Friday, December 28, 2012
Friday, September 14, 2012
Sunday, June 17, 2012
I know I've mused on this theme before but allow me to visit it again; the theme of being swept into the idea that comfort (and all of the things associated with that word 'comfort'), somehow equals happiness. Here's the thing; we all need comfort; both emotional and physical. We need a warm home to shield us from our bitter cold winters and we need loving arms to embrace us each and every day. But do we really and truly need pillows on our beds with three times the puffiness of when I grew up? Or sheets with a minimum of 600 thread count (whatever that means)? I remember once baking with my grandmother and I accidentally dropped an egg on the floor. She calmly opened a cupboard where hundreds of 6-inch cotton squares were neatly piled. She had cut them up from threadbare cotton sheets. I don't think paper towel ever darkened her door because she used and reused rags until they simply disintegrated into thin air.
I would say that I am fortunate and that I have very little to complain about and yet still I get swept into wanting the finest tea or the softest cotton. And then something comes along to throw me into a short stint of discomfort. And suddenly I see the world differently. Not at first of course. At first, I'm annoyed. But once I relax, the gifts of the situation begin to unravel.
The other week, I was visiting my daughter and two of her friends arrived also on the same night. She lives in a small apartment so I offered to find a hotel. She suggested that instead, I sleep in her tiny sewing room (which is actually a sun porch). So we got it all set up with a camping roll-out mattress and a blanket and there I slept. Initially when I curled up under the coveres, I had trouble sleeping. The floor underneath felt hard and because the room is full of windows, the sounds of traffic were heavy in my ears. I turned on the light and read a chapter of Nicholas Nickelby and suddenly my thoughts shifted. I began to look around the room and see all of my daughter's treasures and sewing projects.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Saturday, April 14, 2012
He gave up riding his bicycle a few years ago and now he walks everywhere. Seeing him from a distance, he looks like a fit 70-year old. But he's not 70. He's 92 and going strong. He exudes all the elements a person needs to live a fulfilled life; and apparently also a long life. He, like many Italian immigrants, makes a great neighbour; always on the lookout for what someone may need. (And he is as opinionated as he is generous). My mother and I live only a block from each other, so Satimio is a neighbour to us both. Last summer, while my husband and I were away on holidays, he noticed the wild rose bushes encroaching onto my mother's walkway. Rather than drastically snip back the bushes, he drove three mental stakes into the ground and pulled the rose stems away from the walkway. I must say, it gives me great piece of mind that my 82-year old mother has a 92-year old neighbour who keeps an eye on her.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
All winter, I was thinking about making home made tea blends to give as gifts, but it took me until spring to actually complete the task. They were meant to be my cozy winter gifts but now they are, I suppose, my welcome spring gifts. And since I've been packaging them up, it seems I've become all the more aware of the gifts of spring itself.
No matter what mood I may be in, I do hope to be enchanted by one thing on this planet, each and every day. This doesn't necessarily happen naturally. You'd think that daily practice would eventually make this habit. But no, each day when I wake up, I need to remind myself to open my eyes; to open my heart; to expect a surprise. If I don't remind myself quickly enough and the day of obligation unfolds, worry or anxiety or both tend to work their way into a tangled mess. And then it becomes all the more challenging to unravel my thoughts.
I have a little story. Earlier this week, while out walking with a friend, I took note of two tell tale signs of spring. We have a wonderful custom in our city that if you discover a lost hat or mitt or glove on the ground, you put it up high in a tree branch where it can be easily spotted by the person who has lost it. In spring, people tend to lose their hats and mitts more often, probably because the weather is so changeable and we're constantly putting on or taking off our wintry layers.
First I spotted a blue mitt in a tree. Moments later, we came across a tiny little nest, at eye level, in a hedge. The hedge, of course, had no leaves and so the two-inch round nest was quite exposed. There were no eggs in it, so we supposed that the mother bird had moved on to build a new nest in hopefully a safer, less visible location.
The next day I found myself thinking about the nest and so entranced was I that I decided on my way to work, to pop by and see if the nest was still there. And this time, I brought my camera. First, I took a picture of the mitt in the tree, but when I went to snap a picture of the nest, my batteries died. Not having time to rush home to get new batteries, I instead headed off to work. That was on Wednesday. All day I thought about the nest and that evening, I went back to take a picture of it. But by then, the nest had disappeared. Gone. Nowhere to be found nearby. Today, which just happens to be a Saturday, I once again headed down the same street, only this time with a different friend. As we walked, we occasionally kept our eyes to the ground to avoid puddles of melting snow. I suddenly found myself pointing to the ground, saying “There's my nest!” It was, unquestionably, the same nest. Without a moment's hesitation my friend picked it up and offered it to me. I opened my purse and pulled out a little cloth bag and we placed the nest in the bag. All this fuss over an abandoned nest!
