Tuesday, October 9, 2012


I went to the cemetery today with a loaf of bread and a pebble from our trip to Iceland last June, to wish Ivaan a happy birthday. The squirrels were dancing around his plot, still full of carbs and olive oil from the herb fougasse I brought there yesterday. Rule number one when visiting Ivaan's grave is: bring only fresh bread.  Ivaan insisted on only the freshest bread for his birds and squirrels.  A few years before we were married, I remember dropping by Ivaan's house and he'd be out on the verandah feeding the sparrows.  They'd be so stuffed with bread, their little legs could hardly touch the ground, but they kept right on eating.

It was a bit like that with the squirrels today.  They had the decency to back off and let me sweep up a bit  and have a peaceful visit, but when I started tearing off bits of bread and making a circle of bread around the plot, I suddenly looked up and realized I was surrounded by black squirrels waiting for me to leave.

You have probably never contemplated the intelligence of squirrels before, but Ivaan had.  He claimed that grey squirrels were much more intelligent than black ones.  I think by this he meant that they were easier to train.  At our house on Portland Street, we had a second floor deck at the rear of our house. I'd lie out there in the summer, reading and sunbathing.  One afternoon, dozing on the deck, I felt an extraordinary feeling on my back and found that Ivaan had positioned a row of peanuts in their shells along my spine, and a grey squirrel was sitting on my back eating peanuts.

Next time I go to the cemetery, I think I'll bring some peanuts in their shells, place a row of them along the plot, and return the favour.

Sunday, October 7, 2012



Ivaan's thumbnails were always a sight to behold.  His thumbs were an important resource in his arsenal of tools for making and polishing jewellery, and his thumbnails came in handy for protecting gemstones while he was working on the polishing machine.   That meant that his thumbnails were usually quite battered, with fairly deep ridges running lengthwise, and they were often blackened from jewellery polishing compound.  It was easy to tell when he'd been in hospital, because following some time away from the polishing machine his nails became well tended once again.  Back at work, the inevitable would happen, and once again his thumbnails would look like a chewed boot.
The nephews were perennially fascinated by his thumbnails, and this is where one of Ivaan's urban legends originated.  He told the nephews that his thumbnails so closely resembled product bar codes that he had scanned them at Loblaws one day and a price of 79 cents came up on the cash register.
"That's what I'm worth, 79 cents!", he'd tell the nephews, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.  Needless to say, the nephews were anxious to see this in action, so much of Ivaan's attention, when they were visiting, was focused on finding distractions so the nephews would not insist on being taken to Loblaws to scan their uncle.
I just remembered this a few minutes ago, when looking at my own thumbnails.  I try to be careful, but it doesn't much matter if you wear protective gloves or not when you're polishing jewellery.  It's going to get ugly. But, Ivaan, in case you are wondering, to the nephews and to me, you are worth a whole lot more than 79 cents.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


I can see how this renovation is going to unfold.  It will take a lot of time and it will appear to be taking place in a random fashion.  There is nothing random about it, however, because I am operating on a rational principle: that I will renovate the thing that bugs me most.  If that means living with no kitchen for a very long time (and it most assuredly does), then I will live without a kitchen for a very long time, and I will not complain about it.

But once I had the bamboo floor in the office levelled, I became obsessed with replacing the baseboards because the existing ones did not connect with the floor.  So I had new baseboards installed.  It was a stressful few days with a tradesman who was not feeling well.  So actually it felt like a few weeks. But while he was here, he mentioned that he had a cousin who was very skilled at cutting and installing tiles.  This made me think of my basement bathroom.   The basement bathroom was clean and well maintained, but that was the full extent of its virtues.  This is a photo I took the day of the home inspection.  Perhaps this will give you some idea of how I felt about it.
I do believe this may have been the bathroom Noah had on the ark.
I tore the vanity out the next morning. You could hardly believe how solidly it was in there. Whoever had installed it 50 years ago was preparing for the apocalypse. Then I started trying to remove the floor tiles. I used a claw hammer. That was a joke.  I could drop it with all my force onto the floor and not even chip a tile. I used an axe.  I might have cracked a couple of tiles with the axe. A sledgehammer was next. Then the axe combined with a grout cutter.  Finally I put a masonry cutting wheel on the rotary grinder, removed the safety shield, and tried that.  Sparks flew.  But the tile remained. I wore out the cutting wheel, replaced it, and was well on my way to wearing out the second one, getting virtually nowhere. So I took myself to New Canadians Kitchen and Bath Outlet and spent a happy couple of hours choosing wall tiles, floor tiles and new fixtures.

