Archive for May, 2009

You can dress her up, but…

May 31, 2009

Mrs. Stepford called on Tuesday morning.

“Can we go up to the Women In Need (WIN) thrift store and the Sally Ann this morning? I’ve been housebound too long. I just have to get out!”

“Sure,” said Kay. “It’s senior’s discount day! The only thing I have to do is pick up milk and mail these letters. But I’ve got to be back by one thirty. Elizabeth is coming for her art lesson. We could have lunch at Zellers, too. Then I wouldn’t have to think about making lunch when I get home.” And so it was arranged.

At ten in the morning, Mrs. Stepford climbed the front steps and rang Kay’s doorbell.  Kay, as usual, was not ready. She was still trying to find her keys, her camera, her out-going mail, bumbling about for shoes and generally still in wake-up mode.

After ten minutes of wool and key gathering, Kay commanded, “Stay still while I set the alarm, ” and Mrs. Stepford did. They went forth into the pouring rain to see what treasures they could acquire at the local thrifts.

At the WIN store, Kay found a sweet pottery vase at fifty percent off the thrift store price. She would add that to her growing collection. Mrs. Stepford found three scarves for her Furushiki gift wrapping projects. They had not yet spent five dollars between them.

“Look! Look! For only a dollar each, and they are made of silk!” she crowed.

Quitting the WIN store, they drove to the pharmacy to post letters and pick up milk and mail Kay’s letters.

At the Salvation Army thrift, the pickings were more interesting. Kay found two hand made pottery dishes – a serving bowl and a plate, and a gold-leafed wooden frame.

After she had paid for it and was waiting for Mrs. Stepford to complete her browsing, she lit upon the jewellry case and found some necklaces that she could take apart for her beading projects. One of them had gold links and black flat and round jet beads encircled in gold. Certainly not real gold, Kay reflected , but it appeared never to have been worn, it was in such good shape. One necklace she would take apart for its real turquoise beads to fashion a more modern style piece. A third one would match perfectly earrings that Lizbet had recently purchased in New Mexico. A fourth was a perfect stocking stuffer for Alison at Christmas.

Ca-ching. Ca-ching. Kay, now bereft of her allowance for this sort of thing, returned with her plastic credit card to the till and purchased her new treasures.

On their way out, they met one of Mrs. Stepford’s friends who agreed to share lunch with them at the appointed place, and the morning had disappeared. Just at one o’clock, Kay reminded all that it was time to go, each for their separate appointments. They settled the bill and went.

Now this may sound like a total non sequitur, but please just be patient with my telling.

“Auntie!!!!” he called, early morning on Tuesday. “It’s Hugh.”

“What’s the matter Hugh?” asked Kay. He never phoned in the morning and his voice sounded frightened. Different, anyway.

“I’m sorry it’s so early. I know you don’t get up early. But I’m so excited! I had to tell someone. ” He could barely get his words out.

“I’m going to Vienna!”

“Vienna?”  replied Kay, perplexed.

Hugh, her nephew, who was studying for his Masters in Ottawa, had been given an extraordinary opportunity. His boss was unable to attend a conference and since Hugh’s studies were precisely on the topic of the conference, his supervisor asked him to attend in his stead. He was going to represent the University!

“That’s all wonderful!” replied Kay, and she got him to tell her all the details.

“There’s only one thing….” he hesitated.  Kay was awake enough now. She knew.

“How are you going to manage it?” she asked. “Will they pay your way?” Hugh is not a starving student, but he lives like a monk for the most part with his single room in a shared house and his most frivilous expenditure outside his schooling, his bus pass and his food is keeping his computer equipment up to date.

“I’ll have to go begging this afternoon to see if I can drum up some  grants,” he replied. I’m pretty sure that I can get some. They know I’m a starving student. But I had to tell my boss that I needed money up front for the ticket and the hotel. The university can only reimburse after the event when tickets and receipts are produced. So I was just wondering…..”

And Kay, who has a soft spot for Hugh, filled in the rest of the sentence.

“We’ll make it work. We can do this. This is an opportunity not to be missed. How wonderful!”

“It’ll just be a loan, but it has to be quick. With two weeks before me, I can get an economical fare, but if I leave it, the prices go up exponentially, the shorter the time between purchase and flight, ” said Hugh. “I can reimburse you when I get my expenses back.”

Hugh’s voice, had come down from the Gods a little. It was altitude that had made his voice funny. And Kay was now walking in the clouds.

He returned to his soliciting venture and she proceeded to arrange her day.

The trials and tribulations of working with major banks is not worthy of story telling. Suffice it to say that Kay ran into a roadblock with telephone banking. Telephone banking had set up a meeting for Monday with the loans manager but it wasn’t soon enough for Kay. She decided  Saturday if she would meet face to face with the bank branch manager.

