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Post #3022: Doing the unexpected, cabinet building edition

If summertime is about beautiful backdrops, mini-adventures, and unexpected projects – summer is definitely going full force in my life at the moment. After getting ourselves mostly moved in and arranged at the new house, I took the last week and a bit off work to do a four day meditation retreat just outside of Squamish, and then spent a week at our Link Lake cabin. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, but we’re back at home for a bit, just in time to host our housewarming this weekend!

One thing that I got a chance to reflect on at the cabin was how much work can feel like play when you’re hammering away on something that you have an interest in doing. Case in point: sanding drywall (yuck, boring) versus building a new outdoor kitchen cabinet out of scrap lumber and a donated sink (so much fun! and look at the above photo for proof that we did it!)

As the weather was a bit meh up in Princeton area this last week, it was perfect (as in – not too hot) for small building projects. While Brian started out with a bit of taping and mudding of the drywall, by the end of the week, these cabinets were our real pride and joy – especially since neither of us have much experience building anything except last year’s woodshed.

But necessity *is* the mother of invention – and I was tired of doing dishes stooped over a small table inside – so we devised a three frame solution that worked to create cabinets and counterspace, in addition to holding up a 60 pound cast iron sink. It was a little tricky in spots (that sink is one *tight* fit) – but overall, we had quite a bit of fun figuring it out and doing it.

There’s some finishing work that will happen when we are back in August (staining, cabinet pulls, etc) but we’ve already been using this very functional piece of woodwork and are definitely figuring our next co-build.

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Post #3021: Letting go of the Lady B.

On Saturday evening, we sent bottles to sea at Mile Zero – full of notes and wishes for our friend Bronwyn who died a little more than three weeks ago in Berlin. I haven’t written about this yet because I’ve not been sure what to say – my circle of girlfriends from teenagehood are much more like family than any cousins I have – her absence has been a ragged hole for some time. For though she left us only recently, she has been disappearing bit by bit into addiction for the last few of years.

I confess now that the last time she was in town, I refused to see her and offered her money for a hotel room instead. I was distressed when I spent time with her, and so I had chosen (on what turned out to be her last visit) not to do so.

At the memorial I spoke something that was true to me – and that is that as a woman alone, facing addiction, after a lifetime of living on little money – old age was going to be very unkind to our friend, and even at our middle age it had become clear that she was living with a lot of physical and psychic pain. I worried about her often, even though I found our interactions difficult and m/s/addening for most of the time that we knew each other. Even when we were younger and she was much healthier – maintaining a friendship was a struggle, it was intermittent – though in the moments when it was on, it was totally golden. She was like that – charming, and frustrating, and brilliant, and insulting all at once.

I’ve been unpacking these last two weeks, in the wake of this death, and it’s hard to escape the fact that even though Bronwyn and I rarely lived in the same city – my life is littered with things that she mailed me, made for me, artwork she sold me, notes that she left on my kitchen tables. She built the bookshelves that now grace our music studio, the ring in my nose that she pierced when we were nineteen. It’s amazing to me that someone who I felt I could never get close to, left so many fingerprints all over my life. It makes me realize how present she was – even in her long absences from Canada and from our friendship.

When we were younger, I wished I could be like her – the brilliant parts, the relentlessly creative and charming parts. But as we grew older I saw that the other side of that was a kind of distress, and disappointment in other people that could find no salve. For as bright a light can be, its shadow side will be equally dark – and she struggled under the weight of this all of our lives.

I don’t regret that I didn’t see her on the last visit to Vancouver because I know  we would have argued with each other as we had been doing. I couldn’t give her what she wanted, and I was far too boring for her, and I wanted her to take responsibility for her health and get some help and on and on and on.  On the other hand, I am deeply grateful that I reached out to her in April in order to send her some film she had left in my home – and that we had an exchange that was much more careful of one another.

I am going to close this post with the last thing she wrote to me because it seems prescient even though it’s clear she felt the change she describes didn’t involve her. She saw the contours but missed the light – such is the haze in which we all find ourselves, I’m sure, near the end of our lives.

