Friday, October 11, 2019

October -- Already?!

Yes, and we're well along.  We've had snow -- thankfully now gone -- but even though now the days are mainly clear and sunny, there's an edge, a sharpness, to the air.

I've put much of the garden to bed -- bringing in my geraniums (pellargonia) to over-winter, and transplanting my basil to a pot in my kitchen window, where it is growing new leaves and seems very happy.  I've cleared out the lettuce, cut back the mock orange and the rhubarb, put away the 'burner' and plan to put away the faux wicker bench this weekend, as it's far too cool to enjoy at any time.

On Wednesday, with my "every 8,000 km" maintenance service, I had the winter tires put on my car.  I've cleaned the car's interior and swapped the "spring/summer" mats for the "fall/winter" mats.  And I bought a small cordless electric snow blower because...well...I will have more sidewalk to clear once I get title to the lots next door.  A few days ago the lots looked like this (that's the east wall of my house in the centre-right of the photo):


I'm gratified by that sign every time I look at that sign!  

This morning, the young man charged with mowing etc. showed up for one last cut-and-mulch (paid for by the vendors), and we talked about what I might do with the trees -- especially the willow.  I am going to start to clear out 'sucker' branches in a couple of weeks (I take possession October 24) and will finish up in March before the sap starts to run again if I have to.

Meanwhile...I've been working on a variety of things.

  • I'm finishing up a batch of small knitted items -- cowls, hats, phone and tablet cases -- for my church's annual Bazaar & Bake Sale on Saturday, Nov. 2;
  • I've only 7 pattern sets to go before I finish the lace edging on the Shetland shawl I've been working on for several months. Each set is 28 rows -- over 13 stitches...;
  • I've assembled all 36 blocks of the string quilts into 3 panels, and now that my year-old Pfaff Performance 5.2 has returned from her "spa treatment" (she's had a busy year!) I will get them all together and bind them up for the first of 3 quilts for that Syrian family we continue to expect any week now.  Here's what the blocks looked like over time:
First few blocks completed

Rows sashed together, prepped for assembly!

In addition to the lovely phone message I received from my client about the Wall-to-Bed quilt (aka Prairie Quintet), I got this photo from her nephew:


Yes -- just as she wanted -- the 3 "main" trees and sky etc. are the focal point on the top of the bed; everything else hangs below.  I'm just happy that it fits and it was exactly what she wanted!

That said, the most gratifying thing I've done lately is something that completely came out of serendipity -- and out of history.

Here's the story:

This man was my father, John Gillies Rennie (November 14, 1904 - February 13, 1952 -- seven months before I was born):

Portrait by Wadim Dobrolige,
Heidenau, Germany, 1946.

Dad met the painter -- Wadim (or Vadim) Dobrolige, a Ukrainian -- in one of the three camps over which my father was employed by the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) to manage.  I believe that when they met, Dad was still a Captain -- a member of the Black Watch of Canada, Royal Highland Regiment, seconded to the British military government for most of his WW II service (1944 - 1946).  

Book on Dobrolige...
Anyhow, my father became a fan -- a patron, if you will -- of Mr. Dobrolige, who was then in his very early thirties.  Dad bought several of his paintings, and brought them home after his war service ended abruptly (through illness -- a reported heart attack -- in 1946).  I grew up with these paintings in our family home and in the home of my godmother, Georgina A. Davison (aka 'Nina').

When my mother and step-father retired to the Okanagan from Quebec and down-sized, I acquired some of these paintings -- and a couple more when Nina died in 2004.  When I lived in Calgary, there was one in our dining room one over the stairs to the lower level of our home, and one over our fireplace.  My sister has one in her home too.

When I moved to Mirror, I had far less wall space -- but one of the paintings hangs in my guest room:



And one is now in my living room here -- a small one of trees against the sky, which reminds me of what I see whenever I look up the street from my home.  In Mirror, all the streets seem to end in trees.

A few years ago, I tried to track down the artist.  I found out he'd emmigrated to Edmonton, Alberta in 1948 (aged 35), and had become somewhat celebrated.  Of the Ukrainian Orthodox faith, he'd created several religious paintings and iconostasis for Edmonton and area Orthodox churches.  I inquired of one -- located a mere 10 blocks from my daughter's home -- if I could make an appointment to see the work, but was rebuffed by total silence -- both from the clergy and the elders.  

