Archive for July, 2009


July 31, 2009

The ceiling was unfinished. Rather, it had been finished in a rough basement kind of way with Masonite board , the canvas-like side painted white and showing. In several areas, the board had been ripped away exposing old and new wiring, heating ducts with canvas-tape joins and water pipes in varying sizes.

Above her head, Kay could see the main air ducts issuing from the furnace , fitted close to the thick fir beams that ran from north to south and above that, two by six joists at right angle to the beams, holding up the sub-flooring which was made of rough thick fir planking.

At one time, there had been no stairs to the basement and then, perhaps the house had been raised because, just at the door to the basement, Kay had noted a rough cut, inch thick fir floor and an equally thick sub-floor immediately beneath it.  They didn’t build houses that way anymore; hadn’t done so since the ‘Fifties. Wood had become too dear. Labour too. Economies and efficiencies had been discovered.

As Kay inspected the ceiling from her supine position, she wondered why the joists and the underside of the sub-floor had been painted, in different places  white, or pasty pink or hospital green. “Labour intensive. Useless”, she thought, as she peered into the dark corners of the underfloor immediately above her for spiders or bits of ancient dust that might fall during the night.

It was Rose who had insisted that she sleep in the basement. Kay had ambivalent feelings about the adventure.

“It’s far too hot. That’s what Colin and I are doing, ” sweet Rose had insisted when she telephoned. “And all the kids too. Otherwise we can’t sleep. We’re camping. Don’t you have a cot you could borrow? A mattress you could put on the floor. ”

Kay had shuddered. She would never sleep down on the basement floor, no matter how much cooler. There were spiders and wood bugs. If there was a new object on the floor to crawl under, they would.  It was not is if  they couldn’t climb; but that was more effort. They would be more exposed; less encouraged to come.   Only a raised bed with proper legs would have the slightest chance of convincing her to sleep there. They would be less likely to bother her; they might stay hidden in their dark haunts near the edges of the basement floor and in the high  corners.

“There’s the day-bed in the sun room. I could take that down stairs, ” she said.

“I’ll be over after I’ve got Katy to her friend’s house. Katy is going to camp with them for a week.  I’ll help you get the bed downstairs.”

Kay couldn’t say no.
Rose came at five.

It was a practical Danish-style couch that could be taken apart in pieces. When the back was lifted off, it became a single-size bed. The mattress was mostly coils with little padding. It was light and transportable. The frame was made of teak with teak slats running crosswise. For shipping, the legs screwed off. In two easy trips down the outside back steps and in the basement door, one trip for the frame, one for the mattress, the bed was installed in amongst the paintings that were stacked in rows around every available wall space. It blocked the narrow path to the framing table. It blocked the path to the freezer and the storage room. But it had a curious elegance, sitting as it was , perfectly centered on the Chinese wool carpet with sculpted pink roses that she had bought from her friend at a recent garage sale.

Rose left shortly after. There were still two children and a husband she had to feed for dinner. She had many other things to do.

Kay settled back into her house, locking all the doors against the record-breaking heat. It was forty degrees outside with a humidity factor of six and thirty-one inside.

She turned on The Weather Network for the local forecast to find out at what hour the lowest temperature would come. The temperature would drop ten degrees overnight, they said, the coolest at two in the morning then rising to its hottest already by eleven. Kay vowed to be up still at two to start up her system of cooling the house.

It was hot.

Trickles of water ran down her temples. Kay’s hair was dripping; her neck slick with damp. Her dress was sopped. This was no genteel heat.

Kay had no intention of cooking supper.  She cut up a previously cooked piece of cold fennel and ate it as it was along with a hard boiled egg. She scooped out a portion of  ice cream from the bucket into a small bowl and covered it with a handful of fresh picked blueberries and a sprinkling of sliced almonds. The cool of the ice cream invaded her mouth and, for a fleeting instant, reminded her of what cool could be. Then she collapsed onto the living room couch, positioning the two end cushions under her head and fell asleep.

It was the phone that woke her. Her clothing was damp through. Her hair was positively wet. Her head felt as if it had been partially boiled.

“Hi!. How are ya!” Mrs. Stepford’s cheery voice rang like a Chinese gong  through the receiver. “How are you managing with the heat.”

“Groggily,” muttered Kay. She shook her head to rid herself of the thickness in her brain.  It was too hot. She looked at her watch. She had been out for more than two hours.

After sharing a few details of daily happenings and plans for the evening, they signed off. Kay sat as if stunned before the television, unable to muster energy for anything else.  It was a program about regenerating the brain.

“I could do with a bit of that,” thought Kay, as her brain soaked and  muddled in a too-warm soup of the day.

About eleven,  two or three phone calls later – one with Nephew Hugh, one with her sister and a late night check up from Mrs. Stepford, Kay turned into her office  to work on her files.  It had to be done. The court date was rapidly approaching and, FreeCell game by FreeCell game, Photo manipulation after Photo manipulation, Kay had been avoiding doing anything at all about it. Now it was crunch time.

Before getting down to business,  she opened the back door and let the fan pump twenty-eight degree air into her thirty-one degree house. She set the window fan in the upstairs window on full and the kitchen and bathroom extractor fans on to draw away the stifling heat. Then she turned to her office work.

Still at it at two, the optimum hour of cool,  she upped her cool-down techniques. She opened both front and back doors and let the blessedly cooler, fan-pushed air in one door and the stifling warm air out the other.  She doused the lights and stood in the blackened interior. There was no use in attracting moths and flies in the middle of the night. Maybe, just maybe, they were able to sleep,  though Kay’s hours of activity had been turned upside down, and she could not.

