This space belongs to Megan Eliza (Red Cedar), long-time Vancouverite kicking it in the neighbourhood of Hastings-Sunrise. I communicate for a living, play music for pleasure, and fill the rest of my waking minutes with love, home, craft, art, outdoor adventures, photography, writing, grad school, gardening, cooking and even sometimes politics.
So. The ugly quilt is almost finished – I completed the hand-tying last night and trimmed the edges – which puts me at the last step of binding. It’s been ten years since I started this puppy – a queen-sized quilt that I could never love enough to get to the end of. But the cabin has given it new life – because this is exactly the kind of bed covering you want in a casual place: nothing too lovable, nothing too precious, warm and extra-snuggly (I used a heavier-than-normal quilt batting on this project). Also, these colours won’t look dirty anytime soon – which reduces the number of times it will need washing in any given year.
My goal at this point is to finish this before our next cabin trip (first weekend of June), and also to get proper foam pads for our sleeping cots – my biggest problem to date at the cabin is that the pads on our cots (really old camping inflatables – one that I’ve had for a dozen years and the other is one I found washed up on a beach) are so uncomfortable that I have trouble sleeping and I think it’s time to get sheets and a coverlet rather than bed down in sleeping bags any longer.
After this little project is finished, I’ve got to get on the graduation/moving-into-residence-in-the-fall quilt for my step-daughter. I had hoped to finish it by her graduation date (mid-June) but these last couple of months have been busier than anticipated (not to mention warmer) and I’m just at the starting place with that one. Fortunately, she doesn’t need it until September!
Last week, after the epic cocktail party, we hit the road first thing the next day (after I took the glassware back to the party rental place). Destination: Link Lake – where the ice has now melted and spring/summer is well underway.
Not much to report really, except that we met the building inspector (who happened to be in the area when we arrived on Monday), got Internet installed (thanks to China Creek Wireless – great customer service), met our builder to discuss work for this building season, and lit up the new woodstove and “cured” the paint. We also hauled a cast iron sink up there for later use, and Brian did a bunch of cleaning up of building scraps and garbage which we hauled off to the dump in two loads.
Work planned for this summer includes: Loft, deck and stair railings, insulation, exterior cladding – plus two inspections: framing and insulation. Next summer will involve some interior finishing, and exterior painting. The summer after that will likely see the end of major interior finishing the then we will have to deal with the question of water/septic/plumbing in order to pass final inspection. It’s really a five-year project in terms of money and time (each year allows us to pay off more of the line of credit for the next year) – but now that I have broken it down in my mind this way, it seems a lot less overwhelming. Also, we are at the point where we have a very usable structure for summer (electricity, stove, roof, basic cooking gear set-up), and after the insulation is in, will also be winter-ready – which means everything else can get done on its own time.
And for the record, this week marks two years exactly since I saw the ad for the property on Landquest, next Monday will be two years since first saw the property. We haven’t done so bad for ourselves to go from overgrown lot with a fallen-down cabin/tipped-over outhouse – to a place where we can sleep inside or set up tents (we have two tent platforms plus a level front yard now). It’s definitely going to be as much time as possible at the cabin this summer!
This blog has been a bit meditation-post heavy in the last few weeks – for which I am not at all sorry – but since we just threw a party for Brian’s birthday, and it was an afternoon-cocktail-themed-affair, and I invented two new drinks – it just seemed time to share those recipes for posterity (and some info about how to throw such a party). Meditation is important work, but so are social gatherings – and I intend to continue with the celebration of both in my life!
First of all, if you are thinking of doing an afternoon cocktail party, here are some tips:
- This is an expensive kind of party to throw – booze (especially in Canada) is pricey. I planned my drinks several weeks in advance and split the party cost over three paycheques.
- The best, most awesome drinks, include special ingredients or housemade infusions. This is another reason to plan ahead – your basic fruit liqueur takes about six weeks (minimum), and even a quicker infusion like earl grey liqueur or straight up tonic syrup may call for special ingredients, or require time to make. Planning ahead by at least two months is preferable if you want to do anything special.
- Rent glassware – it’s pretty cheap to do and you don’t have to wash anything before returning it. Also rent cocktail plates, ice buckets and any other barware that you wouldn’t use in everyday life. This keeps refuse to a minimum and really helps the cleanup!
