Monday, October 23, 2017


This year I decided I'd like to return to Iceland in October, to attend the annual lighting of the John Lennon "Imagine Peace" memorial on Viðey Island, very close to Reykjavik. The memorial was 10 years old, and John Lennon and Ivaan share a birthday, October 9th, so I felt this was a significant year to attend.

I've been to Iceland many times, but never this late in the season, and never twice in one year.  I'd also never been there alone, so I was looking forward to the adventure. I decided to stay in an expensive hotel instead of the bare-bones apartment I normally occupy in a very old house. Frankly, next time I'll stay in the bare-bones apartment, but that's another story!

Yoko Ono chose Iceland for the location of the Imagine Peace memorial because it is a country without an army, and because there is so little pollution that the blue light from the memorial shines straight up into the heavens. Every year, she attends for the lighting. As she's becoming frail,  and the weather was cool and rainy, this time she opted to stay at the Reykjavik Art Museum, on the mainland just across the harbour from Viðey Island, and to appear at the lighting by video link. At five-thirty p.m. on October 8th, public transportation is free of charge in Reykjavik, in honour of John Lennon's birthday.  This includes Gestúr, the ferry to Viðey Island.  Special buses took us right to the ferry docks.  We climbed aboard and headed for Viðey.

We wrote messages of peace on paper tags and hung them on the branches of trees that were collected in bunches for this purpose.

Food and hot drinks were available. We listened to music by John Lennon.  We attended the tiny Lutheran church on Viðey Island.

When nine o'clock came, we were all assembled around the Imagine Peace Memorial, a white marble cylinder bearing the inscription IMAGINE PEACE in 24 different languages.  A beautiful women's choir sang a gorgeous rendition of John Lennon's song Imagine, and you couldn't tell if we were crying or not because it had started to rain.  I had a good umbrella with me so I was protected, but  still it was very cold.

There were about a thousand people on hand from all over the world.  Babies.  Elderly people. Young people. Couples.  Families. Individuals.  We didn't all speak the same language, except the language of peace.  We all spoke that.

It was a great week for me.  The weather improved day by day, until the day I left when it was basically sunbathing weather.  Icelanders were thrilled.  Other highlights of the trip were visiting the Art Museum and Háskólann Í Reykjavík: Reykjavik University.  It is modelled on the Star Wars X Wing Fighter.

It's a small, brilliant university and I wish I'd had more time to explore it (and the geothermal beach next door). The various corridors are named after planets in our solar system:

This working Formula One car is a class project by the Mechanical Engineering students.

 I also slept a surprising amount, ate very well, and had plenty of time to think - something you can't always do when you're playing tour guide.

Each time I visit Iceland, I come away with a few new words and expressions in Icelandic, and I am amazed how many similarities there are between Icelandic and Russian, both in grammatical structure and in actual words.  Iceland is becoming increasingly expensive.  The locals tell me they can't afford the restaurants and clothing shops frequented by tourists.  One bus driver told me that it's cheaper for him to fly to Germany and buy clothes than it is to buy them on Laugavegur, the shopping street, or at Kringlán, the little shopping mall.

My purchases were simple this time:  Icelandic liquorice as gifts for liquorice-loving friends and relatives, an Art Museum t-shirt for my Reykjavik-loving nephew, and a brand new vintage suit for myself from Rauđi Kross, the Icelandic Red Cross thrift shop.

I came back feeling light and free, energized and happy.  And I felt that for one night, I had been among totally kindred souls.  I could, in fact, imagine peace.


About a year ago, I started to miss listening to my small but excellent vinyl record collection, so I decided to invest in a fully restored vintage stereo system.  Naturally, I went to Ring Audio. I'd worked part time at Ring Audio in the mid 1970s and I liked the equipment from that era. Ring Audio is no longer in the original location, nor is it owned by the original proprietors, but the current owners were part of the Ring Audio community back in the 1970s.  Ted Syperek and his son, Nick, now run it out of a warehouse at the foot of Carlaw Avenue.

