March 25, 2020 Gathering of Fresh Nesting Material

I just returned from the river and had five minutes alone with Mr…one other lady was walking into the park at that time and took out her phone to capture the magnificence.  She had just happened to turn into the park and off of her usual walk, so it was fun, at a distance, to explain to her what was happening when he leapt from the perch and made his way to the ridge.  It’s remarkable that this family of eagles follows the same course.  While, again, the photos are not exceptionally clear, I was excited to see the male return to the nest where the female was sitting and then to see an egg roll (based on movement) and a shift change.  What a stunningly beautiful time at the river.

Pounce!

Wouldn’t you love to live in one of those homes…or on a single floor…or in a single room of one of those homes and see nature every day all day long?

Mrs. heading for a well-deserved rest.

Mrs. in one of her favourite look out trees.

 

Artists and Musicians; Poets and Priests

I’m of the mind that we can move kindness through the world.  This week, I have encountered some beautiful and engaging moments on Instagram, Facebook, Skype and other social media.  Congratulations to those of you who are being supportive, loving, generous and healing.  While we don’t necessarily have all of the time in the world, there are positive people we can access in order to contribute to our own wellness.

My family drew a line in the sand once prescriptions were picked up. My son and I are following the requests of the World Health Organization and our own Provincial Dr. Deena Hinshaw by remaining at home and keeping social distance.  In the meantime, we are finding our ‘new normal’.  I have to say that this past week I listened to the media a lot.  I’m guessing you did too.  I know that the news coming out of Italy makes me very sad because my daughter and I had such a magical time traveling Italy and I find this heart breaking that their  community is suffering so much loss.

In the meantime, back at home, I’m getting into gathering research for a project that I’ve always wanted to do.  I’ve also connected with a lot of different uses for social media that serve me in healthy ways and offer support for others.  At this time, everyone is coming to financial blows.  Good for those of you who are enjoying financial stability because your houses are paid for and you have provisions to get you through this.  Bless those who are struggling….but then, you’ve all heard the news during this past week.

Here are a few of the amazing connections I’ve been blessed to have in the last week.

Auntie Check-in with all of my nieces and nephews…this will be a weekly thing.  I haven’t heard from Ainslie, but every one else checked in.  For this, I’m using Facebook group messenger.

E mail group letters are being exchanged in some of my circles, in order to touch base with how friends are doing and what they’re doing.

I’ve always touched base with my father via Skype, although our reception has not been very good as of late and so we are using Facetime for daily check ins.

My Grandson and I are Skyping, although sometimes we have used Facetime.  I love joining Steven at his breakfast or lunch table.

I’ve figured out Group Skype and a circle of my friends and I will be meeting every Friday evening at 7:30.

I’m enjoying various poets and their works on Instagram, book reviews and all connections with word.

There are many artist tours going on on Instagram as well, including those conducted by Trepanier Baer and the Glenbow.  Seek them out.  You won’t be disappointed.  I’m really excited about the one offered by vivianeartgallery in Kensington, Calgary.It’s called Staring at my Four Walls!  Check it out.  And in the meantime, think about your own art and perhaps get around to archiving it.

Live Streaming includes a daily meet up with artist, Mark Vazquez-Mackay.  He is working on an amazing piece…magical.  If you want to observe his approach to using mixed media and structural perspective, join up….usually a 12 o’clock start up.  Just put yourself on the list to be notified.

There are a number of musicians who are connecting with us through various media and live streaming.  You can fire off a wee contribution for these mini concerts.  I missed Joe Nolan’s the other night, but I DID attend Ruth Purves Smith and her Swalwell event.  She is reading dramatically from the classics in an intimate setting.  Of course, she ended up playing us a tune. ‘We just keep on dancin’. There ain’t no other way.’

Contribution to her Pandemic Kitty can be made to music@ruthpurvessmith.com

This was a wonderful gathering with Ruth at the center. She shared a real time experience.  You don’t have to dress up for these events…wear your pajamas!  Ruth showed us her latest kitty rescue, a photograph of her mama and a portrait of her Dad.  She showed us notations that her mother made along the margins of her Poe book.  She drew the Northern Flicker card and thought of our communal well being.  It was lovely and minimized a huge anxiety that had come over me last evening.

There are wonderful things happening all over the world.  You are not alone, dear readers.  I will make every effort to continue sharing some of what is available to you through the coming days.

Patrick is working on a couple of YouTube channels and these may be of interest to you for the coming days.

Teachers, I am, of course, thinking of all of you over these difficult times.  I know that you are all experimenting with various programs like Zoom and Google Group in order to open up remote learning for your students.  You are shaving down content to meet the new guidelines coming out by Alberta Learning.  You are caring for your own children at home while doing this.  I am thinking of you all.

Where possible Moms and Dads, hook your school aged kids up with Live Cams that are set up the world over.  Many of these include teacher units and other resources.  Getting your children to connect with nature is a wonderful thing.  Message me if you wish a copy of a PDF I created based on Live Eagle Cam viewing.

For those of you who have lost your faith communities through this isolating journey, many of you will be able to connect with Live services streamed in the media.

