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Sunday, December 21, 2008

then and now

sunset, some time around midnight, June 21

sunset, some time around 4 p.m. Dec 21

the north is a place of stark realities. endless night, vs endless day. a complete cycle of life in a few short weeks vs -40 C (the temperature today), where it seems nothing can survive.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

rush hour

the christmas season is the musician's 'rush hour'. my students had 3 gigs in the last week. this one was at the annual Festival of Trees, where local businesses and philanthropists donate decorated christmas trees, gift baskets, etc for silent auction to raise funds for the hospital's palliative care facility. a couple of days before that it was a concert of music by canadian composers, and last night it was a local pot luck banquet, which was packed... and gave them a standing ovation. we all left with a warm glow and full bellies. now it's sunday afternoon and i'm kicking back with my feet up, recharging till next week's blur of activities.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

i'll call her flora

i stopped by zee's 'place' earlier. he says he's going to be a teacher. i suspect he's already a teacher and he's just going about getting the official paperwork. some people just get other people thinking about things, and are good sources of info and suggestions. natural teachers. he seems to be one of those.

despite the current day job doing books for an evil oil company, i've been a violin teacher for most of my adult life, and i don't see any likelihood of that changing for the rest of my working life. it's a rich part of the whole. sometimes it's been the sole thing keeping all the broken pieces together. zee's plans got me thinking about the arts, and making a living in the arts, and attitudes about all facets of art. there's this perception among many people whose passions are not about originality and espression, that these things come easily, and are thus of little value. i've noticed that creativity comes naturally to some, and not to others, but i would never say it comes easily.

those who become skillful in the arts have put uncounted hours into learning to do what they do, just as those who are skillful at more 'practical' things have worked and studied hard to achieve their competence. yet, i've lost count of the number of artists and musicians i've known, who chafe in frustration at the inferrence that because they love what they do, and because this thing that they love, and do so well, is artistic, they shouldn't expect to make a decent living doing it. we should be grateful if someone invites us to do it for them, for free. or maybe for the leftovers of a free dinner, after we've entertained the other diners. there's no recognition that the beauty they're seeing or hearing didn't just take the few hours needed to physically produce it. there were years of study and labor, successes and failures poured into developing the skills that can produce the product so 'effortlessly'. i've never heard it suggested that a lawyer who has passionately practiced law, and become brilliant at it, should be paid peanuts.... or an engineer who has devoted a lifetime to finding the details of how something can be made to work should just be grateful for the opportunity to try.

.... lunch hour is nearly over.... must continue later... then 'll tell you about my friend, the art teacher.... i'll call her flora.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

playing for change

there's supposed to be a hyperlink here

this is a recording of street musicians all over the world playing John Lennon's Stand By Me, together. Playing for Change is a movement that believes music has something important to contribute to world peace.... something only non-musicians didn't already know. they're building music and arts schools in south africa, just for starters.

check them out @

more than 25 years ago, when i was studying music 'seriously', i came across a quote by the great cellist, Pablo Casals. he said, "perhaps it is music that will save the world."

he was a very cool guy, Pablo. another of my favorite quotes is from him. he worked very hard, practicing hours every day, even when he was considered by some to be the best in the world. when one of his friends chided him, saying, "Why do you still practice so much, Pablo? Nobody is better than you?" Pablo Casals replied, after a moment's consideration, "..... i think i've noticed some improvement."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

what's in a word?

or in a name?

years ago, i was told by a friend who'd served in the swedish military that my last name was used on the swedes' latest and greatest tank. it was an ultra modern killing machine, all sleek and black and deadly, named after the vikings' war chariots. so for years i thought my last name meant 'war chariot'.... not terribly feminine, but i learned to live with it. hmmm, i thought..... as my first name is that of the goddess of the hunt....

Greek virgin Goddess of hunting. Many of her characteristics were transferred to Christian Virgin Mary. She is Goddess of young girls. Her father is Zeus, king of the Gods, and mother is Leto. Her brother is Apollo, God of hunting and healing.

... i guess it's fairly appropriate. then the other day i got meandering online, and thought i'd look up the literal translation. turns out it's not a swedish word, but a norwegian one, which translates....

bicker, bickering, competition, conflict, contention, contest, controversy, feud, fight, manor, polemic, strife, wrangle

the swedes added 'vagon' to this, for the war charriot.

so i mentioned this in passing to my lovely daughter the punster, who quipped, "hmm, the huntress and trouble. Mum, you're just looking for trouble."

took what little bit of romance was left in the whole thing right out. nothing keeps us humble like having kids.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

for Susan

as promised some time ago, a picture for Susan, of her beautiful silk scarf, which was the prize for a draw on her blog. lucky me, i won it. i wore it to a harp gig i did some weeks ago, and promised a picture then, but the light there was very poor, and it was a very hectic evening, so the photo shoot never materialized. a visiting friend took this shot for Su, in my teaching studio at home. once again, thanks Su, for the beautiful wearable art. it makes the morning walk to work through the snow a celebration of all the lovely things in life. i've also been promising a sound bite of the harp, which isn't forgotten.... my digital recorder isn't agreeing with my Mac about how to bring this to fruition.

Friday, October 31, 2008


this is the ReStore in Camrose, just outside Alberta's capital city of Edmonton. i did some primary research there when i took my son back to the city to settle into his new digs prior to beginning his 3rd year in engineering @ U of A. the managers of this and several other ReStores have given me the grand tour of their stores, and each has let me pick his or her brain for several hours about staffing, budgets, operations, policies, etc. it's an incredible network of supportive and knowledgeable people who are passionate about making homes affordable for working class people.

ReStores are the retail outlets that sell recycled and donated building materials in support of Habitat for Humanity. Our local affiliate is planning to start a ReStore in 2009. in only 2 sleeps i fly to Regina for the Western Canadian ReStore managers' best practices convention, where i will represent northern alberta and glean all the information i can towards that end. this is the beginning of the realization a longstanding goal for me. i'm like a kid just before christmas.

Monday, October 6, 2008

yorik and i

yorik and i did a photo shoot. the local library and amateur theatre co. are doing their bi-annual "friends of the library" fundraiser, on the weekend before hallowe'en. the play is called Dinner At Eight, Dead By Nine. i've somehow been trusted with decorating (mwahhhahahahahahahaha). so yorik, good buddy that he is, agreed to pose for promo photos. the white candles have been dripped with the wax from red candles for a gory look ( i got that idea from Martha Stewart, believe it or not) and i added some gloops of red glitter glue/paint for a little more intense color.

the fundraising dinner theatre is the weekend before hallowe'en. so i get to bring the gory goodies home and have them on hand for my students' last lesson before the feast of souls, and i'll have the candles all lit up amongst yorik and his bones in the window by the front door, for the neighborhood kids as they trick and treat on hallowe'en night. i'm not crazy about hallowe'en, but i do like the kids, so i try to make it fun for them, and just creepy enough to feel adventurous.

