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.

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