I am sending out love from my little techno world to yours.  Be safe.  Keep distance.  Blessings.

 

 

Friends, Family and Feasting!

I think that if you’re living in Calgary, you’re likely really happy that this has been a long weekend.  Tonight, folks are washing their work clothes and there’s the smell of steam in the air as the shirts get pressed for the coming week.  It was glorious to have that extra day.  While this weekend has seen a return of winter, it has certainly been warmed by friendship, family and feasting!

I was listening to CBC radio in the kitchen early this morning.  There was a great interview about walking, featuring explorer, Erling Kagge. It kept me happy as I drank my hot cup of coffee and prepared a nice brunchy meal for my family.

Food brings people together.  Yesterday I headed to beautiful Wendy’s home, where she has taken on a monthly gathering called Brunch with Buds. For this event, I made, for the first time, a batch of Chai french toast.  I was excited and looking forward to seeing my friends and meeting new ones.  Conversations flowed  and wove in and out of the cozy rooms.  Surrounded by art, good smells and music we were all put to ease and the stresses of the world fell away, at least for a short time.

I caught Jocelyn, mid-sentence.  But, look at that cute waffle maker!

Educator, ally, life long learner, artist and lover of live music, this is a strong woman! I Love you, Jocelyn!

Anam Kazim is a former member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.  Here, she is posing in front of a portrait that was a collaboration of create! participants when Wendy initiated a number of classes and events in the East Village as it related to the Golden Age Club, at the time.  Artist and photographer, Michael Collette, spearheaded this collaboration.

Anam is open, warm and very articulate and presently exploring entrepreneurial pursuits, offering health and wellness solutions via natural/herbal medicine.  Anam is a strong woman.

I caught Karen Pickles in this beautiful shot.  What a driven and inspiring woman who cares for and is motivated by needs of ‘the other’.  She is another one of our circle who loves live music and is a maker.  Her mediums include film and paint, but are not limited to those.  She is the President and CEO of Stresscase and she is a strong woman!

Steven and Katrine are in deep conversation.  It might be that they are talking about Jazz, or possibly Beakerhead.  Katrine is a Geologist…that makes two Geologists in my circle of friends.  By sharing in these brunches, Wendy is giving us the opportunity to put our heads together.  I just love it!  Steven is on his way to becoming a jazz percussionist.  He inspires me.  He also has such a sense of humour.  I like that he can make me laugh so easily.  I wish I could laugh more.

I really wanted to capture a particular sensibility here, with Stephen as my subject; the hyacinth to the right, the boxes of inspirational cards and angel cards stacked on the coffee table.  Stephen is a writer and he is also one of the most incredibly supportive people I know.  His calm demeanor helps me to open up and over the years I’ve felt I can trust him with my ideas, my challenges.  He is steadfast.  I didn’t capture his blue eyes here, but he has incredible blue eyes.  Stephen is a good human being.

Suzanne Presinel looked so familiar to me, but this was our first time meeting in a situation where we could sit back and chat about ALL SORTS of topics.  We realized at some point that we’ve encountered one another at Esker programs…where Suzanne volunteers on a regular basis.  The most wonderful thing is that she is deeply entrenched in the Boomerang Bag Global Grassroots Movement, here in Calgary.  Suzanne is a strong woman.

The food….well, the food was exceptional.  That’s all I can say.  Beautiful coffee was served and the various dishes were scrumptious.  Just look at this salmon mousse and the wee chicks on this serving dish!!

Here’s a strong woman!  Lauraine has just grown to be such a special and supportive friend.  She is an amazing mother and she is a remarkable person to have in my circle.  Always helpful, she seems to fill gaps.  Lauraine is creative and like so many of us, she too, loves live music.  She inspires me to seek balance and to takes steps to simplify my life.  She is a practicing Psychologist as well as part of a high school student services team.  I can only imagine that Lauraine is likely making a huge impact on people’s lives, especially adolescent lives.  We need more like her.

I’ve met Sarah before and know her to be a generous and caring neighbour.  She loves fun and is open.  This is her friend, Kat, who I met for the first time.  I have to say that I really enjoyed our conversation and look forward to seeing her again.

And here she is….Wendy. She is the lady who made this wonderful brunch happen! Wendy is smart, funny and has a huge heart.  She works so hard.  No one works harder…but always work that makes for good and that she loves.  Wendy is a connector.  She has brought a world of people together over time.  When with Wendy, the conversation is inspiring and positive.  Despite the troubles in the world or in the community or even close to home, Wendy is one of those people who looks at a situation and asks herself, “What is it that I can do?”  She brings the positive into conversations.  She is a maker!  So much collaborative work and creation happens within our city because she makes it happen.  Teaching at the Colonel Belcher, the Central Library….working with innovators and linking up with Mount Royal…and let us NOT FORGET her amazing abilities as a creative in the kitchen.  Food just tastes way better when Wendy prepares it!  Thank you for the blessing of your friendship, Wendy.  You are such a strong woman.

I drove home feeling energized, with a whole number of conversations floating in my mind.  It was time to clean my house.  I was excited that today I would host my family for a nice hot breakfast.

