Tale of two artists

Like most grandparents in Canada this year, I’ve given up seeing my grandchildren, Nathan, 9, and Avery, 7, in person since mid-March to reduce my odds of getting COVID-19.  

As a way to stay connected and feel useful, I’ve agreed to help with their learning while they cannot attend school. Each week, my son picks out an educational activity for each of them that lends itself to FaceTime conversation.

One week, Avery and I each undertook to make hearts to hang in our respective windows to say “Thank you” to essential workers.

Before the session, we collected art materials and a screen device to see each other and our respective works as they evolved. Avery set out a big sheet of plain paper and her markers at her kitchen table. I amassed coloured paper, scissors, magazines, and glue on my living room floor.

Avery decided to make a heart-shaped face. Every time she completed a section – a rainbow eyebrow, a heart-shaped eye, a flower nose, or a two-toned hair bow, she would show it to me.

Ah, I like the colour you chose for that!”

“Thank you.”

Every time I cut out a heart of a different colour, Avery would ask to see it.

“I like this one better than the one you just showed me.”

“Yes, me too.”

And so it went.

At the end of an hour, Avery had completed her masterpiece and was ready to hang it proudly for her mother, an essential worker, to see when she got home.

I had a lot of scraps and a pile of paper hearts of various sizes. The majority of them were green because the few magazines I could find focused on plants. I also had lot of misgivings about how I should arrange my hearts

For most of the following week, my project lingered on my living room floor. I made small tweaks each time I passed and waited for the sense it was “done”. Several musings about colour theory, experimentation with balance, and additional magazines and hearts later, I had a composition I was ready to glue into position.

I’m happy with it, but it lacks the joyfulness of Avery’s.

I’ve read a research finding that disturbs me. “The confidence of girls starts to plummet when they turn eight.”



Nostalgia junkie: Part 1

Maybe it’s only me, but this pandemic pause has created a steeply rising curve in the number of times per day I reminisce.

Here’s the first moment of nostalgia I’d like to share with you.

The pre-pandemic version of me continued to evolve as a socially- and environmentally-conscious consumer. When I needed a cleaning product, for example, I studied brand names and labels for key words like eco, green, safe, etc. If it was locally made and/or fairly traded, or sold in recycled, recyclable, and refillable containers, all the better.

All of a sudden, I’m a “grab and go” shopper.  

Last week, my grocery list included rubbing alcohol to use as a disinfectant. The store was out of stock, but my eyes landed on a bottle of Lestoil. Before I knew it, I had scrubbed my kitchen and bathroom floors with a generous solution of it. The smell transported me back to coming home from school when my mother was in the midst of her annual spring cleaning.

Basking in the clean-feeling aroma, I did a Google search on Lestoil. That brand has been around since 1933 and is currently owned by the Chlorox Company. It’s an American outfit that is committed, according to their website, to ending animal testing. They provide no update on where they are with that.

According to the “Organic Authority” website, Lestoil contains “petroleum distillates which pose high concern for cancer and damage to DNA, … pinus palustris (longleaf pine) oil, which has potential for skin irritation and allergies.”

So, in my eagerness to keep myself safe from COVID-19, I have compromised my values and may have set myself up for cancer and other threatening side effects.

But, aah, that familiar smell I associate with clean was so worth it!

Post script: I suspect I’m not the only person with a case of nostalgia. If you have found new pleasure recently in something that reminds you of your childhood, I invite you to post a comment.  


DIY masks to the rescue

Well, it’s official. Evidence has mounted that people with no symptoms can unknowingly spread COVID-19. This week, the folks at the top shared that wearing a mask in public could reduce the risk that someone who is carrying the nasty bug will infect others in places where social distancing is difficult. Ah yes, the barrier method to counter infection.

I feel fine, but one never knows. My next grocery run is due. I’d better get with the program and equip myself to practice safe shopping.

Don’t tell anyone, but I have two surgical masks left from a package I bought before a friend who is immunocompromised came to visit a while ago. We’re supposed to leave the professional grade masks for health care workers. Best I don’t appear in public wearing contraband.

This means I need to make my own mask.

The internet has lots of patterns for home-made masks and I know how to sew. Excuses will be hard to find.