Time passed.

A couple of months ago I tried again and found a link.

It turns out that in recent years, Drs. Peter and Doris Kule donated funds for the founding of the Kule Folklore Centre at the University of Alberta, Edmonton.  It's a research centre and link to the Ukrainian Canadian community in Alberta.  The current President of the Friends of the Ukrainian Folklore Centre is Natalia Toroshenko (nee Dobrolige).  Yes; she is Wadim Dobrolige -- the painter's -- daughter.

And this year, the Centre is producing a short video featuring three Ukrainian Canadians who have impacted their communities and beyond -- and one of them is Wadim Dobrolige!

I made a connection -- and it excited those who received it.  I met with three associates of the Centre on Monday -- and gave them five of the eight paintings I have, all painted by Mr. Dobrolige.  I agreed to be interviewed and video-taped for the Project, which features those community contributors; the video is due out near the end of November.  I won't be seen much, but mine will be the voice-over for the Dobrolige paintings I've given to the Centre.

Here are the five I am leaving with them at the moment (two of which were wrapped by the restorer/cleaner and were of such a size that I left them that way for the photos):


"Lilacs" -- hung over my cousin/godmother Nina's couch
in Montreal and Ottawa - and later, for a short time, in my
dining room in Calgary, AB

"Peonies" - it hung over the stairs
from our main floor to the basement in our
raised bungalow in Calgary


Hung in my parents' home and later -- as I recall --
in our dining room in Calgary, but was supplanted
by the lilacs and transferred to a spot over our fire place
(or so I recall, but I might be mistaken)


The staff at the Centre affirmed that the brown wooden frames around several of the pieces appeared to be the original European frames.

Once the video is finished, I will be notified.  There are tentative plans for a reception for the release of the film, and with those plans, a hope that Natalia and I might meet.  I also hope I will have my children with me to share this occasion.  (It would be in Edmonton in early December; prayers to Mother Nature to cooperate for travel are appreciated!!)

And going forward? 

Well, Wednesday I bought two new canvases -- of a different shape than I've tried before.

And...today I mapped out on paper and on clear plastic (remnants from my daughter's office laminate machine) my sketch for my entry into "Colour with a 'U'" -- the (so-called) 'regional' All-Canadian exhibit destined to open at the March 2020 SAQA Conference in Toronto (first one outside the U.S.)

That subject (i.e. my process etc.) is an entirely different post...so...stay tuned.

Meanwhile I leave you with Happy Thanksgiving wishes -- for all Canadians celebrating here this weekend -- and prayerful thanks for not only my Canadian readers, but all those Gentle Readers in the U.S. and around the globe.  I am thankful for each and every one of you!  

Linking to Nina Marie's "Off the Wall Friday"...and praying mightily for the U.S. -- my friends, my family there and the entire populace...








Friday, September 27, 2019

Happy Campers!

It's been another good week -- even if (already!) we're deep into fall in these parts, such that there's a frost warning tonight and a major blizzard building for the part of the province that's 3 or 4 hours' drive south of here. 

I managed to get quite a bit of my garden put to bed, and with the weather predicted to warm up a touch later next week, I'm hoping to finish the rest.  I keep prowling walking around the soon-to-be-mine lots next door with a view to what I want/need to do in the spring.

I am plotting fences (rail), and Saskatoon bushes and assorted other trees to turn it into a grove that invites one to retreat with a good book or some spinning or handwork...

Ahhhh...It's good that I have several months of winter ahead of me to dream and plan and save $$!

Meanwhile, I was on hand at the "Behind the Words" fundraiser for the Lacombe Arts Endowment Fund on Wednesday evening -- to meet the purchaser of my piece, Watch that Sky!  The fabric foreground was a great source of fascination for all who viewed it before she took it home.

And on Monday, I shipped Prairie Quintet (aka the Wall-to-Bed Project) off to its new home.  I managed to take a few photos of it showing the quilting detail, post-laundry.  I just love the texture that washing it created!


