Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Tiny Things

I never used to get such a charge out of the small things in life as I do today.

A few examples in the last few days:

The dog and I were waiting anxiously for the first frost. A very important event in this outport with masses of wild rose bushes everywhere. That’s when rose bushes give us their final gift of the year: rosehips, which are ready for the picking after the first frost.

Well it happened. And they were. And I made them into fabulous rose hip jam right away. Much to the astonishment of the locals. They pick all the wild berries here, bakeapples (or cloudberries), cranberries, blueberries and partridge berries. But have never heard of doing anything with rosehips until the CFA (Come From Away - i.e. moi) started picking them.

I don’t have to tell you about the taste surely? Incredible. And a surefire cure for a cold or the flu.

And then, as I’d treated myself to a really good thermometer for setting point of jellies and jams, being this fresh reincarnation, The Outport Woman, I decided to make my own organic yoghurt. Temperature is of the utmost importance with homemade yoghurt at all stages of the making. And by gum. Guess what. This yogurt is to D-I-E for. And I’d say about 1/5 of the price of organic yoghurt in the shops.

And finally, as I’d promised myself and family I’d use every inch of wool stash (you have absolutely NO idea) before I bought more wool, I started knitting a cardigan for myself. I’ve always wanted a hand-knitted cardie and have knitted so many for others over the years. My turn. With every colour of the rainbow on it. You’ll see The Outport Woman coming, let me tell ya.

It’s all the perfect antidote to Iran, climate change, the Great Depression and Peak Oil.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Photo of The Week

Starting with you, Chester. Starting with you.

H/T Bartcop

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Any Guesses as to What This Is?

The above photo was taken on Bell Island, Newfoundland, recently. There is something alien and surreal about it, isn't there?

I'm thinking that Grannymar won't have any trouble identifying it.

What about the rest of you out there?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


And for those of you not fluent in brief-speak, TMI stands for "Too Much Information".

But how can one avoid it sometimes?

Case in point are the two dogs up there. One is Shamrock, my daughter's dog, one is Ansa, my dog. They have both enthusiastically greeted the stranger-dog you see in the water who is fetching floating sticks like a maniac and depositing them at my daughter's and granddaughter's feet to be thrown again.

Just prior to this picture being taken they had looked at each other in disbelief at the behaviour of stranger-dog and walked off together. With dignity.

Boy, do they look alike, eh? Everyone who sees them together is enchanted with them.

"Siblings?" they ask, certain of the reply.
"Well, no."
"Oh, mother and daughter then?"
"No, not related at all."
"Oh, come on now, they have to be!" (getting a little irritated at our stubborness).
"Well, they're about 5 years apart in age and were born 3,000km apart in different provinces and only see each other once or twice a year."
"Oh, well then." (sounding a little huffy, eying the dogs with suspicion now).

It gets a little weird. I think here's where a white lie would serve us all well.

"Sisters", we should say, "Same litter!".

TMI can be so exhausting. Not to mention defensive.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Stories Around the Fire

I took a lover when I was thirty-nine, fresh out of a marriage. He was twenty years older than me. I felt the crush of my upcoming fortieth birthday bearing down on me like a boulder, whooshing all the air out of me as if trying to flatten me. He slowed it all down.

He had a soothing patience and a kind of bemused detachment that allowed me a lot of freedom. He was an ex-priest and in the seminaries he was taught well: he learned about not being a servant to the flesh.

I’d never been with such an old man, as he appeared to me then. An ascetic old man. But given that he was never a servant to the body he carried it to the extreme in that he never walked anywhere, it was as if his car was an extension of him. A greyhound, my mother would have called him. He ate carelessly and inattentively as if food was mere fuel for his intellectual life and if he could have gotten away with not eating he would.

His story had an interesting feature. He’d been a priest for twenty years and only left when he fell hopelessly in love with an orphaned baby on a reservation in Northern Ontario and couldn’t abandon her. Her parents had died together in a fire, triggered by drunken smoking. None of her relatives wanted her, there was some degree of fetal alcohol syndrome and her periodic rages and tantrums were intimidating to most. But not to him, he told me. He would gather her up and rock her and comfort her and he’d stop her pain instantly.

