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In search of Monarchs and Green Zebras

By Kate Zankowicz

I can still see the photos in the National Georgraphic of my mind. The startling realization that those dead leaves coating the trees are in fact thousands of living butterflies. They rustle in faded oranges, against the 1970s blue of the sky,  preparing for their 3000 km migration to Mexico. I clip the photo out, breathless, file it away into my “things I must see before I die” folder. Then I begin to associate Point Pelee with very drinkable wine and briefly forget that each year a tiny insect goes on a  monumental journey equivalent to going around the earth eleven times, and all for the nourishment of the poisonous milkweed plant.

Knowing that the milkweed is the only food source for monarch larvae, and the only place where they will suspend their cocoons has made me a socially inacceptable person. I have scolded ignorant teenagers with lawnmowers who regularly massacre milkweed, and endanger the lives of monarchs unknowingly. I have chastized young children with butterfly nets who are out with their parents enjoying a “nature moment”. I have broken open pods and seeded abandoned urban lots. No I do not have a butterfly tattoo on my ankle, but I do have an unflagging desire to see the magnificent monarch roostings on the tip of Point Pelee.

If you’re planning to make it down to Point Pelee there are a few accomodation options. For the more epicurean traveller there is the Vintage Goose Inn, a lovely guest house that offers facials, and omelettes and a wrap-around porch. I stayed in a charmless motel in Kingsville and treated myself to the Strawberry Rhubarb Goose Liver Pate Brulee at their restaurant on Main Street. This way I wasn’t tempted to sleep in—the monarchs are most viewable in the early hours of the morning.

The best time to see the monarchs preparing for migration is in late August to early September. That certainly does not mean that you will see them. There is a monarch hotline that you can call that will report monarch sightings and I highly recommend giving them a ring before you go, to dispel any false hopes (519) 322.2371

Thanks to the torrid temperatures this summer, I was able to spot exactly four monarchs, flitting away, all at different times and in different places. Global warming has robbed me of the desired life-changing experience yet again.

Luckily one of my other obssesions was being celebrated just around the corner from the National Park. By pure fluke, Leamington was in full swing with its annual Tomato Fair at Seacliffe Park. After a few hours of watching the Leamington Idol competition, I forgot about global warming completely. And after stomping on a few tomatoes (not heirloom varieties) I was able to face my failed monarch expedition. Being monarchless was something I was beginning to accept, when all of a sudden, I was gripped by the need to eat something other than Beefsteak and Roma. I wanted a Green Zebra. Possibly even more difficult to find then a horde of migrating monarchs, the Green Zebra is a tangy tomato with  lovely green stripes, that was created in 1986, and is perfect in sandwiches. It is food guru Alice Waters’ favourite tomato, and, like the monarch, it apparently didn’t enjoy our hot summer either. I was in the tomato capital of North America, and the Green Zebra was nowhere to be found.

Instead I comforted myself with some Earl of Edgecomb tomatoes, purple, swollen-looking and delicious. Then I settled down to witness a few waterbarrel fights, a geriatric swing dance extravaganza, and a  Miss Tomato pageant. It was just as impressive as watching the flutter of thousands of butterfly wings.

Wowie Cowie

By Kevin Somers

 

We were visiting a cottage on a Muskoka island earlier this summer and between the ideal setting and toys that float, it was picture perfect.  Inside, large windows provided spectacular views from every glance, but amidst nature’s best, an oil painting by Ellen Cowie stood out.  It is a commissioned piece of canoes on the dock, with the lake and a neighbouring island in the background.  The sun is twinkling off rippling water and tranquility emanates from the canvas.  There’s a photographical precision to the piece, yet a surreal richness that couldn’t have come from a camera.  All the guests stopped to admire the work and agreed it was something special.

 

I had tea with Ellen recently and she’s as lively as her paintings.  “Family is everything to me,” she said.  Indeed, the second youngest of 10 children, Ellen and husband, Brian, married for 25 years have 6 kids of their own, between 23 and 14.  “They’re all wonderful people,” she said of the extended clan.

