The other day I told someone that “I am a weaver”. Then I giggled.

This past summer Mr. 761 and I went to Ireland for two weeks. It was everything you would imagine a two-week trek in a beautiful country with the person you love can be – relaxing and gorgeous and interesting and memorable. We both can trace family back to Ireland, and while I cannot claim an eerie feeling of “I’ve-been-here-before” because of this familial link, I can say that I felt very comfortable there, and could go back in a moment and stay for a long number of moments quite happily.


Malinbeg sheep

There was something about the west that I loved very much; the south-and-west too. Counties Cork and Kerry. Clare and Donegal… oh, Donegal. I loved it there.

I took too many pictures to count – enough to tire even the fondest family members and facebook friends. I kept trying to capture moments in time, because I was so moved.


who can resist their charm?

Everything about that trip was gentle, somehow, even the wild Aran Islands and the lonely heartbreakingly beautiful Donegal coast.

If I think back, years from now, only a few of those pictures will be clear and like-yesterday in my mind. And they aren’t what you’d think, either…. they are not pictures of monuments or castles (which we certainly saw and enjoyed), but are instead of simple homely moments: like the sheep in the road near Malinbeg, or the sight and sound of the looms in that tiny studio in  Annyalla, and the big studio at Avoca, or laughing in the pub in Limerick. It was driving through moody fog-covered mountains and marvelling at hedgerows and holding hands whilst walking together through lonely graveyards, lush rose-filled parks and villages. It was a two-week montage of  quiet unhurried Full Irish breakfasts, wandering aimlessly, and surprise landings. We are very fortunate people.

We tried not to buy trinkets and souvenirs. We tried to travel lightly and keep our one-backpack-each liz christy stole and catunstuffed with stuff. This was made easier when we learned Aran sweaters aren’t made in Aran, and Waterford Crystal isn’t made in Waterford. But there were a few points where I could not deny my urge for things, and those times were almost always weaving-related. We ended up shipping a blanket home (and saved VAT – it was a deal!), and I carried my new Liz Christy stole home on the plane, marvelling at the colours and textures (it is seen here, with my cat Flowerpot who also has wonderful taste).

Near the end of our trip we wandered over to  Swallow Studios, in Annyalla, near Castleblayney Co. Monaghan.  We petted the dog, and watched the weavers, and bought the above-mentioned stole by Liz Christy (and a tiny batik by Louise Loughman). I realized that what I kept coming back to was the textiles. The weaving and looms, and the textures and colours and craft. I started off by joking that we would need to get some sheep for our backyard (still kind of want some btw) but ended up looking to see if there was a way to learn this sort of craft back at home.

I feel a bit sheepish really. I live in Nova Scotia, after all. I don’t know why it surprised me that a quick google search while standing in the hotel in Castleblayney showed me a multitude of weaving/textile artisans and workshops right near my house back in NS. But it did, and I’m glad.  When we got home, I started off with a day-long workshop on weaving with a rigid heddle table loom called a “cricket loom”. I looooved it right away.

But I need to back up a bit first. The workshop was at a beautiful farm wool shop  called kitty purlGaspereau Valley Fibres, a short drive from my house. A shop that I’d never heard of, because yarn at that point kinda scared me. You should go there, or to it’s “townie” sibling The Wool N Tart (try the lemon tarts, they are delicious). It has a great selection of natural fibres and equipment for spinners and weavers as well as knitters. (They also have a resident cat, “kitty purl”, whose picture I put here for the sake of symmetry with the cat pic above.) It’s like a candy store, but with yarn.

Why did it “scare” me? I seem to lack the requisite coordination and concentration for knitting and crocheting – they seem mysterious and… knotty. It feels like a secret society that I needed to be inducted into at an early age, or never. My time for that seemed to have passed me by, and I cannot think in three dimensions with knitting. Perhaps someday, but those crafts just don’t speak to me.

Weaving does.

cricket loom

pic from internet of cricket loom

So, I took the workshop and gave myself a week before I went and bought the cricket loom. I’m so glad I did. I spent the next few weeks in  a frenzy of learning to use it, to be comfortable with the set up, and reading about weaving. I made some nice things, if I do say so myself.

It seemed at first as if it might be the loom for me. But then…

Then, one day I went online and saw a used floor loom, and it was pretty much no time at all between seeing it online, and having it set up and… looming in my sun room. It is of uncertain provenance and I’m finding all sorts of lovely quirks about it. When I walk in that room, it smells of birds eye maple, canvas and… loom.

my loom

I own a loom, y’all.

