“Speak up, me son!”

My mother and I were talking about the characters that she knew years ago, funny friends and neighbours, customers at her general store. One fellow was George Palmer, who lived just up the road from the store with his wife, Dora. I don’t remember either of them, but have heard lots of tales.

Even into the 1990s, we had a party telephone line that was shared with other people. By the end, there was just one other family on our line, but there would have been dozens on the line at one time. Each telephone subscriber had their own distinctive ring that would alert them to an incoming call, so you had to know your pattern and were only to answer if it was yours. George, though, would listen to every call that came on his line, but his hearing wasn’t great in later years, so he would occasionally blurt out “Speak up, me son!” if he thought he was missing some juicy news.

Mom said George loved to play April Fool’s jokes. One April first he pulled up in his horse and wagon to deliver eggs to their store, which was having a very busy day. The eggs would be in a little crate on the back of the wagon and my father would go out and take them in to the store, grade them, and credit the amount to George’s account. George pulled up and yelled “Phillips!” and my father went out to get the eggs. Just as he neared the wagon, George slapped the reins, geed up the horse and yelled “April Fool’s!” as he drove away.

I have 40 hours of 8mm film my father took starting about 1960, and I remembered a short clip of a man in a horse and buggy on the road in front of our old house. It’s the only film I have of someone in a horse and buggy, so it’s a short but important memory of a time when horses were still the main source of transportation for some. George would be one of the last men in our area who never owned a car or truck. I showed the clip to my mother, and she is pretty sure it is him, the jokester, and at the end of the clip, you can see his house off in the distance as he drives down the road past my grandfather’s house.

Precious Plastic and Fixing#Fashion

Great episode of BBC World Service’s People Fixing The World podcast about the Precious Plastic movement. It’s been interesting watching founder Dave Hakkens create this international open source community, then step back recently to allow others to take the reins. When I think of open source, I think more of computer code than management styles, but there would be no way for Hakkens to have created this open community and then tried to control it from above. He is letting it evolve beyond him.

Precious Plastic is now under the umbrella of One Army, which includes their new initiative to fix fast fashion waste called, sensibly, Fixing Fashion. Their website is full of information on how to mend, care for, and repurpose your clothing, with the aim to have us think of old clothes as a resource and not waste, just as Precious Plastic did.

I have been mending my clothes again of late, so this comes at the perfect time to help me advance my skills. I have a 1970s sewing machine, but have been patching by hand: holes in jeans, the elbow of a hoodie, sewing up ripped seams on t-shirts. I’m using the thread I have on hand, and am not worrying about it all looking nice or matching. I can darn socks because my mother has always knit them and I watched her keep them wearable forever by mending holes toes and heels.

My only tip to pass on is to patch or mend before a hole emerges, when the fibres are just starting to look thin, then you are reinforcing what is already there and that is much easier. This requires examining your clothes regularly as you launder them, so having fewer clothes helps.

In two generations my family went from having a closet that was just a couple of hooks behind the door to a big walk-in room. Who do we think we are, and what would the ancestors think of who we have become?

The Mirror and 2P4H

Steven recently posted The Mirror on SoundCloud, a song he wrote with his friend, Ted Dykstra, for their yet-to-be produced musical, Dorian, based on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

While the recording is a bit sketchy from a wobbly old cassette, the performers are straight up Canadian music royalty. Stratford Festival star Lucy Peacock is on lead vocals, Paul Hoffert from the band Lighthouse is on organ, Creighton Doane on drums and Kevin Breit on guitar. Steven’s not sure of backup vocals, but I would guess Melanie Doane and Damhnait Doyle are likely in there, maybe Terry Hatty, no doubt Ted, definitely not Steven.

Speaking of Ted, it’s 25 years since he and Richard Greenblatt premiered their play 2 Pianos, 4 Hands at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto. Mirvish Productions just released a podcast interview with Ted and Richard and their devoted stage manager, Beatrice Campbell, my pal and classmate from the National Theatre School of Canada. Stage managers are NEVER included in such things, so it’s lovely to see Bea tell her stories.

Steven and Ted are working on a new show based on the Greek myth of Dionysus (no, it’s not contractual that they only work on subjects starting with D!), so poor old Dorian must be feeling a bit left out, like a forgotten painting in an attic or something.