Friday, October 3, 2008


you are looking at dried strawberries and saskatoons (in the glass apothecary jars... a bit hard to see in the photo) apples (fresh and dried) tomatoes (fresh and salsa'd - i have dried ones too) honey and carrots.... all grown in northern alberta.

i've devised a system of rating how environmentally friendly my food is. i live north of sanity. there are folks further south who think we're a bit unstable up here, just to want to live somewhere that can get cold enough to freeze the hair inside your nose every time you breathe, without actually freezing the nose.
in a particularly bad winter, many of us would agree with those perceptive folks. so i thought i'd use 'Loco' to designate that which is locally produced north of sanity.

so, using this logic, 'Completely Loco' would be anything that was grown here, or made entirely of things that are produced here. the meat of the lamb i bought at the local 4H sale, early in the summer for instance, raised on grain grown on the farm where the lamb lived, is Completely Loco. the strawberries i picked at the local market garden, and froze or dehydrated, are also Completely Loco. the jam i made from those berries, cooked down for hours, with no added sugar or pectin, is also Completely Loco. but it has a kind of pruney taste that i'm not sure i like, so i made another batch of freezer jam with storebought sugar and pectin... it rates as Almost Completely Loco. If i were to buy a flat of those luscious peaches that are trucked in from california or b.c. and have been all over the stores through the summer- Not A Bit Loco - and can them, with the honey produced by my nearby friend's bees, they would then be Just A Little Loco.

i'm trying for at least More Loco Than Not, so i'm doing my best to ignore the luscious peaches. but if i make jam mixing them with local green apples for pectin and my friend's honey, they might be Maybe Half Loco. i made dolmathes (sort of the greek equivalent of cabbage rolls, but no cabbage involved, and i use swiss chard instead of grape leaves) recently, using local ground beef, my own fresh herbs and greens, and canola oil, which is produced here, instead of the required olive oil. i did have to use a little bit of rice, which can't be locally grown, and lemon juice, also impossible, so they'd be Mostly Loco, i guess.... i wonder if pearl barley would work instead of rice - or millet. they grow here.... so does wild rice, if you can find it. and maybe rhubarb juice could be a lemon juice substitute. then they'd be Absolutely Loco.

i'm still working on a name for things locally made, from recycled materials that aren't Loco.... like quilts and rag rugs made from worn out clothes..... maybe Almost Loco

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

the true north, strong and free


photo taken on a glorious day in early autumn on the banks of a small northern lake near me.

Susan, giver of the beautiful scarf, asked for a commentary on 'the true north, strong and free'. well, firstly, the 'true north' isn't the same as magnetic north or the north pole.... in fact, it's a moving target that changes constantly..... something like wishy-washy canadian opinion.

but north we are. and, speaking for my small rural-ish community, despite my cynicism about humanity in general, we're true in the sense that there's still a sense of community that brings out the good in folks when the bad stuff happens. blatantly mercenary behaviour (note the british/canadian spelling, as in colour and valour) is not tolerated in any but the most wealthy, and i don't travel in them there circles. yes there are still people around here who speak like that.

as for strong, there's a sturdy remnant of the pioneer spirit that built the country still living here. people are self reliant and determined (sometimes known as stubborn.... a small semantic deviation). there are more entrepreneurs per capita in northern alberta than anywhere else in the americas. we have the highest per capita rate of inventions too. we're rist takers. that's a statistical fact, as shown by the high rates of vehicle insurance (and motor vehicle accidents and deaths). it's a good thing the community pitches in when the house burns down or the cows go through the ice on the dugout.... because not many of us can bear to ask for help when we need it. we mostly drive 4 wheel drive pickup trucks, because there's always stuff to haul - from manure to 1/4 million dollar 5th wheel trailers and speedboats in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter. we'll do it ourselves, thankyaverymuch. and much as i disagree with the whole concept of war, it's a fact that Canaadian troops distinguised themselves, and were much respected by the world in both world wars, and continue to be held in high esteem in today's peace keeping forces. and all that 'we stand on guard' stuff seems pretty militant and old army to me, but i'm not your typical citizen. it seems every s.u.v. and pickup truck that drives past me as i ride my bicycle around town has a yellow 'support our troops' ribbon sticker on it.

free?! well, maybe as promiscuous as anyone else, but it's a danged expensive place to live, and there's not a lot being given away, that's worth much. political freedom is questionable; alberta is considered one of the great bastions of the canadian conservative party. the conservatives seem to subscribe to the philosophy that it's easier to apologise than to get permission (as in, let your voters have a word in the discussion) they pretty much do as they damn please and let the seeting masses continue to seethe ineffectually. after all, we're too polite to do much about it. but if you made the mistake of telling some cowboy in the line dance next to you in the local pub that he wasn't a free man, you might get your lights punched out, or start a riot.

i think this might have been a rant. sorry su.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

look what i just won!!!!

thankyouthankyouthankyou  to Susan @ Phantasythat.   and i even managed to copy a picture of it to my little spot in the blogiverse.   life is good.  

i won this beautiful hand painted silk scarf for saying that the thing i would like to see happen to make the world a nicer place was the success of my obsession.  i'm a member of Habitat for Humanity in a nearby city, and i've been nagging my fellow board members for years to start a ReStore there.  for those who don't know what HFH and ReStores are, HFH uses volunteer labor and donated money, materials and skills to build homes for folks who, though hard working and deserving, can't qualify for a standard mortgage to buy a home.  they just don't make enough money.  the working poor.  the idea is that living in a safe, decent, affordable home can be a life changing experience for adults and children alike, and makes the world a better place.  everyone deserves a safe, decent, affordable place to live.  

ReStores are retail outlets for donated building materials, appliances, furniture..... anything that goes into building and maintaining a home.   they get donations of scratch and dent doors, windows, etc, discontinued lines of flooring, tiles, cabinets, ...... the list is endless.  and they sell them at bargain prices - some of these things are brand new!  all profits, after operating costs, go directly to Habitat for Humanity for the building of more homes.   prospective homeowners must contribute a certain number of 'sweat equity' hours in the construction of their homes, and they are given an interest free mortgage on the cost of the house, with payments scheduled according to their incomes.   ALL money payed into mortgages returns to the building fund, for more homes.  

since 1996 our HFH affiliate has produced homes for 9 families. not bad for a handful of very tired volunteers, doing our small part to make our corner of the world a better place.  just a month or so ago, i got permission to start research for a business plan for our very own ReStore, and if i do a good job of that, and we can manage to pull it off, i might just land the job of ReStore manager too!  this is one of my fondest dreams coming true!!!!   and i can't think of a lovelier way to celebrate it than with this gorgeous wearable art.  

cyberhug to Su


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Kickass award

Susan @ phantasythat (see sidebar) has given me an award.  the kickass award.  i'm flattered.  if you know her blog, and most of those who visit me do know her blog.... you know why i'm flattered.  su has one kickass blog.   i don't have a lot to say about big issues, because it seems someone else has usually said it already, and said it better than i can.   i don't have the expertise or the time to develop it, to make my blog as nice to look at, with all the gadgets and links and goodies that many of my favorite spots to visit have, so mine is pretty simple.  in fact, i haven't even figured how to get the &%$#!?!  picture of the award to stick to my page.   i'm not particularly well travelled, or well read.....  but i guess there's something here, cuz there are some really cool people stopping by to chat.   

so thanks, Su.  and thanks to those of you who come by for the occasional visit.  life in the narrow minded, petroleum addicted frozen north is much improved by your friendship.

in comemoration, (or however you spell that) i'm attatching a picture of my daughter after she kicked ass on the paintball field at her younger brother's birthday party this summer..... because i can't get the danged award to cooperate, and i'm tired and want to go to bed.  

Monday, August 18, 2008

Tegan, 2008 national winner of the music festival association of Canada strings competition.  

i've been trippin'.   to Edmonton, capital city of the province of Alberta.  the annual national music festival finals were held there this year.  over 120,000 amateur musicians across Canada competed at the local level, to earn a chance to play in their provincial competitions.  the winners from each provincial competition were recommended to the national finals, held last week in Edmonton.  

competitions are not something i normally get excited about. i'm not a big fan of competitions between artists.   i encourage my students to compete, on the local level, to do their best, and sometimes they are recommended on to the next levels, but i tell them not to take it all too seriously.  a judge's opinion of how they play is, after all, only one person's opinion of how they played that particular piece at that particular time.   there's value in hearing what he or she has to say, but it's important to keep things in perspective.  it's all very subjective.   what's really important, i tell them, is the music, and conveying your love of it to the listener.  it's nice when they do well, but they should never let a disappointing outcome hinder their musical development, if that's where their hearts are.  

i taught Tegan for a number of years when she was very young. she was one of those who consistently did well at competitions. she has been a national finalist before; this was not her first national competition.  i think it was held in Halifax last year. this year the event was being held within accessible driving distance.  Edmonton was do-able, so i made the trip, with a good friend of mine, who used to accompany Tegan on piano, to lend support and hear her play again.  Tegan is now 18, living in southern alberta, and has been getting instruction from top string players all over the world these past few years.   really a remarkable girl in many ways, she's developed an amazing network of peers and mentors, and remains very down-to-earth and earnest.  she feels the responsibility that goes with her gift and takes nothing for granted.  

her mother told me the story of how she got the instrument she's holding in this picture.  after learning, and excelling on violin for 10 years or so, she tried viola, and discovered an immediate affinity with the instrument. she was looking to buy a really nice viola; the one she had been playing was a rental.  in this particular luthier's shop, she played the more conventional models on display, putting them through their paces as is the custom, and concentrating on the tone and responses of each one.  after listening and watching for a while, the luthier slipped into the back room, returning shortly with this - an asymmetrical work of art with a carven rose for a scroll.... and a luscious, gentle tone that's hard to forget once you've heard it.  it brought me to tears listening to Tegan play her solo on it.  after she had begun to play it, her mother tells me, the viola's creator turned to his assistant, and said softly, "it's found a home."  he then sold it to her for significantly less than the ticketed price.  