She stood, then,  by the front door, screen open, door open, looking into the indigo sky. There were no clouds; no moon. A single star shone fiercely, caught between the feathery branches of two tall trees, and further along, the Big Dipper’s handle arched across the night but the vessel was lost in another bank of giant trees. The air was cool, lovely, refreshing. It caressed the skin. It whispered promises. Promises that could not be kept. For a second day in a row, all time heat records had been broken. The two week forecast left no hope. There was no end in sight.

At three, she turned in, checking all the windows, closing all the main floor ones and locking the front and back door. She shut off the fan. She collected a pillow, an old  duvet to soften the day bed’s coils, and a sheet to cover herself  while she slept in the basement.  She descended into the cooler cavern. She made up the bed and lay on it.  With her emergency flashlight, she probed the corners of the joists and the mechanical works above her. A restless fly zoomed into the bright light’s path and just as fast, was gone. It startled her.

Perhaps it was better not to know.  She took off her glasses and laid them on the improvised night table, an upturned milk crate. She doused the light and put it beside the glasses.  She covered herself with the light cotton sheet. Perhaps that and her gardian banks of paintings would save her from the hauntings of the night. And she slept.


July 20, 2009

The day started quite unprofitably when I agreed to keep Mrs. Stepford and one other friend of hers company during her garage sale. If I was going to sit  four four hours there, I was also going to bring a few things to the fray.  Since it was just next door, it was relatively easy to trot out a few pieces of furniture and the old solid fir door. I brought two ancient and very heavy wooden ladders, the kind one would no longer use because they are deemed much less safe than the new aluminum ones, but they are apparently valuable for garden decor now, or polished up and revarnished for decorative use in front halls with plants hanging from each rung.

I brought three liquor store boxes of books and a wheel barrow full of Irises recently planted in six inch pots. I had a box of bric-a-brac, a kettle and captain’s chair.

I’m getting smart in my middle age:  I like to break up tasks into smaller parts so that I can do these things myself.  I took the ladders and the door across the way on Friday night, then on Saturday, the big things would already be  there. I could just bring the boxes and plants. Nothing would spoil by being out overnight. The day was forecast to be brutally sunny, and so it turned out to be.

We were supposed to start at ten but Mrs. Stepford had advertised it in the newspaper and the dealers were there at eight-thirty before we had really put things out properly.

It was a disinterested parade of potential buyers that came by. Who knows why,  but few stopped to inspect our glorious collection of overly used items. In the first hour, I bought a very kitchy jewel box from Mrs. Stepford and from her friend, I found six interesting books I hadn’t read.  I was now minus ten dollars in my attempt to make a fortune. But I was not intending to tell you so much about the garage sale. I have other more important items to get to.

During our five hour vigil over our desirable, distressed junk, two buyers bought six of my books. In total I had three dollars in my pocket on the profit side and when I compared that to the debit side, I was sadly out of pocket by seven. I contributed three lowly loonies as a share of the advertising and my debit side was back up to ten.  With much grumbling and weariness, I packed the whole lot back home. I got it to the back basement door and left it there to be brought in later.

Once done, I found I was ravenously hungry. There was nothing prepared and I had to invent something. I had no intention of cooking on a day as hot as this.

I rummaged in the  refrigerator and found salad things – a lettuce, some tomato, carrots and onions. It wasn’t appealing, so I rummaged in the freezer, hoping to find a quick meal and found just the thing. At the very back of the freezer, of course. Ice cream. On a hot day, it was perfect.

The cavity was efficiently packed. The only way to get to the ice cream pail out was to efficiently unpack it all off the top shelf, serve myself and pack everything back up again.

While ice cream has a real come-hither taste and the advantage of being very cool and refreshing, it does not have great texture.  I’ve discovered a delightful way to rectify this lack. I ate it with a handful of crispy  Kashi whole grain breakfast cereal, lining the bowl with it, adding in the  ice cream and garnishing it with some pecans and a fistful of fresh blueberries.

Then I succumbed to a fit of exhaustion. The heat, the carrying of heavy objects back and forth in the beating sun and an ice cream sugar slump combined to put me flat out, in seconds.  I slept on the couch for a few hours. This unprofitable mercantile venture had simply done me in.

I awoke with a phone call a few hours later, then spent the evening sorting out a horrible accumulation or office papers whilst watching TV. There were some over due bills, applications if varying states of completion for galleries, offers of all kinds of merchandise  and appeals from charities.

At about eleven, I was getting my last coffee of the day and pilfering a few more candy-like Kashi clusters. I went to the fridge to get some milk and just as I was opening the fridge door, a plastic margarine container started to fall off the top of the freezer compartment. It was full of meat balls in tomato sauce  left from one of the social gatherings I had hosted.

What to do?

Everyone knows that ground meat is dangerous if left in luke warm conditions for any length of time. I’m not exactly a starving artist, but I have been from time to time. I loath throwing good food out. It riles me beyond measure. But was this good food? Had I brought it out two hours earlier after the phone call when I rummaged for some dinner or six hours earlier when I ate the ice cream? It had been frozen solid which was in my favour, but it wasn’t now. How long had it been thawed?

I decided to heat the whole lot, steam it for half an hour. After all, it was a spaghetti and meat balls sauce and could tolerate hours and hours of cooking.

I added a modicum of water so it wouldn’t stick on the bottom and set it to heat on the gas stove. I would have to stay up another half hour at least to watch the pot boil.

I began to tidy away the detritus of the day. I emptied the dishwasher of clean dishes and loaded it back up with the utensils from lunch and dinner. I took some papers from my early-evening sortings into the office and shredded them; I put another small pile into the green recycle bag.  I noticed a light in the basement and went to turn it off.

Down in the basement, I discovered baskets and book boxes from the garage sale that had not been put away. I stacked them in a pile then suddenly remembered I had left a few things outside that still had to come in.