 

Ellen has paint in her veins: her mother’s mother worked in oil and her father’s brother was a gifted sketch artist.  Grandmother, Rose McGuire, raised 10 kids during the depression and didn’t begin painting until she was in her 60s.  Although she began late, Grandmother was talented and prolific.  “Her paintings were always around,” Ellen said.  “Her style was more towards realism.”  Ellen’s uncle, was not a professional artist, but, “He drew and sketched everyday.  One of my strongest memories from childhood is him coming on Sunday and sketching with a pencil or a piece of charcoal.  In a few seconds, and with 15 lines, he could capture a portrait.  He was a truly an amazing artist.”

 

Cowie has taken something from both, combining the realism of her Grandmother with the startlingly swiftness of her Uncle.  “I go straight to work,” she said, “no sketching or measuring, I just start painting with oil.”  Although deceased, Ellen’s ancestors speak to her still, “Sometimes when I step back and look at my painting, I hear my uncle say, That’s enough, Ellen, and then my grandmother says, Maybe a little more over here, Dear.”

 

Because of higher obligations, Ellen has only been painting full time since 2001.  “I always knew I would be an artist surrounded by family,” she said, but how she’s arrived at this point is the stuff of legends.  “I got married when I was 18.  I loved Brian Cowie and wanted to have a family with him.”  Brian’s career meant the family has moved 15 times.  “There were times when I’d go months without painting,” she said.  Laughingly, she explained how her family would force her to go and paint because her withdrawal from creating made her irritable.  “I always came back feeling better.”

 

After misdiagnoses, it was discovered in 2000 that Ellen had severe thyroidosis and her nodal gland was removed.  The three years previous, while raising her family with a wonky thyroid, Ellen had also been parking cars at Casino Rama.  “I was exhausted all the time.  In the hospital, a light came on.  I thought, what am I doing?” and she gave up parking for painting.

 

Brian is Native, so Ellen has full status and received assistance from Kagita Mikam, an organization dedicated to helping First Nations people.  “Their financial and moral support really helped me get started and I’m so grateful to them.”  Another break came from Ellen’s brother, Jim Donnelly, owner of Foot’s Bay Marina on Lake Joseph in Muskoka.  In 2002, he provided Cowie space to take part in the area’s annual studio tour, The Big Art Thing.  The show was a success and later that summer Jim asked Ellen to return to the marina because he had a surprise.  Jim had converted part of his business into a seasonal gallery.  “Go home and paint over the winter and fill the gallery with nice work,” he said.

 

It was a daunting prospect, but when opportunity knocked, Cowie answered with enthusiasm.  Along with her talent and work ethic, the gallery provides Ellen with an ideal location.  During the summer, she paints outside the gallery and the public can watch her work.  “Wayne Gretzky’s family watched me paint every day for 5 days while they were on vacation,” she said.  When a young man commented to Janet Gretzky that Ellen’s painting was like a photograph, Janet, who knows Greatness, replied, “No, it’s better than a photograph.”

 

Person, place, or thing, Cowie is confident; “If I see it, I can paint it.  I’m not afraid of the canvas.”  She prefers commissioned work, “It’s challenging.  If someone wants me to paint something they are passionate about it, so I have to find inspiration in it too.”  You can see that inspiration at www.artincanada.com/ellencowie/.  This may be the ancestors talking, but I think Ellen Cowie is going to be BIG.

My bucket of bolts

By  Diane Baker Mason

I’m not a car person. I don’t understand the thrill of a newly-released line of imports, or the sound of a particularly sporty engine shifting gears. I don’t care about shiny, red, or topless,  or mag wheels or leather interiors. To me, a radio that works is a sound system. If a car gets there and back successfully, without noticeably losing bits of itself en route, it’s a luxury vehicle, and I’m a happy motorist.

So it’s a hard fact of life to face that the days of my mini-van “Mom-mobile”, like my days as a mom, are numbered. I no longer need all that room for hockey gear and sticky hordes of teenage boys. Nor am I that interested in (or capable of) tossing a canoe onto the van’s roof and hauling my not-so-physically-fit butt up to Algonquin Park. When I got the van, I was still in good enough condition to wrestle the “noo” onto the roof-racks all by myself — as if that’s ever likely to happen again.