- You need a minimum of two ice buckets – one for ice and one for whatever you want to keep on ice (in our case there were many prosecco drinks).
- Definitely you will need help during the party because no matter how much glassware you rent or own, you will run out. No one keeps one glass for the entire party. Enlist your friends to wash glasses, they will oblige because – free drinks!
- Choose only 4-6 drinks that you are prepared to make, print out a sign with ingredients so that people can see what is in them, and make that available in a number of places for people to consult. You cannot afford to set up a bar for everything. I went with six drinks, many of which shared ingredients. Also, pick things with ingredients that go with the weather (in our case, prosecco was a big hit and I used herbs in season that were growing in our garden).
- Also – bartending – you do not want people free pouring, so be prepared to bar tend and arrange in advance for a couple of people to spell you off in advance. Create a sheet of drinks with recipes to aid the process. People might be daunted at first, but a lot of people enjoy being behind the bar – it creates a different kind of social interaction.
- Bartenders need to keep drinks poured at the right levels, otherwise you will run out of booze too fast and people will get drunk. We were very successful with this – and I realized how much of a difference proper bartending made to the event.
- You definitely need bar towels, water (if you aren’t near a sink), and a large vessel (garbage can, pickling crock) for liquids and other refuse.
- Have lots of ice on hand.
- Be prepared for some people to stay late and have some basic dinner fixings on hand (we did that, but then our friend ordered pizza instead and that was equally amazing). Also – serve ample grounding foods throughout – bread, cheese, olives, veggie platter, etc. People will eat it all and it cuts down on drinking on an empty stomach.
We are very lucky to have a backyard studio/guesthouse/meditation room – so we set our bar up in the studio because the day was warm and it kept people in the yard as opposed to cramped in the house. The drinks on the menu were the Afternoon Marteani, Orange Blossom, Iced Amarula, Gin/Vodka and housemade tonic, French 75 and the Urban Crow. (The bolded ones are my own concoctions. The photo at the head of this article is the martini, the Urban Crow is pictured alongside an Orange Blossom below.
The Urban Crow Cocktail
- Served in a jam jar (250 ml)
- Wipe rim with sage leaves and then muddle four leaves in the bottom of the jar
- Add two ice cubes
- One shot blackberry liqueur
- One shot gin
- Finish with soda
The Afternoon Marteani
- Served in a martini glass
- Dollop 1 teaspoon of blood orange (or other citrus) marmalade in the bottom of the glass
- Pour 1 shot vodka, 1 shot earl grey liqueur into a shaker with ice
- Strain contents of shaker into glass over the marmalade
(I think this martini is my favourite new thing – the earl grey liqueur is outta this world, and the jam flavours the drink subtly and wonderfully throughout the drinking experience).
I guess I just dropped out there for the last ten days or so didn’t I? It’s not like I didn’t know I was going to disappear for a few minutes, because I had big plans that came to fruition over the last ten days, but I didn’t give any warning either. I just stopped posting again – which sometimes happens just because, but this time happened *because*.
Over the last ten days I pulled together a fabulous cocktail party for Brian’s birthday, drove up to our cabin at Link Lake for three days, and then left on Thursday for a four-day meditation retreat on Denman Island. It’s this last item I’m going to write about now, the other two adventures will be the subject of blog posts later this week (though the photo above was taken at Link Lake, I was not taking any photos while on retreat!)
Originally, my friend K. stated a desire and intention that we do a silent meditation retreat together – this was about a year ago, when I was pretty new to meditation and didn’t have any particular practice/tradition/sangha except an interest in breath-focused, sitting meditation – so I did what we all do in such circumstances: Google. In my searches I had discovered The Hermitage on Denman Island, and was caught in particular by the teaching description of Dr. Cheryl Fraser, a professional therapist and a Dharma teacher who was offering a meditation workshop suitable for beginners in May 2014. Without enough notice, my friend and I could not attend, but I kept my eye out for the 2015 spring program and when it arrived online early this year (or late in 2014), I noticed the same teacher and a similar sounding workshop and let my friend know to which she replied a definite yes! to going.
