Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Every imaginable emotion comes to the surface in the weeks leading up to December 6th. I remember when Ivaan died, it wasn't a sudden event. It was a slow withdrawal from the world that started on December 2nd when he underwent a pioneering neurosurgical procedure to close off a damaged artery in his brain and reroute the blood flow through a newly constructed blood vessel.  It was incredibly risky, and he knew that.  He knew the chances of survival were no more than fifty per cent.  Even if he survived, he knew he might not have a functioning brain.  He wanted to have the surgery to contribute to medical knowledge, and to be the first in Canada to undergo the procedure.  If he'd be left without a working brain, he was clear: he didn't want to stick around.

In the end, there was no choice to make because he suffered a massive stroke during the surgical procedure.  We waited a day or so to see if he was going to regain consciousness.  He underwent a further procedure to drain fluid from his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain.  When he was disconnected from the machine that kept him breathing,  he unpredictably started breathing on his own.  It was agony, not knowing what was going on in there.  After days of no sleep, I was finding it hard to think rationally and I needed someone to do the reasoning for me.    Yet  it has always enraged me when someone says, "Ivaan wouldn't have wanted...." or "Ivaan would  have wanted..."  Honestly, when that happens, I can barely contain myself.  Ivaan lived according to his own wishes till he married at the age of 50.  Even after he was married, he was a pretty independent thinker.   He wasn't big on asking others for advice. So I just look at people who try to tell me what Ivaan would have wanted, and say, "And you speak for him?"  

Technically, his heart stopped beating on December 6th.  His brain seemed to have shut down on December 5th. So for me it was a matter of interpretation and I am fairly sure it would have been a question over which Ivaan would have struggled.  But December 6th marked the National Action Day on Violence Against Women, and it was hard to associate that dreadful day with the death of my beloved Ivaan.  So for the immediate purpose of his funeral, we called it December 5th.  With the passing of time, I've come to accept December 5th as his "public" day of death, and December 6th is the day I privately mourn.

Every time I see this photograph of Ivaan, I say a silent thanks to our friend Slava Lukashenkov, who took the photo in the August before his death. It's art imitating life.  At the very right of the photo, I'm just walking into the frame carrying a plate of food to Ivaan.  Slava captured Ivaan exactly as he looked, and whenever I see this photograph, it's like having Ivaan in the room.

For me, it's off to the cemetery today, to cover Ivaan's grave with a blanket of evergreen boughs.  Got to keep my boys warm for the long, cold winter ahead.  Je ne vous oublierai jamais.

я кохаю тебе мій чоловік дуже дуже дуже. вічна пам'ять.

Monday, October 17, 2016

WHEN THE CAT'S AWAY: Legends of Sault Ste-Marie.

It was probably about 12 years ago that my sister called to ask if Ivaan and I would come up to Sault Ste-Marie for a week to stay at their house with their sons while she and Joe went house-hunting 1000 kilometres away.

Ivaan already used a wheelchair most of the time but he could walk short distances.  There are no short distances in Sault Ste-Marie, but that's another story.  The first leg of our journey was by train to Sudbury.  Then we went by bus to Sault Ste. Marie.  Ivaan loved this part.  Sitting in the front seats on the right hand side, the entire vista of Northern Ontario opened up before his eyes.  "It's like big screen TV" he marvelled.  (We never had television, so this was purely hypothetical).

Lesley and Joe met us at the bus depot, left us with the car and the kids, and they headed off to find a house to buy in Kingston.

On the way up to the Sault, Ivaan worried aloud that the nephews might not cope well with the disruption of having an aunt and uncle in the house instead of Mum and Dad.   He decided that the way to ensure this didn't happen was to pull out all the stops to ensure the week was given over to total enjoyment. (And he hoped the nephews would have a good time, too.)
We had barely arrived in the door when Uncle Ivaan asked, "What things would you like to do this week that probably wouldn't happen if Mum and Dad were here instead of us?"  Fireworks!  said Angus, 13.  Going to the fair after school! chimed in six year old Ivor.  Eating french fries off the chip truck outside Canadian Tire! volunteered Angus.   Tim Hortons Boston Creme doughnuts after violin lessons, added Ivor. Dairy Queen for breakfast, said Angus hopefully. Riding to the school bus stop in the wheelchair! threw in Ivor.

Next morning, it was surprisingly easy to get Ivor ready for school.  In fact, he was standing by the wheelchair 15 minutes before the school bus was due to arrive.  "They'll think I'm a little disabled kid!" he mused enthusiastically, as I pushed him down the long driveway to the school bus stop.

Remembering  how young kids love to be hugged and kissed by their aunties in front of their classmates (not much), I said to him in French as the school bus pulled up, "On peut serrer la main" (we can shake hands).   Imagine my surprise when Ivor leapt out of the wheelchair, bounded up the steps of the school bus, and vigorously shook the hand of Jane, the school bus driver.

We picked the kids up from school and headed straight for the fair.  Ferris wheels, candy floss and carnival games are best enjoyed on an empty stomach.

Next day, it was french fries in the Canadian Tire parking lot.   Then we went to Dairy Queen to pick up breakfast for the following morning.  Violin lessons took slightly longer than normal, as they included a trip to Tim Hortons for a Boston Creme doughnut before returning to school.

The night before Mum and Dad got home, we told the McKechnies, who lived next door, that we were planning a fireworks display.  Concerned, they mentioned some grouchy neighbours a few doors away and the very real chance that the grouchy neighbours would call the police.  We said we thought we'd take a chance anyway.  So that night, the McKechnies held their own fireworks display in solidarity with ours, just in case the cops showed up.  They didn't.

When it was time to meet Mum and Dad at the airport and to head back to Toronto with Ivaan and the wheelchair, we found a sign taped to the front door of the house, written in Ivor's distinctive handwriting:


We took that as a sign that he didn't mind having to put up with his uncle and aunt for an entire week.