I didn’t even buy the van I’m driving, to tell the truth. My father did. Dad couldn’t stand to see me wobbling around town in a beater of a Hyundai Excel, and after a brief donation of a Buick the size of a – well, of a Buick – he replaced it with a 1991 mini-van. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t really know if it’s a 1991. And I think it’s a Plymouth. No, wait, it’s a Dodge. Nope. I’m really not sure after all. But I am reasonably positive it’s white. With a grey interior. That smells like fetid dog, thanks to my fetid dog.

Unlike my father, who collects cars like Dinky toys, I treat my cars with what can only be called disrespect. I drive them too fast, service them too infrequently (except for the brakes and tires and squeegee-juice for the bugs and/or freezing rain). I can’t remember the last time I washed the Mom-mobile. I keep forgetting to, and then before I know it, it rains. Problem solved.

It has always been thus, as the saying goes. My first car, a Ford Torino station wagon, was as big as a double-decker bus and chock-full of the things I used to need, back when I was 19. In short, it was usually chock-full of friends and cases of beer being carted from party to party. When the Ford’s stereo croaked, I substituted a battery-operated tape deck balanced on the dashboard. The strains of the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack would whisper from its  little speaker, as my girlfriends and I performed endless Yonge Street Cruises.

The Mom-mobile now boasts some 225,000 kilometers, and has been through a transmission, a radiator, multiple sets of tires, and one set of twins from ages 8 to 18. Now it is occupied mostly by myself and my big black dog, who usually rides shotgun, thereby rendering the front passenger seat a risky sitting proposition for any subsequent riders.

About a month ago, in a fit of financial optimism, I considered replacing the old bucket of bolts. Spontaneously I visited the local Toyota dealer. The saleswoman was supermodel-beautiful and knew more about cars than Henry Ford. She used words I’d never heard before and showed me parts of the car that I should clearly be impressed by. We went for a test drive. It was only when I realized this car would cost me $500 a month – $500 more a month than the Mom-mobile was costing – that I rethought my spontaneity. Did I really need to buy something, which only fundamentally differed from my loyal mini-van, in that it wasn’t full of dog hair and personal effects?

So the Mom-mobile is still with me, rattling as it rolls along, its brakes groaning, its doors loosing a rusty wail when opened. But if you and I ever go out for coffee, trust me – let’s take your car. Especially if you’re wearing white.

The smell of home

By Diane Baker Mason

They say the closest memory-related sense is scent. It is not a sight or sound that triggers nostalgia, but a smell: the odor of mom’s baking bread, or of the hayloft in your cousin’s barn, or of the pine-tree-shaped air freshener that hung from the rearview in your Grandpa’s Chevy. Not the taste of the bread, not the feel of the hay, not the roar of the engine. It’s the smell of these things that takes you home.
Home is on my mind lately, since I am considering moving. One of my boys has moved out, and the other is soon to do so. I have fallen in love with the Beaches in east Toronto, and although I can’t realistically afford to move there, reality has never stopped me in the past, so move I intend to do. Therefore, I have had to take a hard, mean, look at my own condo apartment, which has deteriorated over the last three years to disaster area status. I tend to be away on weekends; my sons were not. Nor were their friends. And I had long ago given up on trying to cajole/nag/train them into doing even basic tidying (which I don’t like to do either). So my condo not only looked awful — it smelled awful, too.
I hired a trio of disaster-area cleanup experts and together with my remaining son, we stripped the condo of debris, and applied paint-stripper-quality cleaning fluids to all surfaces. Even the guinea pig got a “Total Home Makeover,” with a bleach-and-scouring pad treatment of his cage bottom, and cedar shavings. Instant memories of my pet hamsters, from when I was twelve years old: suddenly, with the smell of the cedar, I could feel those tiny soft bodies wriggling in my much-smaller hands.
Despite the cleaning, my apartment still doesn’t feel like home. Maybe it’s because I never saw it as home, but as a place I bought in a panic, to give myself and my then-barely-teenage sons a place to live. I don’t love it the way I loved my other houses or even the bachelorette flat I rented when I left my marriage eight years ago. And despite its professional cleansing (and my remaining son’s sudden, almost-religious conversion to Tidy Clean Person, something for which I’m hugely grateful), I still don’t get that “welcome home” feeling when I walk in the door.
Part of the problem is that the cleaning hasn’t kept the smells at bay. If smells could make a sound, my apartment would be a cacophony. First of all, there is our rancid dog. Licorice is a Lab mutt, and she loves the water (unless it comes in bath format). In the mornings, she prances through the Humber River; in the afternoons, she fords the streams winding through High Park; on weekends she is either swimming in Lake Ontario or sitting (yes, sitting) for hours at a time in the shallows at Bass Lake, hypnotized by the minnows. The problem with all this water is that it leaves bacteria on her underfur, which dies, which decays, which causes my dog to stink like a week’s worth of rotting garbage. I’ve had people get off the elevator to avoid sharing it with her. Baths and deodorant powders help for only a day or so. The only cure is winter, when all that water freezes over.
So there’s the smell of dog. There’s the smell of our musty old furniture. There’s the smell of my son’s cooking (he loves curries and fried corned beef). There are my son’s friends and their beer and cigarillos. There’s the guinea pig’s cage (a mountain of cedar shavings won’t cover the fact that it’s still a guinea pig cage). The place just doesn’t smell like me.
Hopefully there will be an animal-loving, beer-swilling, curry-eating tribe of Visigoths interested in buying a three-bedroom two-bath condo in a park-like setting, to whom it will smell just like the place they grew up. As for me and my bacteria-soaked dog, we’ve got our sights on someplace new. And she’ll either have to learn not to smell like dead fish, or I’ll have to learn to associate that smell with home. I guess anything’s possible.