It took the tile cutter two days to rip out the old tiles and install the new ones and the fixtures.  I was delighted to find that the faucets I had chosen were hands free:  they turned themselves on with a light touch, and turned themselves off 10 seconds  later.  I love my new basement bathroom.  The new pedestal sink is capacious enough that I could conduct baptisms in it.
See what I mean?
Perhaps now I'll be inspired to head upstairs and get to work on the second floor bathroom - or maybe the kitchen.  Just don't expect me to start cooking.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Ivaan, as I've mentioned before, was passionately interested in history.  He spoke about certain historical events as if he had actually been there.  One of the events that captured his imagination was the Siege of Leningrad.  For Ivaan, I suppose, it wasn't really a historical event, because it took place around the time he was born.

We often spoke about what life must have been like for Russians during the Siege of Leningrad.  Because it took place over a considerable length of time, and got worse as time  passed, it must have taken both physical and moral strength to survive.  Ivaan once asked me what I thought I'd miss the most under conditions like that, and I told him the unrelenting cold weather would probably be the hardest for me to endure.

It was during a discussion about the Siege of Leningrad that Ivaan and I came up with a play about an imaginary group of women during the siege.  Ivaan named it The Bath Lottery.  Here's the story:

In an abandoned warehouse in Leningrad, a group of six women who are strangers to each other begin congregating and as they get to know each other they start acting as a collective, meeting almost every day and sharing their personal stories.  Their husbands, brothers, sons are all absent from their lives: fighting the enemy, dead, in prison, or have simply abandoned them.

The women share what little they have and provide emotional support and comfort to each other.  One day, in a conversation about what they miss most, one of them says that even more than food and warm clothes, she misses having a hot bath. This gets the women thinking, and one of them, realizing there is a large metal tub in the warehouse, suggests that they collect all the wood and paper they can find, light a fire, fill the tub with snow from outside, melt the snow and heat the water over the fire, and hold a lottery. The winner of the lottery gets to take a hot bath, and the rest of them get to sit around the hot fire and keep warm.

They put the plan into action.  Over a number of days they collect anything they can burn, build a firepit and start piling the snow into the tub to melt.  On the day of the lottery, one of them rushes into the warehouse with a pile of half-rotten, frozen potatoes she has unearthed from somewhere.  They put the potatoes in the embers to cook and draw straws to determine who gets the hot bath.  The rest will sit around and eat the potatoes.  The eldest woman, Masha, wins the lottery for the bath.  Once the water is the right temperature, the other women help her into the tub.  They sit around on the floor eating the potatoes and talking.  Finally one of them passes a potato to the elderly woman in the tub and says, "Here, Masha.  Have a potato.  You will feel like you're in heaven."  No response.  "Masha!" calls the woman, thinking she's fallen asleep.  No reply.  The women get up and look into the tub and see that Masha, lying in the warm water, has died.

Everyone who hears this story thinks it's the saddest story and would make a horrible play. But I agree with Ivaan.  It's a beautiful story.

When I wrote in an earlier blog post that I felt like I was living through the Siege of Leningrad, it was because I was without a bathtub for two days.  Fortunately, I did have a giant rubbermaid bin and plenty of hot water, so it was a poor facsimile of the Siege of Leningrad. A friend actually volunteered to come over with potatoes.

I have this advice about bathing in a rubbermaid container.  It's easy to get into.  But it's very hard to get out of without tipping the entire thing over.  Just bear that in mind, in case you're ever required to play a part in Ivaan's play, The Bath Lottery.