Sunday, June 30, 2013

One From the Road

It is a quiet Sunday here in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.  It is a holiday weekend here in Canada but something tells me that many Sundays are pretty quiet in Sault Ste. Marie.

Fin and I started our westward journey on Thursday evening.  We made good time to the ferry line-up with winds diminishing as we got closer to Port aux Basques.  When does that ever happen?  To keep things even, Marine Atlantic did change the vessel we were to sail on a couple days before we left so it was touch and go about whether we had still a cabin reserved.  You know, they like to keep their passengers on their toes!  One does get rather complacent when one starts hitting numbers like 26, or was it 27, crossings.  (Upon hearing of this number of crossings, Shawn's response was to say, "maybe you need to decide where you live."  One hates that kind of insightful comment!)

In any case, with an eye on the flaccid windsock and joy in our hearts, we made a peaceful 26th (or 27th) crossing before whisking our way to Quebec City, a mere 14 short hours of driving in heavy rain and wind later.  Instead of collapsing gratefully on our beds upon arrival, we discovered that there was a glitch with our airbnb reservation that left us stranded outside the place we were to stay and no way of communicating with the owner.  Will you think less of me if I told you that I cried some bitter tears at that moment?  I hope not.  We then whisked ourselves a little further on and found another place to stay.  It could have been Saddam Hussein's spider hole for all I was dry, no wind entered it and it contained a horizonal surface; two, in fact.  In other words, it was perfect.

Fin abandoned ship in Montreal - flying to NYC.  For some reason, he found the idea of being among his friends in a large cosmopolitan city more compelling than living in a small house in a small town on a remote island with his mother and sister.  Kids!  They're crazy that way.

If you are doing some quick math in your head, the answer is yes.  I am solo for the remainder of this trip.  A very strange situation!  One hopes to make the most of it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Enough Already with the Tent

After solving the impenetrable problem of how to make a tent frame, I needed to set to work to stitch the tent itself.  So I put the sewing machine I borrowed from Colette (with her permission of course) on the kitchen table to get ready to sew.  Then I remembered that it was a hilarious joke to think that I could just put out a sewing machine and expect it to immediately work like a charm.  When has that ever worked?  The answer to that question is: never.  And so it was.

If you think I am just being a wise guy or a complainer, let me assure that everyone I spoke to about this situation who owned a sewing machine (ok, it was only two people, but two people who sew a lot) laughed before I even finished my story.  Sewing machines don't just automatically allow you to "sew" on them.  They want to extract their pound of flesh and then, maybe, you can sew on them.  So, I fiddled with Colette's machine, noting that it was a cheap, plastic machine that she clearly had bought at Zellers before they went out of business.  As time wore on, it became clear that no amount of flesh would be enough to satisfy this particular piece of equipment.  Maybe it had esteem issues because I kept pointing out what a cheap piece of plastic ---- it was.  Or maybe it was just a cheap piece of plastic -----.  In any case, I soon was calling another friend who I knew must own a machine.

An hour later, I had a new machine on the kitchen table.  This one (made of metal, not plastic) seemed more promising.  Sure, it still wanted its pound of flesh but, once extracted, it worked like a charm.  I sent many loving looks its way and spoke in a kind whisper in its presence.  Only loving vibrations were allowed to drift over it and it responded in kind.

I am loving the crisp folds of this fabric!  So satisfying to iron and sew.

I made a new top for the frame (the water proof one will be for rain only) out of the fabric that came from the US.  It did finally arrive and I was glad to have it on hand since the frame I found is larger than I originally planned.  For the sides, I decided to hang panels of the glorious cotton/linen fabric that I purchased in Stephenville.  I made some tabs to attach them to the frame.  This process gave me flashbacks of a job I had working in a high-end drapery workroom in Boston in the early 1990s.  We stitched mostly by hand using the most gorgeous and expensive fabrics - some curtains cost upwards in $10,000, which is ridiculous and obscene but we all loved making them if that counts for anything.  It was a great job and I learned a lot about sewing.  It set the bar rather high, however.  One thing I vividly remember is how we would machine stitch tabs for curtains.  We always did both sides, like this:

Please ignore my crooked stitching - it was my first pass of the day.
Oh, how we mocked the hapless home stitcher who would only sew up one side of a tab.  I think our favourite term for it was "tacky" or maybe "cheesy".

Now I are one.
I knew I was doing wrong but the descent into cheesy tackiness is steep and swift, and frankly, swiftness was what I was after.  Say what you will but I had those tabs done and was stitching up the top and bottom hems of the panels before 10 am.

