Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Knitallurgy. It's a science.

Okay, it's more rocker science than rocket science. Actually, at base, it's pretty damn simple. There are only two stitches: a knit and a purl (which is really a backwards knit). Everything else is a variation on those two stitches. It's easy!

I visited a great little store today called Greenwood Quiltery and am once again wrapped up in my current knitting project. The back of the store is devoted to us knitwits. Yarn spills over the shelves and it's like getting lost in a woolen forest. The quilting section of the store is also scrumptious. I wish I knew how to do that. I've never quilted (would LOVE to someday). My friend, Dan, just gifted my sonshine with his first handmade quilt, the theme of which is nursery rhymes and Dan did quite a beautiful job. Giving and receiving gifts that are handmade is one of my favourite things. Those gifts always seem to mean so much more. One of my older sisters, Colette, crocheted a beautiful blanket. Another friend, Zoe, made blankets for my baby shower. My friend, Kasia, sewed up two pairs of pants, and her husband, Graham, used his architectural prowess to handcarve a stack of blocks with holes in the middle and a holder for them, all made of wood. My twin sister handcrafted all the birds to hang around his room and she made him a mommy owl with her baby owl as stuffed toys. How very lucky my little boy is to have such creative aunts and uncles! Beautiful!

One of the best gifts my mother ever gave me was to teach me how to knit when I was but a wee lass of perhaps 8 years old. Nowadays, I find it is a form of manual yoga. Quite the meditative craft. You get into a rhythm and then your thoughts drift away. Maybe it's the click-clack of wooden needles. Maybe it's the deft digital dancing. Knitting is addictive and quite calming, mesmerizing. A craft of solace. And often, solitude.

This North American mentality in which the majority of Canadians and Americans reside has trouble allowing for moments of reflection. People are far too busy filling the hours of their day with technology, commerce, constant communication. Time alone. Time to oneself. It's a luxury I look forward to when I can grab such moments these days. For instance, lately I am REALLY missing yoga. I have yet to find a regular babysitter and there are no classes I've come across which encourage you to bring your 6-month old. So I exercise my hands, my fingers and enter into a trance-like state via knitting.

Not that you needs must knit alone. There are knitting circles gathering everywhere - look up your local bitch n' stitch or start one yourself! A space and place to tell a yarn, share some yarn. I'm thinking of doing just that once I move in the spring. Switch off having a book club one week and a bitch n' stitch another week. Meet some other crafty mums in my area.

So here's my current knitting project: I am creating a cardigan for my son. This is my first knitting project for him and I need to make sure I finish it in time for Winter Solstice (which is the gift-giving December holiday I celebrate - Yuletide). It will be my first handmade gift to him. I want it to be extra special.

Thus far, I'm only finished the back and almost finished the left front. I've a ways to go yet, but it's shaping up nicely. Are any of you out there knitting up something special? Or crafting any gifts for the upcoming holiday season? I'd love to know I'm not the only knitwit out here in blogland!

Music: She Blinded Me with Science, Thomas Dolby

Monday, November 16, 2009

Missing the City

I was 21 years old the first time I lived in Toronto for a two-year period from 1988 through 1990 in an area called Bloor West Village. It's a great community with a large Eastern European population, though perhaps not so much now as twenty years ago when I lived on Windermere. In 1995, I returned to the city again after graduating university with my Joint Honours English/Drama B.A., hoping to pursue an acting career in theatre and film.

This time, I lived East of the Don Valley Parkway at Broadview and Danforth, another great spot. This area, known as Greektown, is home to some amazing Greek restaurants, but it's where you can also find some classic Toronto landmarks like the Danforth Music Hall and Allen's, a truly authentic Irish restaurant-slash-home-away-from-home, whose owner, John Maxwell, sprouted another Irish gem, the Dora Keogh pub, right next door.

The Dora hosts Irish traditional music jam sessions on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons. Sonshine and I make a brief visit to Bloor West village (and Bread and Roses bakery) before heading out to my other old stomping grounds, the Danforth and the Dora Keogh pub. This beautiful, Irish haven was crawling distance (thankfully) from where I lived for 5 years on Ingham Avenue in a duplex my twin sister and I purchased together, when housing was still affordable in Toronto; a sort of secondary womb for us for a time. And the Dora is where he and I head yesterday to meet with some lovely friends from my past.

The first to show is Darren who directed me in a feature film he also wrote over a decade ago now. The film was an amazing experience and, no surprise, ended up winning Best Feature at the Planet Indie film festival that year. Our shared Celtic heritage served as a kind of "crazy glue" with my sailormouth causing much laughter and catharsis in between takes, apparently. Mutual Irish wit does make for fast friends!