CABBAGETOWN: The Stuff of Legends

Two weeks ago, I moved into the house of some close friends in the west end.  The plan was that my friend Crystal would fly out west for a week to help out in the home of one of her sisters, who had just welcomed a new baby.  She'd take her youngest child with her, leaving her husband Matt, their two older children, and me to keep the home fires burning.

We'd done a version of this last year when their own new baby arrived, and it worked really well.  But we'd never tried it for an entire week, and never with Crystal so far away.   Hard to say who was more nervous, but if the kids were nervous, it didn't show at all. In fact, those children are as
cool as cucumbers.  It's hard to imagine that a 7 and a 4 year old could cope so well with Auntie Eya at the helm instead of Mom, but they are troopers.

Crystal had left me with a schedule of the kids' activities and some very helpful suggestions:  Make their lunches the night before!  Anything remaining is their lunch boxes is an after school snack! Don't forget their piano practice!  Brush and floss twice a day!  Homework!  Everyone washes their hands as soon as we get home!  Gymnastics!  Birthday parties!  Swimming! Bedtime at 7:30!  And, best of all, stories before bedtime.

Now, it's important to note that both children were born after Ivaan left the planet.  The seven-year-old was born exactly one month later.  The four-year-old was born exactly three years later.  But Uncle Ivaan is as present in their lives as if they had known him forever.   They know what he looks like.  They know his jokes. They visit his grave and the peonies which flower at his gravesite every June are a gift from them.

So when it came to story time, I didn't even bother to bring out any books to read.  I was going to tell them stories about Uncle Ivaan and the mischief he got up to when he was their age. These stories are better told in the dark.   The story about Ivaan dropping a homemade bomb off the roof of their house.  The story about Ivaan hitching a ride on the back of the vegetable truck.  The story about what a picky eater Ivaan was....until he discovered ham sandwiches made by the mother of his friends Bo and Len.  Seriously, you could have heard a pin drop in that bedroom.  One evening, when Matt arrived home from work, he came into the children's room for a goodnight hug, in the middle of a story.  The seven-year-old was patient for a minute or two, but finally asked, "And now can Auntie Eya finish the story, Dad?"

The week passed in a blur.  The children were thrilled to see their mother and their little brother. We all pronounced the adventure a complete success.

When I arrived back at my very quiet home, I found an email informing me that Uncle Ivaan was now featured in the Remarkable Lives section of the historical website, Cabbagetown People.  I haven't shown it to the children yet, but I'm showing it to you right now.

On the last night before Crystal came home, I told the children the story of when Uncle Ivaan and Auntie Eya went to Sault Ste Marie for a week, to stay with our nephews Angus and Ivor, while my sister and brother-in-law were out of town.  It was quite a few years before the nephews told their
parents the full tale of what happened that week, but now that the truth is out, this will be the subject of my next blog post.

(c) CabbagetownPeople.com

Thursday, September 15, 2016


For as long as our family has lived there, it's been known only by its street number: 84.

Our parents bought the house on July 14, 1966 and for the first year it was rented to university students, while we were living in London, England. We arrived in Canada by ocean liner a year later, sailing up the St. Lawrence to the Port of Montreal, passing Expo 67 in full swing. It was evening when we arrived at Union Station: our mother, five children ranging in age from 7 to 15, an uncle, an aunt and two cousins. Our father had remained in London to finish up some research.

I definitely did not want to come to Canada. I loved my school in London, loved my friends and classmates, and beseeched my parents to let me stay behind.  I think our father would have caved, but our mother insisted I come with the rest of the family to Toronto.  London in 1967 was fun. It was exciting. I had never felt as comfortable and alive as I did in London. By contrast, Toronto was staid, provincial and boring.

In London, we wore school uniforms.  As a result, our weekend clothes tended to be much more stylish.  Starting school in Toronto, my wardrobe consisted of the weekend clothes I wore in London.  Clothes from Carnaby Street, Oxford Circus, Selfridges.  Eye popping colours, shorter skirts than any worn in Toronto, bright leather shoes.  I quickly got used to heads turning in the hallways of the local high school. Anything from England was considered cool that year, and I had an English accent which, combined with my clothes, made me stand out, even though I was a couple of years younger than most of my classmates. We also had a copy of The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which had not yet been released in Canada.

But 84. We arrived at 84 to find a large, old, dark, grimy house without basic amenities like light bulbs. I remember my siblings and I trying to wash the walls of the kitchen that night, alarmed at the prospect of having to sleep in what looked like it might have been a haunted house. Next morning, in daylight, we were amazed to see that most of the house was wallpapered in an enormous pattern of olive green fig leaves over white brick.

I quickly claimed the larger attic bedroom for myself.  The rest of the summer was a blur, getting the house cleaned up enough to be habitable. And gradually we settled into what was to be our permanent family home.  I got a part time job, first at the library, then at the local bakery.  And that is where I was when I first met Ivaan two years later.

He came in one Thursday evening in December to buy some dill pickles and a small loaf of light rye bread. Zwei un' dreisig the bread cost, in Yiddish, because it was a Jewish bakery.  Thirty-two cents.  I was working alone in the bakery that evening,  and because it was slow, we began to chat.  He was a photographer, he had gone to my high school a decade earlier, and his family lived a few streets away from mine.  At 25, he seemed like an ancient geezer to me, but he was really interesting and I enjoyed talking to him.

Two days later,  I came home to a phone call from Ivaan.  He wanted to know if I would like to accompany him to the opening of an art exhibition.  I explained that this would necessitate him coming to the house to meet my father.  He seemed agreeable, and shortly thereafter he arrived at the front door.  He and my father retreated to the kitchen for a chat, while I stood in the living room for an inordinate length of time, wringing my hands.  Eventually I poked my head into the kitchen, and found the two of them so engrossed in conversation that they had completely forgotten about me.  Somehow, I secured permission to attend the art exhibition, and it was the start of a friendship with Ivaan that spanned decades.