And by the time I needed to leave to teach yoga, I was able to do a dry run.  I think it looks lovely.  The banner across the entrance will be embroidered with the words, "We want our utopia now," which is a quote from Sinclair Lewis.

Minky realized that it had been created for her immediately.  In Saskatoon, the floor will be covered with a cloth as well.  People will wash their feet before entering with - guess! - the soap made from potash. all falls into place.

The cross stitch pieces will be part of the treasure hunt (or colour xeroxes of them will be).  The originals will hang in the tent.

T'is a very pretty thing.  And I am so happy it is finished.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Story of a Tent (and a Teenager)

For about a month now, I have been working on the technical details of how to build a tent.  Actually, it has been longer than a month because I started researching it back in New York.  I thought about buying special tent angles - the connectors for the poles - but they were very expensive.  In fact, everything about it was expensive.  Finally, I settled on the PVC pipe idea.

As I mentioned in my previous post, it has been a challenge to find enough of the required materials here.  If I find enough pipe in one size, I can't find the connectors.  If I have the connectors, I can't find the pipe.  My attempts to blend two sizes or types have failed.  In fact, as I laid everything out this afternoon and tried to assemble it, it became undeniably clear that, even with copious duct tape, this was not working.  I had visions of people sitting in the tent in Saskatoon when a gentle breeze causes it to collapse on them.  I really didn't want my margin for error to be determined by duct tape, but even that prospect was melting away in the face of cold, hard PVC reality.

My mind was in overdrive - how to do this?  Rope?  Poles from another tent we have?  Finally, I called Fin into it.  He has a gift of being able to look at something and figure out how it goes together.  He denies that this is a special gift but, as I pointed out, I am prime example #1 of someone without it, so you know, don't knock it.  He managed to assess the current situation and declare it pointless - it wasn't going to work.  He then looked over the various pieces of my other two attempts and created a list of what would be needed to make either of them work.  Either way, we needed to go to Canadian Tire.

Not surprisingly, Canadian Tire did not have enough of either size pipe to allow us to make the tent frame.  It was with a deep sense of doom and gloom that we made our way to the exit.  Then I decided to take a look at their tents just to see if any of them might be usable as a frame.  Lest you think I am a total idiot - I did consider this idea early on and dismissed it as too expensive and not giving me what I wanted in shape and size.

But clearly I had not been to Canadian Tire.  For, lo...

Exactly what I needed...a perfectly sized, stable frame that is easy to transport, set up and take down, and it is easily adaptable to my purposes.  Also, it has a water-proof roof in case of rain.

I think I heard the angels singing right there in the camping supply section!

Special thanks to Fin for taking up this challenge and putting up with seeing the big picture.  And for being amusing about it along the way.  It just might be his superpower.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Not Even Looking...

The "T.M." stands for Toni Morrison.

Did a bit of self-promotion for the Saskatoon project yesterday, which is always fun because it means I hear back from people who I love to hear from as a result.  And I did!  I also had a bit of a holy sh*t moment when I realized that I leave in a week and I shall we say...a LOT to finish before then.  So I have entered the head-down phase of the project.

I have been having trouble with the tent part.  I just can't seem to find the right thing to make the structure and resources are limited here so my options are limited.  I have settled on PVC pipe and connectors, but in true Corner Brook fashion (or what I think of as Corner Brook fashion) (sorry Corner Brook), nothing quite fits and it isn't exactly what I want and I have to make all sorts of weird adjustments to get what I want and the percentage of my thoughts about it that include "I hope the whole thing doesn't fall down in the middle of it all" is just a little too high for my liking.  But the Rubicon has been crossed and I am left with my hopes that it isn't so clap-trap as to be embarrassing.

And so...back to work!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Waving From Here

Peeping into Colette's house, Meadows I.

After the wild winds of Sunday, the bay settled down yesterday to be mirror-smooth.  Hard to believe it is the same body of water, but isn't this the same for everyone and everything?  Turmoil and calm.  The question is, are you riding the wave or drowning in it?  Or maybe, do you really think you are anything but the wave?  Yes, that seems about right.

I poked around Colette's two houses in Meadows, which is the town right next to where I live.  She owns two of the oldest homes on the Bay of Islands - both were built in the late nineteenth century.  The first one, which she called Meadows I, was a tumble-down shack when she found it.  She and a friend fixed it up to be exactly beautiful.  It has no electricity, insulation or heat other than the woodstove.  It is absolutely perfect.  This house will stay as it is under the care of her friend.

