 5 years old. for me, opaque tights and slightly "tough" boots tone down the skirt's length.


No need to mitigate against the length of the skirt below, though. It's an absolute favourite, perhaps 6 or 7 years old, pleated wool, a Gap piece, surprisingly. I worried that it might be too big on me now, but although it's loose, the boxy cut doesn't need a close fit. At least, it still pleases me to wear it.

I thought I'd try it with an also-boxy pale grey merino sweater and I love the combo. So simple and satisfying to wear for someone who loves wool as I do. Clean, strong lines in practical working textiles. Added another cherry scarf, this one an after-Christmas sale treasure from years ago, 100% cashmere (Banana Republic, I think)

And those well-worn black Fluevog Britney boots which I'm beginning to assess a bit skeptically. . . Their days may be numbered...

Almost ready to click "publish," I realize that I didn't muster a smile in any of these photos. So you should know that I'm smiling out at you right now . . .smiling and waving and thanking you for stopping by.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Recognizing a Friend in an Unexpected Place!

Do you read Cup of Jo? I do, regularly. New York blogger Joanne writes about lifestyle -- dress, design, food, music, books, occasionally travel -- from the perspective of a young mom of two. Thanks to her, I've made Nutella crepes to delight my husband (I scarfed them down too, I'll admit!).

Also thanks to her, I regularly sport a red plaid wool scarf from Madewell. Although her target demographic is probably much younger than my own, this Nana benefits from reading a blogger whose concerns mirror those of my child-rearing, work-juggling daughters and whose sensibilities seem not so different from my own.

But as much as I find a connection with this younger blogger at a rather different stage of life than my own, I can't express how surprised -- disoriented, even -- I was the other day to see this photograph topping Cup of Jo's post for the day. I mean, here's this blogger from New York city posting a photograph taken by someone who lives on  the same tiny West Coast island as I do, an island with fewer than 400 people living on it -- can you say "coincidence"?!

I don't suppose I would have known the photo was taken by my friend and neighbour, Mark Kaarremaa except that not so long ago, Mark had posted an image of a painting-in-progress, by artist Line Osmundsen, based on this stunningly evocative photograph.

I excitedly commented on Cup of Jo (one of the few comments I've ever left there) that the photographer was a friend of mine and then quickly checked in with Mark to see if he could help me find that painting again. He did, and it's finished now, as gorgeous as you might hope for, a brilliantly coloured rendition of the layers of story concentrated by the camera into black and white. I must say that I'm mesmerized by the reduced palette of black, white, and grey, fascinated by the intricate details of the faces. I could spend hours imagining the lines of desire to and from. . . .his yearning, her, what, hint of insouciance? The wrinkles at his mid-brow, the slight quirk of her lips (or is that just a necessary tension on the pipe?). . . .

But I also love what Osmundsen has done in abstracting the images and adding colour: the overlay of pattern, gridwork, texture. . . .

I thought of asking you which you prefer, black-and-white or colour, but it strikes me that the question is a crude one, that it implies an either-or, that it suggests we have to choose between apples and oranges, kumquats and persimmons. And we don't, do we? Instead, I'd say we ought to celebrate those talented people amongst us who show us the world from different perspectives -- or perhaps just more attentively or with better trained eyes.

So thanks to you, Mark, and to Line whom I don't know,thanks for the beauty. And thank you, Joanne, for your blog, which I love, and for the chance you gave me to see my neighbour's undeniable talent (honed over a long career, a lifetime) from a different perspective!  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cold Comfort, Chilly Beauty

Paul got delayed in Vancouver over the weekend (emergency childcare for a granddaughter; taking a daughter to visit his mother as she moves toward palliative care). I stayed on the island with my marking and a determination to get rested as much as I could. I'd originally planned to fit in a yoga class ("in town," across the harbour on "the big island") and to enjoy my usual long weekend run, but my body hinted strongly that it would rather dial the whole activity thing down.

There are no shops on our little island, so no groceries to be had. When someone desperately needs a cup of milk or an onion or some children's Tylenol, we can send out a request on our email listserv and it's very rare that the request isn't answered. But I'd have to be pretty desperate, myself, to resort to that, although I'd call my friend up the road if I were mid-recipe without an egg in the fridge. Friday, having had too busy a day on Thursday to re-up my pantry supplies, I assessed the situation and realized I could probably get by with bacon, eggs, milk, bread, a few tomatoes, and a frozen container of chili that I dug out of the deep-freeze.