Photos?  Not a one!  I guess that speaks to the fact that we were totally wrapped up in…..nope, not the food….my grandson!!  I shared Steven’s home made Valentine’s paintings with everyone and then it was all about the french toast, for Steven.

I’m grateful for my children and for Shawn and Doug.  I felt blessed.  Thank you to Cayley and Shawn for bringing our celebratory Prosecco and orange juice!  My family means the world to me.

Oh!  I DID get one photograph….QWIRKLE board!  One game under our belts!

Love and Heartache With the Hello Darlins

Video

As I sit down to write about an evening of Love and Heartache, I take pause, wondering how musicians feel about amateur videos being plastered around on-line. I’d like to post a couple here, but I hesitate. I’ll continue to take pause until such a time as I can connect with the artists. (Alright…so, I have permission, but my oh my, this takes time.) Return tomorrow for the inclusion of a little bit of music!) If anyone wants to see Purple Rain or the introductory acts, just let me know and I’ll add them.

It would have been a blessing if I had the opportunity on Valentine’s evening to babysit my grandson so that his Mommy and Daddy could enjoy the evening together. I know that my daughter had stocked the snack cupboard with chips and gin, so I was set. Their little family has been really really busy lately and dealing with, it seems, one type of cold or flu after another for a month, now. However, I was only too happy to accept the invitation to attend the selected event with my daughter, alone, because her husband had been struggling with illness for the entire week.

Kit Johnson, who, it turns out, attended Widdifield High School, as I did, in North Bay, Ontario back in the late 60s, was the opening act on the Ironwood stage. The show would be one dedicated to songs of Love and Heartbreak. It was obvious, from the start, that there was a positive and supportive audience gathered and I knew it was going to be a good-vibe sort of evening. I was really happy to be sharing an event with my daughter! Patrick led us in and we were seated in the very front, sharing a table with a lovely couple who seemed lit up with cheerfulness. Almost immediately, they shared that they were delighted to pick up these tickets for Valentine’s night.

Here, Kit is sharing the stage with Calgary-based vocalist/producer Candace Lacina and keyboardist/producer Mike Little. Hello Darlins was comprised of a fabulous cast of professional studio musicians. Apart from the percussionist, every single person did vocals that night and GOOD vocals, to boot.

The evening was a generous outpouring of talent, voices and positive intention. The music was top notch as a whole variety of blues, Americana and country spilled out into the crowd. Special guest, Joey Landreth, certainly contributed skill and energy to the mix! It was a perfect night!

I have the sweetest clip of guitarist, Murray Pulver, playing a tune that he sang to his bride twenty years ago, this after announcing that he didn’t think he had done the number since. Nice interlude from Joey. Love spilled forth as he performed.

Loree Harris Macdonald has a warm and buttery voice and did a fabulous job as back up singer to these dynamos. Such a commitment to the art was so evident in all of the musicians who shared this stage.

Allison Granger’s fiddle music and vocals…unbelievably sweet! Oh, man. No photos…most of the time, I was gobsmacked, singing along or recording. I have a cool one where she breaks out in a solo after Joey hands it over to her…so wonderful. That’s Mike Little on the organ. Amazing, dude!

Brett Ashton was tucked away in the back, near percussion (Thank you, Kent Macrae!) but seriously, who doesn’t love the bass? Big surprise?? The man can sing! I think mouths dropped and there was a hush in the room as he sang…if you can stand the cliche…like an angel.

I got pictures of this man. Who wouldn’t? He happened to be standing right in front of us. A remarkable musician! See Joey Landreth perform! Check out some of the professional videos published out there and wet your whistles. I suppose when people share their little bits from concerts, they are trying to capture a memory, as much as anything. They rarely represent the musicality, sound or the beauty and aesthetic of the event.

Producer/songwriter/performer Daron Schofield was exceptional, leading us near the tail end of the second set, with an interpretation of Purple Rain. I recorded the whole darned thing, I was so smitten, so I didn’t get a still photo. I wanted my sister-friend (a HUGE PRINCE FAN) to see the recording. In the end, I’m sad that I didn’t get a nice portrait shot.

As for Candace and Mike, well, they just seem to have hearts that are constantly bursting open and sharing good feeling with all. In fact, I was surprised that at the break, Candace made her way to me and hugged me because she felt so supported by me as I sang along. She agreed with me that the energy in the audience was magical. In the meantime, Mike was congratulating Larry and Cory, who, it turned out, were celebrating their 32nd wedding anniversary on Valentine’s Day.

This post hardly captures or even summarizes the energy and love that filled the Ironwood on Valentine’s night. Erin and I were tired when we set out to attend the event that night, agreeing that we needn’t stay for the whole show. In the end, I was thrilled by the show from beginning until end and we finally made our way slowly to the door during the encore. I highly recommend Hello Darlins, if you see tickets go up anywhere in our fair province.

Good to see you, Jackie and Rick!

If you’re in the band and this makes its way to you…let me know if I can post a clip or two. It was a brilliant performance. Thanks, Kit.