*** First published in the Nov. 2005 print edition of Women’s Post

Into the trash can with your culture

By George Patrick

In the little town in northern Scotland where I went to school fifty years ago there lived a man who had been a tea planter in India. He supplemented his income by boarding Indian boys who were the products of “mixed marriages” i.e. of British fathers and Indian women. The life of such people in Indian society, as you may know, was not an easy one. Rejected by Indians and looked down on by the snotty whites, these “Eurasians” lived in a twilight world of betwixt and between. Their schooldays in our town provided at least a few years of temporary relief from their (literally) outcaste world. It wasn’t perfect, for most Scots were racists then, as many are today. Scots, like all defeated and colonized peoples, have a huge chip on their collective shoulder, which they sometimes express in straight-from-the-shoulder racial epithets, starting with the English and working their way out around the globe. (On my last trip home, I was bemused by my family’s comments about “White Settlers.” It eventually dawned on me they were referring to English people who bought retirement homes in Scotland. As is often the case, behind the semi-jocular tone lurked something darker.)

Fifty years ago our town was lily white. The nearest to a non-white was my swarthy pal Lammy, who was part-Maori. To compound the error of his existence, Lammy was a (very bad) Catholic in a Calvinist community. As a result, he was something of an outsider, and I was the new boy in town who spoke with a funny accent, and was desperately shy. And so we gravitated towards each other, even though I knew that non-white people were inferior, with all kinds of deplorable moral defects that varied according to their precise ethnic origins. I knew this in the same way that I knew that “poofters” or “queers” were vile, that there was something wrong with Jews (although I had never actually met one and knew nothing about them), that divorced women were bad (but sexually “easy”), that a woman’s place was in the home, and that the male was inherently superior to the female. I held these truths to be self-evident. So although I liked Lammy a lot, I never quite forgot that he was not exactly, y’know, one of us.

The Anglo-Indian boys were very nice youngsters who seemed to mix well at school (much better than I) and appeared to be happy. Then Mr. MacTaggart, the retired tea planter, was persuaded by a Christian mission to take in two more boys. They were sea Dyaks from Sarawak who had been raised and educated by Christian missionaries. Now, I happen to believe that the human race would be much better off without all the god stuff and its multitude of absurd religions, but I must confess that if even a small fraction of Christians were as fine exemplars of their faith as those two young men I would be forced to re-examine my beliefs. I’ve never met any other people who gave off such an aura of sweetness, purity and goodness. I truly felt humbled in their presence. Strange to think that their own grandfathers had taken part in raids on other villages, killing the men, decapitating them and returning home to begin the long business of shrinking the heads to hang about their huts.