Quilt Back

Part of Quilt Front -- Grass/Earth

Part of Quilt Front -- Sky, Trees

Thursday, while I was at work at The Shop, my client left a message on my home phone.  It was so lovely I played it over and over again; I teared up a bit.  And in the end I transcribed it and printed it out to put in my sketchbook for the project:

It's Jane calling.  I'm really sorry you can't speak to me right now.  I'm overflowing with excitement.  Your quilt arrived minutes ago -- long enough for me to check on your telephone number -- and I've just got to let you know how gorgeous it is.  It's just beautiful, and I'll send you a cheque in tonight's mail.  I can't thank you enough; it's gorgeous.  You must have been thrilled to make it, because it just shows love in it.  Such a beautiful thing.  Bye-bye.

That sort of response is worth every minute of the work, and is of greater value than any amount of money paid for it.  I don't know about my artist colleagues, but to move someone like that with a piece of work -- that's why I make art.

Linking up to Nina Marie's Off the Wall Friday...and wishing you all a great weekend!



Sunday, September 22, 2019

A Very Good Week

There seems to be a great deal going on at the moment (and I'm not speaking of U.S. and Canada's political scenes! 😉)

First, earlier this week I got the call that the Wall-to-Bed quilt was quilted.  I picked it up Wednesday, made the bindings and sewed on the long-side ones that day.  On Thursday, at The Shop, I did the hand-sewing of those bindings.  Thursday night I applied the short side (top and bottom) bindings; Friday I did the hand-sewing -- again at The Shop because I was there on my own, holding down the fort, as the owner and the other clerk were down at Spruce Meadows Equiplex, south of Calgary, at the second of the two "CreativFestival" shows in this province every September.

Here's how the finished quilt looked...before washing:

Prairie Quintet  (C) 2019
Grass and trees on the grass, under the trees... 😉

Quilting Detail 1 (grassy areas)
Thread colour: grey (Brand: Superior Thread)

Quilting Detail 2 (sky)

Quilting Detail 2 (tree trunks)
Pattern: 'Geometric Swirl'
Long-arm quilter: Sylvia Sawyer,
Windwood Long-arm Quilting, Bashaw, AB

The washing and drying are finished now but...sorry -- no photos.  Trust me; it crinkled up in the most lovely way, and NONE OF THE COLOURS RAN! Hurray!! 😄 It will be in the mail to my client tomorrow!!

In addition, I now have a stack of 36 quilted string blocks (10" each before sashing) to assemble into the first of three quilts for the soon-to-arrive Syrian refugee family (no date yet!).   I'm torn between making the sashing so I can assemble these into a quilt, and starting the second of the quilts - another string quilt-as-you-go but with 8" blocks (before sashing).  It will be a quilt for a girl  this time -- around 9 years old.  The backing has red in it and so has been washed in Retayne -- just being cautious, you know! 😉

And then there's that Call to Entry that I've been thinking about.  Still no samples.  Not yet.  Is that a bad thing?

Wednesday evening I get to go to the "Behind the Words" fundraiser for the Lacombe Arts Endowment Fund, and hope that someone buys my piece.

And...tomorrow being September 23, it's not only the First Day of Fall in the Northern Hemisphere, but also the start of the 2019 SAQA Benefit Auction Section #2...and my quilt will be in this group that's on the block throughout the week:

Mac's Garden: A Tribute to Charles Rennie Mackintosh
(C) 2018 

Topping all this off...late Friday afternoon I got word that my second offer to purchase the two vacant lots next to my house had been accepted!!  The deposit to hold them has been made; money transfers are in the works, and I am dreaming about and doing research on how to deal with the trees and shrubs, long neglected, on the land.  Most of the labour will begin in the spring (after the SAQA conference in Toronto, thank goodness!) but there's snow removal (sidewalks) to think about etc. so...onward!

Here's what it looked like this afternoon, taken from the sidewalk to the north of the property. looking south:




That large "bush" in the centre is a willow -- two, really -- cut down about a decade ago by the previous owners, who neglected to remove the stumps.  Hence the "bush". It's home to lots of birds in season, and on occasion provides shelter to mice and/or shrews (to my cat's delight).  I am loathe to get rid of it altogether, but the branches are multi-branched and not (at this point) good for basketry...so I am undecided how to manage it.  Blessedly, I have a few months to ponder this dilemma!