Ivaan led a big, exciting life.  I was in high school. On the surface, it would be hard to imagine two more unlikely friends.  Years later, I learned that he had told his mother all about my family. My high school friends were impressed. When he learned I liked motorcycles, he gave me his old Harley Davidson.  He came in useful when I needed to scare off too-persistent boyfriends.  He once insisted on attending a high school dance with me, where he showed up reeking of patchouli oil, in full hippie regalia.  Looking back, I realize that Ivaan provided what I was missing when I left London: a bigger, brighter, more exciting life.

So, what does all this have to do with 84?  This month, we put 84 up for sale.  It no longer has the fig leaf wallpaper.  The neighbourhood has gentrified to the point where all the houses are protected by a heritage designation and the only people who can afford to buy a house there are the people who can afford to spend a couple of million.  One day later, the house was sold to a young couple with two boys the ages of my brothers when we first moved to 84.  Three weeks from now, it will be their family home.

We'll be leaving so much behind: the memory of our lovely niece being born there. The memory of our elder brother being married there.  The memory of our mother taking her last breath there.  The memory of the fig leaf wallpaper, some of which still remains on the walls of the upstairs cleaning closet.  I spent a month at 84 this summer, cleaning, repairing and painting it in preparation for the real estate market.  It reminded me of our first night there in 1967, trying to wash the kitchen walls - only this time with light bulbs in place.

But personally, what I'll remember most vividly is that I'm saying goodbye to the house where I waited impatiently in the living room in December of 1969 while my dad and Ivaan seemed to have been talking about everything under the sun except me.  The small rye bread Ivaan bought the evening I first met him at the Harbord Bakery now costs $3.95.

As for 84, I like to think I've honoured our family's years there by leaving it in better condition than I found it in, 50 years ago.  But as the American poet Robert Frost wrote, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

I didn't think it would be bittersweet, but maybe it is after all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


For almost as long as I've known Ivaan, I've known his friend Garth.

In the late 1960s, Garth came to live in Toronto, part of the wave of young Americans whose opposition to the Vietnam War brought them to Canada. He was a talented photographer, and actually as soon as you meet Garth you realize he's someone who, in his quiet, unassuming way, is very good at quite a number of things.  Garth floated into Ivaan's orbit - and vice versa - and they shared a lifelong friendship that didn't require them to be in regular contact.

Garth was a family man right from the start.  Ivaan was the opposite.  When Garth met Victoria, his fate was pretty much sealed.  They quickly acquired a house and a houseful of children and Garth settled down to a rich, fulfilling family life.   All these years later, they still live in the same house.  Victoria is vivacious, distinctly pretty, with a quick sense of humour and a youthfulness that belies all their years of marriage.

And Garth? Garth is a happy man.

Last week, Garth called me with the news that their 40th wedding anniversary is fast approaching.  He'd been having a look on our website and hoped to surprise Victoria with a new wedding ring.  After all, she's lost one while gardening and lost its replacement while doing something else.  And the thing is this:  Victoria has lovely hands.  She felt the absence of a wedding ring keenly.

Garth and Victoria had planned a 40th anniversary cruise to Eastern Europe as their anniversary gift to each other, and they had agreed not to exchange gifts because really the cruise was their gift to each other.  But they were having a little family celebration in a couple of weeks, and he really wanted to present her with a new wedding ring, with rubies, because 40 years is the Ruby Anniversary.

He'd earmarked a few rings on our website, and he had sneaked a couple of her rings out of the house when he came by the atelier with a close friend of Victoria's in tow.   He wanted to ensure he chose the correct size.

So here's where the plot unravels.  I thought the rings he had earmarked were too heavy for an everyday ring.  Their friend agreed.  And I was fairly sure that the rings he'd brought were too large a size for her ring finger.  So we devised a plan.  I'd lend their friend a ring in a size seven-and-a-half, she'd show it to Victoria and pretend that she'd just found it in the street, and Victoria would no doubt try it on.  I deliberately chose one which Victoria would be unlikely to recognize as an Ivaan ring.

I showed Garth some rings that I thought Victoria would like.  Immediately he was taken with a double-Calla lily ring in white gold with two diamonds, but asked if he could have it with rubies instead.  I thought it was an inspired choice.  So off they went to try out their little ruse on Victoria.

Fast forward one hour.  Garth and Victoria walked into the atelier.  "The surprise is off" said Garth.  Apparently, Victoria immediately recognized the "found" ring as an Ivaan ring, realized that a little drama was unfolding in front of her eyes, and said to Garth, "If you're planning on getting me a new wedding ring, can I at least come and see it?"

So I showed Victoria the ring Garth had chosen.  She absolutely loved it.  It fit perfectly in a size 6, and it looked terrific on her elegant, beautifully manicured fingers.

I made the identical ring in white gold with two beautiful rubies from Ivaan's collection.  Garth and Victoria came by today to pick it up.   She tried it on, then turned to give him a loving kiss.  My eyes welled up with tears and I had to bite my lip to compose myself.  Not just because the ring was perfect, but because for 40 years, Garth and Victoria have shared this enduring love.

Happy Anniversary, you two.

Friday, August 26, 2016


One of the interesting things about owning a jewellery store is hearing the bizarre stories about people losing their jewellery and finding it again.
Over the years, Ivaan has told me some remarkable tales, not just about the jewellery he has lost and recovered, but more often tales he's heard from other people about misplacing and then being reunited with their jewellery.

In 2003, our friend Neil Turnbull decided to celebrate several decades of marriage to the lovely Carolyn by getting himself  a wedding ring.  He's a landscape architect by profession, so wearing a wedding ring to work would be foolhardy in the extreme.  Neil's choice of ring was, as I recall, inspired by an Ivaan ring his daughter Emma wore, with the Lord of the Rings Elven text inscribed on it.