He wanted to adopt her, which was ridiculous, him being a parish priest, you see. At first I found his story a little creepy as it was an alien thing to me, this older man taking a non-prurient interest in a girl-child as I had been a victim of the other kind. But I met her and she was limited but charming and my overly suspicious eyes didn’t pick up on anything untoward. An extraordinary thing in 1973 – to leave the priesthood to parent a strange child.

After he abandoned the priesthood and set up house with the child, he proceeded to take his PhD in Theology and that’s how I met him; when he was teaching an exploration of world religions course. I was teetering on the edge of agnosticism, not quite into full fledged atheism and had yet to string the words patriarchy and religion together in the same thought stream.

We got into a discussion on Buddhism after class one night. And he was patient in explaining to me how it and Catholicism were interconnected and he could recommend some interesting books, in fact he had some at home which was near the school and he could lend them to me. Would I care for a coffee and continue the discussion in his house, he had a baby sitter who needed to get home.

Flattered, intrigued, I followed him home in my car. An old, old house on the edge of High Park. The baby sitter was leaving as I slowly pulled up outside while he stood in the open doorway, the amber light of the hall behind him, silhouetting his lanky frame, his curly grey hair like a halo.

He took me into his ground floor study-den-parlour, a room that was jammed floor to ceiling with books and small tables and three wing chairs. It even had a fancy library ladder for accessing the high shelves and a working fireplace that he’d freshly lit.

He was extraordinarily attentive, his head inclined towards mine as he weighed each of my words as if they were precious gems. And nodding slowly and carefully once he had absorbed them, as if into his very bones. I was flattered. I blossomed further under such focussed devotion, expressing more of my opinion, more of my quest. He got up and began to pile books on the table beside me.

He then spoke of his own faith and shared his personal story of the leaving of the priesthood and the child, Mee-waa, now known as Maria, who was then nine.

He went off to make the coffee and I fingered the books, all by Anthony DeMelo, a Jesuit priest who had lectured on Buddhism.

When he came back with a tray with the coffee on it, I didn’t hesitate for one second. I was surprised at myself as I didn’t have wine in me to loosen me up. Stone cold sober, I slowly ground out my cigarette in the ashtray and got up and went over to him as he was just about to ask the cream and sugar question and put my arms around him in a way that would not be misconstrued. Tightly. And threw my face up at him. Boldly.

And I said, I can still hear myself, all these years later, laughing I was, so confident, so sure of the outcome. And oh, so clear.

“Your move!”

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mary Travers, RIP

I loved her, I did.

And was so saddened to hear of Mary Travers’ death from leukemia. I own all the Peter Paul & Mary albums. And I believe that the last time both my daughters and I attended a concert together it was a Peter, Paul & Mary at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.

I loved their harmonies and their anti-war stances. Their walking the talk. At the concert we were at, Mary spoke of her arrests for her protests against the Vietnam War, then how proud she was when her daughter joined her and got arrested when they protested the treatment of California fruit pickers and then when her granddaughter joined them to protest nuclear proliferation and the Iraq war. Three generations of inspiration and activism.

"Leaving on a Jet Plane", "Blowing in the Wind," "If I had a Hammer"……so many wonderful folk songs are among her legacies.

Goodbye Mary, the world is no longer the same.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Magical Newfoundland Moments, Part 3

Fisherman's Daughter-1 – Peter Sobol

For Part 1 of this series, see here, for Part 2 see here.

So then it was on to the final part of our trek, a stop at Peter Sobol Art Gallery. Peter is one of the most enthusiastic people I ever met, bubbling over with ideas and concepts and he gladly showed us around his wonderful studio and his gallery, full of his paintings and ceramic pieces. It seems like Peter himself has been captivated by the faeries as they feature predominantly in his ceramic pieces, often swimming underwater. Luscious colours predominated.

He was full of stories, offered to illustrate my short story collection and commissioned me to take a series of pictures of a dear friend who was with us, whom he said had the best Newfoundland mother’s face he’d ever seen. He’d love to paint it, with a background of Newfoundland tragedies. So I will attempt to do my dear friend justice and photograph her well, face down and reverential (she is far from!) as he instructed.

He was also involved in an unusual project – he was growing garlic in this scheme across Canada, where the participants are pooling their varieties and planting thousands of bulbs before the first frost. I didn’t know that the leaves of garlic are called scapes and can be eaten in salad at the beginning of the growing season which also incidentally encourages clove production.