I emailed Nick (honestly, I remember when that kid was born, and he's now a married man) and told him what I wanted.  He said he'd look after it, but it might take some time.  It did. It took so long that Nick went to Korea on his honeymoon before I had my stereo.  So I exchanged a few phone calls with his dad, Ted, and one fine day Ted called to say he had an admirable system put together for me.  It was exactly what I wanted: a Dual turntable, Boston speakers and a Luxman receiver...all at a substantially discounted price. I was so excited, I rented a car and drove right out to pick it up.

Luckily, I remembered how to hook those things up.  But it didn't feel quite complete so I looked on Kijiji and found a Harmon Kardon CD player for sale that would blend in well with the system.  I now have an awesome sound system. I was so thrilled with it, I invited Ted to let me return the favour by providing a piece of jewellery, as a thank you.

So Ted and his beloved, Victoria, came over.  It's a miracle that she and I hadn't met before.  She owns a vintage clothing and accessories shop called Gadabout, and we've been at many of the same vintage clothing shows. We know quite a few people in common.  So Victoria tried various things and finally selected a pendant for herself.  It looks terrific on her.  Then she mentioned that she has quite a few good gemstones and has always wanted to have them all set in a ring.  So she looked through the inventory of Ivaan's rings and was very drawn to one in particular.  Oddly, that ring and my stereo system are the same vintage exactly.  She brought me her gemstones and I made up the ring in white gold. It ended up looking spectacular, partly because her diamonds were absolutely terrific.

 Every time I turn on my stereo, I think of Ted and Victoria and her ring, and I do a little dance of joy, because I am so lucky.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


This is what the City of Toronto installed yesterday.  Two of them, one at each end of Ivaan Kotulsky Lane.  Just in time for Yom Kippur and his birthday.    I like to think Ivaan would be a bit proud of himself today.

Friday, September 22, 2017


If you've been reading the blog for a while, you may remember the story of Nik and Connie and the very unusual ring by Ivaan that  they bought  in an antique store in Cambridge, Ontario. Connie did a bit of research on the ring and managed to locate me. She emailed me to tell me about her find, and I arranged to have her send me the ring so that I could do some work on it and return it to its former  glory.

It was very exciting getting to meet them and their beautiful daughter, Lola. when they came to pick up the newly restored ring. Nik and Connie own a vintage clothing and accessories store in Hamilton, Ontario, called Vintage Soul Geek. I immediately liked all of them very much.

While they were visiting me, they had a chance to poke around in our display cases, and Connie was particularly taken with a sterling silver one-of-one bracelet by Ivaan. It's a remarkable bracelet.  And I confess it's a bracelet I often worry about, because it's so unusual I wouldn't want it to fall into the wrong hands. Here's a picture.

It requires a key to unlock the bracelet which, as you can see, is one side of a handcuff. If the wrong person wore the bracelet and lost the key, they might panic and be tempted to destroy the bracelet in an attempt to get out of it.

Recently I received a message from Nik asking me if I still had the bracelet and if there was any way I would consider parting with it. He said that Connie was so enamoured of the bracelet, she mentioned it probably once a week.  As it turned out, Connie's birthday falls at the end of September, and Nik was hoping to surprise her with the handcuff bracelet.

I suddenly realized that this is exactly where the handcufff bracelet was meant to be all along, but I explained to Nik that I would be anxious if they took it with only one key. I asked if he could wait long enough for me to make a duplicate key,  in order to ensure that there was one on standby just in case the original ever got lost. Luckily, that seemed eminently sensible to Nik as well, and last week I cast a spare key.

This evening  I polished the handcuff bracelet for the very last time, because Nik, Connie and Lola are coming to pick it up on Sunday. I'm thinking of putting the duplicate key on a leather cord that Nik can wear around his neck just in case of emergency.  He already knows he has the key to her heart, but an extra one, just for insurance, will never go amiss.