The other house, the guest house, is still for sale.  I was poking around because *gulp* I am thinking of taking it over.  There are a host of reasons why this is a good idea and a host of reasons why this is a terrible idea.  But I am "looking into it" as they say.

Fin asked me, in this way that he increasingly has of being deeply insightful, "Would you even be considering this if it didn't belong to Colette?"   The answer is, of course, no.  But no answers are so very easy to come by.   It's the yes answers that interest me.

Again, I will ask you, are you riding the wave or drowning in it?  Or are you the wave?


Here is a link to Colette's obituary in today's local paper.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

For Colette

November 2011.  Photo by Olive Murphy.
At 8:45 am on Sunday, a huge thunderclap was heard in the Bay of Islands and a surprise hailstorm began.  At that same moment, Colette released her last exhale.  It was only fitting that the heavens should make such a commotion.  Was it a cry of great sadness for what was being lost to this earth?  Or a celebration of all that had come into being during her short time here?

It is impossible to know the depth of Colette's influence on the many, many lives she touched as an artist, teacher, sister, daughter.  I do know that she has been inspiring and encouraging me for over a decade in ways that I can and can not express.  Her sister spoke of how surprised both she and Colette were to see such an outpouring of love when the news got around that she was sick.  It made me sad to think that this could come as a surprise because, while Colette had her share of difficulties in this rough world of ours, she was, as one friend put it, a ten-foot tall YES that came around just when we needed it most.

I had the good fortune to be able to spend time with her almost every other day this past month as her illness took its final form.  This I can say:  she was giving until her last breath.

I miss her so much already.

Thank you, Colette, for everything.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Second Time's A Charm

The clock was seriously ticking on my soap making endeavours.  Soap made with lye needs to cure several weeks before it can be used or it will burn your skin, which is not exactly what one wishes for when looking to be clean.  So I made my do-or-die batch.

First, I decided to skip the high falutin' olive oil and go 100% traditional.  Pure lard.  Or saindoux for the French speakers among us.  It was worth buying this if only for the look on Fin's face when he saw it on the kitchen counter.  "Mom, you know this made from animals, right?"  Whaaa?  I looked all innocent.  A day later..."Mom, you know that lard is animal fat, right?"  I like to think there was a protective note of concern in his voice.

In the end, however, I couldn't bear to use the lard.  It's made from animal fat you know!  So I checked and rechecked the various recipes found online until I found the absolute best thing - the Lye Calculator.  Indie rockers take note: best band name EVER!  My new BFF, the Lye Calculator, had all sorts of fat options for soap making and it encouraged me to set aside my box of lard.  I used a combination of coconut oil, sunflower oil, and yes, that right fancy olive oil.

BUT - and here is where everything changed - I also used (ahem) a scale and a kitchen thermometer.  Funny how different things go with chemical reactions when you measure the ingredients.  Somebody alert the scientists!

See?  Here I am actually taking the temperature of the all the oils (they need to be between 90 -100F).  Just prior to this photograph I could be seen measuring the weight of said oils and of said lye.  I know, I know, crazy talk but I did it nonetheless.

Further, I followed blogless Janine's advice and slooowly added the oil to the water/lye solution (which also was at the proper temperature).  This looks a little more like whatever it is supposed to look like!  No weird curdle-y things.  The idea is that you achieve a process called saponification.  My mixture was still not looking exactly like what the recipes said it would look like, but I poured it into the mold anyway and crossed my fingers.  When I checked on it later that evening, it still wasn't looking textbook perfect so I was ready for another caustic disaster.  (Second note to indie rockers - hello?  Caustic Disaster?  Great band name!)

But yesterday morning...

We have achieved soap!  Saponification rules!  Those little beads of liquid on the surface are lye that is leaching out of the soap, which is something that is supposed to happen.

And there they are - my first ever bars of soap.  I had even taken the liberty of adding some lemon essential oil to the mixture so they have a lovely citrus smell to them.  They will cure on the rack until it is time to head to Saskatoon.  And then they will cure in the car.  I hope they will be ready for use when the festival begins.  It is definitely not my goal to have people contemplating utopia while scorching their feet with caustic soap.  At least not for this project.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Epic Fail

If I was able to share a small victory yesterday, today must be given over to my epic fail.  Failure is not a word that I use often.  Things are all so relative and every experience is valuable in its own way and for more along these lines, please view Free To Be You and Me as soon as possible.

But this, darlings, is what failure looks like.