All of which meant that I could follow my whims and natural rhythms (except the tedious necessity of those research paper proposals and annotated bibliographies to be marked) and slow right down. My only outings were a walk around the island on Friday and a walk to our little polling station to register my vote on Saturday. Paul's home today, and I expect I'll probably get out for a run later, but even if I don't manage that, I believe the low-activity weekend has been good for body and soul.

Oh, and I did have one more outing, just to the beach outside our front door, with my camera yesterday morning. I love the combination of low tide and sparkling white frost, the sandstone's tawny tones accented sharply green by seaweed -- it's a combination that's seldom offered, low tides generally falling during the night throughout the winter. When it happens on a sunny day, I think it's marvelous, really, a crisp, sparkling, slightly acid beauty.

I did get weary of my simple fare, began craving something sweet, and remembering the huge bag of sliced pears I froze earlier, I made up this simple, luscious upside-down pear cake, pleased to realize we had enough fresh buttermilk. (Don't worry, so far I've only eaten one piece, and Paul will be home soon to take care of the rest.)

Still haven't finished all the marking, but I will manage that today. Instead, I've done some knitting (alternating between two projects: socks on tiny needles, a throw on huge ones). I've hunkered down with a non-work-related novel, Orhan Paniuk'sPamuk's Snow.

And I've been listening to the glorious Les Soeurs Bourlay, their Par le chignon du cou (Which would translate roughly as By the Nape of the Neck, and Yes, the YouTube video is French, but just skip the ad, and you'll soon find that the music jumps any language barriers) especially, but I love the whole album Le Poids des confettis (The Weight of confetti).

Oh my gosh, you'll be saying, no wonder she's relaxed and happy. What a lovely weekend!

It's true! How was yours? And I'm curious: would you be as happy as I can be with two whole days completely on your own? Or does the idea make you feel the cabin fever screaming its way out of you? I sometimes wonder when I'd hit my limit of too much solitude, honestly. . . .

Friday, November 14, 2014

Five Things Friday

1.  Joys of a good Fire
 I take extra satisfaction from the blazing fire in my woodstove when I've built it myself from kindling that I split. Paul's always a bit nervous when I wield an axe, and he probably has good reason to be, but I do feel inordinately pleased with myself over the wonder equation of effort with result. Seeing my kindling bin fill up as I work up some body heat from that satisfying exertion of muscle. . . .channelling my homesteading forebears to boot!

And there's nothing like settling in afterward with a cup of tea, by the heat from a blazing woodstove, while outside, the thermometer hovers around 0 -- even my stack of marking seems tolerable. . . .

2. Porter! I ended a long, demanding workday yesterday by having dinner with a colleague at a local Irish-style pub, and while I was waiting for her to arrive, I ordered myself a pint. I'm generally happy with Guinness, but if I can find porter on the menu, I do enjoy its slightlier sweetier, even nuttier taste -- the nourishing solidity of Guinness without the bracing bitter edge. On a cold, cold day, it's just the beer for me.

3. Handknit wool socks -- I never mind that the stripes don't line up, being rather a fan of the random.  What does matter to me is that these babies keep my feet toasty . . . Are you sensing a theme here?

 4. Seven years ago, I blogged about buying these Uggs on sale, inspired by a snowsotrm. No snow today, but conditions are perfect for snugging my bare feet deep into the sheepskin interior of these now-well-worn boots. They're absolutely no good for our wet days (weeks! months!), but this week the weather is sunny, dry, and cold enough to make wooly boots a pleasure. Time to get away from the fireside, leave the marking behind, and get out into the sunshine. . . .
 5. Nothing like a good walk to raise the spirits,  Even better if that walk takes you along picturesque pathways through evocatively forested parkland, fall leaves adding colour and a rich, musty-spicy scent, the sun romantically filtered through clearings between the trees. Bonus points if you can get to that path, on foot, within ten minutes of leaving home.  . .

6. And let me throw in #6 just for good measure: Have you happened to catch Scott and Bailey, a British series set in Manchester featuring two female detectives whose friendship is as important an element of the plots as is the crime-solving?  Well worth watching -- Pater is currently in Vancouver for a few days and I must admit there has been some solo Netflix bingeing here.