The small trees off to the left are a Mountain Ash (still green) and a Manitoba maple (now gold); I believe the latter insinuated itself into the area in which the Ash (aka 'Rowan') is growing.  Ditto for the "bushes" at the back -- several lilacs and a honeysuckle, intruded upon by a Manitoba maple. There's a possibility in that patch for a quiet retreat -- a wee vacant spot surrounded by the lilacs...if I can deal with the maple!

And so you see...a week full of blessings of assorted shapes and sizes.

Linking now to Nina Marie's Off the Wall Friday -- and wishing you the same for your week ahead.  It's the first week of fall in the Northern Hemi, and there may be snow before long...

Stay warm!  Stay creative!  Have a great week!



Sunday, September 08, 2019

New Year, Fresh Start


This is post #1567 since I began this blog in February 2003, and it's only fitting, for today I turn 67. (Thanks for the celebratory gif, Google!)

Many people equate the start of a new school year each September with a "New Year" such as we mark on January 1 -- and having an early September birthday has often under-lined this for me.  This year I've decided there are some things in my life I have to deal with, and today is as good as any for me to do that.

I need to drop some weight -- about 15 pounds.  And aside from moving more (which is harder to do in the winter around here) and watching everything I eat (which I've been doing for years), I have one last strategy left: cut out the drink-or-two in the late afternoon.  Yep.  It's gotta go.  I have to replace it with a new habit, and I've a couple of ideas: switch to soda water with lemon, and just keep busy.  If I'm out at an event, the odd glass of wine won't hurt me, but I've been over-indulging otherwise and it has to stop.

Next up?  Travel!  I'm going to work on my "bucket list" and lay out some strategies for going the places I want to go and things I want to do in the next ten years.  I figure that by 77 I won't want to do as much, so I've "gotta git 'er done" in the nearer term:

  • 2020: I've booked my registration and made my hotel reservation for the SAQA Conference in Toronto and March.  The registration is paid for, but $$ have to be amassed to cover airfare (about $600) and accommodations (almost $1,000 if I don't have a room-mate);
  • 2021: Take Level 1 of the Master Spinner Certificate through Olds College (about $1,000 with fees and accommodation and meals);
  • 2022: I turn 70, my car will be paid off (!) and so...I'm turning my thoughts to attending Shetland Wool Week (fees, travel, and accommodation costs TBD).
These objectives are going to take some doing -- involving discipline and self-control, against which I've been rebelling rather regularly for the past 15 years.

A rebel?  YOU?

Yes, this Goodie-Two-Shoes has been rebelling against some of her former tendencies to be organized, rigid, and obliging to others -- primarily because for over 50 years that's how I was, and at the end of it all, I was exhausted, frustrated and angry.

But I'm coming back around to my former self -- and hoping to practice discipline and self-control more gently, more softly, more lovingly this time around, so that I can get to where I want to go.


The motivation behind these "New Year's Resolutions" is to live my life, rather than having my life live me.  It's to bring me more enjoyment and more opportunities to be inspired, to learn new skills -- to keep creating art!



And in that vein...Here's what I've been working on lately:

Watch That Sky! is hanging in the Lacombe Memorial Centre, awaiting the "Behind the Words" fund-raiser September 25.  It's a very different sort of fund-raiser, and if you're in the area, you might just want to check it out!  

(L) My piece, Watch that Sky!  (R) Fall Has Arrived,
a painting by Barb McCarten

I finished this knitted wrap that's taken almost a year and has (thankfully!) eaten up a good part of my yarn stash.  It's cozy on its own, but will also add warmth over coats this winter:

Pattern: "Rectangular Wrap" from Vogue Knitting - Holiday issue, 2016
Designer: Ann Morgan
Yarns: Schachenmayr Nomotta Bravo Crazy Color - Colour #85 - "Mexico
and Lang Yarns Thema Nuova - Colour #115002 (ecru)

I picked up a pair of socks that I began in 2012 (!), finished the first sock and am now about to turn the heel on the second.