The last time I saw Darren, he and his friend took an autumnal motorcycle ride out of Toronto to visit myself and my ex-husband at our rural abode when we first moved here, maybe 9 years ago now. We kept in touch for a bit after that, but only recently reconnected again after a long absence from communication. Darren is still a truly soulful and insightful guy. We talk as though no time has passed at all, though we've plenty more catching up to do! Sitting there, sipping a pint of Guinness with him over copper tables to the sound of some good Irish fiddle, I realize how much I've missed him over the years and how great it feels to have old friends who never change whenever you reconnect with them. I mean, of course, they change or are changed. Hell knows I've changed! Life happens and events, emotions: so much can make you grow, stretch and transform over Time. But, at the heart's core, old friends whom you value in your life do not change so much. Instead, they remain a continuous thread in the tapestry of your days. It can be woven into different colours or patterns over Time, but also serves as a kind of throughline: a consistency and strength which helps maintain the friendship as special and intact.

Another recent reconnection is with my friend Kate, from university days. Kate shows up at the Dora pub with her husband, Cam, and all three fuss over my wee little laddie and put on a good show: entertaining him with tales, swinging him around and inventing funny faces and sounds. He is in heaven with so much attention showered on him not just from his mum for once! He falls asleep just before Darren splits to catch Where the Wild Things Are and for Kate and Cam and myself to pop next door for a fine dinner at Allen's over some really yummy, Ontario-grown, organic cab-merlot from Frogpond Farm, a Niagara-based vineyard. Lochie sleeps through the entire meal and bubbly conversation, not stirring a peep even amidst quite raucous cackling at moments. What an easy baby he is! And the wonderful company we have meeting up again with these old friends of mine makes the day just about perfect.

Before leaving the city, I speak with a Dora bartender as well as a waitress at Allen's, both new to the city only months ago and they each wax in their sweet, Irish lilt about their love of Toronto, how safe, how varied it is, how welcoming to many cultures, how exciting. As much as I love living rurally and value what the countryside offers me on a daily basis, I make a vow not to make my jaunts to my former urban haunts, or the rest of this amazing city, so few and far between anymore. Toronto is one vast and wondrous melting pot of a creative and artistic place and offers so much for diversion and exploration.

After all these years, I find The Big Smoke still holds its allure. Not the least of which is being home to some of the best people I've met in my life whom I am thrilled to still call my good friends. Midnight has come and gone as we leave the brightness of city lights. The indigo of night turns to stars by the time the wheels hit my gravel driveway again. I step out under a blanket of them as I lift my sleeping son from his carseat into my arms and gaze skyward. Life is good.

Music: Bobcaygeon, Tragically Hip

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Writer Friends

And speaking of knowing other people who blog! I want to mention my friend, Carrie Anne Snyder. She writes a fabulous blog: Obscure CanLit Mama, and she's also a published writer offline, among several writer friends I'm proud to know.

I've been enjoying her work, The Juliet Stories, set in Nicaragua, in the latest issue of The New Quarterly, a magazine which features Canadian writers and writing. They're wonderful! Definitely pick up a copy. Carrie lived in Nicaragua herself when she was younger and she also waxes poetically in the issue about the question so many writers must face (and often fend off somehow): how "autobiographical" one's work is or is not. She also took some amazing photography while down there and one of her photos graces the cover of this latest issue. Yum!

A couple of Thursdays ago, Carrie read some of her published work aloud locally at the Art Bar in Kitchener. I, unfortunately, could not attend as I was taking my sonshine and a friend to a concert of the Skydiggers the same night at a local cinema. I hear I missed an amazing read and look forward to the next opportunity that will feature Carrie, as I'm sure, one cannot be long in coming.

Do check her out. She writes candidly, poignantly and humourously about raising four beautiful, redheaded kids, as well as food, politics, feminism and so much more. I find her blog truly enlightening and always a breath of fresh air.

And I feel especially blessed and lucky to call her a local pal o' mine. She's as inspiring a person in person as she is onscreen/on the page. Kudos, Carrie!

I last saw Carrie when my son and I attended Bookstravaganza: an evening of authors and poets reading from their published works at a local club. It was a great night and I want to give a shout out to another lovely person and talented writer, David Derry, with whom I shared a wonderful conversation afterwards and who has just had his first book, Sentimental Exorcisms, published by Coach House Books. Check him out, too, while you're at it. Some truly inventive and funny stuff.

I wish I could go on in more depth, but I've a wee one calling me and we're heading out of town today together for another adventure. Stay tuned...