This loom and I are still getting acquainted… it’s a much more complicated animal than my little cricket, but very much worth it. I took three days of study with the wondrous Pia Skaarer Neilsen of Wonderous Woolerie, a weaver/teacher/fibre artisan and it was the best thing I could have done. Thanks to her, I am armed with at least enough knowledge to if not fix a mistake, to recognize one. Perhaps more importantly, she showed me how joyous it can be to do what you love.

I have found that I love the methodical, contemplative nature of weaving. I love the textures and colours and feel of it all. I like the alchemy of making fabric out of yarn. I love the calm deep concentration necessary to warp the loom (put the strings on it), and the creativity that flows out of playing on those strings with other colors and textures.

I love the process, and the mechanics of it; the tension and pulleys and gears and levers. I love (but don’t yet really understand except in a very rudimentary fashion) the notation  – the musical score, if you will – of weaving diagrams. I love the arcane and somehow Dickensian vocabulary: heddles and harnesses and beaters and castles and lamms.

I love the way it’s making me learn something new, at every turn. Think about it – when was the last time you really learned? It’s wonderful, really. My brain is firing in so many different ways all of a sudden. I’m happy to return to using my hands and my brain, after so many years of pretty much ignoring my need to make and do. It feels really good.

I sometimes dream of it; I problem solve loom issues in my sleep, or at least try to.

weaving at pias

I’ve met so many great people in the course of this new adventure: weavers and spinners and yarn people. Artists and craftspeople and funny previous-owners of looms. They have been, to a person, joyful and thoughtful and generous. This was, I think, a very lucky direction to have taken, here in Nova Scotia by way of Ireland.

That lovely gentle trip to Ireland brought me all of these gifts; I didn’t even know that I needed this, and now I wonder how I could not have known.

I am curious about other people – what have you discovered, like this?


I killed my cat, and other stories: Box 761 Death Edition.

Okay. I’m using that title to shock you.

Doesn’t mean I didn’t do it, but the preferred term is “euthanize“. Sounds much nicer, right?

Bo 1996-2011

Bo was my cat, but before he was mine he was my mother’s. He was a 24-toed (normal cats have 18), black-and-white puppy-like cat who was the charismatic and goofy reminder to me, daily, of my sweet, complicated, and sometimes troubled mother.

Shortly after Mom was diagnosed with the lung cancer that would eventually kill her  she and I had a chat about chats… they were great company, and therapeutic. I lived a 4 hour drive away and worried about her through the week – lonely, ill, alone. I told her they could help lower one’s blood pressure, etc. It was a short conversation, nothing really meaningful.

The next weekend  when I arrived at her house, there they were: two kitties. Oh I wish I could find their kitty pictures; they were so very cute. Bo was awkward – how many awkward kittens do you know? From the start he was  such a character.

She was delighted with her tiny charges (too young to be away from their mother, I always thought). She bought them in Perth, maybe Smith’s Falls (?) – towns I for some reason always get confused.  Whatever. She got them from a pet store (kitten farm, I always figured) in one of those places, anyway. I guess it doesn’t matter much, though not having that small detail bothers me, a bit.

Mr. Bojangles (because he’s polydactyl and tap danced when he walked) and his sister Shirley Temple brought a lot of delight to my mother. Shirley was the brains of the operation, you could see her try to herd Bo towards the food when it was time to eat (otherwise, we weren’t sure he’d find it, to be honest). They were delightful and sweet and really a completely ill-conceived purchase, but who cares, right?

my beautiful mother, 1935 - 1996

Three  too-short/too-long months later my mother was dead, and we were exhausted.  It was a hard death, and a painful three months leading up to it.

I was so out of it that the day we were supposed to finalize things with the funeral home I parked my car downtown and locked the keys in it – still running – and I didn’t notice. It ran out of gas in downtown Brockville while we tried to kill time before my long-suffering big sister had to go take care of business. That’s one of those stories that you never actually look back on and laugh at (I’m sorry again, Nancy, I really am).

It’s just kind of sad.

I can barely remember anything because of the weird white-noise in my head at that time, the hyper-surreality of it all. To this day, there are things I am not sure I’m remembering correctly; I just can’t get a grasp on them entirely.

It wasn’t easy, and it never is, losing someone.

What it is though, is weird. It’s weird getting used to someone taking medicine, or being in hospital not to get better but to fight death, to prolong the time before the inevitable. It’s weird feeling some relief when your loved one dies, but it’s better than watching them suffer.