Tegan is the first violist ever to win this competition; since the inception of the music festival association early in the 20th century,  first place has always gone to a violinist or a cellist.   there's a stereotype in orchestral circles that the best violists are musicians who weren't quite good enough to be the best violinists.  it's not true, but stereotypes are like that.  she's proving them wrong.  

i wish i could take more credit for helping to produce that unforgettable music, but my contribution was at the very early stages, when only a few of us saw the large gift in the small girl.  fully developing a gift like that requires more skill and experience than i have to offer, so i recommended her to my betters when the time came, and happily became one of her many groupies.  i do take some small pride in the knowledge that she had got the good start she needed.  i'm told she had no bad habits to break, or sloppy technique to correct when she went on to the next teachers.  

she's beginning university this fall at a major music school, with a nice fat scholarship.  all of her groupies are expecting great things from her.  

Monday, July 21, 2008

taming the wilderness

home sweet elderly home. she's 78 years old this year, with hand hewn beams supporting the floors. i know that's not much of an age in many places, but here in northern Alberta, that's a very old home. this was one of the earliest homes built here; she had no running water or power when she was first built, and she's one of very few of the earliest structures remaining. my realtor buddy tells me i'm a sucker for old stuff. he could be right. the front yard, seen above, is quite shady. there's a line of mature pine trees along the boulevard, and on the right of the shot above, you can see the trunk of the manitoba maple that holds court over the southeast corner of the lot. with much coaxing i've managed to convince a few lavatera and delphiniums to survive in the shattered clay soil along the foundation. only a few anemic dandelions were making an effort to live there last year.

also last year, the back yard, seen in the next shot, was a lumpy expanse of overgrown wild grasses and ruts. there was a swooning old coal shed crumbling into heaps of broken glass, old car parts and splintered wood along the alley. gradually, i've cleared away the mess, filled the ruts, run my old reel-type push mower over the grass, and there are raised beds sprouting from the ruins. i layered the beat up cardboard boxes from the move on the ground to smother the grass and clover, then parked the beds atop them and filled them with a mix of earth and sand. they're planted with beans and lettuce, tomatoes, chard, carrots and peas. and flowers. the plan is to layer more discarded cardboard, etc between the beds, and heap it with straw or sawdust or whatever's available to make the paths between beds as low maintenance as possible. and a few more beds as i can manage them, till there's no grass left. i don't like lawns. with the dry weather we've had, the grass isn't doing well, so the deep rooted clover that was skulking beneath it now has the advantage. i procrastinate about mowing now. the bees love the clover blossoms, and so do i. i don't think the neighbors are quite as fond of it as we are.

Friday, July 18, 2008

twitchy mouse

we've been having a lot of trouble with our digital oilfield accounting application of late. the cursor freezes at unexpected and unpredictable times, or leaps randomly around the screen, even when no one is handling the mouse. being the brilliant techno-whiz that i am, i've discerned the problem. it's fleas. so i've issued a flea collar to all the mice in the office.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Yukon River; Galena Creek

for 6 years, the 2 eldest children and i lived in the Yukon.  if you like unsullied wilderness, and if seriously, even dangerously serious sub-zero temperatures don't worry you unduly, the Yukon is pretty close to heaven.  

galena is a mixture of nickel, silver and lead.  there's a lot of mining in the Yukon - or there was when i lived there.  Gold, of course, and silver, copper, nickel and asbestos come immediately to mind.  but the Yukon is mostly undeveloped.  there's one real city in the whole territory - Whitehorse, the capital.  Dawson City hasn't been a city since the gold rush at the end of the 19th century. these days, i think the winter population is just over a thousand lost souls.  in the summer, with tourism, which is the Yukon's main industry, the population mushrooms.  but in the case of Dawson City, gold city has morphed into tourist town.   so there are only a few paved highways, and not a whole lot of roads of any kind, except in the near vicinity of one of its few, and sparsely populated towns.  a good bit of the transportation there is still done by river, or by air.   

in about our 3rd year of residence in heaven-on-ice, i took a position working for a trapper who needed someone to keep house for him, and care for his 3 year old daughter, Annie.  as my eldest was then 3, and i knew the fellow to be a pretty decent sort, i signed on for the winter.  the cabin where we would stay was on the banks of the Yukon River, at the mouth of Galena Creek, about 35 miles upstream from Dawson City.  someone found galena there once, and named the place accordingly, but it wasn't a rich enough deposit to be worthwhile developing in such an isolated place.   when living in a wilderness situation, i've always liked being upstream of a main centre.  if need be, one can float down the river for help. the prospect of having to find my way upstream if the outboard motor on the boat were to fail worried me.  still does.   

so trapper Roger and i, with his 3 year old Annie, my 3 year old Mitchell and my 10 month old Raven, met one overcast October morning at the dock in Dawson City to make arrangements to take his small boat 35 miles up the Yukon River to his home at Galena Creek.  an hour or so before departure time, he handed me a $100 bill, and said,
 "Maybe you should pick something up for supper." 
 this was 1979. i'd never seen a $100 bill before ... i've seen precious few since.    after a few questions, i understood that he didn't expect me to outfit the crew for the winter.... just pick up some meat and a few things that could be made up quickly for supper.  which i did.  hamburger, maccaroni & cheese, and some canned veggies.  in the bush, where there are no deep freezes or microwaves, this constitutes fast food.  since that time, in retrospect, i've come to believe that the $100 bill was a bit of a test. whether or not i passed the test you are soon to discover.  

traveling 35 miles in october on a large river in a small, uncovered boat may be a pleasant way to spend the day in some parts of the world.  this is not the case on the Yukon River.  by October there's ice starting to form along the edges, the water is filled with shards that have broken from the edge, and air temperatures are hovering around the freezing point.   as we motored abreast of  forbidding rock faces and around islands bereft of greenery, small chunks of ice brushed against the keel of the boat. the low-hanging clouds began to drip sleet.  Annie and Mitchell were so bundled in hats and scarves, mitts, parkas and blankets, that, if they did complain during the trip, we couldn't hear them.   Baby Raven, in a green corduroy 'snugglie' child carrier, zipped close inside mum's parka, and topped off with a thick wooly hat, gave up arguing when she discovered she couldn't move, and slept the 3 or 4 hours of the trip.  with the wind and the sleet and the immobility of hunching against the wind against stinging sleet nerveless bums wedged together on hard, narrow wooden thwarts , by the time we arrived at our destination, we were all close to hypothermic.  

the cabin was a low roofed 3 room log builing, heated by wood.  the 5o gallon water barrel next to the wood burning cookstove was topped off daily, by Roger, from the crystal clear ice water of the Yukon River. from September till June it was crystal clear, that is....  the rest of the year it was murky with the silt carried off the melting glaciers, by the White River some miles upstream.  Roger had one small room, the children had another, and i was mistress of the largest room - kitchen, dining and living room, with a daybed that served as couch half time, and my bed the other half.  the only door in the place was between us and the wilderness outside.  closed doors inhibit the circulation of air (and heat) through a building with central heating, so the bedrooms had doorways, but no doors.  