Might as well do this properly, I thought. Lets get rid of some of this volume, and I shifted three book boxes into the back store room and started packing the loose pieces – a few old plates, a vase with long-necked white farm ducks all around the top, a small delftware vase in blue and white, some old – really really old – pant hangers from the ’20s.

All of a sudden the smoke alarms were both going off. I raced up the stairs and into the kitchen. I had forgotten all about the meat balls.  Smoke was pouring from the edges of the lidded pot.  I whipped the pot off the element and shut off the gas. I turned on the hood fan over the stove – after all, there was no fire, just a lot of smoke and an ear splitting alarm.

Everything was safe, and I then leapt up the stairs to de-activate the alarm, then to the hallway to downstairs to deactivate a second one that had just begun to add to the chorus. My adreniline was on fire.

Good Lord! Could I not remember that I had things cooking on the stove? Soon I would be burning the place down, or someone would decide I had to be packed off to a residential care unit because of my forgetfulness!

I opened both front and back door and turned the upright fan on full force. I took a towel and waved the smoke down from the ceiling and out the front door.  Now I would have to stay up another hour while the house aired out.

When the visible smoke was gone, I sat at the piano and played a Bach Prelude and Fugue to calm myself. I  sat and puzzled out a Sudoku. I turned on the television and watched the end of Inspector Morse in a play where women priests of the Anglican persuasion were banding together to elect a woman as headmaster of an Oxford College of Theology.  I polished some silverware. I worried about the recent news of a home invasion not six blocks from where I lived – and here I had both front and back door open, welcoming moths of the night, mosquitoes and fresh air into my my main floor. Why not home invaders too?

What would I say to one?  “Oh, thank goodness you are here. I’ve been expecting you. I’m just waiting for the fire department. I thought I had a fire. ”

“I had a bit of a catastrophe  here with a pot of spaghetti sauce and meat balls. It’s only burned on the bottom.  I tasted them and they are even more delicious than before I burnt them.  Would you like to try them?”

Do you think that would confound a home invader? Make him back out as fast as possible if the fire department might actually be coming? Or would he be a poor soul, so happy to have a meal, even a burnt one, that he would gobble them up, and in gratitude just leave me and my poor possessions alone?

I know. I know. I have an over active imagination. All of a sudden, I felt tired. I locked the front and back doors.  Had I locked the basement door?

This time, I checked the stove before I went down. It was off. All was in order. I checked the basement door. It was locked.  I turned off all the lights but the one that lit the passage to upstairs and went to bed.

By the way, if I don’t post in the next few days or forever more, you can tell the coroner that it most likely was the meatballs.

Yes, I tasted them, and they are so-oooooo good.


July 19, 2009

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I set the house alarm and left, locking the door behind me, then realized that I didn’t have my camera.

I’ve walked the dikes so many times now, I should have them in my mind by memory, but I don’t. I don’t seen to have visual memory, funny enough, and I keep trying to record what I see either in photography or paint so that I don’t forget.  It was getting warmer out by the minute and I made a conscious decision to leave it at home. I would walk faster, and anyway, I’ve already photographed everything thirty times. You’d think I’d already had the ultimate image, but no…. it’s always the penultimate.

And so there I was, on Sunday morning, walking in Paradise.

There were very few cars in the lot which was a good thing, because in this unusual heat wave, parking under one of the grand willows at the entrance to the dike walks,  there is a large pool of shade and there was one parking spot left, right up by the big concrete dividers that delineate the edge of the lot.

I extracted my walking poles from the trunk, locked the car and set out. There wasn’t a human in sight.

Without the camera, I was able more acutely to hear myself and the birds.

I’ll always remember asking Mom if she could hear the birds that were chirping loudly, a flock having chosen her back yard for an early evening town-hall meeting.  “Birds?” she asked, puzzled. “Hear them?” She strained to listen. “Are there birds”  She shook her head. She couldn’t hear a single peep.

I vowed to listen to them while I could and here, early morning there was a leading edge symphonic composition of unrelated tonal  sounds going on with each orchestral section doing it’s own thing.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many different birds competing in a battle of the bands before. There was a persistent, overriding one going “Chi, we,we,we,we” . There was a beautiful melodic one, about sixteen notes long, whose tune I could not imitate nor remember. There was a ticking one going, “chi, chi, chi, chi” and a starling imitating a chickadee with a throatier version of the “dee, dee, dee” sound.

When a person pays attention with all one’s senses, it’s amazing what there is to hear and see. And smell also. There was a decided scent of mown hay permeating the air with an attenated sweet manure smell behind it. It had been spread more than a month ago and the awfulness of it had sunk into the ground, nourishing it, leaving the hot earth with this pleasant farm smell.

Without the camera I beetled ahead at a rapid pace, which is what I should be doing most days but never do if there’s something to photograph. But I havn’t been serious about walking as I should, so I was happy to halt, catch my breath and watch two birds grasp the same tall branch of a pink-flowered shrub. They were the size of bush-tits but all brown and they were swinging around the twig like a pair of acrobats.

When I resumed my walk, I reflected that not having a camera forced me into having conversations with myself.  I thought it might be a great exercise to go home and paint what I saw today.

I dismissed the problem of colour. I had that down pat – the brilliant summer sky, a mix of cerulean and French ultramarine; The far mountains,  a wash of French Ultramarine and closer ones simply a deeper version of the hue; the trees, a mix of viridian and burnt sienna; the sunnier greens mixed with a lemon yellow and a sap green.

It was the composition that I couldn’t carry with me – the way the shapes nestled together, the way the shadows defined the shape, the rhythm and flow of it. I tried to memorize one or two.