So Neil, who has giant fingers, ordered that ring for himself in red gold.  Honestly, it's so big, Carolyn could have worn it as a belt.  Ivaan referred to it as "size Finish".

Last year, Neil called to tell me he'd lost his wedding ring somewhere close to home.  Home is an enormous property near Sunderland, Ontario, with a pond and acres of land, a huge house, an art gallery, and not much chance of finding a ring, gigantic though it was.  He asked me to make him another, this time a bit more snug: size Almost Finish.  And just to vary things a bit, he asked for it in white gold.

So I made him his ring and off he went, happy as a skunk.

Last month, Neil called again.  Hard to believe, but he'd lost his white gold ring as well.  Now, here's the unbelievable part: he'd been sitting in his Stressless chair at home when he lost it.  He'd put his hand between the cushions and when he withdrew his hand, he felt the ring come off and fall into the cavity of the chair between the cushions.  So he stuck his hand back in, felt around and pretty soon located his ring.  He slid it back on his finger without even looking at it, and that was that until the next morning when he looked at his hand and noticed he was wearing a red gold ring.

Not much rattles Neil, but I have a feeling that he had a weird Lord of the Rings moment when he saw that red gold ring on his finger, and the inscription One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them probably ran through his mind.

But you don't get to be Neil Turnbull by sitting around pondering the mysteries of the Universe, so Neil promptly stuck his hand back in the crevice between the cushions of his Stressless chair and pulled out the white gold ring.  So now he has two wedding rings.  Either he'll bring one back to be sized down, or else he'll give it to Carolyn and she can wear it as a belt.

And now, because I know you've been waiting, here's Neil's ring.

If you have a Stressless chair at home, I'm pretty sure you're plumbing the depths right now, between the cushions, hoping to find a couple of gold rings.  If you do, please let me know.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


One of the things that drew Ivaan and me together was our preference for simple living.  He was a creature of habit.  He had his favourite foods, his favourite meals, his favourite brands, and they were almost never what everyone else coveted.  Almost always, they were characterized by permanence and simplicity.

Ivaan and his sister would have endless discussions about where to get the best cheese danish pastries.  It wasn't just the right flavour of cheese filling, it was the proportion of filling to dough, the sweetness of the dough (not sweet), and a well-developed outer crust.  It couldn't be oily, it couldn't be puffy, it couldn't be doughy, it couldn't be pale in colour, and - don't even think about it - it couldn't be other than perfectly fresh.  He didn't like to eat things just out of the oven; they needed to have cooled down, but after that it was basically from the cooling rack straight to his lips. Three hours old was basically the outer limit of his tolerance.

I used to watch them have this discussion in a kind of disbelief: is this something people actually spend time debating? But food was really important to both of them. Ivaan's favourite soup was potage parmentier, a very simple leek and potato soup. His second favourite was his sister's borsch.

This morning I noticed I was running low on laundry detergent. I've been making my own laundry detergent for a few years, and I suddenly realized that this was something that would have met with Ivaan's total approval. My sister and brother do the same,  and our friends Iain and Emily are also converts to the practice.  It's quick and easy, it's environmentally preferable, it's economical, it doesn't smell like perfume or chemicals and it's excellent as a general cleaning product.  So today I decided to blog about how to make laundry detergent.

I'll bet you thought I was going to blog about how to make a good cheese danish, right?  Sorry to disappoint you, but this will be much better for your waistline.

Here's what it looks like when it's finished (most people don't keep it in a mason jar but this is the last of my current batch, reserved for emergencies). Don't you like how the grout on my backsplash coordinates with my kitchen counter?

Here are the only ingredients you'll need, except for water:
First, you take that bar of health-food store vegetable-based soap (don't use a coloured bar) and grate it on the box grater.  Use the blades you see in the photo. Pour about 3 quarts of water into a large pot and put the grated soap into it.  Bring it to a boil until all the grated soap is thoroughly dissolved.

Measure about a cup of Borax and a cup of Washing Soda (not baking soda),  pour them both into the soap solution and boil gently until they are also thoroughly dissolved.  You might want to add more water.  When it's completely dissolved, add more cold water till the pot is pretty full, stir the mixture, put the lid on the pot (very important) and leave it to cool.  When it's reasonably cool, I like to run an immersion blender through it to achieve a uniform consistency.  Depending on how much water you've added, it will either be like a cream soup or a bowl of pudding.
And voila!  For about three dollars, you've made enough laundry detergent to last you  for a very long time.  You can keep it in a covered bucket, as Iain and Emily do, or you can re-use your old laundry detergent jugs, or you can keep it in the same pot you cooked it in.

I love to stick my hands in a newly made batch and sort of squish it through my fingers.  The smell is very clean and neutral, my hands come out looking clean, and it's not harsh on the skin. Some people find it very disconcerting that it doesn't foam, believing that bubbles are essential for cleaning something.  They're not.  Bubbles are produced by surfactants, which break the surface tension of liquids and pollute the environment.  They are an additive to laundry detergent that you don't need.

If there's a downside to using this homemade detergent, it is that you very quickly become hyper aware of the smell of commercial laundry products  - even 'unscented' ones - on other people's clothing.  Unscented has a whole new meaning these days.  And now, back to grating soap.

And here's the final product.  I remember the first time I made my own detergent, it seemed like a slightly dangerous, subversive endeavour.  And I thought it would take hours.  Actually, the whole procedure takes less than 15 minutes.


Sunday, July 17, 2016


Yesterday, a woman came into the shop, and you could tell by her sense of purpose that this was a woman on a mission.  Often a newcomer will step in hesitantly, look around, taking in the atmosphere, and you get the sense that they are waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Something has to happen to make them feel like this is a place where they belong.  Usually that something is me breaking the ice.

