Monday, April 24, 2017

The Garden as Book: Turning the Pages of My New Urban Terrace

I love the way the weather has blasted a rust stencil into the old Doukhobor church bench I picked up years ago to celebrate having successfully passed my doctoral comprehensives. The stencil itself was bought about the same time -- I think it was intended to be hung in a garden, but instead I had it on a kitchen wall in our island home, so this is the first winter it's revealed its inherent dynamism of decay. . . Not sure what I'll do about this going forward, but for now I quite like the effect....

When we moved into our new urban condo last fall, my sadness at having left my island garden behind was somewhat assuaged by my pleasure in our city oasis, the fountain tinkling its liquid camouflage over the sounds of traffic at the busy intersection just a block away, the lush foliage and bright colours of late summer soothing our two-moves-in-one-summer jangled nerves. The garden had played a large part in convincing us to buy the condo, and although we only had a few weeks before leaving for three months in Europe, we went out that first week and bought a decent sectional -- enough to seat four or five, cosily, and a big coffee table.

We also bought weather covers, of course. We're not naive, and we were too busy, then ill, then busy, December, January, and into February, even to think about taking the covers off to sit on the terrace. But by March, after a relatively cold and miserable winter, we began anticipating an afternoon in the weak but welcome spring sunshine, albeit with a fleece blanket to cut the chill. March, however, was the rainiest March Vancouver's seen since before I was born, I believe (and that's saying something, given our situation here in what used to be a Temperate Rain Forest).

Impatient, disappointed, even occasionally disconsolate . . . . we comforted ourselves with some urban terrace bird-watching and with little forays to see what might be poking out of the ground and trying to remember what perennials must be waiting to emerge in which containers and what leaves might appear on the bare branches of shrubs we couldn't yet identify.

I posted a few photos of the shoots and blooms and the leaves just barely, grudgingly, ever-so-slowly releasing outwards from their tightly folded positions against the branches they were expected to fling themselves away from, towards the sun when it eventually made closer, longer arcs above us all. . .

And on one of those postings, a sweet friend commented that it "will be so fun watching that garden unfold like an unread book." I love this analogy! In fact, my first thought was that I should have started at the beginning of the year, or even the beginning of our life here, to write what I was reading in that book. I should have begun one of those garden journals and kept track of when the hostas first poked green snouts through their container's soil, and how many of the crocuses were blind and how many bloomed, and how long the Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes kept hanging on the plants.
 The truth is, though, that there are already too many "shoulds" in the world, aren't there, and perhaps I was simply browsing that book until I was ready to sit and read it. Almost there now 'though,  and I'm going to try to post a Garden Observation and Progress Report every week or two. I'd love to get 'round to keeping an Illustrated Garden Journal as well, but let's be realistic!

Next Garden Post, then, I'm going to try a very quick inventory of the plants, shrubs, and trees the former owners left for us, and I'll tell you about a rather significant concern we have going forward as we assess the conditions of our Rooftop/Terrace Garden (hint: that crane in the background might give you an idea). Until then, though, perhaps you'd like to tell me what you know -- or would like to know -- about gardening on a terrace in a city condo. Or about big changes you've made, voluntarily or otherwise, in your gardening life. I know that some of you may not be interested in gardening at all, but I hope that you'll continue to find enough else of worth here that you might tolerate the occasional garden chat among the rest of us.

And for those with scant interest in gardening, I've got permission to share a few photos of my daughter as a beautiful bride, so that's next up here. . . .

Friday, April 21, 2017

Writing, Gardening, Getting Fit, Making Lists. . . Spring Organising. . .