To do this, Kay needed to feel her best. She dressed in a crisp bourgeoise blouse with tailored collar, just as she had previously done when she was a manager herself.  She looked through her jewellry for an impressive piece to enhance her appearance.

There on her dresser, still not put away, were the four lovely necklaces that she had purchased on Tuesday. She tried the blue glass beads and they looked a bit Hippie.  It would not inspire confidence. She tried the turquoise and coral that would match Lizbet’s new earrings but the strand was too short and didn’t fit about her neck. She tried the more modern necklace with the silver beads and hearts but it was too complicated and a bit flighty, she thought. The gold chain with the flat, jet beads was just perfect.

She admired herself in the mirror.

“Awesome!” she said to her reflection. “Very business like. ”

With confidence, she entered the bank and stated her mission. She implied it was urgent. The receptionist put her off, but Kay knew how to stand her ground and lo and behold, she was granted an appointment with the Branch Manager, a smartly dressed youngster of  thirty or so.

Everything went according to plan and the business was transacted. Hugh had money in his account in Ottawa and all was well.

Kay practically chirrupped when she left the bank, quite proud of herself. There was more to be done on Monday, but Hugh would have his ticket and a bit to spare for expenses.  The rest could wait.

Kay only had one other task before going home.  She drove to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription.

As always, the pharmacist declared that it would take twenty minutes to transfer her pills from one bottle to a personal vial with Kay’s name on it. It implied that  Kay should spend the time shopping until it was done.  In fact, with all the problems of H1N1 virus, Kay wanted to get some hand sanitizer.

There was virtually nobody in the store.  She had to go searching for a clerk to help her find her product.  She found her in the beauty department – perfumes, lipsticks, mascara and the like.

The store had hired a perfect person for the job. Late twenties, early thirties, the young lady was smartly dressed, her maquillage done to perfection, her sales manner helpful and solicitous.  She led Kay to her purchase and then, a bit nervously, she said, “I’ll be right back. I’ll be right back,” and tripped away lightly to her beauty counter.

It puzzled Kay. Kay had not asked for anything more; and she  watched after the young lady dashing away and back. She held in her hand a small pair of scissors.

“I’m just going to cut your tag away.” she almost apologized.

Kay was dazed. She didn’t get it.

“Your tag on your necklace,” the fashionable young lady insisted, nodding her head, her scissors brandishing close to Kay.

Kay blanched then blushed.

“You’ll think I’ve been shoplifting?” she blurted out.

“Oh, no!  It’s just that you can’t go wandering around with a price tag on your necklace.”  And she reached out and snipped the white strings of the offending tag.

“May I have that?” said Kay.

“You want the tag? I can throw it away,” said the clerk, astounded.

“Please.” beseeched Kay. And the tag was transferred from hand to hand.

As if it would do any good, Kay reflected, stuffing the tag into her pocket after thanking the clerk.

Six ninety five. Salvation Army, it read.

Had it showed at the bank? Had the Branch Manager gleefully, politely ignored this gaffe. Was this Kay’s managerial image?

Out Walking

May 28, 2009

#Two poplars

With all good intentions, this morning, I decided I needed to get some physical activity and I should go walking. About two o’clock this afternoon, after much procrastination,  I actually got my walking shoes on, put my driver’s licence in my pocket along with a drawing pen and pocket-sized sketch book. I added my credit card, just in case, like mad-money that my mother used to carry.

She told me that the expression meant: if you went on a date, you always carried mad-money so that if you got angry with your date or things didn’t work out, you could take a cab home.

I was on my own, so that wasn’t going to happen, but what if I had car trouble? Or if I stopped in at the farm to buy bedding plants?

I arrived in the parking lot just when CBC was playing one of Haydn’s sonatas and rather than cut it short, I turned off the motor, left the music going and drew the two willow trees just at the entrance to the walking paths. They are graceful and particularly interesting in their relation of positive shape to negative. I’ve photographed them often, but there is no better way of getting to know an object than to analyze it through a drawing; and so I did.


The willow bark is rippled in crusty bark with dark runnels of shadow. From the trunk and from each branch, thin suckers or water-shoot branches come out spike-ily and then each has small elongated leaves. It ends up as a lacy effect.  I didn’t draw the leaves – I was looking for the tree’s skeletal form.

When I finished Haydn and that willow notation, I proceeded  eastwards along the Alouette dike, past the pond,  in through the small trail wending its way to the riverside. There were few people about, so I whistled aloud the themes that had stuck in my head from the Haydn piano-work I had just listened to. There are bears in the area and last year, when they were hungry, there was some trouble between the meeting of ursines and humankind. If they know you are coming, they generally stay out of the way.