There was the way the dike path split the marsh grasses like a bolt of lightening diminishing to its pointy end far off in the distance, only to be stopped in the mid ground by two small poplars and the heron tree. Overpowering everything were the pure blue  mountains, receding in distinctly shaped layers of progressively lighter hue.

There was the way the dike sweeps down into the farm lands where the blueberry fields are ripe and ready. At the edge of these, the windbreak is made up of mid sized shrubs entangled with blackberry and wild rose. It’s an image full of curves and warm, golden grasses.

As I approached the Neames Road bridge, I tried to memorize the shape of it – its four creosoted posts on either end, the white railing with three tiers, the water flowing underneath,  everything reflecting in the water with the addition of a good swig of sky and a dollop of a single cloud floating in the water. Sounds like a blueberry float with whip cream on top!

On the way back, the sun was coming straight for me, as were a number of late starters their dogs or their children in tow. A few runners sped by, coming and going. I concentrated on trying to find word equivalents for the  bird songs and repeated them as one of my memory exercises. I wasn’t sure whether I would be racing for the brushes or the keyboard when first I got home.

Chi, we, we, we, we, I was repeating to myself as I was interrupted by a “kitty-wake” sound but I was sure it wasn’t a kittiwake because there were no gulls around. I stopped to listen and joined a conversation unfolding before me.

A middle-aged woman in a broad raffia hat sporting two braids down to her shoulders had stopped two petite Iranian ladies more or less appertaining to a leash-free teacup-sized dog with a tiny bow on it’s head.

“There’s a coyote hanging about. Several people have seen him this morning,” counselled the braided woman.

“Oh, we’ll be okay,” said one of the Iranians, smiling as they continued to saunter along. They clearly had not understood, neither the message nor the import of it.

“It’s your dog. The coyote will eat your dog. It’s like a wolf,” insisted the woman with the braids.

The Iranian women stopped, trying to make reason of the message.

“You had better carry your dog,” insisted Mrs. Braid.

Their eyes popped and one of them let their mouth hang open in horrified understanding.  They both nodded. The little muffet was called and one of them scooped up the handful and tucked it close to her breast.

“Oh, look,” cried Mrs. Braid. “There are two birds chasing an eagle.”

It broke the conversation and everyone looked. Two small birds, likely the size of robins or starlings were bearing down on the eagle high above the poplars. One flew in so close it could have dropped six inches and ridden on the eagle’s back without having to do any wing flapping himself.

The bald-headed eagle was angrily chastising his pursuers with that ki,ki wake sound . I had at least matched one of the choruses  from the bird symphony, now.

Mrs. Braid and I talked then about having seen coyotes and bears and other wildlife. We traded stories for quite a long moment before she announced that she had just retired from working as an art teacher.

“How coincidental!” I said, very happy with our conversation that just flowed. I explained my connections to art. Then I explained what I was doing to integrate myself into the art community as a newcomer, inviting groups of artists to salon-like gatherings so that I could get to know them and they, me.

“Would you like to come to one sometime?” I asked.

“Oh, I would love to,” she answered and started to cry. Not the sobbing kind, but the sniffly, trying-desperately-not-to kind, with an index finger reflexively wiping away moisture from the side of her eyes.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she apologized, dipping her head so that with the shadow of the had, I could not see them. “It’s so recent. I’ve just put my husband in a residential care facility this week. Alzheimers. ”  She struggled to force the tears back into her eyes.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I replied, with a look of concern for her.

“I’m only fifty-five. He’s only sixty-four. For the last four years, I haven’t been able to get out. It’s the first time I’ve had any time to myself. I’m not used to having time. Not that I’ve just left him there, though. I go every day between six and ten at night. That’s when I can be most useful, getting him to bed. Sometimes he recognizes me. Mostly he doesn’t. And I’ve never had time to go anywhere, not even grocery shopping, because he had to be watched. He didn’t understand anything anymore. While we were out walking, he would see a house and construct a story around it. He would think it was ours and we had renters. He would want to climb a fence to get into the place to see if they were treating it properly.”

“Like a two year old,” I sympathized.

“Yes, exactly,” she replied. “I couldn’t leave him for a moment, and I couldn’t take him anywhere. But finally, I stopped being humiliated and embarassed by the situations he got me into.”

Her situation came out in a torrent. The relief that she felt in finally having the burden of his care lifted from her shoulders alone and shared with the health system was huge, but at the same time, she felt guilty. A new round of tears escaped from her eyes. She was really in quite a fragile emotional state.

I thought to myself, I guess this was the reason I came out to the dike so early this morning. It was a bit like this chance meeting had been engineered by the invisible and all powerful Higher Power of the universe.

I tried to distract and reassure her. I told her about caring for my mother in a similarly senile state, though her husband seemed to be  far more difficult than my mother had been.  I told her about the drawings I was doing about feelings. How I had originally pounded marks onto the paper, in anger, and beat away the frustration in long, attacking strokes.  I told her about standing in front of my paints and closing my eyes to see what my feelings were and then finding colours that matched and images that expressed those states.

She had pulled her emotions together and stuffed them back in their box.  She said, “It’s the first time I’ve been back on the dikes. My husband and I used to walk here. I’ve been frustrated and lonely and feeling guilty to be enjoying all this beauty, this paradise. I had no idea I might talk to you or anyone. It’s so strange. I think I must have been sent to meet you here today. It is as if it  was meant to be.”

The similarity of our our situations and our thoughts amazed me. I said so.

Again, I invited her to join up with us at one of our artist groups.

“You know, you will not feel out of place. We’ve all had our griefs. Elizabeth’s mother has died of Alzheimers just recently and she cared for her daily for several years. My mom was getting senile and slipping deeper and deeper in to geriatric states of confusion, so I understand perfectly. Mrs. Stepford is going blind, and Thelma is desperately trying to get her granddaughter out of the Ministry’s foster home care system. Her daughter is too sick to look after the child. You’ll feel right at home. And you don’t have to wait until I throw another potluck. Just come for tea.”