On Labour Day Monday, my friend G and I spent most of the day working on the first of the two string quilts being made for the Syrian refugees our church expects to arrive in the very near future.  We got 14 blocks -- trimmed to 10" square -- out of the 36 that were prepped.  Later today, I'll be tackling a few more:


It was G's first time making string blocks -- and doing "QAYG" (Quilt As You Go), so she now has a couple of new skills.  What delights us both about these blocks, though, is the way they look when all the sewing and trimming is finished.  You don't really 'get' how they're going to look while your working on them but at the end -- wow!  They're colourful and fun and all those odd strips really do go together!  😊

And what of the Wall-to-Bed Project?  God willing, my long-arm quilter made it home safely from her Maritime holiday yesterday, and I'll be able to take the top and backing over tomorrow for her to start the work on it.

In the next couple of weeks I hope to make my sample(s) for the SAQA All-Canadian Call for Entry, "Colour with a 'U'".  

2020 will usher in preparations for the Annual Lacombe Art Show and Sale, and my role as Featured Artist.  New pieces will need to be made.

And so...more of the same in the coming months, but with a bit more shape, and focus, and determined self-care, so that I can meet the next part of my life with better health, greater peace and deeper joy.

Thanks for hangin' in with me for 1567 blog posts...and for joining me on this journey of life with HEart.  💗  I'm linking this to Nina-Marie's Off the Wall Friday, and wishing you all a wonderful week ahead!

Monday, August 26, 2019

Grass and Trees, Trees and Grass

That's almost all that's been before my eyes since my last post -- as I've worked hard to finish the top for the Wall-to-Bed Project.  Today -- it's done!

Here it is in its glory on my back lawn -- the only place large enough to photograph it in its present state.


I'm calling it Prairie Quintet because of the 5 trees.

After I photographed it, I went to great lengths to determine if it was even all around.  To do this, I had to fold it in half, and pin the end and side edges together.  That's when I discovered it was a bit out of whack on one grassy corner (bottom right of photo).  That's been trimmed now.

In addition, because of all the seams and bits and bobs of fabric in this piece, I decided to stay-stitch it at 1/4" all the way around, with the hope of preventing stretching and unravelling of seams.  Done! It now measures the desired 72" W x 86" L  plus a bit for seam allowance when I bind it. (It's not intended to cover the pillows at the head of the bed.)

Now I wait.  My long-arm quilter is away till September 7...so I've arranged with her to call on the 9th and take it and the backing over for quilting.  If I get it back within the week, I should be able to have it in the mail to my client by the end of the third week of September -- a good three to four weeks earlier than I initially estimated.

Also since my last post, I did up the final version of the piece for the Lacombe Arts Endowment Fund fund-raiser, "Behind the Words"; I delivered it to the City office on Thursday:

Watch that Sky! (C) 2019
Hand-dyed silk, commercial cottons, machine quilted
and applied to painted stretched canvas.  12" square, unframed.


All of the pieces contributed will be on show in the foyer gallery of the Lacombe Memorial Centre from September 1 through 23.  Then they'll be wrapped in brown paper -- hidden from view! -- and displayed with a poem or bit of verse written by local poets.

On September 25, there'll be an evening event at which people can purchase a piece they've previewed -- based on the poetry attached to the hidden piece.  Aha!  That will test the public's powers of observation and memory...

It's not an auction.  All pieces will be available for $150 each and as the event description says, "It's first come, first served!"  As one of the artists, I get to attend for free, and enjoy the evening, mingling with purchasers and joining in on their sleuthing fun.  😊

What's next?  Well...there's a small family of refugees coming to join their relatives here, and they'll need comfort, so there'll be three quilts under my needles soon -- two quilt-as-you-go string quilts for the kids, and a more formal design for their mom.  All no larger than throw-sized...with the faint hope they'll use up some of my stash, but you all know how that turns out... 😉

Linking belatedly (as usual) to Nina-Marie's Off the Wall Friday...

And linking on time to WIP Wednesday over at The Needle & Thread Network.

Have a great rest of your week, everyone!


Saturday, August 17, 2019

And Then There Were Five

Trees, that is.  On the Wall-to-Bed Project piece.  As you may recall, the original art piece had three trees:

Trio (C) 2012

My client wanted me to ensure that the look of the original -- with the three trees -- was the part that would lie over the top of her bed (approximately 40" wide).  That left me with the question about what to put on the sixteen inches on either side of the "top" that would go down each side of the bed.  Knowing that my client is well up in years (those of you who've followed this saga from the start may remember that she turns 99 in October!), this quilt may or may not be on her bed for a good long while.  As I mentioned in my last update, her heirs (or to whomever they sell it) may want to mount it on a wall.  Thus, it can't have simple, broad-swath, plain borders!

