Archive for the 'A Propos to Nothing' Category

17th Jun 2010

Handwork as Meditation and a Meditation on Handwork

I’ve recently been working on Cecily Glowik MacDonald’s Provence Baby Cardigan as a “welcome to the world” gift for a friend’s brand new granddaughter. Although it wasn’t part of the pattern, I decided I would sew some grosgrain ribbon onto the back of the buttonband…ostensibly to add a sturdier anchor material for the buttons but really because my grandmother used to do this on her handknits. When my own daughter was born, the cardigan sweaters knit for her by Nana all had grosgrain on the buttonbands and I suppose I consider that ribbon a sign of something well-made (and made well) with love.

As I was sewing, I found myself falling deeper and deeper into the rhythm of the stitches and not surprisingly my thoughts turned to things beyond the work at hand. At first I pondered the wonderfully relaxing effect the hand-sewing was having on me but then my mind wandered off into thoughts of handwork in general and giving handmade gifts specifically.

As much as I love to make things, there is always part of me that feels more than a little insecure about giving handmade gifts. I look at the baby cardigan and, even though I know I made it out of caring for my friend and her family and even though I know that it is a beautiful reflection of that care, I see every little mistake I made whilst knitting it and I wonder…is it good enough? Surely something bought at the store would be better, wouldn’t it?

Growing up, we did not have a lot of money. I still remember some of our family “experiments”…like eating vegetarian for a month “to be more civilised” (in fact: because meat was expensive and we didn’t have enough money for it) or going without television for six months because “it rots your brain” (in fact: the TV broke and it took us six months to save up money for a new one). Handmade gifts were part and parcel (sorry…it had to be said!) of growing up without extra disposable income. My mum would make the most amazing Barbie doll clothes for us at Christmas time. There was none of this “buy a new Barbie along with a new outfit for her”; we had one doll each and most of her clothes were handmade!

I suspect that that sort of existence was pretty much the norm for most people prior to the rise of rampant consumerism. Gifts were handmade because they had to be and they really meant something…you certainly didn’t have the time or money to hand gifts out like Chiclets. As being a consumer became a sign of prosperity, handmade gifts settled into the world of the underclass. And there they’ve remained for quite some time.

Over eighty years ago, the promise of “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” was issued and I think it’s safe to say that, for the vast majority of people, that promise has been fulfilled. Why then are so many people returning to the idea of handmade gifts? It’s not just knitting a sweater for a new baby…it’s also baking cookies for a helpful neighbour, giving a hand-drawn card to a friend on their birthday, sewing an apron for someone who loves to cook.

It’s awfully trite to say “money can’t buy you love” or “money can’t buy happiness” but maybe it really is that simple. Or maybe we’re just waking up to the fact that the care and love put into a handmade gift should have a higher value than the cost of a similar gift from a store.

As for me, I will continue to make and give handmade gifts. And I’ll try not to feel too bad about it.

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14th Sep 2009

On unexpected pleasure: Paolo Nutini, Arctic Monkeys, and Ewan MacGregor

I’ve known for some months that Paolo Nutini would be playing at Oakland’s Fox Theater this month; the Spawn made sure of that! She is a huge fan and has been for several years. Two years ago, her first “grown-up” adventure involved travelling to San Francisco with a friend on the train to see Paolo perform at the Warfield and then staying overnight in a hotel. (It probably wasn’t as much as an adventure for Lucy, her friend, as she was visiting from Germany at the time…alone.)

Those months of “Squeeeee! Paolo’s coming!” prepared me for the inevitable request for ticket money, gas money, spending money, blah blah. (<sarcasm>Thank you, Uncle Sam, for withholding our work permits, thus denying me the opportunity to teach my child fiscal responsibility by having her pay for her own adventures.</sarcasm>) Kathleen searched high and low for a companion for the event but ran into two problems:

  1. not many of her friends knew who Paolo Nutini was, and
  2. of those who did know and love him, they had to work!

And so I found myself in the odd position of either denying the Spawn her heart’s desire (and thus thoroughly crushing her spirit) or accompanying her to the concert. Normally, I wouldn’t be averse to the whole spirit crushing thing but, as I don’t mind Paolo myself, I thought I’d be the hero (read: Mum the Martyr) and go with her to the event. Never let it be said that I’d pass up an opportunity to squirrel away a little capital in the Emotional Blackmail Bank.

Last week, my thoughts were filled with complaints about the upcoming trip to Oakland.

I’ll have to stand all night in front of the speakers and then I’ll have no hearing left. My hearing might never come back; I’d be deaf. Forever. I asked Kathleen if I should take some earplugs with me. The look on her face said it all…”if you put earplugs in and people see it and then know that we’re together, you’re walking home.”

My feet would be sore from standing all night. What if my Achilles tendons started to act up? I’d never walk again!

I’d be the oldest person there! I’d be trapped all night, deaf, with sore feet, standing in a sea of screaming groupie girls and UNABLE TO WALK AWAY.

Saturday afternoon finally arrived and, despite my internal whinging, I put on a brave face and Kathleen and I headed off to Oakland. We took our time getting there, stopping for a bite in Fairfield and then for gas and cash in Cordelia. Kathleen was getting more and more excited as we drove on and the drive from the Carquinez Bridge to Oakland was spent singing along, loudly, happily, and badly, with Arctic Monkeys.