Music: Every Day I Write the Book, Elvis Costello

Friday, November 13, 2009

Half a Year

My son turned 6 months old this week. How did that even HAPPEN? As I was nursing him in a local coffee shop I frequent, a pregnant woman walked by the window and I could recall so vividly the feeling of carrying that round belly, the weight of him inside me, suspended in water, the rolling, the hiccuping. The sheer Joy of it. Wasn't it only yesterday that I dreamt about what I get to do now on a daily basis: lift his sweet, smiling self out of a crib each morning? Wasn't it only a month or so ago, I pushed him, wriggling and kicking, out between my limbs? Surely not HALF A YEAR ago?

Turning 6 months old was a milestone for his diet, as well. This is the first week he got to eat actual FOOD (other than boob-milk or formula supplement). I was concerned about how he'd react. For one thing, the day of delivery, when my water broke, the midwife had detected meconium in it. That was the reason I didn't end up having a homebirth. It's a baby's first bowel movement and it can be pretty serious if the baby has swallowed or inhaled it in utero. I was rushed to the hospital as a result. The presence of meconium also meant that, within his first few seconds of life, instead of the doctor thrusting his squirmy, newborn body on top of mine with the cord still intact until it stopped beating so that we could bond immediately, he was severed from me right away and rushed to a sidetable to have his trachea suctioned. Imagine this is your first experience of life outside the womb: you've just begun breathing for the first time, a new experience in itself, and something is forced into your mouth to vacuum out your throat. It can be pretty traumatic on a little person. And having something new/strange thrust into his mouth may not be his favourite thing in the world after such trauma.

So I wondered how he'd react to a) the spoon and b) the rice cereal, itself. He was very brave. Obviously the texture was different for him. But he opened his mouth and continued to test it and digest it. As well, he messed it. All over his mouth, his hands, his bib, even his hair. It was a thrill to watch him figure it all out, this eating stuff. This isn't sucking. This is hmmmm...chewing. Moving around in the mouth. The texture is...creamy, yet somehow slightly lumpy. Substance. Not liquid. Hmmmmm...mmmmmm. Yummmmmm?

In June of 2007, I traveled to Guatemala with Habitat for Humanity (something I've yet to properly devote a blog or two towards and will hope to rectify soon). Our group bookmarked the construction of two homes in San Marcos in the West with a stay in Antigua at the beginning and end of the trip. We found a beautiful (and affordable) breakfast place there (photos of which I took below) and I remember ordering what is known as "mosh" in a cup or bowl. Mosh is, essentially, oatmeal with milk and a little cinnamon. It reminded me of a cereal my mother used to make me when I was a little girl: Cream of Wheat. The rice cereal I fed my son this week had the same consistency.

And he seems to like it! A victory on the food front and considering his rough start seconds after being born. But he is a baby very open to trying new things and widening his horizons.

My parents and his aunt oooo'd and ahhhhh'd over his talent for gobbling up this Brave New World of real live food. We held a little "half-birthday" party to celebrate him turning half a year. Wow. I can feel the tiremarks burned into the road, here. Where has the Time gone?


The other equally lovely part of today was meeting a woman whose blog I've only recently discovered and, even more recently, learned that she's in my locale. She is the talented and hilarious "blogHer", Mimi on the Breach, and, after introducing herself via a comment on my blog (post me initially leaving a comment on her blog), we ran into each other today and got to shake hands offline! What a thrill to put a face to the blog (and such a lovely face, too)! I never believe in happenstance or just plain old coincidence. I think connections are made like this for reasons unknown. All the connections in my life are important to me and I know they contribute to enhancing my life in some way: either through a lesson learned, a desire or need fulfilled, an opportunity for growth or revelation or just plain old fun, a new friend made. Could the day get any better, but then I discover she wrote about me on her much traveled blog, pointing people in my direction? How very generous and lovely! Thanks, Mimi. I very mosh appreciate it! You're bloggy wonderful!

My son is sleeping in his crib as I "pen" this, dreaming no doubt of food, glorious food. Whether in one's mouth or on one's cardigan ;), all in all, a very yummy day!

Music: Food, Glorious Food, Oliver!