Eglantine, the wild rose, were just starting to bloom. The pink blooms crested the bushes – but only a few where the sun shone longest. Later this week, the bushes will be full of blooms arching over the thorny rose canes.

A bit further on, four truncated trunks stood like short, sharpened pencil stubs sticking out of the ground.  I heard the other day that the beaver had been removed from this natural park area to another. Having severed the poplars at their standing tooth level and felling the trees was considered a health hazard to humans who might be recreationally walking by during the beaver’s logging operation and dam building exercise.

Offering little protection from their incisive teeth, little blue plastic netting purports to defend the new spruce and cedar trees that have been planted randomly around the marsh to restore this area to it’s original ecological habitat. But perhaps the beaver and the deer who also threaten the new implants, are put off by the taste. It seems to have worked. There are new saplings coming, hardy enough now to withstand the deer… and if the beaver is gone, they may survive.

The Alouette River is running high. It must be carrying the melt from higher mountains because most of the snow is long gone from the surrounding hills and local mountains. I spent a while watching it race by in its fullness, a brown water insistently pushing towards the Pitt, then the Fraser  and then the sea. I turned back, returning as I had come; spending a little time beside the second small pond where I could get up close to the lily pads.

I reflected that one task of an artist, one I espouse myself, is to bring beauty to the attention of viewers.  I will never experience clouds in the same way again, after enjoying the paintings of Constable and Turner. Monet has changed the way I look at lily ponds.

The lily ponds were a clever subject for Monet. It’s a classic lesson in perspective in nature without any reference to hard angles, cubes, rectanglar buildings or railway tracks. The pads are bigger closer to the viewer and smaller as they go back. The intense colour is close and more specific in hue while those farther away become purer in hue and lighter. The water, on the other hand, is a reflection of the sky or the surrounding foliage. What is farthest away is nearest to the viewer, and the rules reverse. It’s an intellectual riddle in paint. Perhaps that’s why people are fascinated by Monet’s waterlilies so much.

Once back on the main dike path, I headed out to Neames Road. I touch the barrier there and then come back. It’s about a kilometer each way.

Half way along, there were two eagles not so high in the sky. It took me a minute to determine whether they were eagles or hawks, but they came so close that I could see the white “bald” head. One was much smaller than the other – male and female? or parent and it’s young? The larger bird was more adept at soaring and turning. Then there was a third bird, much smaller. They seemed to have zoned in on it and were diving after it, turning, swooping, chasing and the the third bird seemed always ahead.

I stopped for a  moment to pat the head of a very wet golden-haired bird-dog that had been swimming in the river, and when I looked up again, there was nary a bird to be seen. As if in a dream, the birds had just vanished.

At the end of the path where it meets the road, I touched the barrier as if in a race, proof that I had done my stint, and turned for the car and home. The landscape always looks  very different on the return journey, seeing it from a different perspective.

A hundred steps into the return journey, I stopped again. Two Great Blue herons were below in the marsh grasses,  very close to the path. They walked in stately steps, their necks like rubber lifting, advancing, retracting, reminding me of politicians on stage orating, gesturing, portly and important. But the birds became nervous. First one and then the other spread their great wings and hopped out of range then lifted like small float planes and relocated to the blueberry fields half a kilometer away.

When I got to the bench closest to the parking lot, I sat and brought out my sketch book once more. There were three tall poplars that stood looking like two and I drew them; and then I tried to capture the powerful sweep of the sky crowning the  Golden Ears and the coastal mountains behind them.

#golden ears

That finished,  I packed up, drove away,  stopped at the plant place to look, and then headed for home

relinquish,eschew,abjure,dispense with

May 3, 2009

Duly Chastised!

I have a dear friend who happens to be American and she likes to remain anonymous. I received this comment from her, below, which she dared not post lest her identity be known. But I’m very glad that she responded. She’s added to the discussion on forgo/forego/forgon.

She took exception to my last post which, in one part, expressed my sometime irritation to the computer’s American Spellcheck.  She also went looking and found what I had not, this morning – a dictionary definition for forego, the way I have been using it for years. So maybe I haven’t been misguided all these years.

But I won’t apologize. It was written in good fun. I don’t know what I would do without Spellcheck, American English or not. If we didn’t have a little friendly rivalry in these things, life would not be interesting.