Kat Edmonson

I was listening to KJazz 88.1, a jazz and blues station broadcasting from California State University Long Beach, a couple of weeks ago and heard a great upbeat version All I Do Is Dream Of You. At first I thought it was Blossom Dearie, but turns out it’s a fantastic young woman named Kat Edmonson. Originally from Texas, she calls her style of music vintage pop. I hear touches of her fellow Texan Nanci Griffith and a little Doris Day in her voice, but her sound is unique and difficult to categorize.

She covers lots of jazz classics and some pop songs too, including a gentle rendering of The Cardigan’s Lovefool. Edmonson’s also a solid songwriter, and her most recent single, If You’re Scared (Call On Me), was commissioned for the COVID-19 Song Project on NPR’s Morning Edition, and has been floating through my head most days, especially when we had a few scary moments this week. It seems like a song that has always existed, a beautifully crafted perfect thing.

Edmonson was half way through a tour last year that was cancelled when COVID-19 struck, so she has been streaming live concerts from her New York living room most Sunday evenings at 7:00 EDT. Pay what you will to join the party, and I’ll be there on YouTube.

April 30

20 years ago tonight I was spending my last evening at 257 Pacific Avenue in the High Park area of Toronto. I had quit my job of seven years at the Daily Bread Food Bank and was heading to PEI with my partner (now husband), Steven. We had been together for 18 months. Soon into our relationship we talked about moving out of Toronto, probably somewhere in rural Ontario, but we changed course after a trip to PEI in August, 2000.

Being the only child of older parents (both turned 79 in 2001, my father on that April 30th), I felt a great pull to return to PEI and help them. My father was in the beginning stages of what turned into dementia, and my mother was taking on more and more responsibility, but finding it a challenge, though she was and is remarkable for her age. I was 34 and had been away from PEI for 17 years, but it was time to go home. Steven was game, so that was that.

We gave away tons of stuff before we moved, much of it to a centre in the east end of Toronto who helped people transition from homeless shelters to apartments. Friends took bits and pieces, then the movers came on April 29 and gathered up what was left. I arranged with the woman who was taking over the apartment for her to move her stuff in on April 30, as long as we could sleep there (on the floor, we were so youngish!) that night in the bedroom with our two cats, Emma and Digby.

I left the apartment in the afternoon while the new gal moved her stuff in, and went to say goodbye to friends. When I returned, the cats were freaked out by being locked in the bedroom, so we had a tense, meowy evening. I tried to get some sleep as I was going to drive us straight through to PEI (Steven has never driven). Steven was out with some pals for a goodbye dinner and he got back rather late.

After a little bit of uncomfortable dozing, we got up on May 1 at 4 a.m., shoved the cats into a carrier in the back of my red VW Golf, pointed the car east, and drove away. If you haven’t driven 1,700 km in one day with 2 yowling cats, you are missing the trip of a lifetime. By the time we reached Quebec City in the afternoon, the cats had collapsed into eternal despair and mercifully slept for a bit.

We arrived in Foxley River around 12:30 a.m. May 2, and collapsed at our family cottage where we would live that summer. My mother had left supper in the fridge, but for possibly the first and last time in my life, I was too tired to eat. Our neighbour called us at 8 a.m. the next morning to ask if we had seen their dog, and so it began on PEI, just as if I had never left.

Who wants to go for a drive? Emma giving me a warning look, while Digby remains in a coma. Gotta love the 2001 lo-fi digital camera look!

Moroccan Harira Soup

My go-to soup for forever has been a spinach and chickpea soup from one of Bonnie Stern’s HeartSmart cookbooks. It is very simple and quick to make with pantry items. It is what I fall back on when I don’t know what else to make for lunch.

Jane Jeffes’ beautiful Moroccan harira soup could just knock the Stern soup out of first place, though. I made it today and it was delicious, simple and uses things I always have on hand (I don’t always have fresh cilantro, but almost always have parsley either fresh in the garden or in the freezer). Most soups and stews benefit from sitting for a day and letting all the flavours mingle, but this was super soup right off the bat. It should be unbelievable tomorrow. Sorry, chickpea and spinach, you had a good run, but we are all about the warming spices now!