by River Rat standards of the day, this was a ritzy place.  well chinked, warm and dry with a sheet metal roof and FIVE glass windows with sliders and screens!  separate rooms!  and real linoleum on the floor!  there were even kitchen cabinets, that ran the full length of one side of my domain, with DOORS on every one o them!  the opposing wall was lined with bookshelves, full of books! and there was a 2-way radio tucked tidily in one corner of the same shelf, connected by wires to a car battery which sat beside it.  i'd even noticed what i suspected was an electric wringer washing machine under a tarp beneath the overhang of the roof on the front porch.  which promised the existence of a power generator. the yard was tidy, and mowed!  half the people in town didn't mow their yards.... no one in the bush did.... no one except Roger.  across the yard was a screened outbuilding filled with metal bins for bug and mouse-proof food storage, and a haunch of moose hanging from the ridgepole.   a meander along the tidy trail to the outhouse disclosed a toilet seat covered in the fur of a lynx too damaged to sell because the squirrels found it before the trapper did.  

when we first stumbled in, numb with cold and damp, the place was dark and chill. the fire had gone out days before.  Roger lit the coleman lamp suspended by a hook and wire from the peak of the roof.  my first sight of inside of the place was of an old-fashioned Alladin oil lamp standing at pride of place in the centre of a 6 seat dining table. the eating surface of this table was made of 3 inch slabs of spruce, sanded and varnished to a sheen. there were matching chairs whose legs and back supports were of peeled and varnished willow limbs. i set to work lighting a fire in the cook stove, then the Fisher wood stove next to that.   fingers numb, the first match broke in my hands without so much as a spark.  but i was more gentle with the second, and as the flame slowly curled up the paper, and the kindling started to crackle, with hands shaking with the cold, i fed larger sticks into the fire.   when the tops of the stoves had built up some heat and begun to radiate, i unwrapped the many layers on the children, replaced damp clothing with dry, and began to plan dinner. 

as i pulled the hamburger from the grocery bag, the till tape fluttered to the counter.  which reminded me that i hadn't given Roger the change from his $100 bill. i'd spent less than $10.  remembering this, i slipped the raw meat out of its cellophane tray into a frying pan that had warmed on the stove. as it began its satisfying, meaty sizzle, i then reached with my right hand into the pocket of my still damp jeans for the bills. i had the meat wrapper in my left hand, and the cash in my right.  as i said to Roger, "here's your change"  i hooked an available finger of my left hand which wasn't busy holding the meat wrapper, to open the Fisher stove. a roaring fire now filled its belly.  i turned to him, and in one graceful, fluid movement, threw the contents of my right hand into the stove, and handed Roger the contents of the left.  

surely i was hypothermic, for i stared, dumfounded, at the bloody plastic in his hand, and wondered, "where in the world did he get that?"   he, however, being well over 6 feet tall, to my 5 1/2 feet, having more body mass, was less damaged by the cold, and in full possession of his wits. he lurched past me, thrust his arm, at something approaching the speed of light, into the inferno, and deftly nabbed the $92  i'd offered to the fire gods before they were even warm.  if i have ever been telepathic, it was at that moment.  as clearly as if he had said it out loud, i heard him think, "Dear God, what have i brought into my home?!"

to Roger's credit, he didn't fire up the boat and take me back to Dawson the next morning.  the meal i prepared met expected standards, and i didn't appear to be a child beater, so he took a calculated guess that his home and family weren't threatened. i spent a most pleasant winter keeping house for them, and we both felt a twinge of regret when i returned to to Dawson the following spring.

but, to the best of my recollection, Roger NEVER again left me in charge of money.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

an offering from the bird

so, you've met the kids. Raven, the one girl among all that testosterone, has learned to deal with what life and brothers throw her, in a philosophical and humorous bent. in retalliation, they call her, sometimes affectionately, sometimes, disparagingly, "the bird".

about a year ago, eldest son Mitchell took it into his head that he must contribute his part to saving the planet, by joining the military. being raised by one of those mislead parents who believed guns are not toys, and wouldn't let him play with them, he seems to have rebounded in the opposite direction from his poor, foolish mummy. the universe, however, conspired against him, and he wasn't able to complete boot camp, much to his disgust, and my relief. but it raised quite a stir in the family. Below is the email his sister sent round once she'd recovered from the initial shock. no, she didn't actually implement any of her schemes, so she was not responsible for his disappointment.

Greetings from your flatland kin,

I just got a call from my mother today verifying that my older lemming, Er I mean sibling has officially joined with the armed forces. While I'm usually a big fan of natural selection I'm still harboring secret hopes of eventually having a niece or nephew for Brooklyn and since Kathie and I have yet to discuss her future reproductive plans, Luke is still far too young, and David seems well on his way to creating the first Robo-wife, Mitchell is still my best bet. On that uplifting note I thought I'd share a few random plots I've been incubating just in case the psychiatric evaluation proves to be less than thorough and additional steps are needed to preserve his Canadian bacon.

1) Accidents happen, especially to Mitchell. The untimely loss of a few toes or perhaps a trusty trigger finger would certainly have a negative impact on anyone needing to pass a military physical without greatly affecting the social life of the unfortunate victim, after all chicks dig scars. One possible winter scenario involves a large bottle of vodka, a cauterizing knife, grape kool-aid to simulate gangrene, and a Hawaiian pizza. Ok, the pizza was just in case I got hungry.

2)Despite the expanding of the world market and liberated TV censorship (with the exception of a few interesting web sites) today’s military remains as red-neck and blatantly homophobic as ever. A simple tweaking of his kit bag on the way to basic training, say an exchange of all of his boxers for something a little more wearable, like a few tasteful lace thongs (Victoria’s secret is doing some great things in camouflage this season), along with some alternative reading material and a scantily clad masculine photo or two and we'll have him back faster than you can say "Rifle Drill".

3)If all else fails perhaps we could try reasoning with him. Even ignoring the fact that he was probably voted "most likely to shoot own foot off" by his graduating class it could be he just needs a little assistance in isolating the underlying needs that have lead to his latest life choices. For example if he wants to see the world he could explore a fast paced and exciting career as an airhostess (never underestimate the element of danger added by the possibility of developing a sudden peanut allergy). Or if he feels he needs to seek a deeper meaning in life, he might consider joining a nice cult or religious splinter cell (not only are they better funded than the Canadian military, they also tend to have more modern equipment and more firepower)

Monday, June 16, 2008

it came from the music

It came from the music

Evening. Scents of fried baloney, cabbage, macaroni and cheese linger. South facing bedroom window. Summer sun still strong outside, though it's evening. Yellow plastic curtains stamped with images of white and yellow roses flutter lazily as he house exhales the day, inhales the first breath of night.

Green plastic radio, on folding T.V. tray by the bed. The remains of a candle in the shape of a smiling sun have joined radio and table in its waxy embrace, blobs and gobs of pale yellow wax puddled and hardened in a caricature of the shape of the radio, against metal. When the girl thinks to dust, she dusts around this now permanent landscape of the table.

Need music. Twirl radio dials. Boring….. twist. static. restless. Twirl. Mixed voices of two channels, battling for supremacy. Twirl. More static. Twirl. Faint…. The dial turning slower now, Growing louder… Evangelical passion fearful for her soul. Twirl. Static. Twirl. Soft, curving line of sound threads itself in one ear. Winding in elegant curls around her brain, caressing it. Darker, thicker threads join and weave and fold themselves into more than her brain can hold. So her heart makes room. It swells and aches with this monstrously beautiful sound, like none she has heard before. This is the sound of every feeling she has ever felt. It’s the contents of her soul made audible. She reaches for her drawing pad. Between her knees is the chipped mug filled with pencils she sharpened before she wedged the thin pillow between her and the rusty brown of the iron bedstead. She opens the book, “how to draw dogs” to the first illustration. And her pencil begins a dance across the paper. Tentative, cautious, at first, learning the steps as it goes.