Perhaps not surprisingly, we still feel a bit tired and breathless around here. Behind the scenes, you won't know, we've spent the past couple of months with our small apartment -- pied-à-terre in the city until we moved here permanently from the island -- on the market, then sold, and now just a week until the closing date. So packing up and cleaning, making more decisions about what to keep, what to give away. And meanwhile, we have only a few more days with our newlyweds and their little one.
Despite the busy-ness, the emotional intensities, I seem to be arriving at some clarity about what I want to focus on at this stage of retirement, finally feeling somewhat settled in our new urban lifestyle. I'm making up schedules to support, accommodate, perhaps even enforce these priorities, and I'm anticipating more time with friends; more attention to my writing life; more gym time and longer running distances; and transformation of the lovely garden we were left by the previous owner into one that is truly ours, that expresses and extends our new city home.
I started a new journal yesterday with lists of tasks and an accompanying dayplanner, and one of those lists comprises topics for my next week or two of blog posts: some Short and Sweet posts about progress on our Terrace Garden; a What I Wore post on my mother-of-the-bride dress, inevitably, I suspect, accompanied by a few words about seeing our last child married; another What I Wore post gathering up a few of the outfits I've enjoyed wearing lately. Besides these shorter posts, I'm planning to write one or two more sustained pieces, one about The Continuing Waves of a Big Move/Retirement, and another about Friends(hip) Old and New. The latter will perhaps overlap, content-wise, with the former.
Not at all sure how this scheduled approach will play out, nor even why I feel I need to tell you I'm adopting it. But I guess it has something to do with working my way through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and working to accept, even represent myself as trying to "Write" without immediately following that with all kinds of qualifications (I've only ever had a few academic articles published, nothing "creative"). Part of that demands that I take my effort, my goal, seriously enough to block out time for it, even, perhaps, to think of it as Work (in the positive sense of the term).

I also think that telling you about it has something to do with the process of Retiring and Making a Big Move; the way those have affected my sense of Identity; my awareness of, and dismay over, a fair amount of floundering that you've probably registered here; and my hope that I'm setting some direction now, that it might be a direction you're interested in reading about as I move forward.
And since you're asking (yes, I can hear you ;-) I am continuing to plug away at that writing I've alluded to, and someday perhaps I'll even be able to tell you more about it. It's been on the back burner this past week or so, but I've booked a coffee-and-writing date with myself later this week.

Do you think it's Spring's onset that's spurring me on? All these leaves unfurling, blossoms opening, insisting on our trying to match the exuberant renewal and growth? . . . . Exemplifying that idea in the photos above are the leaves of a splendid and sizeable ornamental maple that was left here for us -- I've been quite mesmerised by the delicacy of its emergent foliage and couldn't resist sharing a few photos with you.

Now tell me: do you feel an urge, in the Spring, toward new projects? Or did you get all that underway at the New Year? or, as used to be more the case for me, do you save new starts for the Fall? I must admit I'm a bit apprehensive about longer, lighter days calling me outside, fine for the Running, the Gardening, the Visiting with Friends, but perhaps not so promising for establishing and maintaining some solid writing habits. Advice? Encouragement?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Normal Blogging will Resume . . .

We had a wonderful wedding weekend (above, brother and sister on their way to the excitement, showing how Casual Glamour is done).  I'll try to roll out a few photos as the week progresses, but today has to be a catch-up day (or it would be if we didn't have a dinner reservation made weeks ago and a Physio appointment for me, ditto, and a serious need to get to a yoga class and unkink. . . . )

And thank you so much for your kind comments on my last post -- I'll do my best to respond over the next day or two.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Five Things Good Friday

We've been planting on the terrace -- dreaming of it someday being festooned with fragrant honeysuckle so that we might be constantly pestered by hummingbirdds. . . . 
1. The first thing I would have to say about Good Friday is that I will never feel entirely comfortable "being secular" on it. My Catholic background was a positive one in so many ways, with a deep and nourishing faith that goes back generations and that yes, was marred by strict rules and arcane, unrealistic notions of human sexuality and gender, but also which offered an ecclestical calendar full of practices that reassured and reinforced and worked with memory and aesthetics in powerful ways. So that for me, having left most of that behind over the last two decades or so, Good Friday is still suffused with its odd mixture of a Fasting/Fish Friday and the once-a-year excitement of my Dad's hot cross buns, which he'd begin making that morning and we'd be gobbling greedily by midday, having had a few hours to savour their sweet, spicy, yeasty fragrance as they rose and baked.... And the afternoon's answering fragrance of incense at the Veneration of the Cross. The solemnity of answering the priest's chant, "This is the Wood of the Cross," the nervous silliness as we reverently kissed the wood the purple covering had been carefully folded back to expose. My father's beautiful tenor exalting and exulting,  "Tantum Ergo" . . .

2. My dad's birthday occasionally fell on Good Friday, his birthday being April 15th. That always seemed fitting to me, as he was clearly a Good man, but I was always sympathetic that he couldn't celebrate as he deserved. His faith was such that it would never have seemed a sacrifice to him. A privilege, rather.

3. All that being true, today I will spend in secular and also celebratory fashion. At least, we're beginning it with a session with our trainer, and then later today our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter arrive for the Wedding Weekend, so all of ours will be in the same city for a change, all staying within two kilometres of each other. Tonight, we ten adults and five children will enliven a certain lucky restaurant for as long as the kids can stay relatively civilised. Before that, I hope we'll have some of the little ones running off steam at our place.