Thursday, November 5, 2009


As I write this with evening coming on, the fields surrounding my 1.3 acres are blanketed for the first time this Autumn. Snow. Not just any snow. His very first snowfall. I am recounting the day. Sometime after 6:30 a.m., I reach for my camera. I had been lying in bed in the dark watching the picnic table collect soft, large flakes on the back deck as I listen to him talk to himself, his favourite thing in the mornings as he awakens. I guess he figures he will let me sleep while he amuses himself. Perhaps, since he wakes up in semi-darkness, he assumes he is alone somehow. But I like to think he can hear my breathing, a kind of security blanket that warms him enough to coo in perfect contentment and concoct gurgling noises deep in his throat. I turn on the light and approach the crib. He beams up at me. Where did I find this child? How did he find me? An owl, deer and robin look on as I lift him out of his forested bedding and pull back the hanging on the deck door to reveal The White Stuff. He is so young still, one week away from turning 6 months old, I'm not sure what exactly he makes of it all. I imagine his little mind like the inside windings, wheels and tick-tocks of an old grandfather clock, turning and formulating each New and Wondrous Thing he absorbs and locking it away somewhere to pull out again later. Referencing. Storing. The squirrel on his crib bumper eyes my son's hungry mind warily and grasps onto the nut she holds a little more tightly.

This morning we drive into town early. My car needs a 110-point inspection at Crappy Tire. Across the way is Starbucks so I stroll him over under a blue, but cold sky, the morning's snowflakes melted away. We lay siege on one of the smaller, couchy-type chairs. What astounds me as I sit and sip and nurse simultaneously is the myriad of languages I hear. Two women speak Italian three tables over. At least, it's a Latin language that is not French. I assume Italian because of the beautiful hand gestures the women sign to accompany each point they are making as they converse with each other. They don sweats and lycra as though they have just both come from a workout, but still look sophisticated in that oh-so-European way. The gym, perhaps, wasn't enough since they pump their arms up and down and all around as they talk. They evoke a silent film and I feel like a voyeur as I can nearly guess their entire conversation through the movements of their eyes, mouths and hands. Listening to their lilt, I smile and dream about sipping this decaf latte with my babe at my boob in Florence instead; close my eyes to imagine it. Just behind me another couple chats away and I am suddenly thrown Northeast to Prague. As if on cue, cumulonimbus sweep in, blotting out the sun. No, it's not a Harry Potter broom. Cumulonimbus are the types of clouds which carry rain or snow within them. And for the second time this morning, it's snow falling. Not softly, though. It slants and hurtles toward the ground. A gaggle of teenagers from the nearby highschool rush in wearing winter coats over gym shorts and knee-high socks, giggling and squealing as they shake the weather from their goose-bumped limbs.

The woman has turned to fuss over my sonshine. He produces My Favourite Thing (his shy smile). Her name is Jindra, I learn. Pronounced Yin-drah. She spells it out for me. Her husband tries to out-shy my son. I smile. This is what I miss about Toronto when I lived there. All the varied cultures everywhere you'd go. I'm surprised to find a bit of a melting pot here in my old hometown, but happy to discover this area has been growing and stretching, morphing into a somewhat more global creature while I've been living rurally the last decade. I will be leaving the countryside in the spring. The thought makes me happy and sad simultaneously, but that's par for the course where I'm concerned. My body has difficulty differentiating between Joy and Sorrow sometimes. What is the phrase I came across last night? Oh, yes: Excess of Sorrow laughs. Excess of Joy weeps. William Blake. Boy, did he get that right. How many times have I felt the strong urge to quell a giggle at a funeral or weep buckets over something so beautiful, it hurt? I look at my son and ponder his own songs of innocence and experience. Sonshine, The Musical. For now, I have a front row seat and am thoroughly enjoying the show.


His Aunt swings by and, over another latte, we discuss what she's working on these days and my own future goals. As I nurse him, he falls asleep in a sunlit halo. Today I have decided to write more often. As often as I can. And add some photos, some colour, to the stories I'm sharing. I figure practice will make perfect. Someday. And I need all the practice I can get. With this wee bundle of mine filling the bulk of my arms and my days, I aim to write at least once a week, if not every day. It's a start. A tiny goal. A first step. I wonder when he will take his. Each day, I place him on his tummy and he strains to crawl. He has learned to turn himself over or move himself around in a circle. Forward motion he has yet to master (something I am only beginning to master myself since leaving my common-law marriage and the rut, the stasis of it). We learn to move forward together, my son and I.

The sun shines again as we leave my parents' place, a brief visit once the car is fixed. Clouds in the distance promise that we head home into yet another snowfall. The expanse of rural sky gives the added benefit of watching weather approach, sometimes tentatively. At other times, menacingly. Each time fascinates. Something I will miss. I throw another log in my woodstove to build the fire up and take a photograph of the front yard turning white at dusk. The tiny squares of the screen door produce the effect of a photo taken a century ago. In a farmhouse as old as this, it suits the mood perfectly. Pathetic fallacy. His little mouth turns toward my heart as we settle for the night with the ghosts in, what is now, a ghostlike landscape.

Music: Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell