Growing up in an artist’s house

My father’s birthday is Sunday; he would have been 78.

In 1980, on the Easter long-weekend, my parents told me he had cancer, and that he would be getting treatment but it was a terminal.  Over the next several months he tried to fight it but he became sicker and sicker.  The last time I saw him was later that year in the hospital was on his 40th birthday, November 11.  Three weeks later he was gone.

Prior to my father’s death, I had an unconventional upbringing compared to most of my peers.  Once I started school, for the majority of time my Mom worked outside the home, and often my Dad was home with me.  This was still about a decade before the movie Mr. Mom made having your Dad at home part of popular culture. What it meant for me was plenty of one-on-one time with my Dad and many memories of him creating art.

Here are 3 things I learned in that decade of life with Dad:

Being an artist is part of your soul, and it’s a frugal life

From time to time Dad would take a job outside our home, usually when times were financially tight.   Those short bursts when Dad worked outside our home were challenging. You could tell he was not as happy.   The happiest times were when he could create. Of course this meant he also had to sell, either on consignment or by commissions.  For a brief period, we had a business at our house, ‘The Brush and Knife”.  We even had a sign cut in the shape of a palette at the end of our driveway.  I have fond memories of those times, we didn’t have much but living in creative household was wonderful in so many other ways.

All rooms in the house pale in comparison to the space allotted for art

The studio space in our house was always of prime importance, and a spot I knew not to play in.  The most interesting thing about the art studio is that it moved around the house, as though Dad was trying to find the perfect spot.  There was one area of the house between the kitchen and bathroom that he decided would be the new studio space. This may have been alright but the space must have been too small to suit his needs once he moved there because he moved the wall between the studio and the bathroom, to increase the size of the studio. Naturally, it made the bathroom narrower.  My aunts, who often came to visit from Ontario in the summer, had great fun teasing my Dad about how the bathroom dimension changed between visits and that in the end or our time in that house you had to slide along the bathroom wall to get to the toilet.  I still can recall one aunt reenacting this by the campfire to the hilarity of all assembled.

Explore your world

Dad and I would spend all day, out with a picnic lunch, walking in fields, by streams, and down old country roads. He looking for some new subject to draw or paint, me just tagging along.  These walks and drives in all seasons took us to many places in Southern New Brunswick that I still explore today. I often think of him, particularly in areas around Sussex’s covered bridges and homesteads, and along the Fundy coast in Alma, Martins Head, Big Salmon River, St. Martin’s, Hopewell Rocks, Chance Harbour, Dipper Harbour, and Maces Bay.

When I’m in these places, he is still with me.

Happy birthday Dad.

 

Five Scottish superstitions I grew up with

This week, in honour of Halloween, I thought I would share the top 5 superstitions I carry with me from growing up with a Scottish mother.

1. Cross your knife and fork at the dinner table when laying them down.

Result: Someone is going to have an argument.

2. Give a knife, or cutting instrument as a present without giving some form of money (usually a coin).

Result: You could sever the friendship.

3. Accidently drop a fork on the floor.

Result: You’re going to have company.

4. Give a purse or wallet as a gift without including some money.

Result: The person receiving the purse or wallet will be challenged by money troubles.

5. The first person through your door after the New Year begins should be a dark-haired male carrying food and fuel.

Result: This will ensure you have prosperity and good health for the year.  (Known as the “First Footer”).

These are the first five that came to mind, but there are more!

Happy Halloween

Apple muffins & feminist advances

I wanted to share a recipe this week but I also wanted it to have meaning.   I was in search of a food story tied both to my life experiences and the era from which it came.

To fulfill my quest I turned to an aged resource, a floral cloth-covered book that has moved with me countless times.  Here in this book I collected recipes during my early teen and younger adult years. The beginning of the book is handwritten with attribution to each person from whom I copied the recipe.  Later, when life became busy, recipes were cut and pasted from magazines or calendars that caught my interest.

These were the days before we ‘pinned’ or ‘bookmarked’ recipes.  Like most, I now search online when I want something new to cook, and, as a result, I have not used this cooking resource in years.

That’s why looking through the pages was a stroll down memory lane.  Thinking of the person who each recipe came from brought back both memories of people and food, two of my favourite things.

The recipe I chose to share for this post is Apple Muffins.  Not only is this recipe tied to a memory, IMG_9053but fresh apples are everywhere this time of year, making this post timely and useful.

What makes this recipe interesting in the context of the blog, however, is the memory of where it came from.  And, what made it heartwarming for me was making it with my 16-year-old daughter one Saturday morning.

The Memory

Way back in 1980-1982 when I was in grade 7 and 8, all the girls took home economics and the boys all took woodshop.  That was just the way it was.

In grade 7 home ec they taught girls the best way to wash dishes, to make a meal, and to bake things.  Useful skills for any human.   In grade 8 they taught us to read a pattern, and create a piece of clothing with a sewing machine, a functional skill but perhaps less universally required.