Rebellious Alberta Women Artists

Last night, I attended a session titled Rebellious Alberta Women Artists, hosted by the Esker Foundation.  Thank you and gratitude to Esker Foundation for another class act! AGA’s Curator, Lindsey Sharman, did an amazing job of moderating a discussion/conversation with Toyo Kawamura, Teresa Posyniak, Lylian Klimek, Vera Gartley and Katie Ohe, allowing for a beautiful organic flow and powerful conversation about art, feminine presence, space, materials, context and making.  Nicely paced and not forced, this platform was beautiful from beginning to end.

Peppered with humour and heart felt grit, I found myself both weeping and laughing tummy laughs.  While a hugely-attended program, it seemed as though I was in a living room, hearing the voices of friends.

This morning, as I sit to write this post, however, I wish that I had the notes that were pouring out the tip of my neighbour’s pen and into her notebook.  I told myself to just savour the words and to let them surface as they will over the coming days, weeks and months.  I feel forever-changed.  Some experiences just do that for you.

Toyo Kawamura was such a gracious participant.  In terms of her narrative, a few stories were particularly special to me.  First, I was caught up by her memory of 15 minute drawing practice every morning while attending school, as a child in Japan.  I was impressed by Toyo’s consideration of the ocean currents, the use of sand in her work and recent meaningful shifts in her work.  Toyo shared several recollections of teachers, especially, her private art lessons with Mr. Michio Kuwada (a member of Shinseisaku association of artists).  Finally, I was delighted to listen to her describe time spent with her grandson, teaching him the art of Ikebana and her consideration of the space/atmosphere around an arrangement, as much as the elements within the arrangement.  This reminded me, very much, about my observations of a single bush at a pond and how light/atmosphere and weather impact the appearance of that bush.

Teresa Posyniak and Lylian Klimek then proceeded to amaze me.  When it gets to writing about Teresa, I have to say that it gets way too personal.  First thing this morning, I made certain that I left her a note via her website. Her words took my breath away.  (I know this post seems overly dramatic, but I refuse to understate my experience.)  Beginning with her artistic timeline and speaking about Sanctuary to the near present, I could relate with so many of Teresa’s concerns and why she responds through such powerful work.  Please, if you have the chance, link up with Teresa’s website. These are two very strong women who have explored large format works throughout their careers and have an amazing connection with the diverse qualities of materials.

I enjoyed Lylian’s description of her childhood wanderings and discoveries.  How the structures and experiences of the space and the land in Saskatchewan served as jumping off points for her work and her thinking.

I have to find a way to go north to Edmonton so that I can enjoy the exhibit presently on display.

Finally, Vera Gartley and Katie Ohe took the platform. I can only say that I felt as though I was sitting at a kitchen table delighting in the warmest and most authentic conversation ever between Vera and Katie.  Please tell me that someone was recording this.  I found myself in tears through this section…quiet weeping, however…I certainly didn’t embarrass myself.  At different points I was saying to myself, “This is historical…this will never happen again in quite this way.”  It was rich, thoughtful and inspiring to the greatest degree.  Thank you, Vera and Katie for your generous contributions to the evening’s event.

You spoke of humour, space, community, choices, dedication and the art.  Two inspiring mentors for the women of today!

Thank you to Lindsey who had the sense to let things flow.  Thank you, again, to Esker.

Katie said, “You’re the Painter.”

Video

There are certain people in the world who have the knack for inspiring me to be a better person (and I use the term BETTER as it expresses itself in humility, kindness, empathy and plain hard work and creativity) and one of those people, for me, has been Katie Ohe.  I don’t know that she knows that she has that influence with me, but this is how some one who is truly remarkable can be laying down seeds in other people’s hearts.

I’ve written about her a few times.

In 2013, I wrote about the objects that live in Katie and Harry’s home.

In 2017, I wrote about KOAC and the experience of a studio tour, led by my creative friend, Wendy Lees.

And also, in 2013, I looked for a way to process my connection with Katie through a poem.  You see, she had taken some time, in the light of her kitchen window, to leaf through the pages of her sketchbook with me, and to talk about the experience of having ‘painter’s block’.  She spoke with me about painting.  She asked me, with all sincerity, about me.  I felt affirmed.  I felt filled.

A few weeks ago, I knew that the exhibit of Katie’s work at the Esker Foundation, was drawing closer.  As would be the case, I thought that Katie might be surrounded by many people…important people…at the opening. I couldn’t imagine myself getting anywhere near her. When I saw that the Herringer Kiss Gallery was hosting an exhibit of early works by both Katie Ohe and Harry Kiyooka, I thought that I would take the chance to visit her at that opening, so that I might make contact and wish her blessings for the big event.

It turns out that I had a lovely chat with both Katie and Harry in the peace of the gallery.  She looked into my face and her eyes looked that remarkable blue and as she held one of my hands in both of hers, she said, “You are the painter.”

These words were/are transformative words.  I am changed in the way that I think of myself, in the way that I feel and in the way that I am processing the events of my life, even the simple every day events.  I can’t explain it.