It was time to be getting on. We exchanged names and promised to be in touch.  We said goodbye and I walked hastily back home, this time regretting my camera very much.

A young family with two children under the age of six  riding bicycles and parents afoot, pushing a baby in a stroller. The mother’s shadow was imprinted on the gravel walkway in perfect silhouette.  Just in front of her, the four year old was peddling furiously on her red an blue bicycle with training wheels.  Her shadow too was at a perfect ninety-degree angle, flattened upon the light gravel path. The moving shadow’s legs pumped up and down perfectly, the spokes were more noticeable here than on the bike, turning round and round like some fair ground ride.

It wasn’t long after that I got into my nice cool car, hiding as it was, under the willow tree, and made for home. I went straight for the computer before I could forget Mrs. Braid’s last name. I took the information and put it in my address book immediately, then phoned up to leave a message.

Someone on the other end picked up. I hadn’t thought she could get home so fast.

“Mrs. Braid?”

“Speaking,” the voice replied, quite formal.

“Mrs. Braid, it’s Kay here. I just met you on the dike a short while ago. I didn’t think you could get home so fast.”
“What did you say your name was? Kay? Kerrer? Is that right? I just looked up your number and was about to call you. Is this the right address. I just had the phone in my hand to call you….   I think we were destined to meet.”

Perylene Maroon

July 18, 2009

Lizbet has been visiting. She left yesterday and I was sorry to see her go. We have a common interest in art, although her work is very different from mine.  She’s a fine watercolourist.

On Wednesday, we drove down to the Big Box store to load her up with cases of canned goods and various other items she likes enough to buy in quantity. Canned peaches and canned pineapple are two favorites. She’s partial to the Dempster Cinnamon Raisin bread and the Squirrelly no-flour whole grain bread that she can buy there at an advantageous price.She picked up a kilo of fancy nuts and a few other things while she was at it.  In Nelson, she doesn’t have access to this kind of discount store and we are all counting our pennies now in retirement.

I convinced her that the seven cent difference in gasoline might be easy on her pocket book as well.  We drove up to the forward-most pump and she leaped out of the car.  I did  the same. After all, the gas tank was on my, the passenger, side. She dove back into the car to get something – her credit card or who-knows-what. All that matters is that while her head was buried in the car I was exclaiming over the candy red metallic painted Model-T Ford replica that was parked on the curb of the gas station.

She, meanwhile, was goggling over a MKX Lincoln on the other side of the gas pump.

“Perylene Maroon, wouldn’t you say? Pure Perylene!” she exclaims.

“Looks like Candy Red – what do you call it when it kind of sparkles right in the paint? Metallic? Yeah, Metallic Candy Red! Just look at that colour!” I return to her.

“No!” she says. “It’s maroon.”

We’re sisters. This is a common kind of misunderstanding we have. We don’t even listen to each other. We aren’t even talking about the same vehicle but we’re ready to defend our side of the fence with fierceness. It’s the opportunity for a great squabble that will end, we are sure, in some kind of stand off where no one is really offended. Or maybe just a few ruffled feathers and then we straighten it out and we’re a little sensitive for a moment or two. In this case, in hindsight, nobody even had to lose!

She pulls her head out of the car. “Look!”, she commands. “It’s Maroon.” She’s pointing at the the MX5.  Simultaneously, I’m saying, “Look! with the same directorial passion, arm outstretched to the Model T look-alike. “It couldn’t be a more pure Candy red  – an Alizaron Crimson. And Oh! That one there is pretty nice too. Metallic Burnt Sienna.’

I turn around to look at the equally metallic paint job on the MXK. She jerks her head in the direction of my outstretched arm, right down the arrow-like index finger to the car she had not noticed before.

“See, I told you,” we both say simultaneously.

“Oh!” we both say with a startled surprise, and start to laugh.

“I didn’t hear you,” we both say in unison.

“When you were talking to me, your head was in the car,” I say while she, talking at the same time says, “You got out of the car as I was speaking to you. Nobody ever listens to me.”

“Good grief!” she says. “You are about the only person I can have these kinds of conversations with.  People must think we are completely  starkers. We’re babbling along in conversation defining everything in the colour of Windsor and Newton pigments.”

Lizbet, as I’ve mentioned before, has a talent for meeting people. Next thing I know, she’s marching over to the owner of the Lincoln who is about to get back into her car.

“Excuse me,” calls Lizbet. “Excuse me, ” she calls a bit louder until the lady turns around in a bit of a surprise as if Lizbet were about to announce she had a flat tire. Lizbet’s voice reduces from her normal classroom volume to a conversational tone that I no longer can hear. She’s gesticulating, pointing to the red Model T, laughing, telling her story about our argument on the subject of car colours.

The lady turns towards me, some thirty feet away now, and calls as if she were calling her kids in from the back forty, “It’s Cinnamon. Metallic Cinnamon, they called it.”

I nod my head, smile, glance admiringly at her vehicle and get back into Lizbets car. Lizbet keeps on talking. The woman puts one foot on the dashboard and makes to climb into the car. Lizbet starts to make her way back to our vehicle.

“She just got the car,” Lizbet informs me. “She’ really happy with it. Great for camping. They’re leaving tomorrow for a week holiday.” She added in more detail – number of kids, the  woman’s name, her husband’s name, where they were going.  In less than five minutes, Lizbet had the woman talking to her as if she were her best friend. It always startles me. I wouldn’t even have dared to ask about the car’s color.