2 hours later, the pad is empty, the pencils all dull. The music has ended. Fearful that she will never find the station again, she leaves the radio on as she turns out the light and pulls the worn coverlet to her chin. With the volume turned down. At some time in the night, she wakes with the terrifying thought that someone could bump the radio and she’ll lose the music. She turns on the light, finds a pencil with some lead still showing, and writes the numbers the dial points to on the cardboard backing from the used drawing pad. Back in the darkness under her patchwork quilt, she thrashes and tosses, worrying that the cardboard will be lost. Once again, the light goes on. She searches her school pencil case for a black inked permanent marker, writes the numbers on the unfinished wood at the bottom of her sock drawer, and at last falls into an uneasy sleep.

A wad of pages, tattered and grubby, crinkled and abused. No tidy manuscript, this. Each page has a life, a personality of its own, and refuses to conform to the shape of its neighbors. He lifts the top one, a pencil drawing of a Great Dane, from the heap. Strong, bold lines, clear highlights and shadows – a good likeness. It has her name on it, but this is like nothing he has seen her do before. This uncommunicative adolescent who seems to have no friends. This awkward, frumpy child who can’t be coerced or intimidated into completing any assignment she hasn’t taken an interest in.

“Where did these come from?” he asks her.

“from the music,” she answers, with something that sounds like awe in her voice.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

men in black

L to R David, Raven, Luke, Mitchell

it's a rare thing for all the children to be in the same place at the same time. but it was the youngest (and tallest) lad's graduation from high school, so eldest bro (far right) come south from his home in the Yukon, and other, slightly older bro (far left) came from Edmonton, where he's in University. we all gathered @ sis's (she's the one in the dress) in our best clothes and went out on the town. though it wasn't planned that way, we all showed up in black. that seems to happen a lot in our family.... all color coordinated, without consciously trying.

Monday, June 2, 2008

food with thought behind it

from left to right, Champ, Ryan, Taylor and Brooklyn.  Champ is so named in Ryan's expectation of taking the regional championship at his local 4H judging, a couple of hours north of Waynorth.  the H's are explained in the 4H pledge.

"i pledge my HEAD to clearer thinking, my HEART to greater loyalty, my HANDS to greater service, my HEALTH to better living for my club, my community, my country and my world"

not a bad way to raise kids.

Ryan is one of my violin students. now a handsome and strapping young man of 15, we've been friends (excepting a brief lapse when i first made him use a metronome) since he was 5. He still doesn't like metronomes, but i think he's forgiven me.  He's recently also taken up the trombone and the bagpipes.  he looks very suave in his new kilt.  Taylor is my granddaughter, Brooklyn's friend.  the photo is from a visit to Ryan's family farm a few weeks ago, to see the lambs.  Champ was a bonus, just because Ry is so proud of him.  

at the time of the photo, Champ weighed in at something between 1100 and 1200 pounds.  so, i was thinking of the two of them this evening when, in search of locally produced protein, i attended our town's 4H sale.  imagine a slender 13-year-old girl, maybe 82 1/2 pounds, with teased, bleached hair and makeup on a face that look like she just stepped off a teen magazine photo shoot, in very tight designer jeans, firmly escorting the 950 pound black angus steer she had raised from its birth, around a ring liberally dolloped with fresh cowpies.  and the steer was getting away with nothing.  or a rail thin boy of 9 wrestling manfully with an even larger 'calf'.  the calf never got the better of him, but they both knew it was a near thing.  another of these 'babies took a flying leap, lifting his solid 6 foot tall date right off the ground with him.  

not that i was intimidated, but i bought a lamb.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

going potty north of sanity

the vitally healthy specimen you are admiring is a Parkland apple tree, developed with northern gardeners in mind.  it's reliably hardy to zone 2, with care.  Waynorth is rated as zone 2.  This magnificent Malus produces perfect pommes very like a Mac apple. they're sweet and crisp and of medium size.  

he and his twin (maybe his clone?) now reside on the west side of my 78 year old house, toes tucked comfortably against the foundation.  after i've reviewed the process of espalier for fruit trees, and built the necessary supports, they will be trained with their sturdy arms spread against the house, hugging it for protection against the cruel grasp of our vicious winters.  

my house is a tree hugger, much like me.  she's one of the oldest buildings in this little cowtown, built when the railway first laid tracks through northern alberta. i'm certain i heard her give an audible sigh of relief and a faint moan of pleasure when i began to remove the layers of grime and bad taste left by decades of transient dwellers. as if i'd scratched her right where the itch was. there are gnarly, obstreperous lilac bushes against the southwest corner of the old dear that are probably as old as she is.  i hauled 2 truckloads of their trimmings away last spring.  very soon they'll be filling the studio room where i give lessons and practice my music, and whose windows they screen, with the heaven-scent of summer.  they'll be good company for young Malus, if i can teach them some manners.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

inaugural meal

many thanks to Cicero for posting the mouth watering photo, and delicious recipe for bangers and mash.  it looked so fine that it was the first thing i thought of when my kitchen was finally functional again. this photo is my own rendition of said delicacy.  my 7 year old granddaughter was here for the weekend. when i told her i was making bangers and mash for the evening meal, she looked at me through her eyebrows and said, "you're kidding, right?" she opted for nacho chips and cheese dip instead.  she doesn't have her granny's appreciation of peasant food.  

it's been a long grind... since January. the kitchen is not quite finished.... still the last bits of tile to put up and grout, the last of the bead board, and trim, and a final coat of paint on those.  but the cabinets are in, and the floor and new windows and door.  the boxes that had taken over the dining room all winter are gone.  emptied into those lovely new cabinets.  the cardboard will help mulch the paths between the raised  beds planned for the garden.

server very twitchy.... will post picture later

Monday, May 12, 2008

my hero

this is my dad.  born in 1921.... i guess that makes him 87 years old.  he had a near fatal accident involving a head injury 11 years ago today.  prior to that, he was exactly like the 70+ year-old swede on the 'participaction' ads Canadians of a certain age are so familiar with, who was in better shape than the average canadian man half his age. ("don't just think about it, do it!  participaction, get with the action"  all about keeping physically fit, and active) he'd been a trucker all his life. at that time had 2 sons and a couple of other employees doing the driving, and he still did most of the service work on 4 big semi tractor trailers, and their various trailers.  

after a 200 lb piece of metal fell on his head, narrowly missing crushing his brain, he spent 6 weeks in intensive care, and came out of the hospital an old man.  he sold the trucks, and the business, shortly thereafter. 

today he told me he and my stepmum are considering moving to a seniors' residence.  and he thought maybe he should get a cell phone so he could keep in touch with her when he's out running errands, getting groceries and such like.  she doesn't go out anymore. she's not admitting it to anyone, but she's dying of lung cancer.  despite a problem with double vision, from the accident 11 years ago, and the irretrievable loss in strength and vitality suffered then,  he's still a very independent man.  this was a very big thing, admitting that keeping up the house and yard are getting to be too much for him..... and admitting that they might need a lifeline... the cell phone.... 

so this afternoon, my youngest son, one of the family technokids, and i picked Dad up a cell phone. we programmed all the family numbers into it, and showed him how to use it.  in his big, calloused, blue-collar hands, the phone looked like a toy.  his fingers are so big and square there was no way he could punch those little bitty numbers to dial out, so programming the numbers in wasn't so much a convenience as a necessity.   and this man who has been my pillar of support for 51 years felt awkward and incompetent with the silly little thing, but he was determined to master it.  because it's a way for him to know the obstinate, and fiercely independent woman he has loved for 48 years is as safe as he can keep her without humiliating her.  

when i was a little girl, my dad was my hero.  today i understood that he still is.  