In the last few days, her voice has come to me quite strongly. I hear her in my head making commentary about my actions, I turn over notes from her among my things. When I read this final bit of writing to myself, I hear her intonation and volume. I realize how well I knew her, and how much I have missed and will continue to miss her vital, vibrant, presence.

From Bronwyn, April 4, 2016

I have been reading about a group of Hindu mystics that worship an especially violent manifestation of Shiva and dose themselves ritually and regularly with an alchemically refined form of mercury in order to achieve immortality thru transcendence of their addiction to time. Which makes a perfect kind of sense. The left hand path of god.

These are strange days, defined primarily by the absence of time and light and the comfort of other people. An endless night of dark dreams. I’m busy with the old gods- the anti-social and insane ones. Dangerous business no doubt, but an undeniable whimsy of the strange driver I’ve given over the wheel to.

Relinquishing control is never exactly easy or comfortable, and come to think of it- I don’t remember doing so actually, the where&when, like accidentally selling your soul to the devil, only to be surprised at some moment when he comes to collect.

Now, at this moment, I find myself here, in a dark corner of some messy and drunk bar, surrounded by what passes for my community, all these drunk monkeys.

Winter inundates itself into the fabric of reality. I am turning the dawn into a silver nimbus and folding these days into a filigree of ash. Fill my pockets with it, cover my skin in it, breathe and sleep and dream in it.

Silence and loss.

Like ships passing in the night- there is a sense of vast and depthless space surrounding this tiny island I am living on. Within these four walls time stops almost completely- it vibrates and hums like a violin string pulled taut, and before it breaks it’s tight resonance could break glass.

Nothing changes, but at the same time it is sure that the center cannot hold.

These days seem to crawl from some cthulian place, grey and murky, bending under the weight of
themselves. The fabric of the sky rends with the sound of old clothe ripping, and snow pours thru the cracks and fills the spaces between all things with the silver secret promise of transformation.

On the streets outside malignant forces are gathering- insurrection or the first days of war- it’s hard to tell in the beginning. Riot police gather on the corners like gangs of mean kids, at ease (for the moment), but making their presence impossible to ignore, full of the promise of ill intent, body armour and tear gas, cameras and malice clutched in tight fists. Clusters of black hooded figures drift and then dash into doorways, and the friction of these two opposing forces attempting to occupy the same physical and psychological space casts out sparks of energy, of diesel and intent, and all up the street things are catching fire, cars and dumpsters and abandoned christmas trees. All the streetlights on the Rigaerstr. have all been sabotaged, and the light at night is now the shifting dancing red light of fires climbing to the sky, the ashes dancing between flakes of falling snow.

Strange days for sure. A dangerous kinetic sense of possibility and change to come. I’m not a part of it, but it is all around me.

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Post #3020: Studio in progress

Or should I say – studio in disarray? As you can see from the photo above, things are a bit of a mess at the moment.

I returned yesterday afternoon from Bronwyn’s memorial in Victoria (more on that in a future post) with a seriously bad cold. I had driven down with it, thinking it would get better over the weekend – but the exact opposite happened and I’m home from work today feeling pretty sorry for myself. It’s one of those real congestion things – in the lungs, ears, nose – and everytime I try to do too much, I break out in a sweat and have to lie down.

But even so, I’m compelled today to slow work on getting the studio unpacked from boxes at least. I’m not moving fast, and I’m not engaging in any heavy lifting – so it’s feeling possible to shuffle things around despite the fact all I want to do is sleep. Have I mentioned that I have a great napping couch in my space now? Pictures of that once everything is tidied up again.

My studio is on the second floor of the garage/out-building – and as such, it feels very much like a treehouse for I am surrounded mid-tree height by branches and the sounds of birds. On a good day (when the person across the road isn’t weedeating, as they are at the moment), all I can hear from up here is the ocean and the birds. It’s a very compelling space – what with windows on all sides and a fresh white paint job – even though I am still totally in love with our new home, I find that today, all I want to do is sit in my messy studio rather than abandon my unpacking job entirely.