Included here, a few of the images from the opening at the Esker Foundation.  I got no where near Katie.  It was such a mighty celebration of her art and her life, I felt it was just marvelous to witness her with friends, former students, well-wishers.  As I was negotiating my way from the bar and past the steps to the nest, at one point, she looked up and literally our gazes met in the big hubbub and we smiled at one another.  That was enough.

(I know…i sound like a blithering goofball here, but, Katie is a hero for me, as she is for so many others.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robbie Burns Day With Joan

Video

Early morning, before my walk at the river and after a phone call with my friend, Joan, Max and I attempted a selfie session, with a variety of results. He began by turning his back to the camera. Here are a few of his very personalized expressions.  I was just so relieved in the morning because the afternoon before saw Maxman downing a half a large fruit cake while I was wandering about watching coyotes.  As a result he had to visit the vet and, gratefully, Dr. Justine, averted any more drama.

In the afternoon, I headed for Trinity Lodge.  I had an opportunity to enjoy a performance with Joan in her new residence.  Joan has made a recent move to the Lodge and I was pleased to find her in terrific humour and to have a beautiful friend in Sophie.

Together, we watched a Robert Burns tribute delivered by St. Andrew Caledonia Society of Calgary, in preparation for today’s official anniversary.

First a wee pipe, then a brief history was given by Ian, followed by a recitation of this poem.  Well, it’s longish and so that I don’t lose my readers, I’ll post it at the end.  The title is To a Mouse: On Turning her up in her Nest, with a Plough, written in 1785.

The Program:


Bringing in the Haggis:

I really enjoyed that the residents to the left and right of me were able to, in part, recite the poems and songs that were shared in the afternoon.

I feel very grateful that Joan is making adjustments to her new residence.  I see myself enjoying many wonderful times with her.  Sophie, Joan and I went to the Bistro and sipped our Lattes while sharing many fun stories.  Once home, I took Max out for his neighbourhood walk and anticipated my evening attendance at the Katie Ohe retrospective at the Esker Foundation.  Overall, it was a beautiful day.

To the Mouse

On Turning her up in her Nest, with the Plough, November 1785

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a pannic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss’t!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell-
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.

Thy wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

Translation:

Little, cunning, cowering, timorous beast,
Oh, what a panic is in your breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With bickering prattle!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With murdering paddle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes you startle
At me, your poor, earth-born companion
And fellow mortal!

I doubt not, sometimes, that you may steal;
What then? Poor beast, you must live!
An odd ear in twenty-four sheaves
Is a small request;
I will get a blessing with what is left,
And never miss it.

Your small house, too, in ruin!
Its feeble walls the winds are scattering!
And nothing now, to build a new one,
Of coarse green foliage!
And bleak December’s winds ensuing,
Both bitter and piercing!

You saw the fields laid bare and empty,
And weary winter coming fast,
And cozy here, beneath the blast,
You thought to dwell,
Till crash! The cruel plough passed
Out through your cell.

That small heap of leaves and stubble,
Has cost you many a weary nibble!
Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,
Without house or holding,
To endure the winter’s sleety dribble,
And hoar-frost cold.

But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still you are blessed, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

 

 

January 19, 2020

I wasn’t going to write today, but here I am, a glass of Malbec to my right, and so much to think about.

Today would have been my brother’s 66th birthday. I turn 65 in May. He and I were so very close. It pains me that we didn’t share as much in our later years. He became a private man. Still, we made time to share good meals with friends. We enjoyed live music together. We were both very proud of our city. I love all of the growing-up memories of John. He was sometimes rebellious. He was robust. He was quite a live wire. I like the memories of him grilling steaks and burgers. He knew what he was doing there.

I have been thinking about John all week. Birthdays celebrated with families are so special. He should be here to celebrate with us. Now, he is ‘with us in spirit’. That’s something people say…but words like that just crack open my heart and cause it to bleed, all over again. I feel bad for people who try to make just the right remarks when you’ve lost someone you deeply love. I’ve often been one of those people. Let’s face it, there are no really helpful words. Best to just say ‘I’m sorry’. I don’t blame or judge people for things that they’ve tried to say. I know that their intentions are good. Grief does weird unbelievable things to a person. There’s no real understanding it. I miss John, though, every day…just as I miss my mother.

Family went out for lunch together. I liked being with John’s son. We were ‘hospice buddies’ and call ourselves that to this day. There’s no way that one can know what that experience is like until one might find themselves living it. I take a moment as I’m typing and lift a prayer for families who are in the midst of all of this. I take a moment and pray for the beautiful hearts who give palliative and then hospice care…and the nurses…the doctors. A tear drops.

Our family was the very best through the pain of losing John. If family does work. We did our best work through that time.

My grandson broke out into a lively version of happy birthday when he received his vanilla ice cream on dry ice. He even got the part about ‘Uncle Johnny’. His timing was impeccable. A Moxie’s lunch to celebrate my brother was the perfect choice.

From the lunch and our good-byes, I had to head right for the river. For one thing, the temperature was steadily moving up and was -11 when I pulled up in front of the house. I can clear my head at the river. Through John’s last months, I always felt uplifted while at the river’s edge, even on particularly difficult days.