I decided to add two more trees to the left side, and landscape on the right side.  That would take the piece to 72" wide (16" on each side and 40" in forming the centre on top of the bed).  Then...tree trunks and grass for 16" that would need to be added to the bottom of the piece to take it from its current length (70") to the finished length of 86".  (These are all "finished" measurements; seam allowances are factored in as I work out the blocks.)

That's what I've been doing for most of the past week -- finishing the "drops" on either side.  The piece now measures 72 1/2" x 70 1/2" and is so large that I cannot photograph it anywhere in my house.  I took to the back yard and draped it over a bench.  Naturally, my Studio Supervisor had to ensure I was doing this properly!  😉

I hope Miss Pookie-cat approves!

And here's a photo without Miss P...



Before I resume work on this project, though, I have another deadline looming!  The Lacombe Arts Foundation is holding a fund-raiser in late September and has called for artists to contribute a piece.  At the Art Show & Sale in April I volunteered and was given a 12" square, 1" deep stretched canvas on which to create a piece.  With so much going on, I set it aside...until earlier this week, when I checked the deadline for submission: August 30!  OOPS!  Best get on it!

We've had some amazing skies this summer so I decided to use a photo I'd taken near the end of July, headed West out of Lacombe on a Sunday afternoon to visit my sister, then on holiday at her cottage in Sylvan Lake:



I just love it when the canola glows under a stormy Alberta sky!  But it's been a while since I've painted a sky on a canvas, and I didn't want to wreck the fine canvas I'd been given.  I routed out a less expensive canvas of the same size and took a stab at the sky, with a touch of the trees on the horizon:



When I showed the photo of this to my friend and colleague, Mary Wilton -- a painter as well as a quilter -- she responded enthusiastically, so I went ahead and sampled some stitching for the foreground.

Once that sampling was done, I completed the sample...and I have to say, I like it!


Under the Wide Sky 1: July Canola (c) 2019
12" W x 12" L
Commercial fabrics, thread painting, machine quilting --
applied to painted stretched canvas.

This means I can a) go ahead now with the piece for the silent auction; and b) have the sample framed, with the hope that it too finds a new home!

Creating the auction piece will be my focus for the next 24 - 36 hours...and by Monday I expect to be back on track making tree trunk and grass blocks for the Wall-to-Bed Project.  The weather here this weekend is supposed to be rather "iffy" -- sun/clouds/wind/showers -- perfect for studio work, and for making jam from the latest crop of very ripe raspberries I picked from my bushes on Wednesday.  😊

There'll be church Sunday morning, a SAQA Zoom call for the Western Canada Region -- the first ever! -- on Sunday afternoon, before warmer, sunnier weather is scheduled to arrive on Monday.

With Monday, there comes yet another deadline!  This one is not for me, but for the vendors of the double lot (52' x 130') that's for sale right next door to my home.  You can see the edge of the roof of my house on the right side, and the white building at the back is my garage.  This photo was taken in the early spring before the bushes on the lot leafed out -- they are very bushy now!

I consulted with my kids, a couple of friends and my financial advisor and determined I could afford to make an offer for the property, on which I'd not build anything more than a gazebo, and do some additional landscaping, so I could enjoy it into my dotage! 




Thus the deadline.  The vendors have until 5 p.m. on Monday to accept, reject or counter the offer. While I wait, I'll create!

I was planning to link this to Nina-Marie's Off the Wall Friday -- on time, for a change -- but it appears she's taken this week off altogether...so with the hope that all is well in her world, I wish you all a lovely rest of the weekend!

Friday, August 09, 2019

Time it was; oh, what a time it was...

My DH and I first met in Grade 9.

Not really.  That is, we didn't really meet.

I'm pretty sure I've told this story in this space before, but for those of you who are new to it -- or those of you who won't mind hearing it again...

We were a (Canadian) Centennial Project.  Our English teachers (1966 - 1967) were friends but, as life would have it, lived in opposing corners of Canada: southwest of Montreal (mine) and in Vancouver, B.C. (his).

