Saturday, March 13, 2010

Square 99: Sylvie and Sarah

Square 099

In a house full of people, Sylvie was the one who sat down at Bob’s piano and started leafing through his sheet music. I was interested, too, but when we didn’t find what we wanted, Bob led us to the attic to pore through boxes of everything he had kept from music school. There we found the things that didn’t hold special appeal for him: Beethoven sonatas and Chopin etudes. We carted a few selections back downstairs and took turns plunking away, oblivious to the wall of sociable noise around us. I uncovered one favourite, a tender Brahms intermezzo, sad and warm as autumn leaves, and played it for Sylvie. She took a crack at some Beethoven. Both of us wanted to get our hands on our own sheet music back home. It would be fun, we decided, to get together and perform our favourite pieces. I hadn’t done that with any of my friends since high school. Unfortunately, neither of us had our own piano.

The opportunity came next summer when she house sat for a friend who owned a piano. I had discovered much of my favourite sheet music had been lost, but her host’s collection at least I found my copy of the Rachmaninoff Preludes, Opus 23. The one in D Major marked Adagio is my favourite piano piece of all, a simple melody, but quite challenging. My fingers found their ways up and down the keys. I was almost in tears at the joy of playing again.

That was how I got to know Sylvie. We drank herbal tea and chatted more about music and art. She gave me a jar of peach jam she had made. She has been one of my best friends ever since.

She started dating Sarah in 2003, a few weeks before I met Danny, and our relationships have grown alongside. I stayed with them when my apartment flooded. I love Sarah, too. They have been like family to my daughters.

Sylvie and Sarah are engaged to be married this summer. So I will take some time out from knitting blog squares to make a special gift for them. It will employ the colours in this square.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Square 98: Algonquin Park

Square 098

On the boundary between northern and southern Ontario lies Algonquin Provincial Park. One-and-a-half times the size of Prince Edward Island or Delaware, it contains 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometres of rivers and streams. Located a three hour drive north of Toronto, it is many Canadians' point of contact with wilderness.

My family cottage is less than 10 kilometres (as the crow flies) from the southern boundary of the park, so we need not visit to get a regular taste of Precambrian granite and pristine waters. Still, it beckons with the prospect of exploration and adventure.

That was my daughter Marian's idea of adventure, so the summer she was 12 the two of us went on a three-night canoe trip through Rock Lake and Pen Lake in Algonquin Park. We carried the canoe and all our equipment along a portage more than one kilometre long, got caught in a thunderstorm, and climbed a high granite cliff overlooking one of the lakes (some granite in the area is close to the pink colour in this square).

The morning we were camping on an island on Pen Lake, I got up early and walked to a rock platform with a wide view. On the mainland about 50 metres away, I spotted two red wolves standing on the shore. They spied me, too. After we regarded each other for a moment, they drifted into the woods.

Marian saw a black bear near the same place. We didn't have any trouble with bears or raccoons at our campsite. But each night when I hoisted the food pack safely above the ground I would keep two mugs with hot chocolate mix to add water for our bedtime snacks. One evening we went for a little spin in the canoe, and returned to the campsite to find a mouse stealing miniature marshmallows from our mugs.

The images that have stayed with me most are the water, serenely grey in all kinds of weather. One evening while we watched the sunset, a faint rain was falling around us, laying hypnotic patterns on the quiet lake. Its shining surface seemed to blend with the wet curves of rock along the shore. Marian waded into the water. My daughter, poised on the brink of adulthood, appeared to be standing in the sky.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Square 97: Hidden

Square 097

A few times I have started to knit a square without knowing the story, trusting a story to come to me in the process. This week I had my mind on many things, but no story came. I still did not know what this square was about when Danny arrived for the weekend. He offered to suggest one, but after looking at it and thinking overnight, he couldn't come up with anything specific either.

"Maybe it is the square of hidden desires," he said.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Square 96: Catan

One of the hottest board games around is Settlers of Catan and its various expansions. My friends, Brenda and Judy, introduced me to it several years ago and I've been addicted ever since, sharing the joy with my friends and family. The basic idea is that you build settlements and cities around the island of Catan, produce and trade resources from the surrounding terrain, use them to build more roads and settlements to expand your influence and win the game. One interesting peculiarity of the game is that you cannot progress without cooperating (to some extent) with the other players by trading resources. Another interesting element is that when your turns ends you don't stop participating; During other people's turns you can produce and trade resources.

This square represents the colours of the terrain hexes in Catan: forests produce lumber, hills produce brick, mountains produce ore, plains produce wheat, and pastures produce wool.

The expansion Cities and Knights of Catan introduces more complex strategies to the game. In the variant Starfarers of Catan, you blast into outer space, colonize new planets and encounter alien races who offer strategic alliances. Starship Catan is a two-player version. These are the ones Danny and I own, but there are other variations as well. In each game you must beware of pirates who can steal your resources and even break down your cities.