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

you can find it here

surfing over lunch, i came across this. as the move to the 'new' house was as much for e-footprint sized reasons as any other, i've been plotting and scheming ways to make my little town lot into a little eden. not easy, as the town has innumerable bylaws that seem to be there for the sole purpose of preventing anyone from doing anything sensible.... such as, no chickens (only as many annoying yappy little dogs as you can stuff in your abode, and which use every yard but their own as a dumping zone) no clotheslines (considered an eyesore, but littering one's yard with bigger than life, badly painted plywood cutouts of cartoon characters appears to be encouraged. dead and decomposing automobiles also are in vogue)

so, i'm making it official. as much as is possible, landscaping efforts will be edible. berry shrubs and hardy apple trees will form the much needed privacy hedge, and the first of the raised vegetable beds are even now awaiting the soil that will feed the little green babies in the south porch nursery. the basil is doing very nicely, and the tomatoes, after a slow start, seem to be in a hurry to catch up. the lettuce seedlings are already showing signs of their future glorious mix of colors, and the scarlet runner beans are on tiptoe, straining to kiss the full spectrum light tubes above them.

with a growing season of something less than 90 days, i know better than to think i can produce fresh food all year, but i enjoy a challenge. even the 100 mile diet might be wishful thinking at present, but we'll start with what we have. there's a root cellar taking shape somewhere in my left frontal lobe, or wherever these things are born, and the pressure canner and deep freeze are already in residence. a good friend raises bees.

i've also approached the publisher of the local newspaper with the idea of a column on the topic. he's discussing it with his editor. maybe if the research is done for them, those things that ARE accessible will get the appreciation and market share they deserve.

a record of my efforts will be here, @ grannygardens.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


though i steadfastly maintain that chaos makes me crazy, it stalks me. i recently told my kids "if i ever again even look like i might renovate a house while i live in it, lock me up and take away all my money till the glint of insanity leaves my eye." my daughter, who may have heard this before, just gave me that tight little smile that says, "sure, mum" with more sarcasm than words could ever convey.

after searching for half the weekend for my tiling tools and a tape measure (of which i have, at last count about 496) i gathered every tool i could find in the place (haven't dared approach the garage yet) and sorted them in an empty bookshelf (just to remind the contents of the other bookshelf, alongside, that i haven't abandoned them, and one day soon we'll spend some time together). there must be a lot of them in the garage. i did find one tape measure, which doesn't reliably retract, and some of the tiling tools. so i may have to trot over to the hardware store after all... the garage is a dangerous place till i can get the dining room furniture and the rest of the stuff still unsorted from the move out of there.

on the bright side, i found 6 nail punches.

Friday, May 2, 2008

on change

how many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?

only one, but it has to really want to change.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

the crocuses may have croaked, but

but the basil inside in the grow op is hanging in there

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"this is progressing nicely"

the kitchen takes shape. note the stemware racks above the window on the left, and the wine bottle pockets under the window on the right

the quote in the title is from child #3, now finishing 2nd year engineering. at age 3, he squatted back on his cute little haunches, made a critical assessment of his latest duplo construction and chirped, "this is progressing nicely." it's become a standard family line. we're all still trying to figure out where he got his brains from. maybe there was a switch in the hospital.

signs of spring

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Wandering through the grocery store in the hour and a half break between two scheduled music practices today, I had $7.94 in my pocket. The credit card company has frozen my card because I can’t seem to convince them that I’ve moved, and I haven’t received a bill in months. It’s hard to pay a bill you never receive. And I’ve lost my bank card somewhere in the chaos of mountains of boxes, scattered tools and disorganized heaps that is my home, awaiting kitchen cabinets on Monday. I didn’t notice it wasn’t in my wallet until I left the house last night with friends, to go see La Vie En Rose, and stopped by the bank for some cash to pay for my ticket. I no doubt took it out of a pocket and set it somewhere and it’s had stuff piled on top of it. My friends are good friends – they loaned me $20. Enough for a ticket and a glass or 2 of wine @ the after show schmooze @ a local bistro. There’s money in the bank. I just can’t get to it till Monday. So today before leaving for the nearby town where my music rehearsals were, I emptied the pockets of all my jackets, dirty jeans and purses, raided the junk drawer in the dresser @ the front entry, and came up with $7.94 in coins, for lunch.

Things are expensive in Northern Alberta. $7.94 doesn’t go far. I’d forgotten what it was like, carefully checking prices and totaling things in my head, balancing the virtues of this against that. Odd how ‘normal’ changes in one’s life, without notice. It’s only during the last four years of my life that pennies haven’t had to be counted and re-counted and creatively coaxed to purchase more than would seem possible. But I’d already forgotten what it was like. A lifetime of frugal fretting was erased by 4 years of having just a little more than the minimal requirements. And I got to thinking that my meagre $7.94 is more than a goodly percentage of the world has at its disposal for lunch today. In the leanest of the lean years, when, by national standards we lived well below the “poverty line”, my children ate all the good food they needed, even if it was home baked beans for a steady week. They always had a safe, warm, dry place to come home to after school. And, lean as those times were, there was a way, with hard work, patience, and determination, for us to own a home. It wasn’t much more than a shack when we got it, but by the time it was sold, it had been transformed into a lovely home.

And I stood in the produce department looking around me, thinking…… that’s why we are here. That’s why my grandfathers, and my grandmothers' parents came here from Sweden and Norway. Canada was, and still is, the land of opportunity. And it’s true of the blonde woman with the small child in her cart, and the asian woman filling a bag with vegetables, and the black woman carrying her basket past me, and it’s true of our indigenous peoples. Though last night’s storm dumped a couple of inches on the tulips sprouting from the frozen earth, though nothing has grown here in 7 or 8 months, we’re eating fresh produce, brought here at enormous financial and environmental cost, just because we can. Because we’re so incredibly wealthy. And we don’t even know it. We take it all for granted.

This is no new realization. I’ve ranted on the same theme for years. But this afternoon it was somehow physical knowledge. It hit me somewhere in the neighborhood of my stomach and made me feel a little sick. The unfairness of life. The thoughtless greed of the society I live in…. the cost of our greed to voiceless people around the world.... another familiar rant. And I can’t change them. But I can change me. And it’s time.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Mnenewa and Thabo

Meet Mnenawa and Thabo, of Memeza Africa (Memeza means "shout!"), giving granny a hug and calling her "mummy".

these young gents were my house guests for the past weekend, during which time i played the mother stereotype, making sure they got fed far more than was necessary, and their laundry got done. at one point, i told them, "i'm a mother. i HAVE to feed you." so they laughingly nicknamed me Mummy.

Thabo and Mnenewa are drummers for a troupe of 22 Sowetan singers and dancers, presently touring alberta with singer/songwriter Holly Wright. Ms Wright lived and worked in South Africa for 2 years, where she met and married her South African husband, who is also a musician. What a show they gave us!

on stage, my 2 softspoken and well mannered boys transformed into musical athletes, carrying and driving the music with their masterful drumming, singing rich harmonies, and dancing with a passion and vitality that brought the crowd to its feet in thunderous applause. such excellence is awe inspiring and humbling.

and to think i had to be coaxed into hosting them. if i weren't so pleased to have got to know them, i'd be ashamed.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Memeza Africa

Memeza Africa is visiting our small northern alberta town. they are a singing group made up of young men and women from Soweto, South Africa. they are living a dream, to travel the world, and make their living with their music. we had a chili supper for them last night, when they arrived in town. before dinner, they sang for us. the music was so beautiful it made me cry. one of my violin students is in the high school group who brought them to town, so he asked me to join him in playing some fiddle tunes for them after dinner. they're one of the best audiences i've ever played for. not only are they enthusiastic and generous with their applause, but by the end of the last tune, some of the fellows were singing rhythmic bass part along with our duet of 'Boil em Cabbage'... a sort of deep, smooth round sound, like striking immense, weathered hollow logs in an ancient forest. gave me goose bumps.

two young men, Thabo, and Mnenawa are staying for 2 days in my guest room. i hadn't planned to accept billets, as my kitchen is less than a week from receiving its visit from the cabinetmaker (in a STATE), and my bathroom is in a similar, though lower case, state. functional, but a mess.... but, as i mentioned, one of my violin students is involved in bringing them here and they were badly in need of more billets. he's a very sweet boy, so i couldn't say no. and, after all, hospitality is about sharing what we have, not about showing off what we have.... so, i picked up my tools, swept sawdust and cleaned madly all day saturday, unfolded the murphy bed in my teaching studio, and such as it is, i'm sharing my humble abode with them.

i had only a vague remembrance of the name of Soweto... i was living in the bush in the Yukon, in the '70's, at the time it was in the news, and i was very isolated. i have since read Nelson Mandela's book, Long Walk to Freedom, so i'm not completely ignorant, just pretty ignorant..... but i have a questioning mind, so i've spent this morning with my morning coffee, in my comfortable armchair in my comfortable (even if it is a work in progress) home, with my laptop, as my young guests slept. And here's what i learned.