Then it was on to lunch at The Captain’s Table (seen above) which has a wonderful seafood chowder and where I met a Scottish woman, living here and married to an Irishman. As I am forming an informal association of Irish-born Newfoundlanders, this was a serendipitous meeting.

My cup truly ran over on a day such as I’ve recounted. When my creative juices start to flag, I’ll go back into my memory box and remember these wonderful artists and their enchanting spaces and feel thoroughly inspired!

Monday, September 14, 2009

There is absolutely no hope, agreed?

Only 39%! 39%! 39%! 39%! of US Citizens believe in evolution!!!!! In 2009!!!!! That's right! - leaving 61% believing in creationism.

From Riverdaughter:

Charles Darwin film ‘too controversial for religious America’

A British film about Charles Darwin has failed to find a US distributor because his theory of evolution is too controversial for American audiences, according to its producer.

… US distributors have resolutely passed on a film which will prove hugely divisive in a country where, according to a Gallup poll conducted in February, only 39 per cent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution., an influential site which reviews films from a Christian perspective, described Darwin as the father of eugenics and denounced him as “a racist, a bigot and an 1800s naturalist whose legacy is mass murder”. His “half-baked theory” directly influenced Adolf Hitler and led to “atrocities, crimes against humanity, cloning and genetic engineering”, the site stated.

The film has sparked fierce debate on US Christian websites, with a typical comment dismissing evolution as “a silly theory with a serious lack of evidence to support it despite over a century of trying”.

Jeremy Thomas, the Oscar-winning producer of Creation, said he was astonished that such attitudes exist 150 years after On The Origin of Species was published.

“That’s what we’re up against. In 2009. It’s amazing,” he said.

“The film has no distributor in America. It has got a deal everywhere else in the world but in the US, and it’s because of what the film is about. People have been saying this is the best film they’ve seen all year, yet nobody in the US has picked it up.

“It is unbelievable to us that this is still a really hot potato in America. There’s still a great belief that He made the world in six days. It’s quite difficult for we in the UK to imagine religion in America. We live in a country which is no longer so religious. But in the US, outside of New York and LA, religion rules.

Sigh. These people vote and reproduce. Somebody help us!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Magical Newfoundland Moments, Part 2.

(for part 1 of this series see here )

Then it was on to our next port of call, Five Island Art Gallery which is in Tors Cove.

The gallery is in a converted school house overlooking a marvellous historic village and the eponymous islands.

Featured were hooked rugs, but what hooked rugs!

In the gallery itself, there was an incomplete rug – “Forty Shades of Green” which is being made in honour of the Festival of the Sea, an annual Ireland –Newfoundland event which is hosted by each country on alternate years.

All visitors to the gallery are invited to hook a section of the rug after a quick lesson by the owner. We all participated in this unusual interactive art project:

And before you start, there were lots of jokes about “happy hookers”. Inevitable, I expect!

What I love to see these days is the honouring of the magnificent needlework that women were so taken for granted doing, back in the day. Now it is elevated to where it should be, magnificent works of art. My mother, a phenomenal embroiderest, would have been gratified. As would my grandmother, an excellent rag rug hooker. And as am I, a dedicated and inventive knitter. be continued.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Magical Newfoundland Moments, Part 1.

There are some moments in life that you look back on and say to yourself, oh that was the time, it was so inspiring, why didn’t I see it then? I’m getting better at observing in the now – more aware, more in the magical moments, more grateful for the gift of this incredible life.

Well, I’ve had a ton of those moments over the summer, let me tell you, and I had those moments in gallons in the last couple of days.

Seven of us headed over to Ferryland on Thursday afternoon for an evening of dinner theatre and to stay overnight in this glorious old house that has been painstakingly restored. Ferryland was settled in 1621 and there are significant archaeological exploration there as the site has been so perfectly preserved.

But we were there for the theatre, a wonderful show called "Outport Taxi". I don’t think I stopped laughing from beginning to end. The place was packed and as tourist season is closing, nearly all of us were Newfoundlanders. And as is the way when that happens, everyone starts talking to everyone else and the audience becomes one huge party.