Friday, September 15, 2017


This has been such a transitional year, both for me and for Atelier Ivaan. After five years on Dupont Street, I thought I'd pretty well learned everything I needed to know.  I love my Dupont neighbourhood, which is a perfect mix of commercial, residential and industrial.  I've got good neighbours and so many things that are now part of my life are virtually on my doorstep.

So the opportunity to undertake an intensive research term at the university during May and June felt risky.  I'd be away from the store during
wedding ring season, and I didn't know how long it would take for business to bounce back once my research ended. Yet I felt if I passed up the opportunity to do something entirely different, I'd regret it.  So I plunged in and applied to work on the research project. In fact, I enjoyed my research into vintage Italian films so much, I'd cheerfully do the term all over again if I had the chance.  All round, it was the best experience, and it was a breath of fresh air in my life.

I also rededicated myself to piano lessons.  I'd let it languish a bit since I moved to this location and I knew I was at a crossroads.  Either I recommitted to lessons and daily practice, or I knew I'd have to give it up for good.  And, if I gave it up, I would force myself to sell my beautiful piano, because it takes up a lot of space in the store. And, at the exact moment when I needed to make a decision, I met a musician who lives in my neighbourhood and who teaches piano.  Right away I liked him a lot, and as he lives literally a five-minute walk from me, there was no necessity to weigh the pros and cons.  So I'm a piano student again, and loving it as much as ever.

This month, I've completed two years of volunteering at a palliative care hospice.  At first, I was a bit anxious about taking on any role there, so I cycled through the training for different volunteer roles and now I'm perfectly comfortable doing pretty well anything there.  I've done some plumbing, I've sung, I've played the piano, I've cooked a thousand meals, fed residents, been present at the end of dozens of residents' lives,  comforted their families, done mountains of laundry, handled the reception desk, washed a million dishes, and made many friends among my volunteer colleagues.

Last month I reached another milestone, when I became older than Ivaan was at the end of his life.  The months leading up to it were surprisingly difficult. I had to accept that without Ivaan in my life, I have only myself to rely on, not just physically, but emotionally and in every other way.  I've always been the family 'fixer': the person other people look to when they need help, not someone who ever turns to other people when I need support.  The only person I could trust was myself.  I could no longer even bring myself to visit the cemetery, I was so unnerved.  And the cemetery is somewhere I normally go when I feel I need comfort.

Another huge milestone occurred earlier this year, in a roundabout fashion.  A couple of years ago,  I'd met a woman who, among many artistic talents, has been a solo farmer for decades.  We're not just talking about a little vegetable garden here.  We're talking about a 100 foot square vegetable garden, a front field of buckwheat, 50 acres of hay, a tractor, a forest, a lake. We're talking about 123 acres.  I'd hear her talking about seed catalogues and splitting firewood, as if these were everyday occurrences.  Some things she said really resonated with me. These included, "I live within my means", and "When I read seed catalogues, I'm actually grocery shopping for the next year".  Sometimes she'd come over with a box of organic vegetables she'd grown: the entire makings of a pot of vegetable soup, for example.  Squash. Garlic. Rhubarb.  Once she came over with a Welsh onion plant.  I'd been experimenting growing organic ginger in a pot in the shop window, but I actually have a black thumb and there is no plant I cannot kill.  She assured me Welsh onions would be quite hard to kill.
The ginger I haven't killed yet.
Now, my building is an odd building, in that it occupies the entire lot on which it is located.  There is no back yard, no front yard, no side yard, no balcony or deck.  And for five years that never bothered me at all.  But one day, I thought, it might be nice to have some outdoor space.  So I had a roof access hatch installed on my kitchen ceiling.  It comes with a folding staircase so I can open the hatch and go out onto my flat roof any time I want. Once I was on the flat roof, I thought I'd move the ginger and onions up there.
Onions are easy to grow, I'm told.
I added basil.  Then I bought pots and organic soil and I decided I'd plant some cloves of the spectacular garlic grown by this woman, and see what happened.  I added heirloom tomatoes, mint, parsley, and then I thought I'd like to grow potatoes.  I didn't think my chances were good, but I figured since it was on the roof, no one would know, and when I failed miserably, I wouldn't have to tell anyone.