Through a friend of a friend, I hooked into a group that gets together to play Cities and Knights of Catan one Monday evening a month. On long weekends we hold day-long tourneys, bring potluck and invite other friends and partners along, and play all the other variants. Danny and I play practically every weekend. There is a computer version you can play solo—it's my favourite way to kill time. I've introduced the rest of my family to it as well.

Everybody likes it except for Brenna. You see, some of my friends are too competitive.

Two years ago I had just acquired Starfarers of Catan before Christmas. I was driving home from somewhere with my daughters and two friends, and most of us were getting excited about trying the new game.

"I'll pass," said Brenna, sounding blasé.

"Oh come on," said her sister. "It's more fun if we all play."

"No thanks."

We tried to cajole her, to no avail.

Finally I said, "What don't you like about it?"

"I think," said Brenna, "I've been over-exposed to Lesbians of Catan."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Square 95: Winter mornings

Square 095

Five months ago in this blog I expressed my ambivalance about purchasing and using a light box to overcome seasonal depression, but as it turns out I've liked it pretty well. In October I bought one and started using it every day. In four months I've missed using it less than 10 times.

I enjoy the ritual. Each morning I lie in bed listening to music and the news for a few minutes. By 6:15 I get up, put on the kettle, go to bathroom, choose a flavour of the day from my tea drawer, make a pot of tea and a light breakfast, then sit with my face about 12 inches from the light for 20 minutes. It's an opportunity to start the day right, doing something I enjoy. Usually I knit. Yes, practically all the squares I've knitted for this blog since New Year's have been completed first during those light sessions.

Afterward I focus for a few minutes on creative writing, my first step in The Six Changes Method I wrote about here on January 13. Then I usually have a few minutes to spare for a shower or a perusal of friend's blogs before I leave for work at 8:00.

Two months ago it was still dark outside when I left for work. Now daylight has begun to seep back into the mornings. Sometimes while I fix the pot of tea, if the sky is partly clear I can see dawn breaking over the city through my southeast window. With streetlights and sheets of vapour rising, the skyline looks a lot like the colours in this square. Tomorrow morning the sun will rise at 7:09 a.m. when I will probably be writing at my oak desk. I look forward to watching the progress of morning over the next few weeks.

Before long it will be time for me to stop using the light box—daylight will take its place—but I will maintain the rhythm of getting up at the same time every morning and devoting a sweet hour or so to my creative pursuits. When I was young, it was my favourite time of day, and I think it is becoming so again.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Square 94: Reuse

Square 094

My friend, Jonah, has an Etsy shop devoted to earth-friendly children's clothing handcrafted from reused materials. Check out her blog, Babazoobee. Her goal is to help people reduce their footprint on the Earth, one which we heartily endorse here at The Yarn. In this generation we are beginning to realize the Earth's resources are not endless, and we must learn to curtail our irresponsible consumption.

From the beginning of this project I hoped to incorporate lots of leftover yarn bits from my friends. Jonah was kind enough to offer most of the material used in this square. It resembles a painting of a cleaner, brighter world, like the pristine land of the truffula trees in my favourite Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax.

If you would like to donate yarn ends from one of your projects, send to the mailing address listed in the introduction to this blog. Your stories are also welcome.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Square 93: Valentine

Square 093

Remember in grade school how we would exchange valentines with all our friends? My mom encouraged me to make my own, though I didn't need much encouragement. All she had to do was provide craft supplies and I would go to it. Actually it was one of my favourite times of year. Yes, making valentines was just as good as receiving candy or presents. I was always excited to see what she would bring home from her shopping trip: white and gold paper doilies, red cardboard hearts and cupids, ribbons and colourful stickers.

As I cut and pasted the parts together, I did not know I was evoking antique valentines. Now I realize Mom had taught me how to make the kind of cards her own mother must have received from sweethearts around 1930. This square is also inspired by those.

It is underpinned by the outside row of handspun yarn from my sweetheart, Danny, because I am well-rooted in him.

This is a special time, because I am also newly in love. How far we have come from the the time of doilies and parlours to a society where I am free to love a man, and free to love more than one person. I don't know whether I would call it "free love"; the phrase trivializes a journey that should never be begun without care, consideration, honesty and integrity.

Fresh emotions can lead us to speak and act without thinking. Inevitably we misstep, but such is the quality of being human, and without our frailties we would be less endearing to one another.

At the same time, I do not believe it is imperative for a thoughtful person to restrict his or her romantic feelings to one other. Some derive special meaning and strength from monogamy, no doubt. To me every friendship is a different adventure. No two are the same. I am enriched by the opportunity to explore deeper levels with some people.

To the ones I love—lovers, friends and family—this valentine goes out.