So I signed up and around the same time (at my friend Carmen’s suggestion) I got involved with Mountain Rain Zen Community which is close to my home and has some great teachers (the local teachers are fantastic and the head teacher Norman Fischer is full-stop amazing). After a fashion I learned that there was a non-residential retreat with Norman Fischer scheduled for the first weekend in May, and my friend K. was showing signs of not having signed up for the retreat on Denman (as in, she never confirmed that she had signed up – I had a feeling it wasn’t happening for her). So I was thinking I would cancel because it was out of the way for me, because I was getting a different retreat opportunity and so on and so on.
But then! My friend C. signed herself up at least partly at my encouragement, and so I didn’t cancel. Instead what ended up happening is in the month of May I had my first two significant meditation retreat experiences – and I regret neither.
This past weekend marked a bunch of firsts for me including: first residential retreat, first retreat more than two days in length, first meditation sitting of up to two hours, first time not absolutely hating yoga (but I still don’t like it very much). And even though I was entering something pretty new to me on one level (all meditation all the time, no phone, no reading, no writing) – the fact that I have a daily practice, belong to a meditation community, attend my zendo weekly, am used to sitting in small and large groups, and have spent lots of time in alternative communities – meant that I felt pretty much at ease from the very first sit to the last. Not that I was comfortable most of the time – I am not someone who finds meditation physically easy, and there are certainly lots of emotional ups and downs in any practice – but the setting and discipline didn’t freak me out at all.
That was not true for everyone, and I realized (for the billionth time) that even though I have only been at this for two years, I am not longer a *beginner* meditator. I’m not super experienced, mind you, but I’ve stopped asking myself why meditate (I know the benefits first hand), and I’m not worried about my ability to sit through discomfort the way I used to be. That’s a start anyhow.
And it’s where I started from this past weekend, which doesn’t mean there weren’t internal struggles (I had the happy fun times experience of working with judgement for at least two solid days), or that it was easy (I felt fucking heroic at the end of two hours of sitting, let me tell you). But I did realize after sitting for four days that somewhere along the past two years of practice, I have “leveled up” and I am not only able to sit, but also to accept the teachings that go along with meditation. Which is to say that I am at a point in my life where I don’t simply listen to the dharma talks in order to get the meditation instruction, but I go to meditation practice in order to hear the dharma. Or to put it another way, it has become increasingly apparent that meditation is just the gateway drug and it’s got me hooked into something much more potent (which is not magic, which allows me to continue in my atheism, and which has psychology and neuroscience as its basis – so don’t worry, I haven’t gone crazy).
I don’t want to detail about all the many things that passed through my mind as I was sitting, walking, or lying down in my cabin – they probably aren’t much interesting to anyone but me – but the most revealing aspect of the depth of my experience on retreat came as we left the grounds towards home. It turned out that after four days of meditation, C. and I were so relaxed that we made a two-ferry, long-weekend, six-hour journey with a one-sailing wait trip home to Vancouver without a word of complaint, a feeling of frustration, or a whisper of disappointment. For real. Mind blown.
I’m back at work today and still feeling a little of the afterglow (I increased my daily sitting time by 15 minutes this morning and was startled when the timer went off because it seemed like no time at all) but also a bit fragile, a bit afraid of the demands on my attention, the requests I must fulfill. To compensate and to boost my spirits, this afternoon I booked the time off for two weeks of vacation and two more retreats in the next few months (July and November) – things I had planned before this last weekend, and which allowed me to leave retreat a bit more easily. Which means I’m going back, as soon as I can pretty much make it happen, it really was that good – but not in any way I can really describe.
Yesterday I was waiting for the bus on Nanaimo Street when a car pulled up alongside me and a woman got out. She approached (I was the only one there) and said, “Excuse me, we’re going around the neighbourhood asking a question of our neighbours – do you have a minute?” To which I said yes, thinking perhaps it was about the increase in break-ins or some new development that was making people unhappy. I did not notice that her hands clasped a small bible, but even if I had, I would have said yes anyway.
“Do you believe that all the suffering in the world is caused by God?” she asked. To which my unconsidered response was “No, I do not believe that. I’m a non-believer,” and as the pained look spread across her face I said, “I hope you have a good day.” Then she got back into the car her friend was waiting in, and they drove away.
The exchange took perhaps only one or two minutes, and as they left I realized how inadequate my response was – for it is not true that I am a non-believer. I do believe in the miracle of science, the capacity for humans to change themselves, the wonder of natural beauty, and the tenacity of life struggling to survive this time and place. And more to the point I have faith – faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, that mostly we will continue to do our best to fix things, that I will find the strength to exist even in times of great suffering, that my love – though physically finite – reverberates through the people with whom I connect.