I planted garlic cloves on July 6th.  By July 13th, the plants were already four inches high.  They were so healthy, it was astonishing. I bought small organic potatoes and they took so long to sprout, I eventually just stuck them into the pots of soil and expected them to rot or something.  It took weeks, but eventually green leaves appeared and then they took off so quickly I could hardly believe it.   I started photographing my tiny container garden to record my progress, still expecting crop failure any second.  But since it was on the roof, the normal creatures that attack gardens - raccoons, squirrels, potato beetles, etc.,  - were notably absent.  I bought a chaise longue so I could lie out on the roof and commune with nature.

One day last week I became curious, stuck my finger deep into the soil beside one of my garlic plants, and felt something round in the soil.  A week later, the round thing was bigger, so I dug it up and it was an actual head of garlic - not divided into cloves, just one giant round garlic clove.  I hung it upside down - like a bat - in the basement to cure.
Newly harvested garlic

Last evening, I stuck my finger into the soil beside the largest potato plant.  I could feel round things down there as well, so I pulled the entire plant up and was rewarded with 8 potatoes of varying sizes.  I'm embarrassed to say I'm from potato country in Scotland and I never even knew what a potato plant looked like.

Now I'm having a new roof and a railing installed around the perimeter, so I decided this morning was harvest time.  I could have waited another couple of weeks,  but I want my new roof to be in place in time for me to plant next year's garlic crop.  So I harvested dozens of potatoes, eight heads of garlic, several chunks of ginger root, the two ripe tomatoes, and some basil. I sorted the potatoes.  I cooked some of the larger ones for lunch and set aside 41 of the smallest potatoes for planting as seed potatoes in the spring.  That means I'll have 41 potato plants.  If I plant early and let them grow longer, I can perhaps expect 8 potatoes per plant - some for 'putting by' (that's farmer talk) for winter, some as seed potatoes for the following year's planting.

Next year I plan to add a beehive to my little farming operation. But today when lunch was a bowl of boiled potatoes that were in the ground yesterday, I just felt I had stretched and grown in unexpected directions this year.  Kind of like my vegetables.  My goal for next year is to be able to say to myself, without laughing, "I grow my own food."
Me, my potatoes and garlic.

Friday, September 8, 2017


One of the strange things about running Atelier Ivaan is not always knowing what happens to a piece of jewellery after it has been purchased.  It's wonderful when someone who has bought a ring bursts through the door a few days later, beaming, and announces, "She said YES!"  But many times the item gets boxed and bagged up, and I never hear another word.  I have to assume, on those instances, that the gift (if it was a gift) was a complete success.

Social media plays a significant role in Atelier Ivaan.  I've met many people through social media who come to be friends once I eventually meet them in person.  It's not surprising: we get the formalities out of the way before ever actually meeting, know we're going to enjoy each other's company, and meeting is almost a foregone conclusion.

Recently, I got to know two sisters through social media.  Both are beautiful, very accomplished women; both are charming with a great sense of humour. They also share a very strong bond.  Their names are Tina and Michelle.

A funny quip by Michelle on Twitter led to a plan to meet for lunch in Toronto. I invited them to come to Atelier Ivaan for lunch and they accepted. Now, the average person might find it a bit awkward to be having lunch in a store owned by a stranger.  Luckily, neither of these sisters is average in any way.

So on the appointed Tuesday, Tina and Michelle showed up for lunch. Michelle is an actor, and we knew in advance that our lunch plans could be derailed at the last minute because she might be called to an audition.  But we were lucky. Michelle arrived with a bouquet of flowers, and Tina, who is an author, arrived with a selection of several of her books.

We talked non-stop through lunch, and then Tina was curious to see what was in the showcases.  Almost instantly, her eye was drawn to the Beach Emerald ring, which is featured in my book, 30 Pieces of Silver.  Incredibly, it fit her ring finger.  You could just see that it reminded her of something.  Finally, she asked me, "How much is this ring?" I laughed and explained that the store wasn't open on Tuesdays, so it wasn't actually for sale that day.