4. Tomorrow, on what would have been my dad's 90th birthday, we'll be together with my new son-in-law's family to witness and celebrate the formalising of a marriage that, in fact, has been doing well enough informally that we have a delightful granddaughter from it  (and some wonderful trips to Italy to boot). Can't wait to toast this family as they "pledge their troth" legally, and to wish them many happy years together.

5. On Sunday, my extended family gathers at my sister's where she hosts the annual Easter Egg Hunt and Brunch -- so much crazy fun with three generations of our sprawling crew. And then on Monday, we're hosting a Brunch/Open House here to let that same Big Extended Family greet and toast our newlyweds (and check out our new digs for the first time).  Wouldn't it be great if some sunshine might appear so that we could wander out on the terrace and admire some of our new plantings (I'll post about those later, for interested gardeners and potential gardeners and vicarious gardeners)? Rhetorical question, honestly, as there seems little chance of sunshine here in the land that Apollo and his chariot seem to have forgotten. . . .

So there you have it. A busy family weekend here, and I'm unlikely to post more before next Tuesday, so let me wish you all a Happy Easter! (and whisper how odd it feels to offer that on Good Friday, when my Catholic/Christian calendar bids me meditate on the sorrow and wonder of the cross). May you find some sunshine, some chocolate, perhaps a quiet moment for meditation, even solemnity. Goodness knows the world needs some of the latter as well. . . .

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Lightening the Layers, Just a Bit -- Early Spring "What I Wore"

 In the interest of offering you some content here, without my having to write many words. . . . a few What I Wore photos snapped over the last two weeks or so. I'm really tempted to delete that simpering selfie, above, but it gives the best sense of the sweater's drape, the curve of that high-low hem. I'm afraid those Fluevog loafers are entering their last days, and I wish I could find a replacement as versatile and comfortable. I bought the jeans (Denham) in London six years ago, and they're only this last year really beginning to fade noticeably -- a bit shocking, really, to think how much wear we pay to have knocked out of most of our denim. . . The sweater (which I generally have to wear over a t-shirt or other inner layer) was bought in Bordeaux, 2015, and the scarf is Club Monaco, at least three years old. I'm often happiest in outfits that comprise mainly garments and accessories I've had for a few years yet still feel current in.

 I finally dropped my (J. Crew) pea jacket off at the drycleaners -- poor thing spent much of the winter waiting on a hook by the door, supposedly for me to grab it on the way out. Even after I managed to get it to the cleaners, it took me three weeks to get 'round to picking it up! Do you do this too? I mean, really, how busy can I be?!
Perhaps as punishment for my procrastination, two days after I picked the coat up, so pleased to have had the cleaner sew a button back on for me, another button popped up. I have to say, owning two of these J. Crew peacoats (remember this turquoise one?),  that while the quality is otherwise very good for the price and the jackets do seem to wear well, I've had at least five buttons pop off between the two coats, and with very little provocation. Any sewist knows that special care needs to be taken with metal-shanked buttons -- someone should tell J. Crew!
 Otherwise, though, this is another outfit I felt good in recently, again comprised of pieces that I've been wearing for a while: my one and only Hermès scarf (a birthday gift way back here),  the peacoat, the striped T-dress I got last fall, and the Vince sneakers whose soles I've almost worn through. (Yes, replacement shoe shopping is definitely in order very soon.)

 I have done a bit of shopping lately, so it's not all old favourites. These (J Crew) boyfriend chinos caught my eye as a nice change from jeans, yet with the same ease.
 Wearing them with a navy Bompard v-neck, tissue-weight, which I bought last fall as  a replacement for the same model I'd bought five or six years ago and worn and washed to a felted frazzle. My bad.
 I'm starting to think about replacing my moto-style Mackage jacket -- it's got a few small rips now, and I notice there's a grease stain on one sleeve (and the leather on both sleeves is noticeably faded). At seven years of being worn at least twice a week through most seasons, it doesn't owe me anything, but I'm not in any rush to chuck it out.  . . It took long enough to find a fit that works for my short waist; I rather dread having to do that again. Plus I prefer a worn-in look in this style, but I want the "distressing" to be done by me, through day-to-day wear. For now, at least, this jacket stays in circulation, rips and stains notwithstanding.

