Sunday, January 22, 2017

Recharging and Recovering and Reflecting

Just a quick note to say that my visit to our old stomping ground was so satisfying, if exhausting.  Our afternoon ferry got us to the island with enough time to check in, unpack, and take a very quick nap before I met a friend for dinner.  Four hours of the best kind of catch-up talk, those segues from one topic to another that only make sense if you've ever experienced them. From the superficial to the philosophical, from neighbourhood scandals to global fears, from last fall's travel's to an exciting 10-year house-building plan. We covered it all, and then some, and I came back to Pater in the hotel room recharged and, well, reassured, I guess, by the reflection that I'd got back from the mirror my friend help up to me. Families love us (if we're lucky!), but the mirror they hold up doesn't always reflect us back to ourselves as friends do. And, to be fair, we might not show the same side of our face to family as we do to friends.

That's something I'll be thinking more about over the next while, and I'm going to write more here about it soon -- and ask your thoughts on the matter as well -- but right now I'm needing some recovery time from a series of longer, busier days than my waning cold was willing to tolerate. It might just be the hours of talking with friends (three hours with another friend over breakfast the next day, an hour over afternoon coffee, and then another four hours over dinner with friends!), but the sore throat is back.

And next week promises to be a busy one as well: coffee with a friend from way back whom I haven't seen in several years; a possible breakfast with a former neighbour, in the city for a conference; a visit with a new physio, an important ally in my determination to regain fitness; and a French lesson. Plus that "determination to regain fitness" means prioritising a daily walk, at the very least, and also, I hope, fitting in at least one yoga class...

As well, of course, my week's To-Do list includes blogging. I'm going to post an update on our Nesting Progress now that we've sorted a few key pieces and have one room looking much closer to what we'd hoped for.  I might include some thoughts about adapting to condo living. We'll see. . . .

But gently, and slowly, and paying attention to the "sore-throat meter."

Finally, although my sore-throat warning kept me home yesterday, I must say, "Wasn't that Marvellous?!" To see those numbers of women and their allies marching in solidarity was so uplifting, so hope-inspiring. Check out my Instagram account to see my own favourite marchers, but there are so many splendid images from the day. Perhaps you have a favourite yourself. I know some of you were at some of those marches -- Brava!

Have to go now -- the 4-year-old granddaughter wants to come over to tell Nana and Granddad all about yesterday's marching. But I'll be back later to read any comments you have time to leave. What are you up to this Sunday? What plans for the week ahead? What will you be recovering from or looking forward to? How are you Recharging?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Word-less Wednesday -- A Walk in the Park

 We've switched back to our normal rainy weather here. In fact, if you can believe it, the official Environment Canada weather website has a Rainfall Warning posted. You know you're going to be wet when Vancouverites need to be alerted to incoming liquids.....

But on Sunday, when it was still cold and sunny, I made my way over to Van Dusen Botanic Gardens, where we've bought memberships for the coming year.  I'm hoping this will help me reconcile myself to the loss of the garden I created and maintained over the last 23 years. At the very least, it's a good place to change up the pace of urban living for an hour or two. I'm looking forward to discovering its various seasonal moods. Here it is with a light blanket of snow...
 I did find some colour in the garden -- some rosy hellebores whose photo I posted earlier on Instagram. But honestly, I was just as pleased by the subtler tones and magnificent textures of the many seed heads. These teasels, for example....

 And I'm not sure what this plant is, but I had to stop and admire the honeycomb architecture of what's left of its spent bloom.
 I had to wonder if this wee blue mitt was dropped accidentally and just managed to land, poignantly, on this boulder. . . . or could someone not resist the temptation to place it there where its bright hue is emphasised by the blue streams of lightbulbs running alongside as part of the festive winter illumination...

 I could have played for much longer with these fluffy echoes of the Ligularia flowers....
 They pick up and reflect sunshine and shadow so effectively, especially with that snowy background.
 After all those neutrals, the latent blooms of the Pieris Japonica flame out rather dramatically, especially in that winter sunshine.
 And, of course, Harry Lauder's Walking Stick loves to ply its quirkily elegant shapes across a blue sky. Back in my old garden, the catkins will soon be appearing on a purple-leaved variety that was just beginning to grow into some maturity, still only six or seven years into its spot there, near the fence my husband built with yellow cedar he collected from a friend's home where it had been grown, then felled, then milled. . . All these stories connected with each plant in my old garden, and I'm hoping that as I walk, over the years, through this new, larger, borrowed city garden, I'll be able to recall these stories, graft them to plants over here, perhaps. We'll see. . .
 After that thought, it seems fitting to close with the image of a Japanese Iris, winter-dormant, caught in the transition between cycles.
 Dried-out, apparently finished. . . .
but we know from experience what surprises await. . . .
(and I know, that last sentence is paradoxical. . . I believe it's also true. . . hence the paradox?)