What to use? I purged my odds and ends of fabric before I moved to Vancouver. With the prohibition on non-essential trips, this means I need to make it with materials I have on hand if at all possible.

A hunt through my closets produced a torn white cotton bed sheet from the bygone era when all bed sheets, at least for simple folk like me, were white and cotton. It occasionally serves as a dust cover or drop cloth. Lots of washes have softened it. A few inches from the good side will provide enough fabric to create several multi-layer, washable, boring face masks.

I have a plan. I must stop watching every news conference and reading every post on social media so that will have time to follow through before my cupboard is completely bare.

Post script. If you, like me, have found diversion in the humour on social media, you’ve likely seen the videos of how to turn a lady’s thong…not the flip flop kind… into a face mask. Or a photo of a fetching woman modelling how one bra cup will do the job.

I had a moment of regret that I purged the psychedelic print bikini I wore for sunbathing in the early seventies. Three potential masks…gone.

I could have turned heads at the grocery store.

Post post script. I’ll leave the visual for this entry to your vivid imagination.  


More things that made me smile

I am happy that officials are starting to use the term “physical distancing” to tame the COVID-19 pandemic. “Social distancing” was a misnomer from the start.

Social closeness has never been more important to me. Two people with whom I connect by text and phone more often than usual these days amused me recently. With their blessing, I pass along their levity.

Well over a year ago, I started to text with my friend and neighbour, whom I’ll call Debbie, every morning by 8:00 a.m. In the remote chance that either of us has fallen or expired during the night, we know that the other will investigate our lack of response and get the right people on the job. So far, one of us has remembered to start the interchange on time virtually every morning. The texts often led to spontaneous decisions to meet for a walk or coffee later in the day in the pre-COVID-19 world.

Recently, I woke about around 7:15 a.m. – too early to text Debbie. I started scrolling through my phone to see the latest developments around the only subject there’s any news about these days. Before I knew it, 8:00 a.m. had come and gone.

“Got distracted scrolling. How are you this morning?” I keyed in at 8:10.

“Infected by the scrolling virus, too!! Other than that, I’m fine,” she responded a minute later.

Debbie gets it.

Meanwhile, my vigorous attempts to stay safe continue unabated. My hands have never been cleaner. I’m tired of “Happy Birthday” as a handwashing song.

Man, if I get COVID-19, it will be a phenomenon akin to the virgin birth. When I shared that thought in separate phone conversations with Debbie, my sister, and another friend, each of them roared.

I tried it on my son. Silence at the other end.

“Are you there?”

I quietly wondered if I had offended his virgin ears.

“Mom, I think it needs a little work.”

The next morning, the following text from him arrived:

“For your joke, I wonder if you could describe it as an “immaculate infection”.

I wonder if he’s missed his calling in standup comedy.


One thing that made me smile this week

Okay, so I heard the Prime Minister of Canada this week. “Go home and stay home.”

Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve become a junkie for ways to keep myself and others safe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I had already limited my trips to grocery shop to once a week. With stronger resolve, I made a list so that my next foray would set me up for two weeks.

Luckily, a grocery store and drug store near each other and near me have instituted “senior’s hours” prior to opening to the general public. On Thursday morning, I made a run for it.

The grocery store had canned diced tomatoes and a good supply of fresh greens. Check. Check. When I got to the cereal aisle, I was dismayed that all the rolled oats at eye level were gone.

On a high shelf, I noticed a premium product, “Original Porridge Oats and Healthy Grains”. I’m a sucker for anything that purports to be healthy and grabbed a package so I could read the ingredient list on the back in fine print.

“Rolled oats, oat bran, wheat bran, flax seed.”

I already get a good dose of fiber by eating beans regularly. Even more regularly now. Was this additional fiber good idea? But I knew the rule: If you’ve touched it, buy it. Sigh.

After exhausting the possibilities at the grocery store, I headed to the drug store.

It had a fresh shipment of toilet paper.

Sheer providence!   


I don’t know it all

Two weeks ago, I posted an analogy between a vacuum malfunction at a bad time to abandonment by a partner. It was tongue-in-cheek, of course. But with the news that’s unfolded since about COVID-19 and the mind-boggling implications, a clogged vacuum seems like pretty small potatoes.