We had a PJ gathering after the show in the big kitchen of the house, slurping drinks and evil junk food and shooting the blarney. I love nights like this, a direct golden path leading to the harvest moon above the water outside the door, every star as clear as a button holding back the navy blue sky and the lilt of female voices spinning the yarns of the tapestry that make up our lives.

We had an amazing breakfast provided by the owner and her husband, a good friend, up in her café on the hill above the house.

It never ceases to astonish me, the quality and diversity of artistic talent contained (or should that be brimming over in every direction?) in a thinly populated province like Newfoundland and the joy of discovering yet others like myself, the CFAs (“Come-From-Aways”), who visit here, become captivated (or taken by the faeries as some have it!) and make a startling, sudden and heartfelt decision to leave all that is familiar and come and live here.

Our first stop was to the home of an ex-pat Britisher, Nicola Hawkins, and her husband Andy who took this old church that had been abandoned for twenty years and made an exquisite home and galleries out of it. Here is the inside:
Breathtaking doesn’t do it justice. Example: stones from the beach in front are laid into white cement in their entire lobby floor, Canadian coins, mainly pennies, are embedded into their bathroom floor.

Greenhouses, dove cotes and two lightfilled workshops cling to the hills around the converted church:
A feast for the eyes and the soul. Among other creative endeavours Nicky takes old tin boxes that formerly housed biscuits, tea, tobacco, etc. and gently beats them into astonishing artefacts, chairs, chests and tables. She also paints and teaches Yoga. And took time away from her culinary endeavours to talk to us and show us her stained glass as her husband busied himself outside, laying out a 100lbs of cod to dry.

Apologies for the quality of my photos, all due to living in Dialup Dementia, soon to be Highspeed Heaven - if all goes well.

… be continued.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thank you once again, Canada. This is what universal health care looks like.

In an effort to enlighten further on the subject of Canadian Universal Health Care:

I had to switch provincial health care providers due to my more permanent move from Ontario to Newfoundland and checked the NL Health website to see if there were any minor differences in provincial coverage (i.e. seniors in Ontario get free eye exams, under sixes in NL get free dental).

Note this is all FREE, as in one pays nothing, not even a fee for the card, and nowhere is there a “death panel” mentioned or assignments of doctors or hospitals. I’m free to walk into any medical facility anywhere in Newfoundland (and in all of Canada for that matter as my health card is, like, PORTABLE from province to province when I'm visiting) and obtain FREE treatment. Just so y’all know.

This is the 100% paid coverage, no co-pays, no fees, in fact I don’t even get shown a bill. From anyone.

*visits to a physician's office, hospital or beneficiary's residence
*surgical, diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, including anaesthesia
*pre- and post-operative care
*complete maternity care
*radiology interpretive services
*certain surgical-dental procedures which are medically necessary to be performed in hospital by a dentist or oral surgeon

This is what not-for-profit universal health care looks like. It should be a state given right. Like, oh, water, schools, police forces, firefighters, etc. Anywhere and everywhere in the world.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Can someone define socialism, please?

There’s something quite chilling about these numbers. Unemployment statistics and the freefalling economy are still tumbling into darkness. It ain’t over by a long shot. And may never be.

Here in the Great White North the government continues to babble about how great we’re doing vs our neighbour down south. I don’t believe it for a minute.

And down south? They’re all about protesting the evil socialism of universal health care. While 1 in 9 of its citizens are on food stamps. FOOD STAMPS.

Yes, that’s right 35 million (35,000,000) US citizens are on food stamps.

What was that again about socialism?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Before Everything Fell Apart.

I can't begin to tell you about the birthday gift my daughter gave me this year. She had painstakingly gathered all the long forgotten and unwatched-for-30-years home movies ever made of 'the family' - her family - and shipped them away to be made into DVDs. These movies were made in the first 10 years of her life. Movies of her and her sister's first steps, of family Christmases, of trips to the beach, of travels to Ireland, of swimming, of a cottage, of a much remembered trip to South Carolina with my then teenage brother and sister and our two young children.

There are cherished snippets of my mother before she died and of my grandmother. Movies of a brother's wedding where our daughters were delectable flower girls and the wedding reception in our house. (His bride died tragically young). And many more.

It is right up there in the exalted list as one of the BEST GIFTS EVER. Thank you, sweetheart if you are reading this. A million thank yous.

Here is something I wrote in an attempt to crystalize my countless emotions in watching the DVDs.