Below, since I chopped off my head in the photo above. . . the state of my grey and length of my curls these days. . .
 And one last series, just to show you my new ever-so-comfortable, unquestionably fabulous, splurge sweatshirt from All Saints.
 I love the shape, the fit, the colour, the subdued neutral-toned drama of that beast. The ribbing on a sweatshirt too often says discouraging or downright nasty things about my short waist, so when I tried this on I was very tempted to get a second one (different graphic, in grey very similar cut). Thus I have earned the added bonus of feeling virtuous about my restraint in purchasing only one, even though I fired up my charge card....
 Again, Vince sneakers, Denham jeans, all the tried and true. . . .

And to head out into the day's rain (because honestly, that seems a constant lately),  a two-year-old trenchcoat and a silk organza scarf I bought on that  trip to Paris with my sister a few years ago. You might note that I've tried a different cuff on my jeans here -- I rather like it, and it's simpler to achieve than the roll in the photo above.
The outfit above got me to a local café yesterday where I hunkered down at a table and wrote enough words for my own writing project to get it back on its funny little track after almost two weeks of being shunted to a holding yard. I didn't really need to "dress up" for that, obviously, nor, if I'm honest, for much of what I do these days, but I like a bit of polish to my casual, I guess. What about you? What activities are you dressing for these days? Work? Play? Baby-sitting the grandkids? Milking the cows? (okay, that was a wild card, but who knows!) First day at grad school? A presentation to your local municipal council? Grocery shopping? Looking for a gallery or local restaurant to display your artwork?

And are you gravitating to wardrobe stalwarts of some longstanding? Or are you liking the lift of the new? A mix of the two? Do tell.  Never mind those young men with their thoughts of love; in Spring, what does a Woman of a Certain Age's "fancy turn to thoughts of"? (or, if you're in the other hemisphere, at the other transitional season, feel free to substitute Fall for Spring).

Friday, April 7, 2017

Did You Guess? Travel Destination Revealed. . .

I have so much to tell you, but it's been such a busy week (cardiologist visit -- all okay; yoga class; session with fitness trainer; much-needed facial appointment; dentist appointment; a couple of good runs; an 8-year-old g'daughter staying for the week, so morning and afternoon school runs and then some lovely extra company morning and evening; babysat the visiting-from-Italy Two one afternoon; invited her parents to stop by one evening so the cousins could play together). All good stuff to do, all the stuff o fprivilege, truly, but still, it was a busy week.

So right now, with two quiet hours to myself, I'm not going to write a long post and tell you all the things I want to tell you. Eventually, I'll manage to respond to more of the comments on the last post, but meanwhile, I'm going to count on you to keep the conversation going. It is such a great conversation -- I hope you get a chance at least to read it, perhaps even to jump in with a comment or two.

But for today, I have promised to tell you where we're heading next month. Here goes:

There are very few European cities to which one can fly non-stop from Vancouver. We debated between London and Paris -- London was our choice at first as we haven't visited for a few years and there are some great exhibitions on, all the usual cultural attractions.  But as our ultimate destination for this trip is on the continent, Paris made more sense. Yes, we could as easily have flown one of the budget airlines (RyanAir, EasyJet) from London as from Paris, but we prefer the train when at all possible, and adding those extra hours when it's already a fairly short holiday just didn't make sense. So we've shelved London for next visit. . . .

And now the plan is to land in Paris, stay a few days to adjust to the time difference and glory in the city's Spring, before taking the train to . . . . Venice! A friend of a friend rents out her small apartment there, and we've booked four nights. Probably not enough for a city with so much art and architecture, but it will give us a good taste, and then we'll be on our way across another border to. . . . Yes! We are going to meet Dotttoressa in Zagreb! We're very excited about this, so looking forward to meeting this lovely, gracious, clever, and wise, and generous reader and friend In Real Life. Because, of course, like so many of you, I do feel I know her quite well already, simply through her words here.

We're going to use Dottoressa's city as home base for a week of getting to know Croatia a little bit. Our Lonely Planet Travel Guide suggests this is far too short a time, but again, it will give us a good taste, and with family just a ferry ride away (near Rome), I know we'll have both reason and opportunity to return and to see more on future visits.