This woman - we'll call her C, since that is her initial.  C wasn't like that.  It was as though she had already taken our measure long before she arrived here and knew she was completing a journey, not starting out on one. C already knew she belonged.  She had visited our website and she had come to choose a piece of jewellery to mark a milestone in her life.  She wanted it to be a ring, and she wanted it to be an Ivaan ring.

It's an amazing thing to observe, but people who are strongly attracted to a piece of Ivaan's jewellery will inevitably be attracted to other pieces of jewellery that Ivaan made in the same time frame.  Show them an entire display case of rings and ask them to choose what attracts them most, and even if the pieces don't fit them, or don't look remotely similar, they will be powerfully attracted to pieces of the same era.

And as C looked at and tried various pieces, I could see this phenomenon unfolding.  One of the first rings she tried was a substantial ring with a very wild and free appearance.  It had that strong, free quality all around the ring, but she was attracted to the top: a leaf and vine sort of motif in high relief, and though the ring was quite a bit too large for her finger, it was as though every time she took it off to look at others, a magnetic force was exerted on the ring and it swooped back onto her finger.

That's when I noticed the top of the ring looked like a swoop of metal, with a punctuation mark.  And when C made up her mind that she wanted to order this ring in her smaller size and her choice of metal, she signed her name - and I could see that same swooping element in her signature.

It's a ring for a person with a strong sense of self and a big personality.  A thousand people could come in here and not look twice at this ring.  Yet, when she wears it, a  thousand times people will stop her and marvel at it.  I felt a sense of awe, that here was  someone who "got" what Ivaan's art was all about without needing to get accustomed to it.  She was, as I say, completing a journey, not beginning one.

Now, I suppose you're curious to see what this ring looks like, but I'm going to make you wait until next week, when it is safely on C's finger.
Then I'll post a picture.  Stand by.
There you go.


Happy now?

Saturday, July 9, 2016


I remember 2008.

So much happened to us in 2008, just thinking about that year makes me break out in a sweat. On Valentine's Day, Ivaan had his fourth stroke.
Five harrowing weeks later, I'd sold our beloved three-storey house and moved us into a condo which was open concept enough to accommodate his wheelchair.

Caregivers came in to look after Ivaan while I continued my university studies. Our condo was a three-minute walk from most of my classes, but I had a brutal course load that year. Ivaan was brilliant at quizzing me for exams and a couple of times I brought him to class with me.  

In September, an exhibition of Ivaan's unfinished pieces was mounted at KUMF Gallery.  Entitled "Sweepings: Treasures from the Atelier Floor", it was Ivaan's tongue-in-cheek reference to  the "Treasures of Ukraine" exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum.  Ivaan was openly scornful of the artefacts on display at the ROM,  believing them to be fake, and calling the pottery "болото" (mud).

Life in the condo on St. Joseph Street wasn't easy.  People kept wanting to come and stay with us.  Ivaan was a social person and normally he enjoyed having people around, as long as they weren't interrupting his work, but it felt intrusive: an endless stream of people wanting to stay overnight at our place for one reason or another.  He didn't like overnight visitors unless they were family. My patience and hospitality were tested beyond endurance.  I felt as though I were running some kind of substandard hotel. One overnight visitor complained incessantly of having been cold and unable to sleep all night because the previous visitor had left the windows open in the guest room. Another repeatedly forgot our unit number and would sit in the lobby and have the concierge call us to come and escort them upstairs.  Knowing now how little time I had left with Ivaan, I wish I had refused their visits.

In November 2008,  Ivaan attended my convocation.  He devoted the next two weeks to helping me study for an important final exam.   He died three days before the exam.  My wonderful prof offered to excuse me from having to write the exam, but I was determined to write it in Ivaan's memory.  It actually felt like a relief to have something else to think about for a few hours.  I got 90% on the exam - or at least Ivaan did.  I couldn't have done it without him.

Although I've taken a few university courses since Ivaan's death, I hadn't really formulated a plan for future studies.  My life is extremely busy with Atelier Ivaan, my hospice work, social obligations, Ivaan's legacy, family responsibilities and occasionally some sleep. Nonetheless, I abruptly decided to make myself even busier.

I'm hitting the books again in September.  By some miracle, my classes are mostly on days Atelier Ivaan is closed, and while I no longer have the luxury of living three minutes away from class, I'm looking forward to the intellectual rigour of being back at university.

The Vice President of Atelier Ivaan recently pulled down a 91 in Calculus and a 92 in some other Engineering-related course.  Not sure I can aspire to that, but however busy I am in September, life is going to be easier than it was in September 2008.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


I can hardly believe it's been four years since ATELIER IVAAN opened its doors on Dupont Street.  I've learned so much - about jewellery, about business, about people, about trust, about luck, and about stupidity - that I probably should be much older than I actually am.  At least I'm wiser.
There have been some high points, some low points, some very funny things that have happened along the way, some things I'd have done differently and some very poignant moments I've had the privilege of witnessing.

I bought this building on Valentine's Day 2012 from a woman who owns an interiors store called Pimlico Design Gallery.

She and her husband had bought a larger building in the neighbourhood and were expanding her business.  I learned a lot from Tatiana about running a retail operation.  She was generous with advice and suggestions, and forthright enough to tell me frankly about things I needed to know, or to do differently.  I credit her enormously with getting me through the early days when I was a total imbecile.  I came to realize how gracious her help was, because in opening up a store in another artistic field, I was becoming in some ways a competitor.  She was definitely a mentor.

I also credit the Vice President of ATELIER IVAAN, my nephew Ivor, who has spent more holidays here than either of us can remember.  Inventory, I.T. support and persuading me to move from a POS terminal to another payment system are some of Ivor's improvements.  He has taken me out to dinner on so many occasions to talk things over, been my most trusted employee (I actually trust him far more than I trust myself) and been my confidant.  He has dragged me kicking and screaming into the 21st century.  Even now when he's away at university, he has carte blanche to make financial decisions for us both.