After the sisters left, I found myself immersed in one of Tina's books, Picnic in Pisticci.  It was a delightful book about a series of picnics she'd been on throughout her life and what they meant to her, ending with a picnic in her father's ancestral village in Italy.

While I was enjoying rereading it over the next few days, particularly one chapter about she and her husband being committed "beach people",  I received a message from Tina, asking if we could talk about the Beach Emerald Ring. She just felt that it was meant to be on her finger.  I tried to persuade her that maybe her husband would not be impressed by such an unusual piece of jewellery on her finger.  "Oh, no", she replied, "He completely gets me.  He knows my taste."  She was more worried that I would feel bereft by giving up the ring.

It's odd, but as long as I know a special piece of Ivaan's jewellery is in the right place - even if that is not in my possession - I feel completely at peace with no longer owning it.  And so that's how Tina came to own the Beach Emerald Ring.

I asked her how she felt about writing a Love Story for my website about the ring (because after all she's a writer!) and this is what she wrote:

And now, here's a photo of Tina's Beach Emerald Ring.  Reading her Love Story, I understood right away why she got that look on her face when she first tried it on.  The Beach Emerald is exactly where it was meant to be.

Saturday, September 2, 2017


Ronnie Chlebak has been a friend of Ivaan's since they were neighbours back in the 1970s.  Ron ran a company, Pure Sound, that made stereophonic speakers, in a warehouse on St. Nicholas Street, and Ivaan's Yonge Street home and studio backed onto St. Nicholas Street.  I first met Ronnie in about 1984, around the time his son Nathan was born.

Ronnie was a pretty laid-back guy with a million friends and acquaintances, but he was the type of loyal, reliable friend who could always be counted on to lend a hand when anyone he knew was in need of some help.  Often that help involved moving people's possessions.  Ron had a pick-up truck and a ragtag crew of helpers, often young people he was mentoring.  He was humorous, kind and very non-judgmental.  In fact, I never heard Ronnie say a bad word about anyone.  He just accepted people as they were, however complex their lives and personalities were, and helped them when he could.

In fact, he was busy helping a friend right up until the end of his life.  He'd gone up to the Muskoka area to help his friend Joe, who lived up there, and, as I have heard the story, was doing some hard physical labour out of doors. Perhaps he had gone to the river to splash some cold water on his
face, but when his friend returned, Ronnie had died of drowning.  He had just celebrated his 70th birthday.

Last Tuesday I attended his wake.  The place was absolutely loaded with food and packed with the people who had brought it, all friends, from all walks of life, many of whom had known him for decades.  Some people went up to the microphone to speak about Ronnie: how they had come to know him, funny stories about him, heartwarming stories about the kind deeds they will remember about him.   I spoke about the first time I met him, about how recently I had seen him, because he always came by the shop on his bicycle to check up on me and make sure I was okay, ever since Ivaan's death. The last time he'd come by, about a month ago, he was looking terrific:  all dressed up in freshly-laundered clothes, hair trimmed, looking better than I'd seen him in years.

I was particularly glad that I'd dropped by his house one evening a couple of months ago, to give him an inscribed copy of my book, 30 Pieces of Silver.  He had not shown up at the book launch, perhaps fearing that it would be too much of a dress-up occasion for his habitually casual  sartorial standards.

Ron was, as usual, grumbling about the incursions of old age, and making vague promises about starting to eat healthy food and to get his affairs in order.  And then our talk turned, as it inevitably did, to his son Nathan. Ronnie marvelled that he had produced such a tall, handsome, sweet, creative, capable, clever, charming son.  Nobody else marvelled at that.  Ron himself had many gifts, but his love and devotion for Nathan was foremost in everything he said and did.  What other kind of son would Ron have had?

Tears spring to my eyes every time I realize I will never see his unlocked bicycle leaning against my store window again.  Thank you for being such a good and loyal friend, Ronnie. I will really miss you.