My very precious and rare jar of potash arrived.

So, that's potash...who would have guessed?
I assembled all my materials and consulted and re-consulted the instructions I found via the interwebs.  Note the big bottle of vinegar.  Potash is very alkaline and, once mixed with the water, it will be extremely corrosive.  The vinegar was on hand to neutralize it should any splash onto bare flesh.  The mere thought of it, right?

You can see that I was all optimistic and prepared for a helpful "how-to" blog post here.
I warmed the water and gently added the potash.  A chemical reaction happened with lots of heat and poisonous vapours.  It was very exciting!  Then it was time to add the fat.  One can use lard or Crisco but I chose olive oil.  You know, bump it up a notch.

Whaa-whaaaa.  Here it is - the moment when it all heads south.  After a consult with the blogless Janine, who (of course) makes soap all the time from both her own goat's milk and lard that she renders herself, I realized I made every mistake.  This seems to be a pattern for me.  I heated the potash solution too high.  I added the fat too quickly and I stirred it too much.  That yellowish stuff should not be there. Yet, I persisted.  I added the salt and hoped upon hope that it would miraculously heal itself.

A day later and the miracle cure did not happen.  I tried to reclaim it following Janine's advice but it never really jelled.  I did get something that seemed vaguely soap-like if you squinted and I attempted to put this into the pan I had ready to be a mold.  And that is when exciting chemical reaction #2 occurred. This one, however, was unplanned and sent me running to my bottle of vinegar.  Whoa.  A healthy, new respect for the alkaline.

I have one more chance to make a fresh batch and then my potash supply and time allotted will be finished (the soap needs to cure for a good, long while).  Since there are no guarantees in life, I did what any quick thinking artist would do - hello, etsy?  Fortunately, there are plenty of people out there who have made all their mistakes and now create beautiful bars of traditional soap for sale.  Just as a back-up, mind you.

To soften the blow, Lucy made delicious cupcakes.

And a neighbor brought us over a sample of each of his jellies and jams.  I made the mistake (or perhaps the clever calculation) of mentioning to him that we had no jelly last year and how it felt criminal to actually pay money for it in a store.  The next day, there he was with a bag of his finest.

It is a balm.  It strengthens one, you know, before reaching for that next jar of potash.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The Doctor's Nose

Work on the project for Saskatoon continues apace, with some highs and some lows.  Let's start with the highs.

I am making a set of four cross stitch pieces as part of the treasure hunt component of the project - one for each location.  Each one will have a quotation about either temperance or utopia on it.  I finished the first one last night.  I suspect the others will go more quickly because I needed to make every mistake with this first one - it has been at least 30 years since the last time I did a cross stitch piece so I am a little out of practice.  

Once I got over the initial "I can't do this!" stage (and put on my glasses), it went surprisingly fast and was surprisingly satisfying.  I know I still did all sorts of no-no's, like I think you are supposed to always cross each stitch in the same direction or something...anyway...I didn't do that.  But I begin to see why you might want to do that, so that's a good thing, right?

The little kit that I made up so I could carry the project around with me is lighter than my knitting project, so it was fun to bring it along.  One morning I went over to Colette's farm in McIvers to use her washing machine.  I was washing the cotton piece to go under the cutwork silk piece of her shroud.  Full confession:  I also did a load of darks.  The morning was glorious and the farm was sparkling.  It was so quiet, yet so alive.  So full of Colette's energy yet she was so noticeably absent.

Beats sitting in a laundromat.

Looking in one of the barns.

With a flash - can you see it?

So here it is:  my first ever cross stitch.  I know, I know, it really needs some decorative work around the edges but I think I will do the text first on all the pieces and see how much time I have left for extras.  I still need to do whatever finishing one does with cross stitch - wash and iron it?  And I am not sure if I will frame them or what exactly.  It's all still a bit fluid, if you know what I mean.

And what of the low's that I spoke of earlier?  Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

We Are All Sensitive People

There is nothing wrong with me loving you, baby, if the love is true...

It's been such a long time, baby.  Too long, if you know what I mean.  When I first saw you again after all those months - or has it been years? - it all came rushing back to me.  The hours we spent together, just you and me.  The way we moved together: two became one.

Time stood still for me last night, sugar.  I know you know what I am talking about.  You felt it.  I could tell.  We are together now and the magic is still there.  Let's stay together, baby.  Let's get it on!