 Back to work now, but I will be checking for comments later -- Have/do you you chop(ped) kindling? Do you agree with me that it's a satisfying task or is it too much a chore for you? And how about those stripes? Could you bear to knit up a pair randomly or are you more likely to search out the duplicating point in a skein? Do you even like to wear wool socks or do your toes itch at the very thought? Where d'you stand on the Porter-Guinness spectrum? Or do you prefer lighter beers or a nice glass of white wine? That should get our conversation started, don't you think? I do hope you have lovely weather wherever you are, and that you get out for a walk in it, whether that be on a city street, down a rural road to your mailbox, or through a forested path. The weekend's almost here . . .

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Party Pants!

I don't often do this (link directly to a particular retail product), but I'm pretty excited about how great these Gap pants are going to be for everyday and dress-up wear through the holidays. Mine just arrived in the mail -- I got them at 30% off their already low price (and today, the 12th, there's 35% off with the code HOLIDAY, apparently). They're a Wool-Poly-Rayon-Spandex blend with a nice amount of stretch -- I could probably have stayed true to (my Gap, vanity-sizing, natch)  size 2, but ordered the 4 instead, deciding to leave room for some chocolate bonbons, lots of turkey, some hot rum toddies, etc. In other words, they fit as expected, similar sizing to regular Gap, JCrew, etc.

I'm going to love wearing mine with a black or a navy sweater (the navy in the plaid is so dark it might as well be black), but also with a white classic shirt, partially tucked.I have a black velvet simple collarless, non-lapelled, short jacket I'll probably pair this with as well, maybe over a plain white T.  My off-white merino, boxy sweater. . . Might even be able to get away with wearing them with my gold-heart covered grey sweatshirt (you know Jenna would!). Or my grey sequinned tank. But the plaid's pretty lively on its own, and there's the red, so maybe enough will be enough. . .

As for shoes, I have a pair of black patent pointy-toe flats that will be perfect, but I'm guessing I'll also dress them up in heels, although probably not as high as the Gap stylist shows. And since the fit is slim and the fabric thin, I'll be able to tuck them into my black knee-high boots for variety and staying warm and dry.

Lisa, at AmidPrivilege, has a great post up on buying a single item to spark that holiday feeling -- hers this year is going to be a top, she says, and she offers a cornucopia of possibilities in every price range.

But if you decide you want your festive wardrobe to centre on party-pants, let me know: we can be fashion twins! How will you style yours, imaginary or just-running-to-your-local-Gap-for-a-pair-right-now? 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Family Dinner, New Restaurant, Old Memories

Several weeks ago, I read Alexandra Gill's very enthusiastic review of "a humble South Indian diner" that specializes in dosas, massive rice-lentil crepes filled with a variety of delectable spicy ingredients. I quickly organized a visit with one daughter, her partner, and their wee one, but somehow mis-remembered the name of the restaurant and ended up at a decent dosa place many hundred-blocks from the written-up diner, on the same Vancouver street. Good enough, and affordable and friendly (although sadly without a beer-and-wine license), we enjoyed Madras Dosa, but I decided to try once more to check out Corner Dosa.

Sometimes it's tough to gather the whole family on such short notice, but I sent out an email last Monday, and by Wednesday, we'd heard that all were coming, except our son, on business in New York City. Disappointing, but his father-in-law was visiting, and we were pleased to have him fill Z's seat -- especially since we will be co-grandparenting in just a few months. . .

The decor at Corner Dosa is modest, but the room is clean and bright, and the service is warm and welcoming. Our little ones were fussed over, and servers made their way around the stroller without complaints. At one point, my husband tried to order his Main before all the Appetizers had arrived, and our server insisted that we wait and see how hungry we really were. Similarly, when we did get to ordering our main dishes (the appetizers were a variety of samosa and pakoras, lightly battered chicken and shrimp, in a range that kept vegetarians and carnivores equally happy) and Paul tried adding a number of breads, the server pointed out which dishes would have accompanying breads already. We ordered beer from a small selection in the cooler, but certainly, no one was trying to increase the liquor part of our bill, and although we clearly hogged a considerable portion of the restaurant, there was no attempt to hurry us through the meal.
 I've mentioned before how much I love the chance to watch my kids and their partners interact with each other, and the way the little ones are developing rich relationships with their aunts and uncles -- as below, where it's clear that this little redhead is very comfortable with her Aunt B and Uncle A
Down at the other end of the table, two patriarchs renew acquaintance, a son-in-law relaxes contentedly, and two burgeoning-bellied young moms catch up.
 Little girls get silly
 the littler trying to keep up with the oh-so-sophisticated humour of her big cousin.

