Saturday, October 31, 2009

Square 76: Boo!

Square 076

I haven't done much special for Halloween the past few years. Next year should be the year to change that.

I used to enjoy it to the max. My favourite costume ever was the Viking outfit my parents helped me put together in grade nine. Dad cut a round shield out of plywood and we stained it brown. The sword and ax head were also cut from wood, but he beveled the edges and painted them silver for greater authenticity. I used cardboard and aluminum foil to make a peaked helmet complete with nose guard. Under my shoes I wore bulky wool socks criss-crossed with rawhide laces. A bulky sweater resembled chain mail, and I cut a cloak out of green cloth. The best thing about that costume was it provided months of enjoyment as props for fantasy games in the woods with my neighbours.

On a more gruesome note, the November issue of National Geographic contains a riveting article about animal mummies from ancient Egypt. The culture venerated some animals as gods and gave them elaborate burials. They alos prepared pets to accompany their masters in the afterlife. For the journey, the dead were also provided with food—essentially mummified jerky.

An entire economy revolved around providing worshipers with votive mummies. When you entered a temple, it was safest to go equipped with a specimen of the god's favourite animal to offer as an intercessor. Many thousands of cats, ibises and other animals were dispatched, embalmed and wrapped in cloth for this purpose. It was a lucrative business, and bred corruption. Modern scans reveal some of the most lavish mummies contain no real animals at all, just mud or perhaps a few bones.

This ancient culture seemed to have more reverence for death than live. It is both fascinating and morbid to consider, a delightful little yarn to inspire your Halloween dreams. I tried to make a square out of the most ghoulish colours possible, but it turned out eerily lovely. Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Square 75: Grand Manan Island

Square 075

In August 2005 I took Marian and Brenna on a whirlwind tour of the Maritime provinces. When I was planning it, my friend Colleen said we must visit Grand Manan Island. She and her partner had camped on a cliff at Hole-in-the-Wall Park and heard whales breaching in the night.

So that is exactly what we did. We never saw the whales, but heard them at night. When fog moved in around 4 a.m., a foghorn started groaning from a nearby point, filling our dreams. In the morning we saw seals entering the weir net below our campsite to catch fish.

Fine rain fell most of the day and two nights we spent on the island. At Southwest Head we hiked along another cliff. We could hear sea waves thundering at the foot, almost invisible through the mist. At Seal Cove, a fishing village hardly changed since the 19th Century, I photographed water droplets on a huge spider web. In the middle of an August week, there were few tourists, and we had the campground practically to ourselves.

All the island was the colours of this square.

On the trip we saw much beauty and enjoyed much hospitality, especially from my Nova Scotia aunt and her family. But Grand Manan Island was our favourite part of the trip, this despite the wet weather. Any tour of the Maritimes would be incomplete without a visit. Grand Manan Island is part of New Brunswick, but off the coast of Maine in the Bay of Fundy. It is reached by a two-hour ferry trip from Blacks Harbour.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Square 74: Genie

Yesterday I brought home some shiny Gatsby Lux yarn to incorporate into this blanket. I got infected sitting next to Rachel at Luttuce Knit's knit night recently. Rachel likes glittery yarn, and somehow I came away feeling this project needed some, too. I'm a bit of a natural fibre snob, so this is a new departure for me.

The yarn looked nice with purples and rich browns, colours that immediately make me think of magic. I don't even believe in magic, really, so where do I go from there?

If I found a magic lamp and the genie gave me three wishes, what would I wish for? I suspect most of us would have a hard time resisting the lure of riches, but my first thought was: "Please eliminate all my debt forever."

I didn't have to think about that one for long before recognizing the catch: the underlying problem is my own behaviour. No magic could erase that.

When I was a boy I had everything I needed, most of the things I wanted, and more. My parents were careful. They always had enough money for a comfortable home, new clothes, good food, family vacations plus a lot of things that many people would consider luxuries. And they never went in debt.

Somehow I did not learn from their example. I habitually spend money I don't have. It's not that I live lavishly, certainly not. Most of the time I worry about paying the bills and spend very little money. Then once in a while I feel rich, but instead of working on that debt, I immediately spend what money I have and a little extra.

At the time it feels like I'm rewarding myself for hard work, but in the long run, having no money is no reward. Someone recently pointed out that this behaviour is self-destructive, and suggested I perpetuate the problem because it is familiar and I wouldn't know how to act if I didn't have to worry about it. She was probably right.

When I was a boy I had a little plastic cylinder for banking all the quarters I got from my allowance. I would save money to buy something special every once in a while, usually a new fish for my aquarium. I've always liked pretty things.

Meanwhile I wanted to run away (most children think about it, don't they?), and imagined I could save enough quarters to get by on for a while. But nothing was more terrifying than the thought of being on my own without anyone to look after me. Nowadays I live alone and spend most of the time looking after myself. It's still terrifying sometimes.

I never saved enough to run away, and I never make much progress paying down my credit card, but if there is one thing I could change to make my life better, that would be it. No, a genie couldn't help, but recently I took inspiration from Leo Babauta, who blogs Zen Habits and claims to have changed a "laundry list" of problems and gotten out of debt by simply changing his behaviour. It's going to take some hard work, learning to keep a budget, and changing the way I think about a lot of things. It's a problem I'm ashamed to talk about, but lately I've been putting the word out to a few friends, and with this square I'm going on record, drawing a line in the sand.