Of course later on in the day, it all became clear to me. This is, after all, the first spring without any of my children home. They've all flown away. I continue to make little nests here and there in the form of tea blends and hand-written letters. They're not practical nests and they never really amount to much. But it makes me feel good to make them all the same. And I was able to photograph the little nest, after all!
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Arctic Snow, Shadow and Sky
As I take my evening walks in the mild winter snows of Thunder Bay, it’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago, I was up in the Arctic. When I was little, I would close my eyes and try to imagine myself flying over the lake, across the waters, meeting up with the horizon and continuing on until I was flying over the snows of the Arctic. I don’t know why in my imagination I never flew south; always north. Now, as an adult, I still experience some of the thrill of flying to the edge of the world; that world of shadows and light.
While I was in Iqaluit, I attended the Pilriqatigiinniq Teachers Conference. It was an exciting week that included a talk from David Suzuki one night and a craft show on the following night. I was absolutely stunned at the level of excitement and energy that went into the craft show (and, of course, David Suzuki's talk). There was no shortage of vendors displaying everything from seal skin mitts to spices for Arctic char to beautifully embroidered and beaded wool hangings. It was the first time in my life that I’d seen people arrive an hour early to an arts and crafts fair. People were literally packed into the hall like sardines. I asked some of the city residents about this later and was informed that crowds always come out in droves for arts & crafts shows. So I can only conclude that hand-crafts are highly valued in this part of the world.
I love to make things with my hands. It always brings me relief from a technologically obsessed world to be able to pick up a needle and thread and hand stitch a quilt or sew on a button. To be in a space where the general community also celebrates handiwork, this was marvelous to me.
In our workshop, my co-presenter and I gave a workshop where we also created something with our hands and our imaginations; making shadow puppets one day and masks the next. We had brought in stories to adapt into simple tableau and shadow plays, but in the end, we invited the participants to share their own stories; in their own language. I felt truly honoured to hear the stories shared in Inuktitut. Even without the translations, I had a sense of what the storytellers were sharing, through their gestures and through their voices.
When I visited one of the shops later in the evening to look at the regional books, I wasn't surprised to see that many of the stories were illustrated in shadow or near-shadow images. Without trees to impede the view of the sky, there really are only a few noticeable elements to the landscape; shadow, shades of the many colours of snow, and sky.
Monday, February 20, 2012
My grandmother 'Fortunata' standing by her home.
Though most people think of place as a geographical location (and certainly geography has a huge impact on our lives), for me the definition is much broader. Recently, I have undertaken a project to make sense of dozens of little notes I wrote to myself following visits with my grandmother. (She passed away a number of years ago, at the age of 101.) How is it, that while patching together her stories, I feel an intense sense of ownership, as though I myself have lived through her realities? How is it that when I am reminded of her stories— the custom-made wooden yoke her father made for her to haul water; and how at fourteen years of age, she was sent to work full time at Woolworth's for ten cents an hour following her father's serious work accident; and how she resourcefully unpicked sugar bags to make shirts and collected the worn woolen rollers from the mill to make blankets— how is it that these stories resonate for me? And how I feel a powerful surge of belonging to those places she describes, when in actual fact, I have never known such places? I can only answer that place is not only an external reality, but also includes the internal geography of the mind and heart. And for every human being, that composite is something very unique.
For me, 'place' is where internal geography meets external geography. And I experience the external geography (my home; Northern Ontario and all its wonders), through the visceral experiences of ordinary day-to-day life. Today, 'place' is the frozen blanket I pull from the clothesline on a crisp January day; it is a cake recipe I follow that has been nibbled at the corners by mice; it is the sound of our 100-year old piano as I stumble through a new song. For me, 'place' is the combination of every place I have ever lived, every experience I have ever had, and every meaningful connection that I have ever shared. As a practicing artist, 'place' influences every work that is conceived and created. Without it, I would be left working in a vacuum. It is, I believe, what gives shape and meaning to all creative endeavors.
I would like to close this reflection on 'place' with one of my grandmother's stories I found on a scrap of paper. There is a tenuous moment here where a child is caught between one person's sense of place and another person's sense of place. In Fortunata's words— “I'll always remember Sister Gevita. Us girls liked her, but one day she shocked me. You see, my mother got a call from a neighbour whose baby was sick. 'Can you send your daughter over to interpret when the doctor gets here?' The neighbours were always calling on me to translate for them because I was fluent in Italian and English. Well, my mother would never turn anyone down so she kept me out of school for the day. The next day, Sister Gevita called me out into the hall and asked me where I'd been. After I told her, she said 'Your mother was wrong to keep you from school.' That shocked me, her saying that about my mother. I never did tell my mother about it. She probably would've pulled me from school permanently. I mean, doing charity, that was my education, as far as my mother was concerned.”