I’ve always considered Mr. (Pierre) Trudeau’s multicultural policy a classic example of murky Liberal thinking. It has that lovely warm fuzzy feeling that allows Liberals to think they really are, well, liberal! They get to hug themselves for being so gosh darn tolerant. And — most important — they get to mop up the ethnic vote during elections! The trouble is, the policy is hopelessly wrongheaded. Yes, in the great Canadian goulash of languages and cultures and religions, we should all be tolerant of each other. Few would argue with that. We’ve all learned from history that intolerance has killed more people than tuberculosis, malaria or bubonic plague. Live and let live makes very good sense.

However, encouraging tolerance towards other people and their way of life is one thing, propping up cultures with federal tax dollars is quite another thing. For the stark truth is, most, perhaps all of the cultures that have come down to us from the past are simply not worth preserving or sponsoring. Most of our cultures are rooted in, and many still reek of values that are abhorrent to us — racism, sexism, genocide, imperialism, and so on.

Which, for example, of the cultures from my youth do you think we should celebrate with federal tax dollars? Perhaps the Indian and British cultures that treated their own young as pariahs because they came of mixed races? What about the Dyak headhunting culture? Or maybe the culture that produced me — a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, vaguely anti-semitic young man? I suggest we should shrink from all of them in horror.

The Canadian society in which my children were raised remains, like all human endeavours, imperfect, but in its values it is superior to almost anything else one can find in the broad sweep of history. I am sometimes surprised, and encouraged, by the utter absence in most young Canadians of all the nasty little bigotries that made up the daily fabric of my early life. We are a fortunate people.      I believe the past should be studied for insights into the human condition. I don’t believe the past should be venerated. Most of our cultures are steeped in bloodshed, cruelty and injustice, and imbued with ideas repugnant to all except stupid and ugly minds. They serve only to remind us of what a bunch of schmucks we humans can be. We should cherish the values of our (generally) tolerant, just and decent society — and say good riddance to all that ugly, silly, musty baggage from the past.

Gen-Y-ers, boomers only sort of different

By Barbara Moses

When it comes to work motivation, much has been made in the past decade about how the newest generation of workers is so different from its boomer counterparts. For example, young workers are not cowed by authority, nor do they believe in their boss’s right to ask them to do things that don’t feel good. Their temerity throws many senior managers into a tailspin.

This should not come as a surprise to any boomer managers who have kids of their own. Gen Y-ers are a generation that has never experienced deprivation. They have come to expect comfort as their birthright from indulgent parents. Of course, they think they have as much to say as anyone else, that their feelings count, and that there is no reason to be automatically respectful of authority.

Many also see themselves as the abandoned kids of career-obsessed parents. They saw their parents worship at the corporate altar, only to be sacrificed on it. They have heard parents endlessly complain about what a jerk their boss or client is, and deride their ridiculous work overload. They have seen the price their parents paid for slavishly pursuing career goals. It’s not surprising they are ambivalent about work.

One key aspect of Gen Y-ers’ focus on lifestyle is the strength of their attachments and affinities outside the workplace, including greater allegiances to friends associated with their subculture — whether organized around ethnic background, lifestyle preferences or musical and fashion tastes. In defining their identities, this is as important to them, if not more so, than where they happen to work at the moment. They don’t park these identities at the corporate door.

For twentysomethings, the unwritten contract with their employer is understood at the most visceral level to be: “I rent you my skills, I don’t sell you my soul. In return for my contributions, I expect something back in addition to my paycheque — interesting development, and a work life that doesn’t encroach on my personal life.”

Clearly, managing this new generation presents its challenges. Boomers must recognize that young workers want many of the same things they do — it’s just that they’re more assertive about getting it.

Gen Y-ers may not believe in corporate loyalty, but organizations can leverage their strong peer attachments by fostering identification with colleagues who share similar interests. Consider, for example, the difference between the company seasonal party where top brass stand up and intone about year-end results and company goals, and enabling staff to create their own celebrations in line with personal preferences.