I’ll return to that now, the shedding of boxes. I feel that if I at least get everything out of boxes it will be organizable – I’ll be able to see where it all goes. While still hidden, my belongings become opaque to me and I can’t remember exactly what still has to come out in order to help me plan my space. I hope to have this project finished soon, for I have been quite unhappy not having access to my materials for the last few weeks.

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Post #3019: New house, new garden.

I feel like I haven’t done nearly enough photo posting about the new house yet – which I’ll rectify shortly – but the weather has been a bit overcast since our move which isn’t showing things to their best advantage. While I am really glad for the wetter weather (than predicted for June) because we now live on a drought-prone island – it’s made garden work and photos intermittent. Not to mention the fact we’re still getting sorted.

Although I told Brian when we were looking at houses that I did not want a large garden to maintain, I have to admit that I am a sucker for landscaped and food gardened homes – and on agreement that I could hire yard help when necessary, we ended up with a place that has a sizable amount of yard work. Fortunately, the garden bones are very good and it doesn’t seem to suffer from any pernicious weed infestations – plus it’s mostly native plants, and plants adapted to the PNW climate (never mind the huge palm like plant growing on the deck – that’s going to go at some point). There are a few garden boxes for veggies, and some overgrown herbs – but no food plants beyond that (save for a single young cherry tree).

As to be expected with a house on the market for a year, the gardens are all a bit neglected at this point. It’s hard when you are selling your house to put the  effort in to gardening, and I expect that last summer’s drought on the island didn’t help matters either. There are several plants that have severe drought damage, including some trees on the perimeter that are completely dead – and the veggie boxes are as hard as cement (they haven’t been gardened in some time).

But mostly what’s happening is the out of control shrubbery (pictured above, and that’s after I hacked away at it yesterday). Around our deck is a thick hedge of California lilac, which all but blocks the lower part of the yard, and is interspersed with some really out of control Skimmia (lots of it), Rhodos (all drought damaged), and ferns. While the greenery is quite striking, and drought tolerant (super appropriate),  it’s also a bit *much* and so I’m working away at it here and there. Like yesterday when I was working from home and took a fifteen minute break to descend into the bushes with the loppers, only to emerge, twigs in hair, with another bit of pruning complete. Or not – complete – because there’s no such thing when it comes to gardening – but done for the time being. As recommended by my friend Kyla I am trying to introduce arches between the lilacs and pathways in the skimmia so that at least the yard is reconnected (on the other side of these hedges are more neglected veggie boxes which probably got more sun at one time in their existence, and which I would like to grow greens and herbs in for now).

The nice thing about working on a garden that you didn’t build from scratch is that it’s incredibly easy to pull things out and hack them way down. Much easier than when you can remember how much this or that plant cost, or watching it grow from just a wee thing. One of the very first things Kyla and I did (mostly she did) was pull out a horrible vine plant on the front of the house that was both growing into the siding and killing everything else around it (think morning glory but with no flower and a single stalk) – a remarkably easy thing to do when you aren’t attached to having planted it, or made the choice to grow something so pernicious in the first place.  On the other hand, a new garden is one in which you don’t have to repeat the mistakes of your old garden (for the record – ornamental ivies are always a bad idea, also don’t just take any old raspberry cane from anyone, and make sure you don’t buy the cheap soil from lawn boy…..). While this garden already has a lot going on, there is also a lot that can still be developed and worked on (like more food plants!)

In the meantime I am working on uncovering the many sweet spots that just need a little trimming to reveal themselves – like this sitting rock in the front yard.

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Post #3018: A dusty cubicle is practice, paradise is practice

Gosh, change can be hard, can’t it? I mean, you tell yourself it’s all going to be fine and you get psyched up for it – but nothing quite prepares you for the surprises that come along the way. This week I am reminded so much of the zen adage that everything is an opportunity for practice.