So many other things I could tell you (we found a great place for Pho, not far away; I met a lovely, thoughtful, generous, patient, and fun blog-reader for coffee; Pater and I saw a marvellous, challenging, powerful production of Verdi's Macbeth, adapted brilliantly by a South African troupe Third World Bunfight;  our new leather Sleeper Sofa arrived and we love it (such a relief, given it was custom-ordered, no return possible); we're off for a few days to the big island we used to live near, although not to the little island we lived on -- I'm going to talk a few poor friends' ears off!), but for now, I hope you might have enjoyed this little walk through the park with me.

Halfway through the work-week, and more than halfway through the first month of this year, and I'd love to know how you're doing, what you're thinking.  Comments always welcome.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Out and About in the Neighbourhood -- What I Wore

So what does one wear when the sidewalks are dangerously icy, the temperatures are stuck below freezing, one's feet are complaining about the new snow boots, and the cabin fever brought on by three weeks of 'flu has become unbearable. . .

Seriously, my cold/flu/grippe is beginning to ease up, and I've been managing to get out for increasingly longer distances this past week, although not yet more than six kilometres a day. Comfort is paramount, though, and safety, and last week I opted again for that 8-year-old grey wool pleated skirt and grey wool tights (previously seen here), but this time wore it with a pair of black trainers, my peacoat, and a cashmere scarf. And yes, you'd better believe I added a pair of gloves (black, leather). I'm such a baby about having cold hands -- no tolerance at all!

Part of what I've been thinking about, as alluded to in my last post about home vis-à-vis travel, is how we (can) use the one to sharper our appreciation of the other.  Or maybe, how the borders between the two can soften, blur -- how can we be at home when we're away, and how can we travel, or at least get lost, when we're on our everyday stomping ground.

This Monday morning, I find myself not quite ready to commit many words to screen on that topic (although I will tell those of you who hazarded an answer to my Guessing Game that the top photo was taken in Bordeaux and the bottom in my home city, Vancouver -- more next post about the artist and about the shift I experienced when I recognised her work so far from home). But I thought I could share a discovery I made when "getting lost" in my own neighbourhood let me travel at/from home.

I turned a corner in a single-family home neighbourhood fewer than eight blocks from here, to see this magnificent dragon stretched in all her pique-assiette splendour across a modest cinder-block wall. .  .
Closer inspection showed that she was of Asian provenance, the fragments of broken China repurposed after they could no longer serve tea or hold soup...

The technique reminded me of a ceramic mosaic Pater and I had admired in Paris, at the height of Parc de Belleville
but this one was right in our own new neighbourhood....

I'm off again this morning, walking the neighbourhood, although this time a bit more purposefully, a bit less aimlessly -- indeed, I'm off to hang out with a not-quite-two-year-old while his mom and his sister have some Big Girl time together. Still, who knows what I might see along the way...


And I'm wearing a new coat against the cold (which is going to be replaced by warmer temperatures and copious rain later this week. Sigh). Still insisting on the trainers, though. And I'm trying to think of what two-word catch phrase might describe my style these days. That's Not My Age's Casual Glamour is clearly far beyond me, and I'm not sure there's enough pedigree in my gear to qualify as Amid Privilege's Sturdy Gal. I'm beginning to think I might have to accept a label as something like "Urban Bluestocking." I guess I could live with that. ;-)

Any discoveries you've made lately in your own neighbourhoods? Or any style compromises you've easily made to the realities of weather?  I debated inviting you to lend me a couple of words to describe my style, but oh dear, that could be inviting trouble, right? So maybe not . . .

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Home and Away and Why I Travel: Guess What?