At the same time, organizations need to renew their commitment to work/life balance. Although this is a desire for everyone, Gen-Y workers will vote with their feet if they don’t get it.

Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of  Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.  For more: www.bmoses.com

Will Harper put old grievances back on the table?

By Russell Wangersky

 

Perched high on Alberta’s Tunnel Mountain, I could look down and see the cloudy green melt-water of the Bow River in summer, see why it was called the Bow, and, climbing down the fossil-filled and up-thrust slabs of what had once been ocean floor, walk up to my ankles in June water so cold that it made the bones of my feet hurt.

 

It’s a feeling my bones are more than familiar with. Most of the time, I live in Newfoundland, where walking in the ocean at almost any time — along the sandy beach below Cape Pine, or almost anywhere else — makes you feel as if your marrow is fleeing the cold, and pulling painful away from the insides of your bones in the process.

 

It is a pain so intense that I can almost gather it up in memory, anticipate it, dread it.

 

Much like the feeling I get whenever anyone starts talking constitution, because, as soon as the words start, I can feel the dark pit opening up.

 

In late November, 2006, the House of Commons passed a motion proposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to recognize the Quebecois as a nation within a united Canada. It was one of those uniquely parliamentary parlour tricks. Harper was answering a motion by the Bloc Quebecois to recognize the Quebecois as a nation, the Bloc’s move itself a sort of follow-on to proposals within the federal Liberal leadership race.

 

Since that vote, Harper has gone out of his way to explain that the motion doesn’t confer any sort of additional powers to Quebecers. Fine — but it’s now just the kind of half-measure that has served to rile up everyone in both of Canada’s solitudes.

 

Those in Quebec felt pandered to, while those outside Quebec felt hard-done-by. And everyone will find a way to be engaged in picking away at old wounds.

 

I’ve been in the news business for 20 years, and I’ve watched what happens when someone decides we have to have to put old constitutional grievances back on the table. It quickly becomes an exercise in frustration, and the national equivalent of taking a shortcut across the train tracks without ever looking for the train.

 

I’ve lived for periods of time in five of Canada’s provinces – I know Nova Scotia and New Brunswick more than well, from the high grey maple stands behind Sussex, N.B. to the deep red flats of the Bay of Fundy. I’ve lived in the very heart of the manmade mountain terrain of downtown Toronto — the hard, three-dimensional concrete environment of King and Adelaide — and spent months in the snowy heights of the Rockies on Alberta’s side.

 

I’ve passed through or stayed briefly in every other province — from urbane downtown Montreal to wintery Winnipeg to the almost-empty flat prairie town of Chaplin, Sask., in the high simmering heat of summer — and there is no part of this country that I would view as anything but part of Canada.

 

I know we don’t understand each other and often have simplistic views about how others live — I also know that we can turn those views into hardened positions where no one thinks they can afford to back down safely, regardless of the damage we’re doing to our nation and our economy.

 

One day, I hope to get to Canada’s Territories. One day, as long as there are territories and a country left.

 

Standing on the barrens looking towards Newfoundland’s Hawke Hills, smelling the complicated mix of ground juniper and peat and Labrador tea, I don’t think of Canada as a bunch of separate nations. I don’t even see the need for declarations about nationhood from the House of Commons.  This is a bad place to be. I feel it in my bones.

 

*** First published in Nov. 2006

An office in your home

By Leslie Whatmough

If you work in an office environment, the term home office may suggest a lifetime of homework, but a well designed home office can be a liberating space that is both functional and inspiring.

To keep a healthy balance in life it is important to find time to work, love, laugh, and create. Having a space in the home that inspires you to unleash your creative side is as important as any other functional space.

So throw out your old ideas about a home office and reinvent it as a studio, a place to paint, sew, write or build things that make your heart sing.

Choosing a space that is large enough to accommodate both the creative and practical functions of the room is the primary concern. Treat this studio as a blank canvas whose primary function is to inspire, so paint the walls in colours that set the mood and hang posters of role models or write phrases to encourage action.