So there you go. Did you guess?
I suspect some of you have some great recommendations for what to do, what to see, where to eat, and drink, in Venice, perhaps in Zagreb/Croatia as well (although I think I'll have enough to do keeping up with Dottoressa ;-) All comments are very welcome, and I'll do my best to respond when I can. Sorry to be running off so quickly in the meantime, but I wrote "Sit Still and Breathe Quietly" on the top of my (mental) to-do list this morning, and I think I have to pay attention. . . . We'll chat soon, though, okay? Happy weekend!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Let's Keep Planning Travel -- I Love your Responses!

I've got a bit of a problem here on the blog.  As you know, I've been trying to redirect some of my writing energy and time to a personal project. Yet I still want to post at least twice a week, and then when I do, it's really tough not to spend too much time answering all your great comments. As well, at the moment we have a granddaughter staying with us for the week, so there's been less free time than usual. Suddenly it's Wednesday, and I realise I haven't responded to comments left on Monday, a much longer gap than what I like to aim at, but a lag I'm afraid I've been drifting toward increasingly.

The solution that occurred to me as something I might try occasionally is to turn my comment-responding into a post of its own. After all, I quite often end up writing 500 to 1000 words just chatting with you below your comments, and I sometimes find myself wishing that I could post my responses here because your feedback can often invite some new thinking on a topic.

And sometimes you say such great things that I want to be sure everyone checks out the conversation.

This conversation about travel plans, real and imaginary, accomplished and aspirational, for example, is quite splendid. Many of you are experienced travelers, and you've got pins all over the globe -- Sue, Wendy from York, Eleonore, Leslie in Oregon. Some want to stick pins in some very cool places with itineraries worthy of dreams -- Anne's list is so great I want to buy her bundles of lottery tickets and I'd get her to share with Linda Bruce; looks like they're planning to team up anyway. Some of you are currently holding back because of dogs (which is reaffirming my husband's wisdom in resisting the temptation for the time being, although . . . ).  Some are keeping the travel a bit closer to home for now (luckiest are those of you with great travel destinations only an hour or two from home -- we're curtailed considerably at the moment, not so interested in crossing a border that's proving restrictive to friends and neighbours -- sometimes one's privilege comes to seem odious).

And we are a rather privileged bunch right here, on the whole, although not odious sorts at all. Travel-wise, at least, I mean, many of us, like myself, having already booked, or in the early stages of planning, upcoming trips to a number of different spots -- Germany, Budapest, Prague, Belgium,  Normandy. I wonder if this might be a peak age or stage for travel -- the resources are finally available, for some of us (budget, freedom from work and childcare), and we realise that fitness and the company of our favourite traveling partners don't come with a lifetime guarantee. . . We're making travel hay, so to speak, while the sun shines.

Dottoressa (whom many of you justifiably hope I might be going to meet -- and want to come along for the trip if that's my destination) reminds us of the tension between our privilege and the plight of many who are unable to travel (or who do so involuntarily, under difficult circumstances) because of personal responsibilities, because of physical limitations, or because of political constraints or, even, because of cataclysmic events. But although she's had years when travel possibilities were very limited, she's managed a long life list of places visited, quite inspiring. (I'm also inspired by the three sections of Eleonore's Travel Notebook, which I suspect is virtual/imaginary, but which makes a splendid model for categorising itineraries.)

As always, in reading through the comments, I'm delighted to see smaller conversations being struck amidst the larger one, tentative cyber-bonds being formed, travelling companions pairing up, if only for imaginary journeys. I'd love to see the conversation continue, either in the comments of this post or back on Sunday's. I almost closed this post off (I have to wake someone up soon, or she'll be late for school) without drawing attention to Leslie in Oregon's comment about traveling through books and conversation -- I suspect many of us do this. What else have I forgotten to highlight in those comments?

I think I should also mention the many different social approaches to travel: some of you travel on your own, some with husbands, but others travel with friends or sisters or even join groups in hopes of sharing a trip with like-minded adventurers.

Finally (I really need to open her door now, begin making some sounds, turn on a light or two), I should answer Leslie in Oregon's question, so that your guesses between now and Friday's reveal can be better informed. I hadn't known the difference between a Direct Flight and a Non-Stop one, but our flight to a European City from the city of our departure (and that's not hard to guess at, is it?) is non-stop.

Okay, time to run. Today's a bit goofy -- after we drop Granddaughter at school, we have an hour with our new personal trainer, and then we zip out to our French lesson, a half-hour drive away. It's too busy a morning for me, and the schedule will be more manageable next week, but let's just say Nana's planning a big nap this afternoon. Meanwhile, though, at least I've caught up with our travel conversation. . . now it's over to you to keep it going. Have a good day! 
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