Want to play a guessing game? I'm easing gradually off my couch, away from the box of kleenexes and the packet of cough drops, moving slowly into the year. Some stock-taking is in order (I found Sam's post, and the links that brought her to her January stock-take, so inspiring, and hope to follow her example soon. Even contemplated taking this online course in creative stock-taking, although I've decided it's not quite time. . . yet). So many directions I want to pursue, so many posts begun, so many drafted mentally but not yet on any page. And the letter-writing and the knitting and the sketchbook open on the table, beckoning.

But back to that guessing game. . . one of the directions I want to pursue as I get into the year's blogging is toward understanding the distance between Here and There, to work out some of the pull that Travel exerts for me, and to think about how that pull, and the time I spend away, changes my experience of Home.
While it's taking me forever to get to the guessing game in the blog text proper  -- amusez-vous by trying to place this image.  Where do you think I took this photo?


There was a point last year, mid-February, I think, when the idea of moving overwhelmed me. No one except our realtor, a friend of mine, knew that we were getting ready to list our home in March, and I knew she would accept any decision we made, would never pressure us to go ahead before I was ready. And although I could rehearse and agree with all the reasons we had for making the move then, I told Pater I needed to hold off a bit and seriously think -- and feel! -- whether or not I could make such a drastic move. I felt, at the time, that there had simply been too much going on (one daughter's cancer; another's move, with family, to very distant shores; my retirement, due partly to an ongoing mix of fatigue and anxiety and amorphous, intermittent sadness).

What does all that have to do with Travel, you might legitimately ask.  Oddly, perhaps, I determined my readiness to move was by imagining that we'd been offered a year in France, Italy, Spain -- or even other interesting and attractive locales, but less familiar places for which we had no relevant language skills. I realised that I would say "Yes!" to such an opportunity, and my next recognition was that if I were lucky enough to spend a year like that, the year's distance from home would loosen ties that -- at that moment -- had been feeling like life safety ropes. If I could manage a year away, even thrive, find that year liberating -- as I could easily imagine, even as I imagined the challenges -- I knew I'd come back changed enough that I might be keen on our return.


Can you guess the city that hosts this street mural?
And whether or not that was a realistic scenario, that process of projecting myself into a year of Living Away, of Slow Travel, if you will, told me something about my attachment to Home. It didn't show me any less attached to the island home I loved deeply, but it promised me that I could loosen that attachment and get beyond the loss of a place that I felt such a part of -- or perhaps somehow maintain the attachment in some other form I have yet to understand.

This post is just meant to introduce a topic I hope to nibble at here over the next month or so, something about the ways that Home can be enhanced by leaving or perhaps more that there are aspects of Home that are portable or can be recreated -- or perhaps even that sometimes we might benefit from shucking our shells and working for regrowth. And that Travel (and of course Travel can take many forms, can't it, depending on the context) might have something to do with that process. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic, whether you move every two or three years and wonder what the fuss is about or you've stayed in the same home for decades and know that the values of deep-rootedness outweigh any possible benefits of a move.
And may I just add here that while I was being overwhelmed by the thought of moving, I couldn't help being aware of the world's desperate and involuntary migrants, especially as my country was doing its best to accommodate 25,000 Syrian refugees taken in during the previous 3 months. So yes, I did try to maintain some perspective on our move of choice from beloved comfort to probable comforts yet unknown.

As for The Guessing Game? These two street murals are obviously by the same artist, but one of them is to be found only a few blocks from home whereas the other sparked my recognition when I came across it in Bordeaux last September. Can you guess which is which? Answer to be revealed next post . . .




Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What I Read Last Year, Where I'm Shelving My Books This Year....

Beginning to see the light at the end of this cough-filled tunnel. . . but until I'm back at full strength, I have books to keep me company. Here's a teaser of how the nesting's going, here in our urban condo. No way I could keep all the books I had on so many shelves in our island home, where we had bookcases built in to an open-concept library-office outside our upstairs bedroom as well as a full wall lined with more books in my downstairs office and more shelves below the built-in window seating in the living-room with even more shelves in the kitchen-dining area for cookbooks and foodie memoirs. . . .

But I've culled and I've culled and I've culled, and I know there will be more culling ahead; for now, with the help of Ikea's Billy shelves (yes, I miss the custom cabinetry of our old shelves, but Billy works well and sometimes instant gratification is just the ticket!) and some creative crunching (the alphabet has to be a bit flexible here so that books taller than their assigned shelves can lie on their sides and coyly flash their spines. . .  I think I'll wait until our new sleeper sofa is delivered next week before I show you the whole wall (which will be partly occluded by that couch, in yet another creative compromise).  (Whoa! Did you notice how many parenthetical comments that last sentence included?!)