I first walked along the bank in a north west direction. Across from me, the beauty and tranquility of deer and geese. After five days of -30 to -40 temperatures and a bad wind chill, it seemed that all of nature was breathing deeply in and breathing deeply out. Such a lovely thing. Interestingly enough, in the icy times of winter, I always notice that the deer consume the geese droppings. Such was the case today. Vegetation must be minimal by now and what better way to consume some nutrition! Nature cares for itself in so many different ways.

Once heading south on the path, I experienced the most remarkable moment! In a flash, a coyote rushed out of the tall grass and a deer bound into the frozen river. The coyote lurched to a stop on the very edge of the ice. I was frozen…couldn’t move…didn’t even think about capturing the moment on my camera. Too late, I recorded the deer’s challenging swim and its exit from the cold water. I watched until it found its way, some distance, up onto the bank. It wobbled on the ice and then bolted for the cover of the brush.

I was relieved but remember pausing to wonder how all of the beautiful creatures that inhabit the river valley manage to eek out a living.

Continuing on my hike, I was mindful that the coyotes are hungry. I figured that if one coyote came out of the brush, there were others. They work diligently together in order to eat, especially in these circumstances of frigid temperatures. Above me, to the left, I saw two. Do you want to observe a coyote? Listen for the Corvids (Magpies, Crows and Ravens) because all follow close behind the predators.

Sure enough.

I was pleased to observe this young beauty consuming something. It was either a rabbit or a pheasant. I could hear the pheasants articulating in the high brush as I made my way south. Looking closer, a Raven decided to peck away at the carcass.

Around this time, I bumped into Lloyd. I really can’t believe the distance he walks down in this same spot, in fact, he goes so far as to cross the ice to the island almost every day. He asked, in his jovial way, ‘Why he hadn’t seen me lately?’ And I told him that apart from one day during the deep freeze I came down to make my typical observations. He walked with me as far as the beaver dam. Together, we looked at the reflections on the smooth pond ice. He told me a story of skating ponds in his childhood….such magic! Walking, I told him about the incident with the deer. We parted ways. As he left, he said, “I hope you spot your eagles”.

The remainder of the walk was very peaceful. I thought that I might discover more deer, given that the stressed white tail flew out from this side of the river, but no sightings. Several beautifully large and articulating Ravens flew amongst the bare branches. All was magical. Then, as if from nowhere, the young Eagle appeared. I haven’t captured any really clear photographs, but I would guess that it was either one of the one year olds from last summer’s nest, or a two year old. Its colouring is getting to be mottled. One thing for certain, it wasn’t the Huntress, one that I expected to see. A Raven flew in and gave this youngster some company for a short while. Dad was no where to be seen.

This day was a beautiful day. Again, it reinforced the fact that life is filled to the brim with both beauty and brutality. We have no choice but to take it all and in whatever ways it makes its way to us. We can control the ways that we respond, but apart from that, we should always keep a Plan B in our back pockets.

Arriving back to the car, I cranked up the heat and checked my messages. Doug sent a link to a marvelous series of photographs. I think that the images exemplify everything I believe about nature, life and the wonder of it all.

If you have a chance, take a look.

Here at home, safe and warm, a friend from the river, fired off a message to me. I was eating from a hot bowl of stew at the time. The message was about a deer that was wounded and down, just beneath 130th Ave. She met Lloyd while out on her hike (love my network of river friends) and thought that this deer was possibly the character from my narrative. I will never know. Initially, I thought, by description, the deer was above the bank, but as the information became more clear, I learned that this deer is wounded and is out on the ice tonight. It would be an impossible thing for anyone to assist it tonight, impossible to keep it from its suffering. While this is upsetting to me and to my friends, we have sometimes no choice but to accept what we can’t control. I’m hoping that the coyotes/eagles are able to make good use of its sacrifice.

This, it turns out, was quite a day. Blessings to those of you who have sent wishes today. Blessings on my father.

The Clam Chowder Feast

Sidebar: To read up on how to make Rapure, see the post titled Comfort Food From the East.

Wendy Lees said it best…

“It took ages to coordinate our schedules but we finally all made it to the very inviting and interesting home of Kath for a delicious clam chowder feast, visit with Max, studio tour, and big catch up!

Along with the chowder, Kath treated us to Rappie, a traditional Acadian dish she recalled from her childhood. It’s made with shredded potatoes and fatty pork – yum! Tammy and Jas brought homemade pickles, spring flowers and a canned treat. Karen brought Red River bread she’d made, and we enjoyed Christmas baking brought all the way from Nova Scotia by Stephen made by his mom, Betty. Oh, and I didn’t get the memo about drinking at noon being OK but Lauraine brought vino from the Rockyridge growing region in Calgary’s NW.  Steven made the very same selection!

What a tasty and heartfelt meal. My only quibble with our gathering was there just wasn’t enough time to visit thoroughly with every one of these wonderful people ❤️”

I’m posting Karen’s bread recipe here.  It’s amazing! Red River Bread Photo Credit: Wendy Lees.