Everybody knows ATELIER IVAAN as "the store with the guy in the window".  I hear this all the time.  The "guy in the window" is an oil on canvas portrait of Ivaan by Daniel P. Izzard.  Sometimes I move the painting into the store so I too can enjoy looking at it.  Immediately, I get complaints from people who like to see it when they pass by.  So back it goes into the window.  I don't think Danny anticipated his painting would become a kind of landmark on Dupont Street, but I appreciate it every single day.

I have found myself among fantastic neighbours.  On both sides, I have restaurants owned by terrific people.  We look out for each other and I know if I ever need any help from Vinny's Panini or Universal Grill, I can count on them.  My next-door upstairs neighbour, Sam, saved my life one winter evening.  I was feeling unwell, had a bad headache and decided to sleep it off. Long story short: Sam had come home to an apartment filled with natural gas.  It took a few hours before a gas leak was discovered in the basement next door.  If I'd gone to sleep, I would not have woken up the next day.

I'm lucky that some of the funny things that have happened did not turn out badly.  Once, the summer after I opened, it was a very slow day and I decided I'd rather be having a pedicure than running a retail store.  So I got my purse, set the alarm, and headed to the nail salon in Yorkville.  Two hours later, I returned to find that the door was unlocked.  In my haste to leave, I'd forgotten to lock the door.  It's a testament to how slow it was that day: if anyone had come in, they'd have set off the burglar alarm.  But not a soul had come in.  It took me a while to calm down.

On another occasion, I'd gone to church on Sunday with my close friend Crystal and her children.  As we went into the church, my phone started ringing so I turned it off.  I could feel it buzzing all the way through the church service.  I ignored it....until on the way home I turned it on and learned the alarm company had been calling me for three hours.  Something had triggered the motion sensor in the store, and security personnel were stationed outside, but luckily nothing untoward had happened.

On another occasion, I was chatting to my friend Lesia on the phone when the store door opened and an older man walked in, with some clothing draped over his arm. He held up a pair of trousers and said he wanted them fixed.  I explained that we were a jewellery store and we did not take in mending. He pointed to the window and asked, "So why does it say "Alterations Ivaan" on the sign?" Lesia quipped, "Would it have killed you to hem his pants?"

Some of the very touching experiences I've had involved making engagement and wedding rings for clients.  It feels wonderful when a guy bursts through the door shouting, "She said yes!"  And on one memorable occasion I made lots of wedding rings for the mass wedding at Casa Loma which was an important part of Toronto's Pride celebrations. Being part of such an occasion felt very special.  "Pride" had extra meaning for me that year.

One evening, I was open late when a couple named Michael and Roxana stopped in on their way to dinner at Universal Grill.  That was their traditional "date night" restaurant.  Roxana was intrigued by our rings and tried on a few gold ones, until one in particular caught her eye.

The "Wave" ring, as it's known, has three diamonds spaced evenly around the band.  They have three sons, she had just lost her original wedding ring, and this one fit her perfectly: one diamond for each son.  I suggested she take it next door and wear it during dinner to make certain she was comfortable with it,  But she was adamant this was intended to be her new wedding ring, and I think of the two of them every time I show someone a "Wave" ring.

I try not to dwell on the low points I've experienced, because they tend to suck all the joy out of the room: If I had to do it all over again, I think I'd have opted not to move into the unrenovated apartment upstairs to help out a friend who needed a place (mine)  to stay for a couple of months while in between residences.  No good deed goes unpunished! That spontaneous act of kindness set in motion a series of unpleasant events that have brought me grief ever since.  I learned a lot about trust and the peril of ignoring warning signs about people. I have mostly managed to retain my sense of optimism and my belief in the value of being a good person, in spite of how others behave.  The people we know don't always wish us well.

Four years ago, just after I opened the doors of ATELIER IVAAN, I travelled to Iceland with family.  Last month, in celebration of four years on Dupont Street, I returned to Iceland with a close friend.  Revisiting some of my favourite haunts, I felt quite nostalgic for the days four years ago when I didn't know what on earth I was doing, and I felt extraordinarily satisfied that four years later I had the wisdom to know that ATELIER IVAAN would survive even without me here at the helm, making new mistakes and new friends every day.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Ivaan would never have admitted it, but the best thing about being married was that it drastically reduced his almost infinite capacity for losing things.

Some people lose things and are quickly able to accept the fact that the item has vanished from their life.  Ivaan was not one of those people.  When he lost something, he tortured himself about it.  And he wasn't one to suffer in silence, so there was usually plenty of torture left over for me and for anyone else who would listen.  The average person would recognize that their uncanny ability to lose track of things was hindering their progress in life and develop a system for not losing things as often. Nothing about Ivaan was average, however, and this tendency of his was one of the many quirks that I would just have to accept, because trying to change Ivaan would be like trying to change the weather.

In 2003, when we moved his studio to a warehouse building a couple of doors away from our house, I had a set of narrow shelves built to accommodate his rubber jewellery moulds.  While a few moulds dated back to the mid 1970s,  Ivaan didn't start making moulds of his work in earnest until 1979.

Normally, if a client came and wanted to order a piece of jewellery that already existed, Ivaan would have to start searching randomly through heaps of rubber moulds. His only concession to order was  his habit of drawing a little picture of the item on the side of the mould.  His drawings were so good that it was usually possible for him to identify a mould by the illustration. Still, it was a hit-and-miss endeavour.