I sold myself short by saying “I don’t believe,” when really I meant, “I don’t believe in God”. I don’t believe in a world controlled by an entity. I don’t believe in the limitations set forth in the books of any religion. But that’s such a small part of what there is – I would rather be understood as turning toward instead of turning away from.
Yesterday I had to go the hospital for my (now) annual thyroid ultrasound. Readers of this blog will know that there was a little thyroid cancer scare over here a few years ago which turned out to be not much more than benign growths, but I have a cautious doctor and so I am on a regular check-in schedule just to make really, really sure that there is nothing to be worried about.
ANYhow….. I left work at lunchtime and went to the gym, and then took the bus up Burrard Street to the hospital. Somewhere between leaving the gym and going into the hotel next door to grab a coffee, I was seized with a great and loving feeling. The substance of that feeling was something along the lines of how grateful I felt to be going to the hospital, where I would get care and attention; how impressed I was that inside the huge city system in which I live, that I could be singled out for assistance; how full of great feeling I was that I existed inside a network where people cared for one another and willingly took jobs in helping professions.
It was a feeling I’ve had before, but usually brought on by the nostalgia of music or the largess of art and performance, sometimes by the tremendous courage of people in struggle – but never triggered by the function of a public institution. I’m pretty sure my feeling was just welling up there on its own, and I happened to notice it long enough to direct it towards the thing next in front of me.
On previous visits to the hospital I have been a fear machine, an anger machine, a pain machine – which are the conditions in which many of us end up needing hospital care – as suffering machines. But yesterday I got to experience St. Paul’s as a loving machine. Which was pretty awesome because I went into my appointment super-relaxed after having eaten a macaron cookie and chatting up several hospital staff. My technician showed me all the pictures from before and told me that nothing had changed for the worse (which they aren’t supposed to, but she did anyway).
I walked out of the hospital and through the downtown with a feeling of total weightlessness. I went to a bookstore and talked to a clerk. I had nice words with the bus driver who drove me home. I put some thought into last night’s meditation group and offered up something useful (I hope) and then I came back into the house to find out that the province of Alberta is a better place than I had previously predicted. I listened to Notley’s acceptance speech and nearly cried when she mentioned Alberta First Nations.
This morning I told my partner that we were both loving machines with a place on our dial just for each other – and as silly as that sounds, I meant it – because we cultivate love every day in a million small ways and are conscious about doing that. It’s the reason I live with much greater equanimity now than I did eight years ago – because together, my husband and I have rewired our dials* so that we have more settings for love and less for fear, cynicism, and anger. It’s the reason that when I get surges of positive feeling, I no longer shove them down in order to maintain my steady state of outrage, but I bring them up into the light and turn them this way and that to get a better look.
Going to the hospital yesterday reminded me that we are all loving machines, and that it is possible to cultivate those feelings towards even the most impersonal of institutions – in my case, a large hospital in a big city on a busy afternoon. We do not need to seek perfection in order to feel good, and once we make that happen in ourselves we take it out into the rest of the world with us.
* Partner interactions have the capacity to rewire the brain of the other – couples literally rewire each other through the neuroplastic responses to stimulus. This goes both ways – we can create more shared joy and a stronger sense of secure connection, but just as easily we can co-create a more distrustful and angry pattern. How we communicate directly impacts the wiring patterns in the brain of our significant other. John Gottman talks about this in his work, but it is also covered in the brilliant text A General Theory of Love.
I’ve just finished my first meditation retreat of any length (and by that, I mean more than half a day) – a non-residential two-day sit out at UBC lead by Norman Fischer and hosted by my zendo – which was a really interesting experience in that all the cliches about longer sits turn out to be true. It is an oddly emotional experience, physically very challenging, and you come to the end of it with great feelings of admiration and positivity for the people who meditate on either side of you, even though you pretty much don’t interact with them. I think Saturday felt like the longest day of my life (the retreat went from 9-9 on that day) – and I definitely struggled with my own process, doubts about whether I should be there and so forth – but by the close on Sunday I was excited about the prospect about future/longer retreats.