Soweto, believed to be an abbreviation of Southwestern Township, is a 'suburb' of Johannesburg. it was created several generations ago when there was an outbreak of disease in the city, and it was determined that the poor were, if not responsible for, at least very susceptible, so it was not desirable to have them around. they were told to go elsewhere. as they were employed by Johannesburg society, they couldn't go far, so Soweto was born. no thought was given by city planners to providing infrastructure at the time, and it's been an uphill battle providing simple needs like water and power ever since. Many of Soweto's schools, according to one source, have no running water. many homes have no running water or electricity. the hospital in Soweto delivers 1500 babies every day. it's a large city.

in 1976, there was a public protest made by students, against being educated in Afrikanns, which was the language of the Dutch descended ruling class. the protest was made up of children, mostly, but the military was called in, things got out of hand, and children were shot. the rest, as the cliche' goes, is history.

as we walked the 3 blocks from dinner to my home last night, Thabo said. "this is a very quiet place... very safe." i answered, "yes; i don't think we appreciate it as much as we should." our eyes met, and he nodded.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


i had acupunture treatment last week for carpal tunnel syndrome and aural nerve damage in my hands. WCB's (that's Worker's Compensation Board, who are supposed to take care of workers injured by their jobs) bought-and-paid for specialist tells me this condition is not caused by 40 hours a week at a computer, that it must be the result of the few precious hours a week i manage to spend with my fiddle. as the problem has only reared its ugly head since taking on the 40 hrs a week desk job, i'm skeptical.... but i'm not keen on anyone slicing my wrists for me, and the drugs they tried me on sent me into a near-suicidal tailspin. I looked afield for aid.... and was reccommended to chinese angel of mercy.

treatment was on thursday. by saturday, i thought my hands felt rather better, so i closeted myself with my fiddle, a metronome, and some favorite jigs. the metronome gave me actual numerical proof that my hands are once again listening to my brain. so, when the irish band i play with rehearsed on Saturday, i was ready. i lead into the first jig on the playlist at a speed i haven't attempted in months. there were sideways glances among the fellows.... this was looking to them like a setup for a train wreck. but we shot through it like a polished canonball. after flopping back in their chairs, and wiping their brows, one of my beloved musical soul brothers said "whew!" gave me a big grin and exclaimed, "she's back!"

so the dreams of one day acquiring a very fonkay electric fiddle have been revived. this one's a Keebler.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Museum of Civilization

from my trip to Ottawa.... the museum of civilization was of particular interest to me, because the architect, Douglas Cardinal, had also designed the building where i studied music, Grande Prairie Regional College.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

don't knock the equinox

... but it's just a little pathetic living in a place where the first day of spring means the snow is starting to melt.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

i'm it

i've been tagged by Granny P to give 7 weird things about myself....

weird (adjective)
1. odd - strange or unusual
2. supernatural - belonging to or suggesting the supernatural
3. of fate - relating to or influenced by fate


actually, i'm having trouble narrowing it down to only 7.

1. my mum used to tell me i started singing before i could talk. as i was adopted, and there's not a single musical gene to be had in my entire adoptive family, that doesn't inhabit my body, this made me pretty weird amongst that crowd. so when the public school system began orchestra and band programs in my 10th year of driving them all crazy with it, my dear old gran cornered her first-born son, my dad, and told him, most adamantly, "you get that girl in music lessons!" what i really wanted was a flute, but, budgets being what they are, and there being 4 other kids to raise, they went with the cheapest instrument they could get. a fiddle. the rest, to borrow a cliche', is history.

2. i love liver. coated in cornflour and garlic powder, fried in butter with about a hundred pounds (45 1/2 kilos) of onions.

3. i've been married 3 times (metric equivalent is the same). they all ended badly. marriage doesn't appear to be something i'm good at, so i've given it up.

4. i once lived , pretty much off the land, for 6 years, in a log cabin on the banks of the Yukon River. ...well, actually, several log cabins, ranging from 3 miles (5 km) to 35 (58.3 km) miles upriver from Dawson City. always upriver, in case the motor on the boat gave out... i could always float to town for help. during the (excruciatingly long) winters i travelled by moccasin, x-country ski, snowmobile and dog sled. my lead dog was a brilliantly intelligent, gentle, gorgeous silver part-wolf husky named Sis. most of my time there my only company was 2 small children and the dog team. they say that kind of isolation leaves a person a bit weird.... that could explain some things.

5. i've eaten some strange flesh. (see #4) beaver, porcupine, various fowl and fish, squirrel, wild rabbit, lynx, moose, caribou, deer, elk, bear were all pretty standard on the menu at the time. many of them i had to kill before i could eat them. salmon was a mainstay, as the Yukon is a major route for King Salmon and Chum (dog salmon), on their way to spawn. it was what we fed the dogs, and ourselves. i never got tired of salmon - had tinned salmon for lunch today, in fact.

6. i rode in the Numb Bum the last year it ran in Fairview, Alberta. this is a 24 hour motorcyle marathon that was run by Fairview College's Harley Davidson training faculty each year. in February. on a frozen frog pond called George Lake. temperatures that year hovered in the -35C vicinity for the duration of the event. probably lower over night. i'd had a dirt bike as a teen, and a friend was looking for volunteers for a team, so i volunteered. we put duct tape on the bridges of our noses to keep them from freezing, and sheet metal screws in the knobby tires of the bikes to give traction on the ice. when it was all over, everyone wedged the front tire of their bike firmly in a snowbank at the edge of the track, and revved the engine this threw rooster tails of ground ice off the back tires as the sheet metal screws dug a trench. it was really quite spectacular to see.

7. i've tried a lot of lines of work.... waitress, barmaid, tire repair girl, bakery assistant, historic tour guide, camp cook, camera sales person, ran the emergency phones for the fire department, day home provider, dish washer, violin teacher, session musician, fashion designer, seamstress, house painter, writer, administrative assistant, accountant.

i'm supposed to tag 7 others, but i have a very small blog community, and i see most of you have already done something like this, so, i appologise, Penelope, for dropping the ball.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

in the national gallery

The Spirit of Haida Gwaii

Spirit of Haida Gwaii, Bill Reid's largest and most complex sculpture, is displayed at the river end of the Grand Hall. As if heading for the shoreline of the coastal village, the Spirit of Haida Gwaii represents a Haida canoe crammed with a bewildering variety of paddlers and passengers. The white sculpture is the original plaster pattern used to cast the bronze sculpture at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. The plaster-cast was acquired by the Museum through the generosity of Maury and Mary Margaret Young of Vancouver.
The Spirit of Haida Gwaii features Raven and Eagle, the two principal Haida lineages that are coequal and represent two halves of a whole. The sculpture encompasses mythical creatures, animals, men and women, who together symbolize not just one culture but the entire family of living beings. The canoe is filled to overflowing with creatures who bite and claw one another as they doggedly paddle along.