So I decided to add a layer of organization to the rubber moulds by sorting them by year.  Ivaan thought this was an insane waste of time, but as the years went by, and more and more it was me being dispatched to find a mould, I heard fewer and fewer complaints. Anyway, while I was sorting his moulds according to year, Ivaan was busy losing people's diamonds, trying to build a jewellery tumbler out of an old stereo turntable, and imagining things had been stolen because he couldn't remember where he put them. (It's worth pointing out that jewellery tumblers existed and were readily available at every jewellery supply company in town, but Ivaan would not give in and buy one.  He figured if he made his own, he wouldn't have to admit that someone else had had a good idea.

Some of Ivaan's jewellery is specific to a particular year or two.  Other styles transcend the years and exist in several decades.

Last week, K and her husband P dropped by.  We've known and liked them for ages. K had bought a yellow gold ring from Ivaan over a decade ago.


  She was so attached to that ring, it was like a member of her family.  She asked if I could make her the identical ring in white gold.  Sure, said I.  All I have to do is find the mould.  I knew Ivaan had made me a similar ring for our second anniversary, so I figured 1997 would be a good year to start my search.  No luck.  Not 1998, 1999 or 2000.  Doggedly, I searched through until 2005.  Still no luck.  In case I'd misfiled it, I searched right up to 2016.  Nada.

I reversed direction, and searched again, all the way from 2016 back to 1987. Then I realized I'd skipped 1989, so I searched that year.  The second last mould in that bin looked very similar, and it was even her size, a 6 1/4.  I refused to let myself get optimistic.  I picked up the last mould in the bin.  It looked a bit similar and it was the same size.  I turned on the wax injector, injected a wax - and there it was.

Its taken me three days.  I've opened over 4000 moulds in search of this one.  I have found some terrific other rings during my search. Best of all, tomorrow I get to phone K and P and tell them with as much nonchalance as I can muster that I've found the mould.

I suppose you'll want to see what it looks like, after all that.  I made a whole lot of waxes, and the most perfect of them became K's new ring.

I feel like someone in a fairy tale who undertakes an impossible task and when she succeeds, she gets to marry the prince.  Except I'm already married to the prince.

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Ivaan never went anywhere without a camera. He had a massive collection of classic cameras, mostly from the 1940s and 1950s - over 700 film cameras, not including the various lenses, flashes and accessories that accompanied them.  To say he was an inveterate collector was an understatement.  He subscribed to magazines devoted to reselling camera equipment, and in 2005 when we got our first home computer, Ivaan discovered eBay.  He'd often buy the same camera he already had, forgetting what was in his inventory.  He rarely sold one, but several times I've had people tell me they treasure a camera Ivaan gave them.

In 1995, a young man we knew named Laas Turnbull, who was making a big name for himself in the print media industry, mentioned Ivaan to John Macfarlane, the editor of Toronto Life magazine.  He explained that Ivaan took a different camera out every day and shot a roll of film, just documenting who he saw on the streets of Toronto.  These weren't necessarily homeless people, but they were the people that who are part of the urban streetscape. People we pass by every day. We don't know their names but we've all seen them.  Ivaan did this every single day for a decade: a new roll of black and white film, which he then developed and printed.

Over the years, he came to know many of his subjects and gave them copies of their photographs.

Laas Turnbull borrowed some sample photographs from Ivaan, showed them to John Macfarlane, and suggested that Ivaan do a first-person account of his photographs for Toronto Life magazine.  John agreed.  Photographs were selected and the accompanying text was written.   It was published under the title No Fixed Address by Toronto Life magazine in July 1996.  Ivaan wasn't happy about the title.  He had wanted it to be called World Class City: an ironic commentary on Toronto's well-documented inferiority complex, as well as an acknowledgement that his subjects were not necessarily homeless.  But Toronto Life felt its readers would be offended by Ivaan's choice of title.

I was pretty excited.  We were newly married, about to head to the UK on our honeymoon, which was a dance holiday in Torquay with our ballroom dance friends, so I could bring copies of the magazine to show off to all my relatives. Best of all, Ivaan had asked me to photograph him for the masthead of the magazine.   It was extra sweet that Ivaan wanted to ensure that his wedding ring was prominently visible in the photograph: not solely to signal that he was married, but because he had made the ring, and he figured that it would be good advertising.



The following year, No Fixed Address was nominated for Canada's National Magazine Awards.  We attended the awards banquet. I am usually pretty well behaved in public, but it's no exaggeration to say I was screaming with excitement when it won both a Gold and a Silver.  I remember Ivaan going up to the stage - twice - to collect his awards.  He thanked Laas Turnbull most particularly for having championed his work, and he thanked John Macfarlane and Toronto Life magazine for having the courage (well, that's not actually the word he used) to print his photographs.

The photographs were controversial, and people wrote letters to the editor saying that Ivaan was exploiting his subjects. In fact, nothing could have been further from the truth.  The one thing that people lack when they are on the margins of society is photographs of themselves.  Years later, when Ivaan was in a wheelchair, I'd be wheeling him along Queen Street West and people he'd photographed would rush up to us, hug him, and pull out of their pockets large folded photographs of themselves taken by Ivaan.  These were among their most prized possessions.  When you have photographs of yourself, it's proof that you exist.

In 2001, Toronto Life published a 25th anniversary edition entitled Great Reads.  It was a compilation of the best articles that had appeared in the magazine over a quarter of a century.  No Fixed Address was one of them.

The previous year, Ivaan suffered the first of five strokes and he was feeling uncertain about the future.  The success of his article buoyed him up immensely, and in 2003, following his second stroke, we decided to mount an exhibition of his photographs as part of the Contact photography festival.  The photographs from Toronto Life magazine were the foundation of that exhibition, which was called - you guessed it - World Class City.

The most prominent photo in the exhibition was the one above.  I got to have a small supporting role in the exhibition, as Ivaan asked me give titles to each of the photographs.  This one was called World Class, My Ass.