I never knew what took place in shop, it was mysterious. I was never physically in the shop, though I did peek in the door a few times.

When I reflect on grade 7 and 8, I don’t recall the gender division of these classes being a personal issue.   Which is likely why I was in awe in grade 8 when a female student bucked the system, and together with her parents, she insisted to be allowed to take shop.

Looking back this seems like a simple act, but from the many simple acts carried out by just one individual, to significant movements and moments such as the Persons Case or #MeToo, rhetoric, policy, and our lives change.

We’ve come a long way, although there is still a long way to go as the UN’s International Day of the Girl recently shared on their website: “The 1.1 billion girls of today’s world are challenging the status quo. They’re redefining girlhood, and they’re doing so against the odds.”

They’re redefining girlhood just as those that came before them did.  Just as one girl at Rothesay Junior High did 36 years ago.

The Recipe: Apple Muffins

The recipe which triggered this memory is from grade 7 home ec.   As the teacher at the time told us, it could be a recipe for any kind of muffin if you switch out the apples and cinnamon for something else.  Feel free to adapt and enjoy baking it, regardless of your gender.

I baked this with my daughter and we shared stories of what I learned in home ec and how how different life is now for all genders.  She joked that we should do a post from my husband’s shop some day.

Who knows, maybe we will.

Apple Muffins

1 egg, beaten slightly
1 C + 3 tbsps. milk
¼ C butter melted (the original recipe called for shortening)
1 ½ C flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 apple, diced or shredded
½ tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400° F.  Stir until flour is moist.  Mix in the apple and cinnamon. Bake 20 minutes.  Makes about 1 1/2 dozen small muffins.

(Author’s note: Just in case you are inspired to make the muffins, the recipe is just so-so, it’s more about the story with this one. I’ll share some great recipes in future posts).

50 Amazing Life Moments

The idea that stimulated this post came from Jenna MacDonald at There’s a Shoe for That.  When I was considering starting this blog, a conversation with Jenna tipped me over the edge to actually do it.

The thought of finding 50 moments seemed daunting at first.  However, when I sat down to write, I actually had to trim out moments because I passed 50.

The lesson I took away from the exercise is that in a world where the next instant moment of gratification is the goal of many, I believe a path to happiness comes from being present, taking chances, and living a life of gratitude for opportunities that may cross your path.

Reluctant to classify these moments in any ranking that could be interpreted as one being better than another, they are random within four categories:  cradle-to-grave moments, travel moments, unique opportunity moments, and existential moments.

Cradle-to-Grave (Moments 1-6)

According to Dictionary.com ‘Cradle to grave’ means: “extending throughout one’s life, from birth to death”.

  1. Pregnancy, I only had one but I loved the experience
My baby
Holding my baby, 2002

2. Holding my baby for the first time

3. Being with my Mom on her last day of life

4. Finding my soulmate

Photo 2014-03-09, 11 53 40 AM
Revisiting our 2nd date spot (2014), Ice Caves in Springfield, NB

5. Realizing our kids know how to make good choices

6. Watching our children develop/perform/create

Travel (Moments 7-32)

These moments all happened because I travelling away from home.  The range of dates for these experiences begin at age 7 with my first trip to Scotland and extend up to last year when Eric and I cruised from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Haiti and Jamaica.

7. Seeing the Grand Canyon by both small plane and land (Arizona, USA)

8. Visiting standing stones (near Inverness, Scotland)

9. BBQ and hot tub at King Ranch (Texas, USA)

King Ranch, Texas 2008 (approx)

10. Breathing the air at the Icefields Parkway (Rockies, Alberta, Canada)

Athabasca Glacier 2015
Athabasca Glacier 2014

11. Snorkeling in Cozumel (Mexico)

12. Dog sledding (La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada)

2016 La Malbaie, Quebec

13. Seeing the terrain of Iceland for the first time

14. Sailing in the Burrard Inlet (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)

15. Swimming with dolphins (Costa Maya, Mexico)

16 Experiencing a desert (Palm Springs, California & Las Vegas, Nevada, USA)

17. Days in Liverpool (England)

Strawberry Fields
On our Fab Four tour in LIverpool, England 2015

18. Any visit to Scotland

19. Putting my toes in the Pacific Ocean for the first time (British Columbia, Canada)

20. Riding a pony on the beach in Blackpool (England)

21. Visiting a fortune teller in New Orleans (Louisiana, USA)

22. Experiencing the Napa Valley (California, USA)

23. Meadows in the Sky Parkway (Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada)

24. Airboat tour of the Bayou in Louisiana (USA)

25. Kayaking with dolphins in a South Carolina marsh (USA)

26. The many layers of Amsterdam (Netherlands)

27. Introducing Eric to cruising

DSCN2707
Voodoo demonstration while in Haiti on our cruise (2018)

28. Day cruise on the Rhine (Germany)

Germany 2001
Somewhere on the Rhine, Germany 2001

29. The Giant’s Causeway (Northern Ireland)

Giant's Causeway
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland, 2012

30. Chicago Art Institute (Chicago, Illinois, USA)

31.  CN Tower view (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

32. Experiencing Mardi Gras in New Orleans (Louisiana, USA)

Unique Experiences (Moments 33-47)

These moments all happened, or started, at home in New Brunswick, Canada.