“How did we get into that conversation?” I ask Lizbet. We are both making a concerted effort to not get into inflamed conversation of misunderstanding.

“I told you the Lincoln was Maroon,” she answers. “You didn’t listen. I’d already said that and then you were telling me to look at it. Nobody ever listens to me.” She had a huge smile on her face like she’d won a prize.

I began to laugh. We both began to laugh.

“Perylene. I just love the sound of it. And Quinacridone. Where do they come up with these names?” she says. We both shake our heads, still chortling. Lizbet drives off and finds us a parking space.

Just a wee scrap of useless information I found on the Lincoln site,

  • Cars with metallic paint are worth more than cars with flat colours and usually demand a premium in dealer showrooms. Metallic cars are said to sell faster as used cars, and could be worth more than a flat-coloured counterpart.
  • Loud colours such as reds, yellows and oranges are generally more popular on sports cars and compacts, while larger vehicles such as SUVs and trucks, tend to me (sic) more neutral.

And there you have it.

Between you and me, though, I never admitted that I didn’t have a clue what pigment colour she was talking about. It’s not one that I use. So I looked it up on the Internet, as I often do to keep my facts right.

She was right on. It was a perfect colour for the Model T – like a fat ripe cherry or only slightly darker than a red candy apple, all aglow.

It you want to look it up, I found it on this site:


By the Alouette

July 17, 2009

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A large heron lifts from the river’s edge. He flies low, an angular cut against the bright blue sky and then dips below the level of the tall river grasses into a secluded pool. Here it is, the height of summer. The height of grasses. The pathways are overgrown to the point where a single person can hardly pass, edged with wild eglantine, the true rose; with blackberry encroaching, with small shrubs tipped by fluffy pink flowers.

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Coming towards me are two dogs. One is small, wiry white one with a black patch on his eye and a small Shepherd cross, both dripping from an early morning swim. Their masters follow, shading their eyes from the hammering sun, apologizing for the liquidity of their dogs.

Last night, Mrs. Stepford declined the offer to accompany me on a walk saying, “Let’s go early in the morning. I’d like to walk. How about leaving at seven.”
I’m not normally a morning person but this hot weather is not conducive to sleep. At six o’clock, Soleil had been up a few hours and  is shining through my windows, laughing at my sleeplessness.  So this morning, bright an early, I bathe in cool waters before I  get ready for our walk.

It’s seven thirty. Mrs. Stepford was going to telephone by seven to make sure I was up but the phone is silent. It is I who phones.

“Are you ready?”

“Heaven’s no. I’m just awake. I don’t think I’ll go. I’m too sleepy. Besides, I have to call the computer contractor at nine.”  So I go alone.

The parking lot is empty of all but a half dozen early cars. Once I’m atop the first rise of the dike, the lagoon spreads before me like a sheet of glass, reflecting back-lit trees. There’s not a ripple. The lily pads form a contrapuntal perspective of overlapping round shapes.

There’s not a person to be seen. I’m in paradise alone. A dragonfly zooms by, a little moth flutters over the grasses, birds are discussing the quality of their early breakfast and deciding where best they can shelter from the coming heat. In the background, I can hear the steady drone of an excavator. It’s towards this yellow machine that I make my way through the overgrown path. I want to see what Mammon is up to in Eden.

It lifts its jaws and swings about, lowers its voracious head and snaps up a rotted chunk of log, tosses it high in the air and deposits it high up on the embankment. Once again it swings, grabs a mouthful to be spit out in the pile of waste accumulating on the verge. Were it not that brilliant orange and growling steadily with its industrial motor, one might think it was some prehistoric dinosaur grazing in the marsh.

That was a rather short path, so I return. A woman wearing logger-shirt plaid is tossing a Frisbee into the lagoon for her Labrador dog. The water spreads with liquid ripples. Something is un-Labrador-like with this dog. He gazes up at her as if waiting for something. He won’t go in the water.

We chat.

“No,  the dog won’t bother me as long as he doesn’t jump.”

“Did you notice the water lilies?”

“When I came by half an hour ago, they were all closed up  Now they are fully open,  white, pristine.”

“Funny, heh?”

Then I start my usual walk. A kilometer out and the same back, up to Neames Road. There are a few more walkers now. A woman with two children in a stroller is jogging at a slow pace. Another comes in a long running stride towards me dressed in black shorts and a halter top. She is tall, bronzed and fit. Her hips alternate forward as if driven by an inner clockwork. The light falls on her deliciously. If only figure drawing classes could capture all that aliveness!

The morning light is so different from the evening light. It’s about at the same angle but lights things from the opposite side. I stop and take pictures and then get serious about the walking. I’ve been a slackard on that account lately with excuses of visitors and seasonably high heat, but I’m missing the serotonin fix and energy that I get from the exercise.

I watch more Great Blue Herons squabbling in the sky, one chasing another away. A lone heron sticks out of the top of a tree, a sentinel.  It must be a territorial thing.  Here down on the path way, two small dogs face off with a heavy set German Shepard, but it’s all friendly posturing, it seems. Tails wag. Sniffing rituals begin. More territory.

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On my way back, there are more runners, more mothers with children in strollers, more dogs.  By the parking lot entrance, there is a single thistle plant in bloom, their furry pink Busby hats capped with a tiny butterfly decoration. It made my day, and it’s only nine in the morning!

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July 9, 2009

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Rose, when she came to visit the other day, arrived with a basket full of ripe cherries fresh picked from her mother’s Bing tree. They are a red deeper than claret, deeper than burgundy. Almost black, but throbbing with a juicy light red heart on the inside. And they are sweet.

I’ve eaten plenty of them throughout the day while fixing breakfast or warming a cup of coffee. I ate some while preparing lunch. And when Janet arrived on short notice, we had cherries and Peak Frean digestives with our tea.