In the interests of lifting spirits, I’d like to give you the dirt on what happened after my sister arrived.

For the first few days, we focused on catching up our conversations on many fronts and organizing old family photos. We had an appointment to use a scanner free of charge for three hours at a public library on March 6.

With the scanning behind us on Friday evening, I felt ready to tackle the floor attachment again. As I poked around the brush bar on the bottom in a vain attempt to access the offending clog, my sister looked over my shoulder.

“When we had a similar problem with our vacuum, we were able to remove the bar. Is there a way to get this one out?”

There on the end, was a “lock” and “unlock” symbol, and a slot for a coin to unscrew the cap to release the bar. My sister lent me a quarter.

Once the brush bar was out of the way, the clog’s minutes were numbered. After removing a few clumps of debris, I discovered a small plastic sack that appeared to have gotten it all started.

Suddenly a new tune was one my mind, “The cat came back,” but altered as “The vac came back.”

“Gee, taking off that bar was really smart. How did you and your husband figure that one out?”  

“We probably looked at the manual,” she said with as straight a face as she could muster.

Sure enough, the first item in my manual after the safety warnings was “Clearing brush bar obstructions,” with a diagram showing how to remove it.

I think I’ll use some of my time in retreat mode to create an operating manual for me. The idea of being open to and reaching out for help from others will rank fairly high. As will remembering that there may be a manual to help with the exact situation I am facing.

I don’t have to figure it all out by myself. None of us does.  


A fine time to leave me

A country song from the 70s came to mind recently.

“You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille,

With four hungry children and crop in the field…”

The trusty vacuum cleaner I’ve used for five years started to labour. It’s one of those transparent models that lets you watch the buildup of debris like hair, rug lint, crumbs, dandruff… I’ll stop there because you may have just eaten your lunch.

Several minutes of “vacuuming” and the canister still sparkled. It’s not possible my floors were that clean.

As usual, I have a good excuse. I’m applying for a program to use some of the skills I’m dying to exercise before I die. The challenging questions on the application form have diverted my attention for weeks. When cleaning is the subject, I’m a pushover for distraction.

Back to the vacuum story. The motor in the hand wand was producing suction. The tube between the motor and the floor was clear. I deduced that the floor attachment was clogged.

I was able to free gobs of hair, etc from the underside and from the top where the tube attaches to it. Still no action. I shoved the tool I use to unclog my bathroom sink drain in as far as it would go in both directions. Nada. Meanwhile, time was ticking.

The timing sucked.

My sister was due. My one and only sister. My one and only sibling. The one I hadn’t seen since last August! I mentioned my plight to a friend. She assured me my sister would likely be too tired to notice the dust with the little bit of sleep she would have had before arriving.

So I focused on getting her bed ready.

Further assaults on the floor attachment and the dirty floor might be noisy. It would be a shame to disturb her sleep, don’t you think?

If I needed an excuse to procrastinate around cleaning, maybe the timing was right after all.


Confessions of a Creative Chorister

Last winter, I lost enthusiasm for my church choir. Singing lyrics someone else wrote to a tune someone else composed in the precise manner our director wanted didn’t seem like a good fit for a free spirit like me. By June of last year, I knew I was done.

To fill the void, I joined a weekly community singalong group. The relaxed atmosphere invited me to open my throat and let ‘er rip.

Many surprises ensued. I relished belting out the tune. I hit higher notes than I thought possible. Others complimented my voice. I couldn’t believe it was mine.

I had always sung alto — in my school glee club, in family sing-songs, and more recently, in church choirs. I began to wonder if I am more naturally a soprano.

Over time, I started to miss my church choir. The social contact was one reason. And the practice it offers to shut off my monkey mind was another. I need all the help I can get in the focusing department.

After a rich conversation with the director, I decided to return, join the sopranos, and work on my ability to pay attention. I will also continue in the singalong group so my spontaneous side knows it will have its turn to play.

“Coming out” as a soprano unnerved me. I had underestimated how attached I was to my alto ego.  

Among the sopranos, the front row is for the shortest folks. People like me. I didn’t feel ready for that much limelight but complied to fit in with my new colleagues.