33. Tour of the potash mine in a Jeep-like vehicle (700 m below surface)

34. Discovering Eye of the Needle for the first time

35. Flying in a helicopter

36. Sleeping on a train (in a sleeper car)

37. Figuring out how to make Lorne sausages and having them taste just right

38. Spending days outside with my Dad while he created art

39. Catching my first fish

40. The smell and feel of cool air in early autumn

41. Growing to love lobster

2014-12-20 19.12.19
Christmas week traditions post-2014

42. Whale watching

43. Walking on the ocean floor, regularly

44. Feeling the wind in my face while riding a bike

45. Being hooked by a good book

46. Falling asleep to the sound of the ocean

47. Learning to knit

48. Meeting Prince Charles (1996 and 2012), Prince Andrew (1985), and Prince Edward (sometime in the 2000s)

Existential (Moments 49 & 50)

For lack of better classification, these moments where philosophical reflections that have come to me in the last few years.

49. Realizing I’ve found contentment

50. Knowing home is the best place to be

Number 50 is my life lesson from the list. I have been fortunate to see and do so many things in so many places but as Dorothy so aptly puts it “There’s no place like home”.

With a click of my heels I’m out for this week.

My 50-year love affair with words and stories

Part of the reason I’ve started on this blog journey is to provide myself a writing challenge. Writing and reading have always been a huge part of my life.

My parents were both prolific readers, and they encouraged a love of reading in me. Books of all kind were always around our house: fiction, non-fiction, anthologies, reference, and various versions of the Bible.

We lived in a rural area, had 2 channels on our black-and-white television, and, of course, no knowledge of the Internet or video games.   This lifestyle created perfect conditions to develop a self-entertainer, as my husband calls it.

This was rural New Brunswick in the 1970s, a time when kids were unscheduled and roamed freer than they do today.  When I tired of the books at home, I would hop on my bicycle and head into the library in downtown Sussex, a 7-km round trip.

At the library I’d spend hours in the reference section reading about geography and mythology and I’d pick out a few books to read at home.  The pattern of biking to the library to return books and take out more books was repeated often enough to be a vivid memory.

My grandfather, recognizing this thirst for knowledge, bought me a subscription to National Geographic, which I lovingly collected through my teen years.

Yes…I’ve been a geek for a long time.

In this formative period, I was consuming books, assimilating knowledge, and living in conditions which were ripe for development of a vivid imagination.  By age 9 in the 4th grade, I was writing my own stories.  In February (1978) my first work of fiction was published in the school newsletter.

“The Thing From Space” by grade 4 Paula Harris, along with a variety of stories, recipes, poems, and illustrations by other students, appeared in the newsletter which was copied on a mimeograph (sometimes called by brand name Gestetner).

Mimeograph (Image source: Wikipedia).
1024px-Mimeograph.svg

If you’re from my generation, or older, you may remember the experience of cranking copies out of one of these machines in the school office, but if you didn’t have that experience, you’ll surely remember the unique odor made by the copying process.  Every hand-out and test bore this scent until the advent of photocopying

In the mimeograph process the pages were impressed with a purple typeset that blurred slightly at the edges, particularly if it was not left to dry long enough.  The copy I have of this newsletter from 1978 looks the same today as it did the day it was copied.

The thing from space Feb 1978

When I reflect of the origins and inspiration of this first story, and I also look back on the timeline of my life in 1977/78, I recall that had just seen my first big screen movie at the theatre.  Everything before this was on our 28-inch black-and-white TV.   The movie made a big impression on me.  My Dad also bought the soundtrack (on LP), and he played it often—thus keeping the memory of the movie alive in our house.

The movie was Close Encounters of the Third Kind, released four months prior to writing this piece.  Close Encounters stirred an obvious fascination with aliens. Ricky, a fellow student, brought my description to life with his striking illustration of the “Thing”.

“The Thing From Space” is an amusing read now, forty years later, but it is also more than that.  This story, the many trips to the library, and the magic and inspiration of Stephen Spielberg, were the beginning of a life of story telling.  For the past 25+ years, stories, albeit not science fiction stories, put food on the table and kept a roof over my head.

Without a love of reading instilled at a young age, and a quest for knowledge that only deepened as I aged, I would not be writing this blog post today and I would not be helping others tell stories.