It’s simple fare of a prosperous farming area.

That was yesterday. This is today. One of the cherries had a soft spot and I rued the passing of time and the ripe, luscious crispness of the fruit. They were already beginning to pass.

Late in the afternoon, I had a nap, and while I was dreaming of railroads and pioneering and mining  in Stewart, in British Columbia as a result of leaving the Knowledge Network television programming on as I dozed, the thought of cherries must have mixed along in there. I remembered Frank and his bakery skills. He had a passion for cherries and bought them in pounds-ful at a time.

Long and lean, never gaining a pound from the day he was eighteen until now, he could eat all these luscious things he thought to make – good French peasant fare.

At cherry time, he cooked one clafouti after another. Oh, they were good!

He mixed up a batter for crepes, greased the bottom of a frying pan with butter and then filled the batter until there was hardly any in relation to the cherries he put in, pits and all.  He fried that up just as if it were a pancake and half way through the cooking, he could flip that cumbersome cherry pancake over and cook the other side. It took about a half hour for everything to cook right through.

I’ve forgotten the recipe for crepes, but a recipe for pancakes ought to do. The only difference is the leavening agent, really.  So I dug into my faithful tattered green copy of  the New Basic Cook Book published in 1936 and updated in 1956.

In the index it said, for Pancakes, see Griddle cakes, page 131.

I’m too lazy to read all the directions. I sifted the more-or-less measured flour, the salt and the baking powder in one bowl by whipping it all around with a fork. I wasn’t going to have to wash a sifter in addition to the bowl. I mixed the egg and milk, generally speaking, until it was consistent then tossed the dry stuff and the wet stuff together.  The mixture was already rising at an alarming rate so I hastened to add the cherries and get it into a baking dish that I could put in the oven. There’s no way I was going to try to flip the clafouti. It would land on the floor!

I put the dish in the oven, guessing at fifteen minutes to cook it, since it would cook both bottom and top at the same time.

There’s no evil twist to the tale, sorry folks. It came out of the oven, light and fluffy,the cooked cherries having lost their deep ruby colour and had gone somewhat pale, but the immediately surrounding cake had taken on a rubescence. The rest was a golden crisp griddle cake.

There is a recommendation in the book for variations with pecans or apples or bacon. All sound delicious.  So I go back, now that the  ‘cake is baked and highly successful and read the preamble. How times have changed.

It says:

Since griddle cakes should be eaten immediately after cooking, they are not adapted ideally to the servantless household unless they can be baked at the table on an electric griddle.

Serventless household?
I don’t remember many servantless households in the ‘Fifties. I don’t remember any, come to think of it. It was post war. People were more prosperous than during the Depression or the war years, but there was barely a family that had servants. Unless….

I don’t remember Mother sitting at the breakfast table on the days that we had pancakes. Only when everyone else had had their greedy fill of these delicious ‘cakes done always in the fry pan and garnished with raisins or blueberries did she have time to sit and enjoy some for herself.

How little we appreciate when we are young. How little we realize. I think we may have had a servant after all. Bless you Mom!

Chocolate for tea

July 8, 2009

Sarah had been to the house only once before and then the visit had been short. They had met at the walking club, and one of those funny connections-things had happened.

At the end of walk when the trainer had been running the women through their stretching exercises, Kay had addressed one of the women in a knowing way, “You’re background is Dutch, isn’t it?” .  With a name starting  van der, it was certainly Dutch, but then with married names, it could have been her husband’s. Kay was proud of her half-Dutch origins and was always trying to make connections.

The woman agreed, yes, her parents had immigrated in the ‘Fifties, just after the war.

A third woman who had been walking and talking with Kay the whole way, spoke in Dutch to Kay leaving Kay with an “I-didn’t-get-it” look on her face.

The third person was Sarah. “Do you speak Dutch?” she repeated, this time translated to English, with a broad smile developing on her lovely features.

“Are you Dutch too?” exclaimed Kay, astounded.

“No but I went there in my twenties, and married a Dutchman. It only lasted five years, but I learned to speak Dutch fluently. I loved living there; and I loved the language.”

It was one of those small-world phenomena. There had been four of us walking. None of us knew each other; it was the first time we had met; and three of us had this strong Dutch connection. Only Keenan, the fitness instructor was not. With a name like Keenan O’Reilly, she was of  Irish decent.

Then Sarah had joined Kay’s writers’ group. They exchanged their short literary drafts. Sarah came for tea and they had  become great acquaintances, but there was a deep friendship to be had. Both knew it. There were too many connections of interests and personal histories.

And so Sarah called on Wednesday asking if she could come for tea. She arrived late afternoon at Kay’s door, cheeks all aglow, her eyes shining with life, carrying a bakery box and a glazed muffin.

“Sorry, I’m late,” she apologized as she crossed the threshold into Kay’s little house. ” My director came in just as I was leaving work. I couldn’t put her off; and she went on and on. I just got out of there ten minutes ago. Here. I thought we might like something to eat.” And she handed over her gifts of food.

“You must be ready for a bite, then,”  and without pausing, “the kettle is hot, just waiting to know what kind of tea you would like. I bet you are hungry.”

As Kay finished making tea, she unravelled the string on the bakery box and lifted the lid. Inside were two exquisite pastries, cookies really, made in the shape of tea cups.  There was a perfectly round disk of oven-browned sugar cookie for the saucer and a spherical-half  cookie for the cup. It was filled with chocolate truffle just short of the rim and the handle was made an add-on of pure dark chocolate.

“Oh Sarah! This is beautiful! It’s so very beautiful!” said Kay. “Just look at them!”

“But I’m allergic to chocolate! Oh Sarah! I’m so sorry. I won’t be able to eat them.”