I don't need to wait any longer, however, to share my 2016 Reading List with you. For those who might be interested, I've posted it over here on my Reading Blog, Materfamilias Reads. I'd love to hear what you think about titles I've read or see your recommendations for ones I haven't, yet.... Leave a comment, if you have a minute, either here or there. Thanks!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Random Thoughts From a Cold/Flu-Muddled Mind...

Okay, so that didn't work! I suspect no one will be surprised to learn that baking bread and making kimchi did not, in fact, cure the cold that was keeping me indoors last post. It distracted me, certainly, as did some reading, card-writing, some knitting, some Netflix and TV-watching, and, sadly, far too little sleep (funny about how that coughing interferes). But it didn't snap me back to health.
I can scarcely believe I was out for a run when I snapped this photo (of a fragrant Viburnum bodnatense 'Pink Dawn') a week ago Friday. By the time we went to bed New Years' Eve, my throat was beginning to prickle with the cold that would move in the next morning....

Indeed, although I got out for a brief walk Thursday morning and then again Thursday afternoon, gaining enough confidence in my much-reduced strength to try a quick Skytrain jaunt downtown for buttons yesterday, I've spent an entire week -- all but those paltry two-and-a-half hours -- inside.

In case you're wondering what I wore for my Invalid Forays on our Icy Sidewalks. . . Um, Casual Bluestocking, anyone? Honestly, I love this pleated wool tweed skirt, The Gap 9 years ago.... and worn at least three times, generally much more, every year since. With grey wool tights and my snow boots, a yak-wool sweater from Aritzia, I was ready...

Just added my old Mackage leather jacket and an M0851 bag that I thought I'd bring back into rotation....

This morning, I feel as if I may have turned a corner (I slept 'til 4:30 this morning before the coughing woke me, hurrah!). Pater just raises an eyebrow at that claim, and it's true that you wouldn't detect improvement in my voice, which has moved overnight alarmingly close to laryngitis territory. But I'm hopeful....

I haven't had such a bad cold for years (reason to think this might actually be a 'flu, and not a cold), and it's brought me some sweet memories of my Dad draping a towel over my head as I leaned over a sink or bowl full of just-boiled water fragrant with bronchia-opening Friar's Balsam. . . . Do any of you know this treatment?

Speaking of fragrance (ha! see how I did that segue? Nothing random about that, right?!), I came over a bit emotional when I spotted these blooms on a Viburnum Bodnatense 'Pink Dawn' while out running last week. These were the November-through-March stars of my island garden, which I planned carefully to include numerous winter-flowering fragrant plants. And they're surely still blooming there, but I'm, well, I'm trying to bloom somewhere else. Somewhere I'm planted now. New roots are still forming. . . .
But at least I'm finding substitute plants on my running route. . . and our Christmas gift to each other was a membership at the local botanic garden. . . . And I'm going to do a bit of research to see what winter-flowering fragrant shrubs might flourish on my terrace garden in tubs.

Last bit of random for the day: I've been enjoying sending off cards to a variety of friends in various destinations. I've a huge envelope full of stationery, gathered over years and years of good intentions, and it's fun to sort through, remembering when and where I bought this card or that. I'm hoping to see the envelope's contents shrink through the year, although it's a bit shocking what the price of stamps has got to since I was last a faithful correspondent.

Another big change I've noticed, and the one I wanted to ask you about, is a thought I've glimpsed, even grabbed and questioned for a slippery second.  Thought is probably not quite right -- more like an expectation. I have caught in myself an expectation or something like, within a few hours of pushing my stamped envelope through the mail slot in the lobby downstairs. It's an expectation clearly built from years of social media, nurtured by the feedback a photo can garner within fifteen minutes of being posted on Instagram. Some days you readers might take a few hours before you offer me sympathy on my cold or offer me travel advice or share your response to a book or television program, but generally, the loop between my thinking/writing and yours is a short one.

But even as I'm wondering what A. in Toronto is thinking about what I've written her, even as I'm impatient to know if C. in Bordeaux was surprised by my card, that envelope is probably still in a sorting facility somewhere between sender and recipient, perhaps in the belly of a plane somewhere over the prairies. So A. or C. won't know what I've written them until I've begun to forget it. . . .Which might seem to rule against the value of "snail mail," to bring out all the pejoratives held in that sometimes affectionately applied term. . . .