From left to right, the creature sitting in the bow is Grizzly Bear, facing Bear Mother. Between them are their two Bear cub offspring, creatures that grew out of a children's poem by A.A. Milne. Next are: Beaver, who lived on the ocean floor hoarding all the fresh water and fish in the world; Dogfish Woman, with a great hooked beak, gill slits on her cheek, and a pointed head; and Mouse Woman, the traditional guide to those who travel from the human world to the non-human realms of Haida mythology.
At the stern is the steersman, Raven; he seems intent on manoeuvring the boat in a particular direction, but he may change course as his whim dictates. Beneath Raven's wing is a human figure, the grudging oarsman; he represents all the common people who labour to build and rebuild, stoically obeying orders and performing tasks allotted to them. Arched across the centre of the boat is Wolf, with his hind claws in Beaver's back and his teeth in Eagle's wing. Beneath Eagle is Frog. The prominent central figure is a shaman, the Haida chief Kilstlaai. As a symbol of authority he holds a speaker's staff; on the top of the staff is Killer Whale.
Commenting on where this boat may be heading, Bill Reid says:

There is certainly no lack of activity in our little boat, but is there any purpose? Is the tall figure who may or may not be the Spirit of Haida Gwaii leading us, for we are all in the same boat, to a sheltered beach beyond the rim of the world as he seems to be or is he lost in a dream of his own dreaming? The boat moves on, forever anchored in the same place.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

granny skates

years ago, on a very brief visit to the Ottawa area, a fellow talked about skating to work on the Rideau Canal. it sounded like such a lovely way to get to work, that i was envious. then, just a few short years ago, another fellow, who moved into my neighborhood, and happened to be a musician, became a good friend. somehow the subject of the canal came up in conversation. i told him how i'd love to skate it one day. he then told me the lovely and romantic story of his grandfather, who, as a young man, lived in Ottawa, and skated the canal with his violin strapped to his back, to and from teaching violin lessons at a girls' school run by nuns there. a certain very lovely young nun was a very fine pianist, and often accompanied him, and his students in performances. as they became better acquainted, he fell hopelessly in love with her. they had much more than music in common, and in time he persuaded her to leave the cloister and become his wife. all of their children, and every generation since, has been made up of exceptional musicians, so i'd say the union was well blessed.

since hearing that story, i've been more determined than ever, to visit Ottawa in winter, and skate the Rideau canal. as luck would have it, a very good friend moved to Ottawa in the fall of 2007, so it seemed like the perfect set-up.... visit my friend, and check one thing off my 'bucket list'.

it was cold, for Ottawa.... -15 C with a brisk wind. but to a northern alberta girl, who's spent a number of years in the Yukon, that was no deterrent at all. and i had only one day left before returning home, so i borrowed some skates from my friend, and off i went.

i started out @ Dow's Lake. after a couple of nasty falls ..... feet take air, and head for the heavens.... thud!! oh please, God, no.... i didn't land on the camera!!!? .... no.... the pain in my hip says i didn't...... i learned that ice is much harder than it used to be years ago. stopped midway for a world-famous Beaver Tail (maple drizzled) coasted elegantly to the 0.0 km marker an landed gracefully, if somewhat suddenly, on my bum. i'd thought at the beginning that i'd be lucky to make a kilometer before every thing hurt.... between the falls and the not having been on skates for more than 30 years, but it was too much fun to quit, so after covering the distance from Dow's Lake to the zero marker, i turned around and skated back to Dow's Lake, where i finished up with some mexican food and a Guinness at the pavilion @ Dow's Lake.

Monday, March 10, 2008


"Maman is emblematic of her mother, Josephine, a restorer of tapestries in the family-run restoration business. the spider's high, arched legs descend into points evocative of sewing needles, while her spiraling body suggests sewing spindles as well as the double helix of genetic string that binds one generation to the next. Attached to Maman's abdomen is a cage-like sac containing twenty marble eggs that assert her maternal role as protector and nurturer. '[my mother was my] best friend... deliberate, clever, patient, sooting, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and useful as a spider'."

artist Louise Bourgeois

Monday, March 3, 2008


Since last August, i've been musical director for a musical production in nearby Grande Prairie. Oklahoma! opened Feb 21, and has been getting good reviews.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


i believe she's 9 metres tall (about 30 feet) sorry i'm lean on details.... a bronze statue, very controversial..... the artist admires the subject, and says its fine qualities remind her of her mother.... i'll say no more till i can get blogger to upload the image... he's balky today.

staying with friends with 2 1/2 year old twins and a new baby... the urgent details of life involve diapers and potty training and doing puzzles together on the living room floor.... but mum and i did get out briefly to the national gallery to see the Joe Fafard show (fabulous!) maman is the name of this sculpture, which stands outside the national gallery's main entrance.

as blogger refuses, after several tries, to load the image... will try later

Monday, February 25, 2008

running away from home

i'm running away from home. in mid renovation. the cabinet maker doesn't come for another month, and the mess is getting inside my head. can't do much about it till the cabinets come in a month so i'm escaping.

As I stroll aimlessly with my cart of luggage through the Edmonton International Airport, I enjoy the first free time I’ve had in months. I find a comfy seat and pull from my spiffy new suitcase (the first real luggage I’ve ever owned – a lovely set of tone-on-tone chocolate bags I hope to get a good deal of use from in the coming years) ….. I pull from my elegant bag a book brought from my local library for this express purpose. My librarian would be mortified to know the book is flying to Ottawa with me. She’s very possessive about her books. Hates to see them leave town without an official escort. Especially in my hands, as I’ve been known to leave more than one treasured tome all alone in the wide world, with no way home. It’s a habit that somewhat offsets the financial benefits of a library membership – it might be more cost effective to buy the books I want to read. My local library charges me far more than the value of the lost item, in an attempt to guarantee their books’ safe return. I sigh, fork over the cash, and think of it as a donation… both to the library, and to the finder of the book, who I fervently hope appreciates the gift. Neither, however, proffers a charitable receipt for my generosity.

Hours later, having read half the book, I go for another stroll, in search of an electrical outlet to plug my laptop into, as its charge is very low after surfing and checking emails last night and this afternoon. Having very little experience with airports, I’m not sure if this is typical, but after cruising the entire length of the building, the only outlet I can find is behind a Conquest Vacations kiosk, which is unmanned at this late hour. How do the maintenance folks power their floor sweepers and scrubbers? Surely it’s not all done by broom, bucket and mop? In a building that probably uses as much electricity per day as the small town I live in, there are no electrical outlets? Bizarre!

I’m on my way to Ottawa, for a week’s visit to dear friends who moved there last summer, from Calgary. I’m a sort of surrogate granny to their small children. As they’re moving back to Calgary in March, this is my last chance to visit them in Ottawa. Yes, it would make more financial sense to visit them in Calgary, which is closer to home, but Calgary doesn’t have the Rideau Canal. Since I first learned of its existence, I’ve wanted to skate the Canal. I guess you could say it’s on my Bucket List. And I had enough air miles to do it @ very little cost. So I’ve been counting the sleeps.

Of course, traveling on air miles, my selection of flights is less than optimal. Hence the long wait @ Edmonton International. But after the hectic pace of the last few months, being ‘stuck’ in an airport for 9 or 10 hours with nothing by my laptop and a good book is no hardship at all.

as i wait for the plane, i see workers with brooms, buckets and mops.... they really do keep this huge place clean w/o mechanical sweepers etc!!

Friday, February 22, 2008


the results are in. after taking submissions from my violin students for a name for my beauteous new harp, and giving everyone a vote in the final results are in. allow me to introduce you to Melody Valentine. the first name was suggested by Justin, who is now the proud owner of his own electronic chromatic tuner. the second name was suggested by Aidan, who is now the proud possessor of his very own electronic metronome.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Good Old Hockey Game

I'm not much of a hockey fan, but i admire the passion of those who are. So, in tribute to Canada's recent National Pond Hockey Tournament....

by Stompin' Tom Connors.

Hello out there, we're on the air, it's 'Hockey Night' tonight.
Tension grows, the wistle blows, and the puck goes down the ice.
The goalie jumps, and the players bump, and the fans all go insane.
Someone roars, "Bobby Scores!", at the good ol' Hockey Game.

OH! The good ol' Hockey game, is the best game you can name.
And the best game you can name, is the good ol' Hockey game.

Second Period.

Where players dash, with skates aflash, the home team trails behind.
But they grab the puck, and go bursting up, and they're down across the line.
They storm the crease, like bumble bees, they travel like a burning flame.
We see them slide, the puck inside, it's a 1-1 hockey game.


Third Period. Last game of the playoff too!

Oh take me where, the hockey players, face off down the rink.
And the Stanley Cup, is all filled up, for the champs who win the drink.
Now the final flick, of a hockey stick, and the one gigantic scream.
"The puck is in! The home team wins!", the good ol' hockey game.

(Chorus x3)

(It's in!)(He shoots, he scores!)(Henderson scores for Canada!)