The house we have moved into is wonderful. It is everything I hoped it would be, and more – there are lots of projects before us, but it is easily the loveliest home I have ever lived in, nestled in a wooded neighbourhood bathed in birdsong and not much other noise. The ocean is only steps away, and right below our place is a lovely and private cove that very few people ever set food on. My friend Kyla came last week and we spent our days lazily doing chores and making little trips around the island for supplies – learning more things about the island that make it a delight to be here. I am mid-way setting up my new textile studio where I long to get my hands back to the loom and sewing machine – and Brian has the music studio set up started in the double garage. In short, this place is perfect for us, and we anticipate that the community is the right fit also.

On the other hand, I started back at work this week in my new “office” space only to discover that I have essentially been assigned to sit in a large storage area full of old furniture, boxes of paper for shredding, and a bunch of garbage (literally, papers and old file boxes, and you name it – garbage). It has zero natural light, hookups that require cables to be strewn across the desktop (there is no way to put the ethernet cable underneath so it can be tidy, and I’m pretty sure that it’s got significant dust in the carpets because my asthma started up badly on the first day. Oh – and the chair they’ve given me to sit in has a huge tear in the side so the foam is spilling out.

Now, as much as I try to be all “anywhere will suit me fine” about such things – this does not suit me at all. In fact, it makes me rather upset – and I have been working with those feelings for the last couple of days. Mostly, I’ve come to realize, it’s a blow to the ego and I feel like I “deserve” better than a dusty, dark corner with a falling apart office chair. I feel I’ve suddenly lost “position” in my organization, and that I should get more respect for the work that I do. And I see that there is some resentment in having to seat me at all since I don’t “belong” in that office in the first place. I mean – the folks there are friendly as all get out – so there is that. But the space itself is unfriendly (to anyone, not just me – it’s a mean space).

Last night I was really wallowing during my long commute back to the ferry, and the fact that I had been feeling so ill-treated in my first two days working over here. Up until this point I have been telling myself that I couldn’t work at home, that I didn’t want to work at home, that I needed an office space to feel validated in the organization – and all these other things – and it was making me even more upset to feel this way and like there was no other option other than to return to working in Vancouver some days per week or some other untenable solution. And so my mind was going over and over all the problems with the arrangements and picking, as we do. Peck, peck, peck. Because even in paradise we can always make trouble. Amiright?

So I stopped myself. I just stopped myself mid-peck and decided that I would start practice, right there on the bus when I was tired and still 40 minutes from home. Focus on the breath, be present, notice the thoughts, allow the thoughts without getting caught up in them, and again. And again. Of course, that’s a secret trick of the Jedi-master and within minutes, possibly within one minute, I was out of the loop of ego, deserve, position, respect, belonging. Instead, I was just being on the bus. And then I was being at the terminal. And then I was being on the ferry, and at home where I cooked a great dinner, vacuumed the house with my new vacuum, and tidied up generally. I walked to the beach with the dog while the tide was high, and then I came home and watched the hummingbirds feed outside my windows at dusk.

I went to bed early with a sore throat, and woke this morning later than I had meant to – but still started work at my kitchen table very early (6:30) which put me in sync with my Ottawa colleagues, and allowed me to work at my most productive time, and also be finished in time to run errands. On my lunch break I watered the front garden and cut down some plants past flower for the compost pile. I looked up afternoon yoga classes on Wednesdays and discovered that there is a restorative yoga class just up the street from me at 4 pm – and thought, that’s something I could do when I work from home. I could bike up the hill afterwards to a yoga class. I bought plants at the nursery at 50% off and in a few minutes I’m going to go outside and plant them.

Essentially, I stopped being miserable about nothing and allowed myself a little bit of space to just be okay which let the next thing and the thing after that to also be okay. To be what it is. To not want it to be something else and thus the root of suffering, the ruin of paradise. Because really, a crappy office is about the smallest of life’s worries, especially when one isn’t actually required to be there very much (if at all) . Tomorrow I go to Vancouver for meetings, Friday I’ll work from home again – and that’s a week of full time work, only two days of it in the dusty corner.