That was an awful time. A time of confusing emotions and fear and pre-emptive loss. We had a complicated relationship, my mother and I, so it follows that her death was not simple for me. I loved her fiercely, but was often just confused by her otherness to me. I think she felt the same way. She once told me that I was too much like my father, perhaps that’s it.

She was in a lot of pain, and drugged, and often loopy; she was angry and vindictive and scared and sweet and confused and funny. She got paranoid, and plain nasty sometimes – I remember after a particularly obnoxious statement to me I hissed to her that I hoped it wasn’t the last thing she ever said to me, because she’d regret it. For both of us, I am thankful that it wasn’t.

Oh, the pain we cause those we love, right?

Don’t worry, there was sweetness too – many goodbyes and late night talks beside her bed – not about anything important, just talking and trying to be normal in a decidedly abnormal twilit hospital room. We talked a lot about her lost babies – too many, miscarried and lost, so many babies and so many lost dreams. We talked about whether she would see her babies in heaven, whether they would be grown or not. We decided that heaven is whatever you want it to be. I hope she met them there, and is having coffee and figuring crossword puzzles with them all right now.

But by then end of it, I was wrung out, and had stepped back from it a bit. You can’t sustain the emotional rollercoaster that someone’s  death creates without stepping back, sometimes. I couldn’t anyway.

So, she died. It wasn’t like on tv, people – it’s hard work to die, to take that last breath, to allow yourself to give up your ghost.  She laboured at it, and it was awful, even with the help of (a lot of) morphine to ease her way.

And yesterday, a coddled and comfortable fifteen years and 5 months later, Mr. Bojangles was stroked and whispered-to while our lovely vet Bruce reverently and gently sent him to sleep in my arms.


I’m not going to belabour the point here – you know what I’m getting at, right? I will be able to remember Bo’s death in a way that I cannot do my mother’s, and it’s not only because well, he’s just a cat. Those last too-short months of my mother’s life were so crazy, so full of fear and anger and love and loss and confusion over her care, her pain, her struggle. We did what we could, but it’s hard to have meaningful, pure memories of a time so full of conflicting emotions. With Bo, I had time to prepare, to love him extra-hard, to let him go before it all got too hard and it was muddied with pain and fear.

The choice to euthanize Bo was not one I took lightly, and it caused me pain. I cried about it – I’m not ashamed to say. He was senile, and still didn’t always know where his food was; he meowed and mewled and howled and caterwauled through the night; he was becoming incontinent. He’d lost weight, and his heart murmur was getting worse…. He still had some quality of life:  quiet moments, sleeping on the guest bed, cuddling on my lap at night, playing sometimes with the other cat.

The arithmetic of it was that Bo’s quality of life was declining and there were more bad times than good. He was not going to get better.

So I did what I needed to do, for him and for me. We will all miss him very much; he was one of our family. I am easeful, though, in my mind that he had a good life, and a good death.

Rest in Peace, my Boo Boo Kitty, and say hi to Mom for me, okay?

761 Miscellaneous Events

I have discovered that if one does not schedule time for blog-writing, said writing often goes undone.

This past week Mr. 761 stayed up very late talking with a neighbor who’d come to visit (not the nearly-naked one). At around 3 o’clock, said neighbour announced “there’s a greyhound at your door” – something that doesn’t happen every day. Mr. 761 was perplexed, since we have a gate on to our back deck. Apparently the greyhound was clever with his paws, because thrice did he open our gate and look imploringly through the glass at Mr. 761 and our friend.

Perhaps he wanted to join them for a beer? Several had been imbibed previous to our four-legged guest’s arrival, apparently. I was woken up at 4 a.m. by Mr. 761 yelling at the dog, shoo-ing him away, and then calling to me from our back deck, up into our bedroom window.

“Joanie, did you hear that?!

What ensued was the type of conversation where I replied a few times, and then inquired if he knew it was &$@* 4 in the morning? and tried to ignore him thereafter.

However (and there’s always a however, isn’t there?) the magic bond between me and my sleep was broken. I started registering sounds, and activity downstairs. I also noticed a very strong odor of yet another visitor.

SKUNK. Weird that it sprayed so close to the house, we thought.

I got up. Met the canine visitor, and asked Mr. 761 if he smelled skunk. He said yes, but

Adorably goofy face, for a dinosaur/dog hybrid…

was more concerned with the citronella that the poor dog had been sprayed with (it had a citronella collar for the invisible fence it had breached to come visit us). We made a bed for it in the mud room, and went to bed. I got up again about 20 minutes later when I heard it nosing into the dog food bin that we keep in the mudroom. I removed that from it’s prodigious reach, and returned to bed – about 5 a.m. at this point.