Finally, we were in Oakland! And there was the theatre!

Fox Oakland

At this point, I started to perk up. Why?

Well, first of all, it was cold enough in Oakland that I could actually wear my newly-knitted Zetor scarf/shawl and, more importantly, the woman ahead of us in the line had a good 15 years on me. I wouldn’t be the oldest one there!

At this point, I was feeling somewhat better about life in general and kept eyeing the marquee:


“The ride in hadn’t been so bad. Maybe we should come back on Wednesday for the Arctic Monkeys’ show…”

Things continued to improve as we entered the theatre. After zooming to a spot in front of the stage, Kathleen looked at me and said “I’d be okay with sitting at one of those tables.”

Just behind the railing enclosing the orchestra pit stood tall bar tables with tall bar stools. Except that, unlike most bar stools, these ones were padded. And had backs.


The theatre itself was beautiful and, as it began to fill, I noticed the oddest thing: the average age of the concertgoers seemed to be in the mid-30s. There were even people who were visibly older than I am. I might actually enjoy the evening!

Paolo’s opening act, Anya Marina, came on and, although I didn’t get too excited over her music (a little too Rickie Lee Jones for me) she was really really funny. Especially when she asked the groupie girls waving the Brazilian flag at the very front of the pit if it were true that all Brazilians liked anal sex. (Yeah, I confess to feeling a little schadenfreude at the expense of the SYTs. I’m middle-aged and that’s allowed now, right?)

Soon enough, it was time for the man-boy himself:


I have recently found myself thinking that Paolo was going all Ernest Hemingway on us; after seeing any and all of his performances on TV or YouTube, I couldn’t help but think he was becoming a caricature of an old blues singer. You know, performing with an “I seen troubles” sort of aura…and I couldn’t help but snort at it. I mean, the lad’s what? 22? 23? How many troubles could he have seen?

I’ve got to say though, after seeing him live, he really does pull it off. His performance didn’t strike me as being affected in any manner and I found myself singing along, screaming when the moment called for it, and generally having a damn good time.

It was truly an unexpected pleasure.

The concert ended right around 10:30 with Last Request. Kathleen and I sang along and tried our best to carry the chorus but, without the rest of the lumps singing with us, Paolo was forced to sing the whole thing. (Don’t these people from Oakland know anything? Second chorus of Last Request is ALWAYS audience participation time! Don’t just stand there…sing, dammit!)

The drive home was long and tiring and Kathleen’s eyes were getting sore from the headlights. As we got closer to our home exit, Kathleen asked me to find something on her iPod to help her stay alert. First up, Mardy Bum…that got us to the exit but we still needed something for the last 5 miles. I knew it had to be something guaranteed to perk her up, a catchy tune, maybe with a bit of humour in it. I found it quickly: The Fray, covering Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie. (For those who aren’t familiar with it, this is where the Ewan MacGregor reference comes into play. Go listen.)

All in all, I had a wonderful, wonderful evening.

Along with the unexpected pleasures of not feeling out of place, finding a comfortable chair with a great view, listening to some truly fabulous music, I had the not-so-unexpected-but-always-thrilling pleasure of seeing my child very, very happy:

Happy Kat

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01st Jul 2009

As Canadian as possible, under the circumstances

This day, more than any other in the year, is the day on which I most deeply feel a sense of “otherness”. It is a day on which I remember friends and family and, above all, my beloved homeland…a nation so similar on the surface to the one in which I now live and yet so very, very different.

As has become my habit, I will spend today enjoying as much Canadiana as I can.

I’ve already watched the National Film Board’s short, The Log Driver’s Waltz and, pretty soon, I’ll put Great Big Sea in the CD player. I’ll think about Kraft Dinner, stubbies, the DEW Line, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, parkades, Pierre Trudeau, high school rugby, Kids in the Hall, Cowichan sweaters, Tommy Douglas, Hockey Night in Canada, MacLean & MacLean, and yes, I will drink beer.

Happy Birthday, Canada. I love you…

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04th Mar 2009

It seemed like a good idea at the time…

After a busy morning yesterday, I was laid low by a sudden and severe migraine (heh…as if there’s such a thing as a “mild migraine”). While lying in bed waiting for the meds to kick in (or death–either would have been welcomed equally), I thought of all the things that might help give me some relief.

Although they seemed so very reasonable at the time, in retrospect, not so much…

Sounded good: scooping my left eye out with a melon baller
Was good: closing all the blinds, turning off all the lights, and covering my eyes with a thick blanket

Sounded good: shoving a knitting needle between my eye and the socket, driving it up into my brain
Was good: migraine medication (my current fave is Maxalt although it wasn’t too much help yesterday)

Sounded good: tractioning my neck until disarticulation occurred
Was good: gentle pressure on various pressure points on the neck

Sounded good: placing my head in some sort of press (my fantasy press was a large steel thing…the sort you might find in a machine shop)
Was good: placing head under a hot stream of water (i.e., a very hot shower)

Sounded good: lead aspirin
Was good: OTC pain killers (current fave being one each of naproxen and acetominophen…works better than Vicodin)

And yes, the migraine is still there…

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