Red River Bread
Recipe
2 cups water
3/4 cup red river cereal
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup molasses
2 teaspoon salt
1 Teaspoon Sugar
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 package dry yeast (fast rising works great)
4 1/2 cups flour

Combine 2 cups water in pan with cereal. Boil then simmer 5 mins or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and add butter, molasses and salt. Cool completely.

Dissolve sugar in lukewarm water. Sprinkle yeast and proof for 10 minutes.

Combine yeast with cooled cereal mixture.

Using a wooden spoon mix in all of the flour to make a stiff dough.

Turn dough onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Form a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl, covering the whole ball with grease. Cover with wrap and let rise (can use oven to proof) for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until ball doubles in size.

Punch down dough. Turn onto floured surface and knead until smooth. Divide dough in half and shape into loaf pans. 8×4
Cover and let rise for about and hour. Then bake at 375 F. 30-35 mins.
Loaves will be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom of the pan.
Remove from pan and let cool. Enjoy!

Tammy and Wendy, Stephen and Steven and Lauraine, brought yummy things.  I wasn’t archiving at the time,  but, my buddies were.  The following two photographs, though, were mine taken this morning. The next time you pickle, Tammy, I want to be there.  They got eaten tooo fast for a photograph!

Photo display I made, in order to acknowledge my family.

Thank you, Jas and Tammy for the springtime flowers!  So beautiful when it’s -40 outdoors.

Check out the jar of pickles in the photograph, below.  This one must be Tammy’s shot.  I’m sorry I didn’t get an image of the plate of baked goodies Stephen and Steven shared.  Oh man!  So good!

The photo journal above is a collection of photographs taken by Wendy and Tammy.  We always have so many laughs when we gather.  I’m grateful for all of you!  Being with friends and sharing conversation/food/beverages and/or live music/dancing is so life-giving.

Please take note of Max (I snapped that one), only an hour after the lunch…completely played out!

Comfort Food From the East

While speaking with my sister, this morning, she reminded me that today, January 15, is the anniversary of the day our brother, John, went into hospital.  It was from this date, onward, that our family was sucked into the vortex of the medical system and diagnostic testing.  As it would turn out, our brother would celebrate his last birthday in Peter Lougheed Hospital.

I begin this particular post, writing about my brother, because I’m thinking about comfort food and what happens when people gather with foods that are familiar and rooted in memory.  These foods will often vary depending on cultural context…sometimes an affordability context…regardless, if my readers look back into their journeys, they will find foods that mark various moments along their journeys.  Stories and narratives will endlessly surface of childhood and Mom or Grandma or Great Gramma’s cooking.

For example, if I type the words, FRIED BOLOGNA (Baloney) SANDWICH…what memories are evoked?

We brought foods to hospital and those we love, also fed us.  My brother enjoyed jello and Cozy Shack rice pudding during those end days.  He also enjoyed fresh ju-jubes for the duration of his hospital stay.  My sister-in-law sent loaves.  John shared birthday cake. Spaghetti was brought from home.  Things we create in the kitchen, we have control over (usually).  Sharing food creates a feeling of joy, constancy and being rooted.  I am grateful for how food brought some pleasure to my brother in his last months.  Now, the remainder of this blog post will explore one particular recipe that comes from my memory banks and my Acadian family’s tradition.

Our little Airforce family found itself in Quebec and New Brunswick for two of its postings.  These postings gave some proximity to my Great Grandparents, Mamie (Sugar Arsenault) and Papie (Gabriel Gallant) and my great uncles and aunties.

My Grandmother, in back and my mother, directly in front of her.  Jimmy Fardy, my Mom’s cousin is directly to her right.

My Mamie, with my mother in her arms.

Mamie and Papie.

I knew when I went to Prince Edward Island that I was among some of the dearest people who were in my mother’s life.  I knew, also, that when we traveled there, my mother was home.

Memories of that little Summerside house on Front Street are connected with wood stoves, home made rolled cigarettes, potatoes grated and cooked up into pancakes, horse drawn milk delivery wagons, coal chutes, seaside smells carried on the wind, bingo chips, coffee, bottles on the kitchen table, loud laughter and kitchen gatherings.

It was in 2015, when I attended a library program with my friend, Pat, that I first considered researching this childhood dish. The topic of the presentation was on foods as they relate to a cultural road trip across Canada.  The presenter was going to be Julie Van Rosendaal, but as it turned out, she required a replacement.  The session did not disappoint.

Shortly after the session, I sent my Mom’s youngest sister an e mail. “I was telling Dad about a cookbook that was mentioned at a Library program I attended last night.  It’s called Feast: An Edible Roadtrip.  I asked the speaker if the recipe for “Rapeur” (don’t know the spelling) was in it.  One Acadian lady sitting next to me said it was called Rappi Pie  hmmm…Dad told me that you make Mamie’s recipe and I was hoping you might send it to me.  I know it’s a big job to make and that it needs a special touch to turn out right, but I would like to share it with my daughters.  If you would be so kind…I’d really appreciate it.  Kath”

I sent that note in 2015 and received an expedient reply that included these steps.  I quickly learned that the spelling of the recipe was Rapure and that its translation is coming from the word grate in french.