I got up in the morning (Mr. 761 was feeling oddly “delicate” and so he stayed in bed for a while longer) and took photos of the dog and put a notice on Facebook. Through the magic of social networking we found the owner and the dog was returned by noon. What finally dawned on us, though, was that it wasn’t the odor of citronella that lingered in our house, but that of skunk. My house still smells like skunk, in places where the visitor dog (later discovered to be named Cappuccino) had lain.

Mr. 761 has been doing a lot of laundry, and we’re trying to air out the place as much as we can. I had to throw out a rug, and am fighting the necessity of throwing out another.. .I like it, and can’t remember where I got it. It’s the perfect color for the room it’s in. I am hoping that the pong of skunk will dissipate if I spray enough febreeze in its direction.

is this dog laughing at me?

What I can’t figure out is why it took me so long to figure out that the dog had been sprayed by a skunk. It’s funny – I washed the dog’s face and haunches where Mr. 761 had pointed out citronella stains (what? how stupid are we?) and still didn’t figure it out.Perhaps we didn’t want to admit it. Perhaps Mr. 761’s ability to make logical conclusions was impaired, but what’s my excuse?

Regardless, the dog’s owner was very happy (though she looked at me sideways when I discussed the citronella collar spraying her dog ha ha ha!).

It has been a great week so far. Nothing earth-shattering, but it’s lovely to have friends over for dinner and to have Mr. 761 home. It was great to see our friend Dennis twice in one week – you’re always a pleasure to have over, Dennis. We miss our kids, but saw them both this week, briefly. We’re gearing up for some social events today and tomorrow, and then off on a 10-day road trip to Ontario. Life is good.

And with that said, I’m off to buy shoes. Can it get any better?

Thanks for all of your comments to the blog. I really appreciate them, and like to know that people are reading.

Authenticity & Animals

Had a good day. Slept in (after getting up at 6 with the dogs, we all trooped back to bed), had a leisurely time reading the paper and puttering around the house. There’s nothing nicer, is there? Clean kitchen, calm happy animals, fresh coffee, a tidy perfectly un-read paper waiting to be laid open and savored. I ate yesterday’s slaw (click on calendar to the right of your screen, or scroll down) and found to my delight that it’s even better the next day.  Ah. A perfect Sunday.

Met someone in person today who I’ve talked to on Facebook for a year. We’d never actually met in person. What was great was that we didn’t really have to introduce ourselves and the conversation was easy and familiar and really pleasant. We have a lot in common and I really enjoyed my day. Thanks for coming by, and lets do it again!

My father can’t quite figure out Facebook, and thinks it makes no sense. Some people think that it distances people from one another. I disagree — it can allow you to hold people at a remove or  create false intimacy, but the other choice is that you can be real, and make it a tool for communication.

It’s the same choice you make every day of your life — to be authentic, or not.

Anyway. Now my evening is coming upon me and I have no plans more complicated than reading and trying to ignore the nonsensical argument the next-t0-naked next-door neighbors are having at present (something about the barbecue, I think). I’m a little worried about his cough, it’s getting worse.

To be fair, they’re actually fully clothed today…..

I added a new link onto my blog roll today — Confessions of a Closet Artist. Beautiful photography, and it’s clear that her inner artist is out and doing great things.

Tomorrow Mr. 761 is home for a month of leave from Kandahar. He’s home one month out of every three; it’s actually a pretty good schedule. This will be the first leave that he’s had in a year and a half that we’ll be alone for most of. The kids are both out doing their own thing this summer — university and working/staying at the local military base respectively), so we’ll have the place to ourselves. Weird, but nice. Like anything it will take a bit of an adjustment, but it’s good practice for when the younger goes away to culinary school next year. My nest is already half-empty, but for him it will be new — he’s been in KAF through all of these changes in the past year and a half. He’s been home for one leaving the nest, but not really for the continuing reality of that empty spot… it’ll be good for him to acquaint himself to it.

After weeks of oppressive heat/humidity, everything is clear and lush and greenly cool today. Birds are darting all over the yard, and I couldn’t get my camera fast enough to take a photo of the little wee bird who likes my front stoop. So here are some photos of the animals who live indoors at Box 761:

Flowerpot. She's orange and sits in windowsills, what can I say?

Bo. If cats had mugshots, this would be his (check out the fangs)

Henry. The sweetest dog. He's "sensitive".

Memphis. Retired service dog, enjoying retirement very much.