Friday, October 30, 2009

A Sense of Place

Ask, and ye shall receive.

Not 72 hours after I wondered here what I was going to blog about in the pre-Christmas knitted gift frenzy, we got an unbelievable surprise that makes a relatively non-knitting post not only possible, but very easy.

Having sold LoML's house, we had just started house shopping.  The housing market here has been much more on the "Seller's Market" side in the last year or so, and we had heard numerous stories of people taking six months to a year or more to find a house, so we had been a bit lackadaisical about minor details like getting a pre-approved mortgage were being patient.

We did not take into consideration that the universe has not only a sense of irony, but a sense of humour.

Last Saturday, we went to see just the sixth house that our agent had shown us.  Like the others before it, it wasn't right, but we were near the house where I took piano lessons as a teenager, so we decided to go for a drive through the neighborhood the scenic way so that I could show LoML this little part of my history.

We turned a corner, and there it was.  Huge, built in 1912, solid, straight and for sale. We called our agent on the spot and arranged to see the house Monday night at 7:00.

On Monday night at 7:02, we fell in love. Hard.  I froze to the spot the minute I walked in the door and laid eyes on the untouched, original oak bannister.

LoML told me later he looked around the corner and immediately had a vision of our Christmas tree beside the fireplace in the living room.

At 7:45, after thorough inspection (him), much gasping (me), bouncing (me) and giggling (also me), pacing (him) and the occasional squeak (me), we sat down at the dining room table to write the offer, then went home to spend the next excruciating hour waiting for the phone call.

We got it.  They accepted the offer.  The house was ours.

The next 48 hours was an agonizing flurry of activity, arranging financing and a home inspection between bouts of giggles, anxious phone calls, and sleepless nights.  The financing came through swimmingly, and the home inspector passed it with colours as flying as one can expect for a century-old structure.  (The nice thing about buying a house that has been standing for almost a hundred years is that, generally speaking, they've done all the moving they are going to do (if any), and are quite happy to just sit there the way they've been quite comfortable all this time, thank you very much.  Ours is no exception.)

November 16, we're going home.  Sweet, sweet home.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pre-Christmas Cast On(s)

I learned how to knit on a tour bus full of dancers somewhere on the TransCanada Highway, when I was working as a pianist for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.  My friend Kevin, who worked in the wardrobe department, taught me how, and it was a wonderful place and time to learn, because being on the road means that you have long hours of uninterrupted knitting time as you travel from one tiny town to another or relax in hotel rooms after the show.  I did three tours as a knitter, and, being that the tour happened in late November/early December, got into the habit of doing my Christmas knitting on the road.

It's been quite a few years now since I left the RWB, but the habit of starting many, many Christmas presents hasn't gone away.  And while I love knitting gifts, it appears that my knitting schedule instincts haven't quite caught up with the fact that I no longer have 2-3 weeks of dedicated knitting time in which to actually make the damn things. I try to back up the start date, but the last few Christmases have seen me sacrificing sleep and sanity to get things done in time.  Add to this the fact that I have a brother with a November birthday, and you've got a recipe for a holiday season somewhat lacking in Heavenly Peace.

I don't like it when my knitting is panicked. This year I'm better - I've already got one gift done, and several on the go, but I'm getting nervous because that inner knitting schedule is kicking in hardcore. 

I'm currently in the throes of a wicked case of startitis (symptoms of which include a credit card straining under the weight of Blue Moon Fiber Arts and KnitPicks shopping sprees, no available 2.75mm dpns despite the fact that I own 4 sets, a project in every purse and pocket, a Ravelry queue onto its second page and an apartment strewn with sock books).  I would love to tell you about all of the things that I have cast on this past week, but their recipients read this blog and posting pictures of their Christmas morning surprises sort of defeats the  purpose.

So what's a knit blogger to do?