Kay had already transgressed the first of  politeness rules. One never refuses a gift; one always accepts it graciously.  And she was about to continue on making it worse and worse.

“Oh Sarah! ” she said in increasing distress. “Why don’t you take them to your family. I’m sure there is someone there who could really enjoy them. Your daughter, maybe.”

“No, no. Keep them. You will have a visitor coming, maybe. ”

And so a tug of war ensued as to the fate of the two exquisite chocolate cups and nothing was decided, except Kay took photographs of the cups shining in the afternoon sun that was streaming through the kitchen window.

It was hot and sunny. Kay and Sarah took their tea to the garden and the tray of sweets that Kay had already prepared for the visit. They sat talking over several cups of tea, as if time had been suspended, until Sarah’s cell phone jangled. It was her husband. Was she not coming home for dinner?

Sarah gathered her belongings in haste and they promised to find another time to visit. Sarah waved from the car door as she got in and sped away, back to her familial responsibilities.

Kay turned back into the house. There on the counter was the box of pastries. They were now hers. How long could she wait until she found the right person for those beautiful little tea cups? And with a engulfing wave of etiquette guilt, her heart sank. “There were only two of them. I bet Sarah was hoping to indulge in one, herself, over tea!”

Kay beat herself up for a few minutes; but what was done, was done.  There would be a perfect reason for having these teacup pastries.

The next day, Heather and her husband came to stay for a week. Lizbet arrived the same evening. At dessert time, there were four at table. Kay could not serve two pastries. It wasn’t like you could cut a tea cup in half.  Besides, the dinner had been mundane and there were the strawberry man’s strawberries to eat up.

The visiting family left on Tuesday, and still no perfect occasion had arisen to serve her chocolate tea cups. The house returned to a blessed silence.

Kay spent the next few hours catching up on herself – washing sheets, putting away dishes, making beds, reading e-mail, writing a last minute birthday card to Nephew Ron, preparing the recycling to put out in the evening.  All the chores were done in a Zen-like peacefulness. She was alone with her thoughts, absorbing all the familial chatter and gossip of the last few days. She was  tucking it away, just like she was doing with the laundry, to be brought out and used on another occasion.

It was about four in the afternoon when the telephone first rang. It was Rose.

“Could I come over? I have the kids’ report cards. I want you to take a look at them and advise me what to do.”

Rose is about forty, looks thirty. She has two teenage children and Nicola who has just finished Grade Four. Nine? I calculated, but she looked more like six or seven. She was a tiny waif of a thing, blond hair straggling over her shoulders in light-white strands. Her mother was petite, but Nicola even more so, and she was shy.

“She’s brought some chips, I hope you don’t mind?” said Rose, half apologetically. “Nicola said she would rather eat them than cookies.” Nicola was holding a foil bag of tortilla chips proclaiming to be EXTREME! in the advertising. Flames licked at the edge of the tortilla pictures and clichéed  little devil with pitchfork stood gloating on the upper right hand corner of the package.

“They’re not too hot, spicy, are they?” Rose asked, trying to engage the little waif into the conversation. Nicola spoke in a whisper as if the quiet of her voice could help her disappear altogether.  Nicola’s head turned from side to side.

I gave Rose her tea and brought out a can of  cola for Nicola.

“Would you like ice cream in it? Then it will all foam up into a float. Would you like that?” The waif-like head nodded up and down and a tiny wee “yes” came out.

“Ooooooooooh! I know what I have for you. It’s perfect!” said Kay.

She brought out the box and put it down low for Nicola to see. She opened the box and there inside were the two tiny chocolate tea cups.

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Nicola’s eyes went wide. For the first time, she raised her eyes to Kay’s. They were shining in wonderment. She didn’t say a thing but the eyes held the question, “For me?”

Would you like one?” offered Kay. Her mother looked down, enjoying that special moment of her child bubbling with excitement and anticipation as only a child can do.

“Yes, ” she peeped, as if it took all her effort to break the spell.

“Yes what?” prompted her mother gently.

“Yes, please,”  came the ever so slightly raised voice of Nicola.

They took all their food treasures – Extreme tortilla chips and chocolate tea cups – to the living room. Kay settled Nicola with a low nesting table to put her pastry and coke float upon. Rose gave the report cards to Kay and Kay began to read. As she read, she watched  as Nicola demolished  the cookie with reverence and awe.

The handle went first. She snapped it off and popped into the mouth to melt slowly. Then she detached the saucer. She cracked it in half and gave the other half to her mother. Like a mouse, she nibbled at its edges and slowly, savoring it, reduced it to a crumb.  Next came the cup. Nicola, it seemed, was not too good with chocolate either. She handed it to her mother and watched raptly as her mother bit off little chunks and let them dissolve on her tongue.

Rose and Kay came to an understanding about tutoring for the eldest boy for the summer without giving any details away to the little waif with pitcher ears.

“Well, that’s it, ” said Rose. “We’ll talk again tomorrow.” Her cell phone jangled and after a short conversation which ended in “Stir fry,” Rose stood to leave.

“That was Kevin. He wanted to know if we were coming home for dinner.”

They left.

As she stood at the door, her mother bent down to Nicola’s ear and whispered, “And what do you say?”

With shy, happy eyes, Nicola looked straight up at Kay, locked onto her eyes and said quite audibly with a shy smile, “Thank you.”

Wing nuts

July 2, 2009

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I had trouble focusing the camera on the wing nut. Most likely I had the camera set on the  wrong focusing mode or the wrong light setting. But I rather liked the first fuzzy pictures, above. There are delicate colours in it. No matter that it is not sharp.  You can still tell it is a wing nut.

The remainder of the pictures were fun for me as compositional exercises.