The year was 1967, and Canada was celebrating the Biggest Milestone in its relatively young history: 100 years as a Confederation of disparate origins -- including indigenous peoples, European immigrants, American draft-dodgers and so many others.

Nobel Laureate, Lester B.(Mike) Pearson, was Prime Minister -- on the Liberal side of the ledger (for my U.S. friends, think "Democrat").

Our teachers thought it would be a Grand Idea if they could connect two sides of the country with correspondence -- paper and pen, envelopes and stamps, long before e-mail and 'texting' had ever been invented.  (The only computers were in large rooms on college campuses and elsewhere. No cell phones either.)

My DH picked my name off a list...and we wrote for 2 years, till some time in 1969 or '70 when (I expect) each of us got bored and stopped corresponding.

I graduated from high school in the spring of 1969, and after a memorable summer working for a wealthy family in White Plains, NY, I entered McGill University.  I graduated from that venerable institution in 1974, and spent most of the summer visiting my younger sister Out West in Calgary.

On returning home, just before I was to begin work as a nurse at the Montreal Children's Hospital, I heard from my parents that "a fellow you used to write to in B.C. has sent you a letter".  On a visit home I collected said letter.  He was planning a trip East to look for work.  Could we connect?

Truthfully, he later told me, he never expected a response.

He spent a week in Montreal at the YMCA, following up on letters of reference for work in radio (he was a behind-the-scenes producer).  He landed a job, found an apartment and with an empty suitcase, returned to Vancouver to tell his stunned parents he was moving to Montreal.

That was in October, 1974.

We were engaged in February 1975 and married on August 9 of that year.

We moved to Calgary in the fall of 1976 to ensure a secure future, as Quebec's political situation at the time was very uncertain.




We eventually raised two children in Calgary...and struggled through his long, debilitating, terminal illness -- Type 1 Diabetes.



We loved each other; we loved our kids.  We wept and prayed for miracles that didn't happen the way we wanted them to.


And my DH, Howard, died on August 9, 2006 -- 31 years to the day we'd married.





I've had to craft a new life out of those ashes -- as have my brave and struggling children.  But they were born and raised in love and I know they know that.



I created an art installation -- Mark on the Body -- to honour the people who -- like us, like my husband -- live with and try to cope with life with the auto-immune disorder that is Type 1 Diabetes, for which there remains (at present) NO CURE.

I've moved on to make work that has and is touring the globe, or can be purchased in local galleries, or commissioned.  I moved to a small hamlet in a beautiful place that heals and sustains me.  I have friends, new and old, and travel "home" to Quebec every few years to visit family and friends there...as well as my long-gone parents, other close relatives, and of course, my DH.

Howard loved me more than I loved myself.  He taught me wisdom and grace.  My analytical, introverted spirit was matched by his love for life, his extroverted joy in others.  We matched each other in persistence and determination, and in our blended Judeo-Christian faith.  Our love for our children was beyond expression, as we sought -- and failed -- to protect them from the ravages of his illness.

I am who I am not only because of my heritage, my parents and their choices, my siblings and our relationships...but also, in great part because of the gracious, funny, loving man I married, whom I remember on this day.





When we met in person for the first time, Howard reminded me of Paul Simon, who in those years was sporting a moustache and sometimes, a peaked cap.  It is only fitting that this song from Simon & Garfunkel was recorded in 1967-'68 -- the years Howard and I were corresponding.

As if this writing, I am a month shy of 67.  I think that Howard and I knew we would never see 70 together.  Funny how back in the day, 70 seemed so old and so far away.

On one of our first dates, we coined the phrase, "AFA" -- for "A Friend Always".  I gave him a small gift as a token of that day, and I still have it on a bookshelf in my home.  Howard was my love, my partner, my co-parent...but most of all, from 1967 onward, he was my friend.

I know that I know that he watches me as I approach that age -- 'three score year and ten' -- and as our children make their ways in the world, and we all craft our lives through challenges, struggles, joys, sorrows, and with the love he and I tried to foster...we remain friends.  Old friends.





Happy 44th Anniversary, Sweetie.

"AFA", 

Margaret


Howard Martin Blank
November 29, 1952 - August 9, 2006