However...
I'm inclined to wonder if the necessary lapse between writing and reading, between missive and response, will show itself to me, over this next year, as a value. Will I begin to allow for the rhythm of a correspondence? (and I must say right now that I'm not at all sure any of the recipients will write back -- indeed, I've tried to indicate pretty clearly that I have no expectation of reciprocity. My immediate intent is simply sending off a material piece of mail. At this stage, content isn't what I'm focused on).  Will I, maybe, be more content to sit with my own ideas even after they've been sent off, becoming less dependent on a speedy response to them? When I do get that response, if I do, will I be able to compare it to What I Thought When I Wrote the Letter and What I've Thought about that Since?

Anyway. . . this is all veering much more toward the philosophical than I had any intention of when I began posting, and my stuffed-up head isn't up to much more contemplation. But I'm going to keep you posted (ha! Get it? Accidental pun, but I'll run with it) as my Year (or Month? we'll see) of Correspondence continues. Meanwhile, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts, particularly if you've maintained a letter-writing practice.



Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Cure for what Ails Me? Bread-baking and Kimchi-makng

My last post evinced a determination to stay still for a moment; that determination has been significantly aided by something nasty of the Upper Respiratory variety. That the Universe insists I stay put is underlined by a weather system in which freezing temperatures continue to follow days of wet snow so that sidewalks are dangerously icy. We're currently "enjoying" temperatures that dip to minus 8 (Celsius) at night and tease us by hovering just above during the day. The clear blue skies, sunshine intensifying the brilliant white contrast from the local ski hills, would all be very inviting, quite comfortable with the right winter gear, but those treacherous sidewalks might keep me inside even if I were feeling well. And next up? Snow or rain this weekend.

As it is, I'm enjoying the blue skies, sunshine, and snow-covered mountains through the windows from my couch, not far from my Oil of Oregano drops and my Ginger Tea (do these work? Not convinced about the former, but the latter does seem to open airways and soothe my throat).

You might suspect that I get a bit restless after too long on the couch, and you'd be right (although Tana French's latest mystery The Trespasser pinned me there for several contented hours). Still, the myriad indoor adventures I've got up to have been of the simple, slow, domestic variety, nurturing and perhaps even healing, I sense.

Bread-baking, for example. Not the complicated artisan-style bread-baking Pater's taken up in the last few years, nor even My Mother's Bread as I used to make it for years, beating the first liquid-flour mixture 'til it "sheets" before adding more flour and then kneading. And kneading. And, yep, more kneading. Punching down. Shaping into loaves. Etc.... Nope, this bread is made in oven-proof bowls (although I used a 1-litre LeCreuset casserole dish for one, and then filled two 1/2-litre Pyrex measuring cups for two small loaves).  It requires perhaps ten minutes hands-on, and if you're sprinkling yeast onto your sugared water at 2:15 p.m., you'll have fresh bread to go with your soup at 5.  Good-tasting bread, if not the prettiest. . .

I posted this photo yesterday on Instagram and got a few requests for the recipe. Since the recipe's not mine, I'll just direct you to this website with its very clear (nearly exhaustive!) instructions.

What else did I get up from the couch for? Well, there was my first batch of kimchi in our new home.
Not quite so easy to banish the raucously pungent aromas of fermenting cabbage to a little-used room here, as it was in our old home, nor can we put it outside in the frosty air. Worth it, though, to be able to make kimchi chahan again (No, I couldn't wait for fermentation, but "stole" a cup within a few hours of putting the kimchi into the jar).

And before I used the last of the turkey in the Kimchi Chahan, I made a Turkey Pot Pie and a second big pot of soup. The last several years have seen Pater take over most of the kitchen duties here, and although I'll be very careful about messing too much with that goodness, I'm enjoying feeling my way back to some chopping, mixing, whisking, and sautéing on my own terms.

Also keeping me occupied while I'm grounded by (poor) health and weather? Sweater-knitting, card-writing, and bird-watching (we put up two feeders and have been delighted by visitors, although those house sparrows will have to be made to feel much less welcome somehow, eventually...)

Right now, however, this Nasty Bug is lowering my eyelids, and I'm back on the couch, debating a move to my bed. Hope you haven't caught it yet. Take care....



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