Here’s her reply which I hope you will enjoy:

Relinquish,eschew,abjure,dispense with

Please forego admonishing American English.  My American Heritage Dictionary defines “forgo” as to “abstain from, “forsake”. And says to refer to synonyms at relinquish.  Forgo is from  Middle English forgon, forgan.  And old English, forgan,  originally meant to pass on or pass away.
However, forego is defined as to precede or go before as in time or place, and is from middle English, forgon and old English, forgan .  That is definition No. 1.
No. 2. Forego:  variant of forgo.
So, don’t be too hard on American English.  It IS often flexible.!!!
You probably know Fargo is a proper name, but possibly has roots in middle English  as some one who had “far to go”!!!!!   Many early English names were descriptive–we had Hunt and Cook in our English roots.

Hope you have recovered from last weekend’s open house.  we certainly enjoyed it and I like the fact I can now visualize the rooms and places you mention.  Your new series (of paintings) is quite unique in your work and we immediately identified some of the subjects at the bridge site.

Glad we did not forego the pleasure of your company.
And that was the end of her comment.

It made me think of a story we tell in our family.

Napoleon was marching his army through the Low Countries – now the Netherlands and Belgium and possibly some northern parts of France. In every country that Napoleonic forces occupied in Europe, he required everyone to register and to take a last name.  And so our family did, like everyone else.

The aristocracy hardly had to create names. They were known by the place they owned and the titles they bore.  Thus, we have van Dusen, van Gogh, van der Voort. Van means from; it’s von in German. In French they start with de like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Edgar de Gas (Degas),  the de also means from.

There were John the Elders and John the Youngs to distinguish the older families from the younger.  Bakers, Butchers, Candlestick makers, Taylors and Farriers are only a few of the professions and trades that were chosen as names. Lots chose their father’s name, giving us Will’s son (Wilson) and Johnson, Thomson, Anderson and so on.

I went to school with people whose last name was Paris. Many adopted their place names for last names. To wit, the famous writer, Jack London.

We still choose names sometimes as pen names or aliases. Lewis Caroll who wrote Alice in Wonderland was really Charles Dodgson. For that matter, most of us who blog have chosen names to provide a little anonymity.

I’ve digressed. Don’t I always?
I promise not to take any more cheap shots at our American neighbours’ spelling.  But I’m going to keep on using English and Canadianisms. We don’t want to lose our culture, after all, do we?



May 2, 2009

No, it’s not the new Brinks, nor the famed Wells Fargo.  It’s the transitive verb, as in

I’ll have to forego that pleasure

I didn’t have time to write this morning, I was telling a friend. I wrote a little message this morning and reported that I would have to forego that pleasure.

What inspired me to look up the meaning of this simple and somewhat archaicly used verb was the fact that my American spellcheck insisted on taking the “e” out of it. My Canadian neck hairs bristled at that American corporate assumption that I would have to change my entire educational upbringing in orthography and bend to their shortened version of the word.

Or else, every time I wrote it in my Canadian/English fashion, I would have it underlined in red, as if to say “Madame! Your spelling is in correct.  I, the almighty computer, will dock you one more mark on your essay (or letter, or missive, or short story or whatever). You incompetent speller, you. You incalcitrant Canadian, you! Get with it! Do as we do! Correct your spelling.”

Of course there are options. Every time I retain a “u” in  colour or favour,  or double the “l” in travelling, or jewellry, I am likewise chastised. But there is the option to add the word to my private computer dictionary.

So this morning, in a state of some surprise, I looked up the word forego.  Once I started to look at it, forego seemed to be a rather odd looking word; but then forgo seemed to be more like Wells Fargo, fargo,  and how could that be? Not only that, but the meaning of  fore (preceding) is not the same as for, the preposition and the conjunction.

Forego is, of course, a composite word, linking fore meaning to precede, and go a word of action, a movement forward, a leave taking.

The word means to precede, to go before.

That should not have been a surprise to me, given the two composite words are so clear and simple.  I, however, had been using it in the sense of “to do without” which I could find nowhere in the Merriam, Wikipedia nor the on-line dictionary.

I’ll have to forego that pleasure?”  It no longer makes sense to me. I will have to precede that pleasure? Ach, the English language! No wonder foreigners learning the language have such a difficulty with it.

And then, of course, I couldn’t leave it at that. I Googled

It’s a forum where people can discuss the meanings of words.

I discovered that the expression was really an insult!!!!!!

Well, blow me down! Knock me over! That was another surprise.  It was most interesting to see what others had to say about this no-longer simple word!

And blow me down? Knock me over?

Well, as I said in the beginning, I don’t have time to write today, so I’ll just hope that someone else can help me out with those expressions.

I’ve got plants to plant before they die, a birthday present to wrap before Mr. Stepford’s landmark birthday party this evening at five, a flu shot to get at noon – far away in Coquitlam.

I have work to forego my pleasure!

I gotta go!