Meditation is a lot like going to the gym: it’s sometimes a struggle to get there, but you always feel better for having done it; the changes are incremental but noticeable; once you start doing it, there is a momentum to keep at it. I suppose that really meditation is a lot like anything that requires some work and discipline – it’s a bit of a tough haul, but it wouldn’t be worth doing if it wasn’t.
Which is really how this relates to being a fitness update I suppose – because I’m taking a little stock after 8 weeks back at the gym, watching my food intake, and keeping my alcohol to a minimum – and even though I’ve got a long way to go to achieve my total weight loss goal (forty pounds), I’m pretty happy with where I am right now. In all, I’ve lost about ten pounds (I say about because it fluctuates and it also depends where I count my start weight from), but even better – I’ve lost four inches from my waist, my hips and my bust. That four inches on the waist in particular took me back down to a healthier waist circumference (I’m out of the higher risk zone for developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease) – which is a nice little health milestone. Also, when I go to the gym and lift weights, I’ve got muscles that appear! Plus everything else feels better, I have more energy and feel generally a lot more positive about myself than I was during the winter.
So hooray for sitting, and moving, and all the states in between!
On Wednesday evening, just after supper, I was at home alone working on this wee meditation pillow when my shed was broken into from the back alley side. I know that it happened after I got home because I had taken the garbage out when I returned from work, then made dinner and then settled into my sewing room. My neighbour from across the alley knocked on my door at 8:30 to tell me that the shed door was open. When I went outside to check two things were apparent: 1) the handle was still locked, as though the door was forced, and 2) the mitre saw I borrowed from one of our land-partners was gone.
I had a moment of distress and not knowing what to do – but then I closed the shed, made sure the studio was also locked, went in the house and called the police (I normally wouldn’t call over something that small – but I wanted it recorded for insurance). Then, as I waited for an officer to return the phone call I returned to finishing the pillow. After nine, I started working on piecing a quilt for my daughter’s graduation/moving into residence gift – figuring that it was unlikely that I was going to hear back from the VPD at all. At ten, an officer called me and was outside of my house – he came through and took a look at the shed, showed me how it had been forced and said “lots of break-ins around here, but for the record, very little violent crime – get a deadbolt”). It was a simple transaction, I got my file number, and at some point I need to call it into our insurance company. The officer seemed apologetic that there wasn’t much to be done – but as we both knew, that saw was already on its way to the scrap metal yard across the bridge.
My partner is away for work, Wednesday was his first night gone, and I was surprised at how un-upsetting the whole thing was, despite the fact I was alone and had to deal with the interruption on my own. I let the neighbours know, made sure the house, studio and car were locked up tight, and I went right back to what I was working on. I’m going to have to replace that saw and that annoys me, and a deadbolt will get put on the door – but otherwise? A small event, incongruous with my calm and quiet evening, but still nothing to get upset about.
In a world with so much heartbreak, so much disconnect and suffering and rage, it is we can do to just be alive – to be present, to connect, and to attend each moment as though it were our only one.
I haven’t been making much lately – too busy with exercise and other things, not feeling obsessively inspired – it happens sometimes, you just get bored with all the things that you can do…. but recently I ordered this book and it’s got me all amped up to learn some more embroidery! Needlework is something I’ve done varied amounts of – counted cross stitch was the first craft I ever taught myself (right before I learned to make jam for the first time) – but I’ve done only small bits of freehand embroidery, little more than experimenting with a few stitches. Not long ago, I came across Mary Corbet’s Needle N’ Thread website and was completely blown away by this project in particular. It got me looking at embroidery/needlework books and projects again which is how I came to be in possession of Naoko Shimoda’s book late last week – the design on the front cover of the book is especially tantalizing me, but many of her bag projects are both straight forward and stunning (such is the way with Japanese textiles). In any case, I am inspired to learn basic (really basic) embroidery so I can make one or two of Shimoda’s projects and so I spent the weekend practicing my stem stitch (above). I am currently working on small project number two in order to practice some other stitches and get some more comfort with the various techniques that the work in Artfully Embroidered calls for. This is not to say that I have ceased my other making activities – I’ve got a quilt that needs quilting, another quilt top which needs sewing and innumerable other unfinished objects which need some love right now. I’m hopeful that there will be time in the near future – though this month is a bit packed!