This too will require a bit of creativity.  Maybe directing some creativity into another medium will stop me before I cast on again.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Last night was Thanksgiving dinner at my mom's, and we were the smallest group we've ever been.  My three siblings and their partners don't live here anymore, so it was just mom, dad, Love of My Life and me.  Because we were such a small group, mom eschewed the traditional meal for something a little more practical, leftover-wise: cedar planked salmon (done on the barbecue despite sub-zero temperatures, for we are Winnipeggers), squash and green beans, and garlic mashed potatoes.  LoML built a fire.  It was wonderful.

My mom was in good spirits but definitely wistful at times, and I could tell that she was missing the larger gatherings of years gone by.  I am one of four children, so the smallest group she (and me, and dad) cooked for for years was six, and she comes from an enormous French-Canadian family where Sunday dinners were typically extended family gatherings ranged from anywhere from 10 to 40+. (Last time we had a reunion of that side of the family, we rented a hotel ballroom.)

Things have changed.

It was a lovely evening, and somehow having the traditional gathering in a non-traditional way somehow made me appreciate the spirit of the holiday in a way that I don't think I have in a number of years.  So in that renewed spirit, I am thinking about the things I am grateful for this morning. 

1.  The country I live in.  My job, though fascinating and rewarding, has the occupational hazard that I have become a bit of a news junkie, and therefore almost always aware of the circumstances that so many people have to face every day just because of where they happen to have been born.  I have never known war or famine.  I do not have to risk my life to be able to vote.  I can travel freely.  I can say whatever I want about my elected leaders.  I can have a job, ride a bike, play in a band, love who I love and wear what I want despite the fact that I am a woman. 

2. The internet.  Ravelry, Audible and the blogosphere connect me to ideas and people which I've come to treasure as part of my daily life. The podcasts of Brenda Dayne, Lime & Violet, Stuart MacLean and David Reidy keep me company, open my eyes to different parts of the world, and make me laugh (sometimes with stare-provoking consequences) on my daily commute.  I am so grateful to these people for sharing their lives with me.

3.  My friend Kevin, who taught me how to knit on a tour bus full of ballet dancers.  He thought that he was just giving me something to distract me on that one seemingly-endless tour in 2001.  He ended up changing my daily life in a way that - hopefully - will be with me until my dying day.

4. My teacher.  Mr. Melnyk was my piano teacher through 10 of my formative years.  I was during these years geeky, chubby, bookish, awkward and deeply insecure.  Despite that, through the incredible power of music, he instilled in me a sense that I had beauty of the highest order inside of me, and that I had the capability and therefore the responsibility to share that beauty with the world.  He changed me, fundamentally and forever. He had a profound impact on not just the musician I am but the sort of person I turned out to be.

Most importantly, I am grateful for the people in my life today.

My sister Ann, living in Ottawa, who sees the world with a constant air of wonder, and who has the incredible gift of being able to share that vision in words and music and her very presence.

My brother Chris, currently playing music on a ship somewhere in the Meditterannean, who has the oldest soul of anyone I've ever met and a diabolical, twisted sense of humour, meted out at just the right time and in just the right way.  He is a constant source of fascination.

My brother Michael, a lighting designer living in Stratford, whose thoughtful approach to his life and extraordinary openness to the lives of others has made him a safe harbour for me on more than one occasion, and has more than anyone else in my life made me laugh until I feared some sort of permanent physical damage.

My mom and dad, who committed before we were even born that we would be exposed to and allowed to participate in whatever we were passionate about, and stuck to this commitment when the things that we were passionate about turned out to be noisy, expensive and ultimately unprofitable (i.e. read 4 kids and 14 or 15 musical instruments, and in the case of the lighting designer, an impressive collection of high-end flashlights).  When my dad and a colleague were catching up at a conference years ago and my dad told him about all of us working in the performing arts, his friend said "Couldn't even save one of them, eh, John?"  Mom and Dad never saw it this way. Never, when we wanted to go off to music school or theatre school or record an album or *ahem* switch to the accordion, asked us what we were going to fall back on.  They truly believed in us and in our dreams, and we are all better people - and, incidentally, successful artists - for it.