The first Sunday in February, my self-consciousness about singing soprano and standing in front caused me to hesitate about music I thought I knew. Ironically, the song was, “Keep your eyes on the prize.”

Two of the words we repeated many times are “hold on.” My mind wanted to sing “roll on.” Maybe there’s a reason for that. If I hadn’t rolled on to that other singing group, I don’t think I would have discovered the sweet spot in my vocal range or my true desire for concentration practice.

I’m settling into my role as a soprano. When we do “Eyes on the Prize” again, I think I’ll be able sing it correctly with gusto.

But the lyric twist I almost made may cause a twinkle in my eye.


My Spirit Animal

After protesting vehemently that I wasn’t ready for it, I recently made a snap decision to attend a workshop on aging. The leader invited us to bring a picture or stuffy of our spirit animal.

And how would I know what that would be? I turned to Google for wisdom.

One site suggested I should watch which wild animals seem attracted to me. I live in a large city. I see the occasional squirrel. They don’t pay the least bit of attention to me. That’s a relief. I don’t have much rapport with rodents.

I smell skunk once in a while. I’ve been told that smell is actually marijuana. Another relief.

Another site gave the native American spirit animal based on birth date. According to that, mine is the bear. “Bear people think deeply about life and observe it with equal care.” Interesting, but the idea of the bear created no buzz.

The quiz on another site identified my spirit animal to be the tiger. “By affinity with this spirit animal, you may enjoy dealing with life matters spontaneously, trusting your intuition and acting fast when needed.”

My breathing quickened. My last-minute decision to take the workshop on aging was a case in point. The barn cats used to like me when I was growing up on a farm. Cats are related to tigers, right?

“Do either of you have a stuffed tiger I could borrow?” I asked the next time I visited my grandchildren.

“Yes, we’ve got Tony, the Tiger,” they blurted almost in unison. Nathan clamoured to the holy of holies in his cupboard to retrieve him.

Avery wrinkled her nose.

“You don’t seem like a tiger, Grandma B.”

“What animal would you say I am like?”

“A bee.”

We’ve joked before that their name for me, Grandma B, is fitting because I like to take ideas from one place to another.

“What do you think, Nathan?”

“A butterfly, maybe? You like to garden. I think about butterflies in gardens.”

I have been through a few transformations in my life. Maybe he’s onto something.

Move over, Google. My grandchildren are a great source of wisdom, too.  


Worm Learning

Original bin

In June of 2019, I became the confident caregiver of a worm composting system. As I wrote in my blog, More new pets, I had learned all I needed to know to care for my new charges in a hour.

What could go wrong?

By the end of July, I noticed water collecting on the underside of the lid, a sign that moisture was building up inside the bin. I also noticed the remnants of a couple of worms who had wriggled out and perished in the arid environment of my balcony. A quick internet search told me that worms will try to escape if the environment is too moist.

Logic told the tale. The underside of the bin had only six small holes for drainage. The upper sides had only eight for ventilation. With the bin inhabited by worms, bedding, food, and worm castings, I couldn’t see how to drill more holes without mucking up my drill or contaminating the contents with bits of plastic.

When my son asked whether I had any wishes for Christmas, I jumped at the chance to suggest a slick worm composter I’d seen online. With the weather getting colder, I had brought the bin into my living space. The blue colour clashed with everything. An earthy aroma wafted about. A commercial version with an emphasis on design – and with lots of drainage – would be just the ticket for my struggling worm family.

What could go wrong?

The day I set aside to set up the new worm composter, I admired the charcoal colour that would blend with my balcony décor for three seasons and my living room in the winter. I attached the tap at the bottom that would drain away excess moisture. I looked for ventilation holes in the upper tiers and found none.

Upon checking reviews of the product online, I discovered that a buildup of excess moisture is a typical issue with this model. One woman posted a picture of hers wrapped in screening to prevent worms from escaping. It looked dreadful.

Before populating the new system, I decided to drill ventilation holes in the upper tiers and cover the holes with screening on the inside.

Ventilation holes
New composter

I haven’t spotted any fugitive worms in my living room. But I don’t want to speak too soon.

I am learning something from my worms.