Right now the hummingbirds are in heated battles outside my window for the last drops of nectar at the feeder. I never knew how territorial they could be. I’ve got some plants itching to be set out, and a dinner to cook for when Brian comes home from the city. I’m here, in the garden of eden, wanting for nothing really at all.

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Post #3017: Here I am.

In the past week I have landed, and re-landed, and landed again – and I have to admit that I am feeling turned inside out by the process.

We moved ten days ago, from Vancouver to Gabriola Island. Then on Friday we flew north to Bella Coola for a 2-day trip in order to witness the marriage of our friends Dayna and Ernie. Last night we got home and this morning I got on the ferry for my first commute into Nanaimo for work.

While our new home is beautiful, and work is not an issue in terms of the commute, my actual cubicle/office space is pretty awful and I’m working on either getting it changed or fixing it up. But in any case it’s a lot of changes all at once and I’m telling myself that it’s going to start to feel normal real soon. Just the fact that I’ve got my work access pass sorted out and bought a few office supplies helped a bit this morning.

But let me tell you that as discombobulated as I feel right at this moment, our new home is almost entirely set up and I absolutely love the location and the layout of our property. I’ll share photos and details in the next few days – tonight I get to unpack my studio space and then we’ll be pretty much done with the initial organizing of our selves. There is much gardening to do, and some small interior details to see to – but otherwise we’re pretty much there and it feels so good to be at home that I don’t like to have to leave it!

I’ll start posting here again regularly as we are settling into new routines and a new approach to living our lives.

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Post #3015: I have dropped off the face of the Internet it seems

I haven’t moved yet, but the prospect of moving in two weeks time has got me distracted from everything else. I am finishing old projects that have turned up, organizing my belongings, and getting rid of garbage one bag at a time. We have packers coming to do the big work of boxing it all up, but I’ve still got to sort out what needs to be taken, and what should be given away, recycled, composted, or trashed. 

While I feel that I have the moving part under control, I have to admit that I occasionally get a bit scared about moving to Gabriola. I’ve been pretty committed to urban living for a long time, and there’s a part of me that worries that I am not ready to go back to the country just yet. On the other hand, whenever we go out to our cabin in the woods (which we just did for five amazing days this past weekend) – I never want to leave, and re-entering the city feels like a big drag. And then when I imagine living steps from the sea, I get really excited. So – really, I’m feeling all the feelings. I have loved my home and my neighbourhood for a long time, I am also ready to move on from this house, but I don’t want to leave because leaving is change and change is who knows what next?

Right? Right. Moving residence is a thing I haven’t done for awhile – not since I came back from the Sunshine Coast nine years ago – and I am provoked by the reality of it. The hugeness of the undertaking. The smallness of its importance to anyone else but me.

I’m not sure if I’ll get to post much in the next couple of weeks – we’ll see. But if I don’t, rest assured that I am just gently freaking out as the days tick by and pretty soon it will all be done.

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Post #3014: Sunny gardens everywhere

Nitobe garden at UBC – so glorious right now (at least it was on Sunday when I took this picture during a break from meditation). I’ve been soaring on good feelings for the last couple of days, though as of this moment, I have nothing important to say – so enjoy this beautiful spot where I laid down and looked at the water.

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Post #3014: Four minutes of me

I’m learning how to record and edit myself for the purposes of podcasting. Last night after lots of ums, ahs, false starts, and the telephone ringing (the phone never rings around here normally!) I dropped into a bit of a reflection about the sound of my own voice. A little editing in GarageBand and it’s a nice little vignette (if I do say so myself). Interested in hearing four minutes of me? Press play below (and I won’t be offended if you don’t).


And yes, I could speak a bit slower – but the truth is, I probably won’t learn how to do it now after forty-three years – so let’s all try to listen a little faster, shall we?