The Way We Were

Were we that young?
Were we that loving?
Did that song say it all
About the way we were?

The story of each scene
Takes my breath away
More than it did then,
At the way we were.

My parents light up
And my granny too
Surrounded by love
In the way we were.

And those little girls
In their frothy dresses
Giggling and laughing
By the way we were.

The screen flickers on
With our loving glances
I switch off and mourn
For the way we were.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Moon and I

It's all in my head, some may tell me. But the phases of the moon affect me. Maybe that's because I'm part-lunatic. Certain stray branches in the old family tree point that way. A great-great uncle would paddle out in his currach and sing to the moon most weeknights. "Appeasing her" my grandmother would tell me in all seriousness. Maybe I don't do enough of it. Appeasing that is. It not being in my nature 'n all. Being a part-lunatic, you see.

I'm still a mad fan of Gilbert & Sullivan. I sang those operettas for a few years in Cork under the able direction of James N. Healy, himself a true eccentric. Hang on, this is going somewhere.

I often sing this to myself when the moon calls me:

Observe his flame,
That placid dame,
The moon's Celestial Highness;
There's not a trace
Upon her face
Of diffidence or shyness:
She borrows light
That, through the night,
Mankind may all acclaim her!
And, truth to tell,
She lights up well,
So I, for one, don't blame her!

Ah, pray make no mistake,
We are not shy;
We're very wide awake,
The moon and I!
Ah, pray make no mistake,
We are not shy;
We're very wide awake,
The moon and I!

It's from the Mikado

I think it a very good thing to be slightly mad. I'm getting better at it as I age.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Bell Island

Today, the last day my family are here with me, we visited Bell Island for the first time. It was an extraordinary day, contributed to in no small part by the weather which was stunningly clear, it was as if the ocean and the sky were having a tug of war as to which would get the most turquoise.

We took the ferry from Portugal Cove – picture by me below, ferry is in the background

and headed over on our 30 minute ocean ride across Conception Bay South. I had heard that the iron ore mines were well worth visitng though they were not for the faint of heart as the climb down (and back again!) was pretty challenging and at times claustrophic. We were undaunted by this but confess to feelings of unease at the thoughts of the overwhelming weight of the ore above our heads.

Karen, our tour guide, was amazing. Our group was small, very unusual, she said, so we were given, I believe, more personal anecdotes about the miners who worked long and hard in digging the incredible shafts, deep within the earth and under the surrounding ocean. Unbelievably challenging even today but an astonishing engineering feat at the time, well over a century ago. We trudged around in our warm jackets (we were asked to put them on prior to going down as the temperature would drop dramatically) and our hard hats, fascinated by the lives that were lived by both man and beast down so deep within the bowels of the earth.

Karens' father and grandfather worked in the mines, starting at very young ages doing menial work and then graduating at fourteen to the actual mining itself. She had stories of horses that didn’t see the light of day for months on end, even their stables were way down in the bowels of the earth. Stories of rats that were treated with total respect by the miners as they could sense an imminent collapse and would scatter – the miners fed them bits of their lunches every day as a thank you for saving their lives – much like the canaries in coal mines.

The mines have been kept intact and many artefacts were on display. You can read more about it here if you like.

Another of Bell Island’s claims to fame is that it was the only site in North America to be attacked by German U-Boats in World War Two.

Picture below was taken by the grandgirl from the Bell Island side of the path of the ferry crossing.

To add to our adventurous day, a few minutes after she took this picture, we were on the ferry and dolphins entertained us all the way back to Portugal Cove.

My summer scrapbook overflows with unforgettable memories.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Photo of the Week

Water Bridge in Germany. An incredible engineering feat.

Six years, 500 million euros, 918 meters long!

This is a channel-bridge over the River Elbe and joins the former East and West Germany, as part of the unification project. It is located in the city of Magdeburg, near Berlin.

The photo was taken on the day of inauguration.

To those who appreciate engineering projects, here's a puzzle for you armchair engineers and physicists.

Did that bridge have to be designed to withstand the additional weight of ship and barge traffic, or just the weight of the water?

It only needs to be designed to withstand the weight of the water!
Why? A ship always displaces an amount of water that weighs the same as the ship,
regardless of how heavily a ship may be loaded.