It is important to think of this studio as having two distinct functions so if possible do not try to use one surface for two purposes. A desk that functions as the place to write cheques may become buried in the associated paperwork and the effort required to clear it off may deter you from using the space for its creative function. Find separate solutions for each function in the room and ignore that voice from childhood that insists that the space be cleaned up every night. If necessary ensure that this space is not visible to the rest of the home. A work in progress will allow you the freedom to commit small chunks of time without wasting that time on repetitive set-up and will allow more time for creativity.

Organization is the key to a successful home office/ studio. Commit only the minimum of space necessary to those reality tasks and keep the larger room for the creative endeavors. Bill paying and menu planning can be organized into an accordion file and requires only a counter big enough to hold a laptop or keyboard. A traditional monitor can be wall mounted for space saving if necessary. For the creative centre, comfortable furniture should be a priority as creativity often requires us to slow down and give inspiration the opportunity to surface.

A home studio is not an indulgence, it is a necessity. Taking time to allow your souls expression is the secret to a long and happy life.

New Year’s Eve “Hoe-down”

By Joan Barton

 

It was five years before we spent New Year’s Eve in Haliburton County.  Not that we dreaded the very idea of it, but there really didn’t seem to be much going on up here, and I am by birth a city girl.  I liked to prove to myself annually that I could still walk in high heels and drink from a champagne flute without dribbling into my décolletage, so for New Year’s we invariably drove down to the city.

 

Last year though, between Christmas and New Years, we got 40 cm of snow in three days, and the radio promised more to come.   Not even a party girl ignores the local weather forecast in Haliburton County in December.  Mother Nature had grounded me.  New Year’s would be a cozy night wrapped up in front of the fire with the dog at my feet.  Just like the night before.  Just like the next ninety or so nights to come. Fabulous.

 

Since we were snowed in, we were at home when our neighbour called to let us know that everybody on our road would over at the Legion for New Year’s and did we want a lift in his truck?  So at 7:00 that night I was in my closet, looking for the right outfit for the kind of New Year’s Eve party you hitch a ride to in a pickup truck.

 

We got to the hall and found our places at our “road table” just as the Blackfly Boys were tuning up.  This local band has been together for quite a while.  Most of the crowd knew all of the Boys by name and, as the grey haired fiddler “Boy” arranged his seat in front of his microphone, several members of the audience voiced their approval of his good sense, planning ahead for that point in the evening when he wouldn’t be able to stand up.  Finally the rowdies among us were firmly quieted by the lead singer, a huge man with a salt and pepper mustache, and the ensemble struck up a loose but determined interpretation of  “Are You Lonesome Tonight.”

 

A few couples got up and shuffled on the dance floor, slowing down and speeding up as the musicians chugged through the song looking for 2nd gear. Most of us just sat at the tables, sending the menfolk for drinks from the bar and catching up on Christmas gossip.  I figured we were relaxed and settled in for the night.

 

Then the singer announced “We’ll be doing a square-dance next.”  Half of our table got up.  My husband and I, and some sheepish looking younger folk, were left gawking at a suddenly crowded dance floor.  The rest of our friends were up on their feet arranging themselves into squares and kidding with the band.

 

The first dance was St. Anne’s Reel, and they all knew how to do it!  The singer did the calling, the fiddle player bounced the tune along and our friends spun and daisy-chained, broke into squares and circles and joined together again and, frankly, blew my socks off.  It’s one thing to see square-dancing performed, say, up on a stage or as part of a festival: but it’s another thing entirely to realize that your buddy who picks up milk for you in town is really good at this.

 

The band packed the floor with three square-dances in every set, then played a few wavering pop tunes to give those of us who are square-dance-impaired a chance to stretch our legs.  I would have been happy to skip the rock and roll and watch square-dancing all night but, as my neighbour explained to me, “ It’s thirsty work.”  So square-dancers take restorative breaks from time to time and support their local Legion, or at least the Legion’s bar.

 

Finally midnight rolled around so we all took to the floor with paper hats and horns and raised a good ruckus when the balloons came down from the ceiling.  After that there was coffee and Legion Lady pie, then home again in the truck, threading between snow-banks, under the stars.

 

I’m going to give those high heels to the thrift shop.  I can’t dance in the things.