I probably should have snapped some photos of the wonderful food -- the dosas, especially, are photogenic, long, fat, golden crispy rolls, extending corpulently off the edges of their plates. Mine was filled with mixed vegetables and lamb -- the cubes of lamb were succulent but not at all fatty, prime cuts cooked to perfect tenderness. I watched my daughter's contentment with her lamb biryani (served with gravy, a South Indian difference, apparently), another daughter's partner equally happy with his goat biryani, the son-in-law sitting opposite me very pleased with a vegetarian dosa (featuring spinach and paneer, I think among other savoury ingredients). We'll definitely be back to try out more menu items.

As we drove away, and we remarked again how much further the restaurant is from the city core
than we'd expected (hence, perhaps, my error several weeks ago), I remembered the old bridge that used to cross the Fraser River, not too far from where this restaurant now sits. It was of wooden construction, with a swing span to accommodate tugs and barges passing underneath its relatively low height.  I'm fairly sure that I drove over it in a daily commute for two or three weeks back in 1971 or '72 for a summer job in a food-packing plant, a job that gave me a glimpse into the world of punching a card for start and end of work, for each carefully doled out coffee break, for lunch break.

A glimpse was all I needed, and I was grateful when another more congenial position came up elsewhere, but I'm surprised how clearly the muscle memory of tamping down the pancake mix inside its paper bag remains in my forearms, how my knuckles recall the folding down of the bag and the feeding it through the slightly terrifying industrial sewing machine that closed the powder safely into its container.

And I have a similar sense of the bumpiness of the ancient bridge's asphalt underneath my funny little English car's wheels, a foggy but insistent recollection of waiting impatiently for the span to swing back into position after a sluggish tug had towed its load underneath. My cursory research suggests that I might be remembering correctly, as it seems the bridge closed officially in late winter, 1974, with the opening of the Knight Street Bridge.
I'm cautious in my claims because I do notice occasionally now that events as long as forty years ago are sometimes susceptible to re-editing in my memory files. Further, there are fewer and fewer who might have had a firmer grip on the details of those times. I wish, yet again, that my dad was still around because he could corroborate or correct or enhance my memories. That wish, in turn, spurs me on to pass some of the details along, yet ever conscious that without context, my own children and grandchildren may not be particularly interested. Yet.

Ah well. We're making new memories with them, for them, aren't we?

Several years after I (putatively) drove the Fraser Street Bridge those few summer mornings, Paul and I, newlyweds, would make our budget stretch to an occasional restaurant meal. We wouldn't do this much more often than once or twice a month, and we usually found that the dollars went much further in the ethnic restaurants that were just beginning to make their way into the Vancouver landscape. At least, there has long been a tradition of Chinese restaurants here, and there were Japanese as well (although sushi was just beginning to nudge its way in then). But in the early 70s, we'd still have to drive into Vancouver from our suburban home for Greek food while the pyrogy restaurant in New Westminster was closer, a welcome novelty, somewhere we could eat heartily for fifteen to twenty dollars.

No one, at that time, was serving Indian food, not in all of British Columbia, I'd almost dare say, not in those decades before the trail-blazing Vij's. But now, we have a plethora of options in our much more cosmopolitan, multicultural city. We're squaring the circle, Paul and I, stretching the entertainment budget eating affordable ethnic food, and making family memories at the same time. I do wonder what the young 'uns will remember in 40 years and how those memories will blur. . . .

What about you? When/If you cast your mind back 40 years, are you quite confident in the solidity of your memories? Are you occasionally surprised when contradictions are exposed or discovered?
And on a different note, have you discovered the joys of the dosa? (If not, I highly recommend searching them out!)
If you were around Vancouver "back in the day," do you remember driving the Fraser Street Bridge? And if you weren't, do you find yourself challenged or surprised or simply observant of the way your city has changed over your lifetime.
Really, that's enough questions, isn't it? I'm ready for your answers . . . let's chat!
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