And for the Love of My Life.  We found each other late in life by traditional standards, yet at exactly the right time. As difficult as the road was at times, I wouldn't trade my life for anyone's: it led me to him, and the destination was worth the journey, every single step of it. And now that our paths finally converged, I can't wait to see what's next.

I suppose one more thing to be grateful for is that this list is by no means exhaustive.  I am privileged beyond measure in so many areas of my life that to list them all would mean being here still typing long after tonight's turkey dinner with LoML's family had been relegated to the margarine tubs for tomorrow's leftovers.

I am a lucky woman indeed, and I am deeply grateful.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Canadian Prairie Brush with Fame

Last weekend was Alexander Keith's birthday, and Venus Murphy (the celtic rock band of which I am one fifth) had two shows in Saskatoon, an 8 hour drive west of home.  We play there fairly regularly, and have a great following, the venue is awesome and everyone is always really nice to us. It's kinda funny, because they treat us like we're famous.  (We're not. But for a weekend, it's fun to play like we are.)

I love going on the road to make music - it has a way of removing us from our real lives in a way that is somehow different and deeper than just a vacation is - it's like a complete immersion in our alter-egos...  for two or three days, we're not just Kyle, Mike, Nic, Kevin and Jenn, we're Venus Murphy.  We're a Band, a unit. There to entertain, to make people dance, or sing along... hopefully to lead them out of their everyday lives a bit, too.  I'm so happy when I'm on stage. Everything else disappears, half the time I'm not even really aware of the crowd in any way more than this wonderful source of energy.  The only people in the world are these four amazing men I get to make music with.  I live for this, and when we're on, there's nothing like it.  There's no stress, no effort, just us and the music.  It's magic.

But before that... well, before that, there is the work.  We get up early Friday morning, we buy the largest coffees we can find and we hit the highway.  Going on the road as a musician sounds like fun - and it is - but there is definitely a whole bunch of unglamourous heavy lifting involved.  Our instruments, mics, wireless systems, amps and various other necessities (drum hardware, rosin, cables, batteries, extra strings, flashlights and electrical tape) fill two cars, weigh a lot (without exaggeration I figure we're about 1000lbs in gear), are valuable and in some cases delicate, and need to be attentively loaded in, loaded out and set up by the five of us.  There's a reason bands have roadies.  'Nuff said.

I love the prairie with every fibre of my being, but the drive from Winnipeg to Saskatoon is... well, basically this:

... and a little of this....

All... the... way... there.  It's beautiful, but not really eight hours worth of beautiful.

Luckily, I'm a knitter.  I think I spent more time planning and packing knitting supplies than I did on my stage wardrobe.

The project for the trip was Ruba'iyat Mittens.  Here they are as we left home...

and at Brandon, 200km down the road (don't judge my slowness, this was way early in the morning)...

They took a time out while I drove the last bit from Regina to Saskatoon and while we loaded in all the gear and did our sound check.


I knit a few rows in the hotel room before the first set just to take the edge off the nerves.  As many times as I've gotten up in front of an audience - and I have been priveleged to be able to do so many many times in my life - I still get hyped before a show.  Knitting somehow does wonders to help me settle my stomach and focus my mind on the work ahead, for as much fun as it is, making music, particularly with other people (and, if I may say so, especially when one is playing an 18-pound instrument in 3-inch heels) requires a certain amount of concentration. 

The mitten had to stay in the hotel room while the accordion and I went downstairs to do the show...

Though some of my knitting did get to come on stage:

(Yes, those are the kilt hose, finally finished and in their natural habitat.  I took this shot standing off to the side with Love of My Life played a pretty smokin' drum solo.)

The shows went great, the audience was great, but one very enthusiastic fan stood out.  He was there for both sets, both nights, and beers after the show Saturday.

Yes, fellow Canadians, that's two of my bandmates with Lorne Cardinal, "Davis" from Corner Gas. He made our fiddler (Nic, left) play on his chair. (Nic has a habit of running all over the pub while soloing.  Since he went wireless, we can't keep him on the stage for very long.).  Nic fiddled.  And Davis danced his butt off.

Now that's famous.  I love Saskatoon.