Friday, June 07, 2013

Burial Shroud in Salvage, NL

As I had hoped, my post about making the shroud for Colette sparked a little discussion about the tradition itself.  The shroud that was the inspiration for Colette's is in a little, private museum in Salvage, Newfoundland.  It was first spotted by Shawn of Island Sweet.  She brought it to the attention of Barb Hunt, who is an artist and an expert on homemade memorials, like roadside markers where accidents have occurred, but with a special intersest in textiles.  This was right up her alley.

Barb has done a good bit of research on Newfoundland burial shrouds.   She took these photos of the one in Salvage.

Photograph by Barb Hunt

Photograph by Barb Hunt

Here is what Barb told me in an email:

Here are a couple of pictures of the only one I've been able to find. (And I've looked all over and in museums in Ireland and England.) The cutting is near the top, where it would cover the face. It imitates lace which was what the rich in England would use, so I love the Newfoundland practice of making-do with an old bed sheet. (The lace allowed those at the wake to see the face, but in a more muted way.) 

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Let the Work Begin

It has been raining for days.  While I do love rain, I also have laundry to do, so a sunny day here and there is most welcome.  Yesterday evening, a strange and brilliant object appeared in the sky, blinding all who turned their eager faces toward it.  Could it be?

It was!

The plus side of rainy days is that there is no pressure to do yard work or gardening.  These are hardly chores but I do feel their tug when the sun is out and I am inside working.  No worries about that lately.  This situation has allowed me, ever, ever so slowly, to assemble most of what I need for my Transcending Potash project.  I am making some cross stitch pieces with quotes about uptopia and temperance on them.  I will put these out on the street only for a photo-op.  For the treasure hunt, I will make colour copies of them as the base for larger posters.  I know I could just computer generate the whole thing, but....what fun is that?

I also finally purchased the fabric for the tent.  Actually, I purchased it twice.  I found this fabric in a very old-fashioned department store in Stephenville a couple of weeks ago (you know the kind of department store that still has a fabric department).  I thought to myself then that it would be perfect for the tent, and then I didn't buy it.  What, you may ask, was I thinking?  Argh, I have no idea.  Shoulda, woulda, coulda.  But life is full of second chances and so it was with this fabric, which is 50/50 cotton and linen.  It is perfect and I love it.

But how did I purchase it twice?  After not buying it the first time I saw it, I promptly came home and ordered fabric online.  This fabric, which I was not even convinced would be correct for the project, is coming from the US.  I should have known it was ill-fated when it didn't get shipped for a week - they lost my order.  Now it is on the way but who knows when it will arrive.  It has to get through customs and then actually find its way here.  You might think we live in the 21st Century but if you are mail ordering things from the US to rural Newfoundland, let me assure you, we do not.

I am certain it will be equally complicated, if not more, to return it so I think it is safe to say that I will have a surplus of white fabric on hand with which to make my next project.  Actually, now that I think of it....

Monday, June 03, 2013

A Night to Remember

Saturday night was Prom Night in Gillams.  On Wednesday, Lucy and her friend shouted at me from our front porch while I worked in the yard that she was going to the prom.  I'm afraid my reply won't be putting me in the running for Best Mother of the Year.  I said, "what do I have to do?"

Lucy may never allow me to forget that, especially since the response of her friend's mom was to find a dress for her (in red satin, no less!) and generally be very, very excited and happy.  I did my honest best to keep my opinions to myself because this was Lucy's thing and, somehow (I wonder?), she already knew what I was thinking.  She gave me a look that said, "just please, this once, be normal."  Goodness knows I try!

Fast forward to Saturday.  The dress was altered to fit Lucy, a floral arrangement was purchased for the lucky lad who was to be her "date".  Shoes, hair, jewelry, rides, photographs - all was organized and complete.

It was a scene, alright.  Even the parents got dressed up to take the requisite photographs, except for me of course because I was so far out of my depth it was not even a question.  But it did allow me to take some more photographs of people talking photographs.

May I point out here that it was about 5C/40F with a stiff breeze off the water on Saturday evening.  I was wearing my winter coat and I was still cold.  But for 14 year old girls in their first semi-formal wear, my dear, nothing would induce them to cover up.

I am including this one only because it reveals a clever and brilliant way of using trash bags as prom decoration.  Hey - you gotta use what you have!

And this one because it is just so wonderful and mysterious.  How much data collection about cleaning supplies can the town require?  Apparently, the answer is:  a lot.

In case you were wondering...Lucy looked beautiful, had a nice time and, with no prompting from me (I swear!), saw into a good deal of the comedy and tragedy of the event.  The apple, even a red, satin one, doesn't fall far from the tree.