[cheese, carrots] râper

to grate some cheese râper du fromage

This recipe was followed by one through the post…thank you, Auntie Pat.

Some time during the Christmas break, I decided to invite a small circle of friends to the house to share some Clam Chowder, also made in my mother’s east coast tradition.  Clam Chowder also varies depending on where you grew up in eastern Canada.

With the invitation to my friends, came an opportunity to try making my very first Rapure, without any of my matriarchs present for help.  My friend, Hollee, was visiting from Vancouver in order to attend her Auntie’s 100th birthday, so she became my cheerleader as I endeavored to bring my east coast traditions in comfort food, to life.  I remember, well, this dish being prepared by my Great Grandmother, my Grandmother and my Mom.  It is important to me that I share this, along the journey, with my children.  One thing I decided, after looking over the recipes and speaking with Hollee, I was going to borrow my daughter’s food processor!!

The Rapure brought back particular aromas in the little PEI kitchen of my memory, pork and onion fried up on the wood stove, along with a scoop of lard.  This dish, along with my mother’s Meat Pies, was very much a symbol of home for me.

Nervous, the night before, I spent a lot of time seeking out Youtube videos, learning for the most part, that the Acadians from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, were using chicken stock and chicken in recipes that they called Rappie Pie.

 

On the Arsenault Facebook group, I put out an all-call for recipes and these are some from the Rappie Pie tradition.

These were the posters’ connections with their recipes.

Judy Arsenault I recently made a Rapure from the cookbook Abram-Village Handcraft Co-Op Recipes (which I purchased from the Bottle House (PEI) that my cousin use to own) and it didn’t turn out. Has anyone used this recipe from this cookbook? How did it turn out for you

Thelma Arsenault Hack I have varying results with rapure, regardless of the recipe. Choice of potatoes makes a difference – I don’t think ‘baking potatoes’ work as well. And whether the grated potatoes are rinsed and dried well makes a difference. It’s a lot of work and very frustrating when the results are not good. I’ll be interested in what others comment. Good luck to you.

Jim N Wendy Spain This recipe was made by my great grandmother Catherine (Lefave) Doucette, from Nova Scotia. I recently typed it as shown, for a family reunion. 🙂

With great courage, Hollee and I peeled 10 lbs of potatoes and I chopped up the pork roast into 1 cm cubes, setting aside the pork fat to coat the roaster surface, keeping all chilled and prepared for the morning’s culinary adventure and the visit with my friends.  I decided to stick closely to my Auntie’s recipe.

At 7:00 am…I began my processing of the potatoes and put my pork to browning.

I’m going to log my notes here, for future reference.  I had my daughter’s food processor set for grating and tried both the medium grate and the fine grate.  In future, I would  use the fine grate setting.  Whoosh…out spewed the gratings of ten pounds of potatoes.  The kitchen smelled yummy and CBC radio was turned up, as the pork, onion, salt and pepper were bubbling in the 350 oven.  (use the roasting pan for this)

Once the potatoes were done, I quickly covered them with wrap so that oxidization wouldn’t happen. (green bowl) I cut up my cheese cloth and began the process of removing starch from the potatoes. (I will use my red bowl for this next time.)  I transferred my shrunken potatoes into my large soup pot.  Once finished the cheese cloth step, I added the yummy pork and onion to the big soup pot and mixed and mixed and mixed some more.

This is the step where I decided that in future I would use the fine grate.  I remembered my Great Grandmother’s Rapure being smoother in texture, but being coated with crunch.  This is what my kitchen looked like, right before beginning my Clam Chowder.

From the mixing stage, I pressed the mixture into my roasting pan…nicely greased with some cubes of pork fat (not all), and pulled from the oven.  (don’t burn your hands, here)  I roasted the Rapure at 275 for an hour and turned it up for three hours at 350.  Next time, two hours at 350 for me!

Thank goodness, Wendy brought a salad as it made the appearance of the square of Rapure look more appetizing, on the plate.  I began apologizing before we even sat down because I knew already that the topping was TOO crunchy.

My guests are such dear friends that I could tell them I expected them all to try a piece, as I was very much in the mood to share my PEI nostalgia.  They all carried on, without complaint.  I love them so much! Photo Credit below: Wendy Lees.

Later, I discovered that the crust softens with just a short wait after removing from the oven, so I would serve it a little differently next time, and definitely crust up instead of flipping it over (lol).  I have been happily nibbling on the leftover Rapure ever since and I am generally really happy with the flavours and it very much reminds me of Mom, my Grandmother and my Great Grandmother.

See the next post…the feast…for the treasured gathering.

When I remember my brother, I also remember the family meals that brought us together.  I remember celebrations and loud responses to the yummy-ness of food!  Much of the recollections of family come with the memory of food.  I am so grateful for this.

Thanks to Lauraine, who remembered that her mother made ‘Snowballs’, those red cherries wrapped up in coconut buttery sweetness and rolled in graham cracker crumbs.  Isn’t comfort food amazing?