After Ivaan's death, his collection of street photography was acquired by the City of Toronto Archives.  It formed the backbone of their highly successful 2014 exhibition, entitled Life On the Grid.  I appreciated the irony in that choice of name, because at the time Laas Turnbull, who had put the wheels into motion, was the publisher of an excellent Toronto newspaper called The Grid.  I ran into Laas on the street a few weeks ago. He lives in the tonier end of my neighbourhood (a few zeros away, as Ivaan would say). I thought of Laas in recent weeks, as Canada's National Magazine Awards were again in the media.  I realized it has been 20 years since Laas stuck his neck out for Ivaan.

Ivaan and Laas,  this blog post is a tribute to the pair of you: two people who were never afraid of a little controversy.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Sometimes I'll mention Naufrage in passing and observe a quizzical expression on the face of my listener.  I forget that it has become part of my existence with almost no effort on my part.

About nine years ago, Ivaan and I went to Prince Edward Island by train, accompanied by our nine-year-old nephew Ivor, who hopped on board at Kingston.  We were travelling first class, as Ivaan was in a wheelchair and that entitled him to a free-of charge able-bodied companion (me).  So with all that money we were saving, it made no sense not to invite Ivor along.  The train took us to Moncton, New Brunswick, and we had a rental car waiting at the train station, so we climbed in and continued on our way.

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I didn't realize the Confederation Bridge is not actually in Moncton.  In fact, it's almost 100 kilometres away, so for a couple of hours we searched in vain.  Eventually, a local took pity on us and pointed us toward the highway.  By that night, we were in Summerside PEI.  Our plan was to drive around the perimeter of PEI, starting in Summerside and finishing up in Charlottetown.  Ivor got to pick the hotels, which was fine by us.  We'd drive into the parking lot, send him into the lobby, where he'd approach the front desk and ask the clerk:  "Does your hotel have a swimming pool?  Does the pool have a water slide?  How long is the water slide? Is the water slide straight or curved?"  You know, the important questions.  If he leaned out the front door with a "thumbs up", that meant we'd found our hotel.  Thumbs down?  We kept on driving.

On the north shore of PEI we passed through a town called Naufrage, which means shipwreck.  It's a barren coast and there's a lighthouse, so it seemed self-evident how the name came to be.  We were all lovers of lighthouses (phares, in French) and best of all there was a little family restaurant that had plenty of vegan items on the menu, including fried zucchini which was delicious.  We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Naufrage.

It became a recurring theme between Ivaan and me,  after our return:  what would you want to have with you on an ocean voyage?  I've crossed the Atlantic by ocean liner three times and so mostly I know what I don't want: parsnips and artificial whipped cream.  Ivaan had crossed the Atlantic once as a refugee in 1949, and ocean liners always fascinated both of us.

2015 was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania and it seemed like an auspicious occasion to launch a small subsidiary shop that sold provisions you might like to have on an ocean voyage, or anything maritime in flavour, although no cutesy little lighthouse-shaped salt-and-pepper sets. Everything had to be well made, genuinely beautiful, useful, and not easy to acquire. Naufrage seemed the logical name, in honour of the Lusitania and our trip to PEI.

Here's a photo from inside Naufrage.

And because no shop bearing Ivaan's name would be complete without its own postcard, we did up a Naufrage postcard, too.The shipwrecked liner is, in fact, the Lusitania.  Its stark beauty would entrance Ivaan, as it does me.

So now you know. Keeping items in stock is a real challenge, as many of them come from afar, but I've noticed that a hostess gift from Naufrage is always received with pleasure when I dine with friends.

A lot of water has passed under the Confederation Bridge since our trip to PEI, but Ivor (now an Engineering student at U Ottawa) was here last week, and we reminisced about our adventures in PEI.  So I thought I should tell you about Naufrage.

Monday, April 4, 2016


I finally finished restoring and replating the liturgical implements for Ivaan's beloved Priest and for the Cathedral.  To say it was more work than I ever dreamed possible is an understatement.  But the satisfaction of returning everything in perfect condition, gleaming and new looking, is profound.

The cross on the left was a gift from the family of another Priest who is recently deceased.  Ivaan's Priest was looking forward to wearing it in memory of his deeply respected colleague, but it had been well worn and loved for many years.  It was engraved on the reverse side, attesting to the fact that it had originally been a gift to the late Priest.

These are not items that sit around looking decorative.  They are used on a regular basis.  I'm pretty sure they will remain in good condition for a very long time, but I smile when I think of Ivaan  beaming down on me and saying, "Nice job, dear, but you'd better come and join me on this side of the great divide before they find something else that needs to be repaired."

Friday, April 1, 2016


We know a guy named Klaus who was kind enough to have his collection of Ivaan jewellery photographed for our website.  His collection includes a couple of bracelets, a couple of brooches, an earring, a couple of rings (including his wedding ring, which is a particularly nice piece of art, but that's another story).

Among the items is a bangle style bracelet, which is shaped like a bicycle tire. I'm always really glad when someone sends me a  half decent photo of Ivaan's work.  Here it is:

At about the same time, a magazine in Alberta which is featuring an article about Ivaan wrote to ask me for some high-resolution photographs of Ivaan to accompany their article.  Since the article is about both Ivaan's Alberta connection  and his art, I thought it would be good if I could find some photos that showed him at work.  I frequently say that the word "paranoid" is often thrown around loosely, but that in Ivaan's case, it's probably not strong enough to describe his hypersensitivity to people watching him at work.  So, unless the KGB really was doing surveillance, there likely are no photos of him at work.

So I sent them a photo of Ivaan in the late 1980s in his workshop, posing beside a piece of equipment. Was he working at the time?  Definitely not. He wasn't wearing a shirt, and most of Ivaan's work involved flames, hot wax and flying pieces of metal. But in looking at the photograph, I  noticed that the wax of Klaus' bicycle tire bracelet, in embryonic form, was lying beside him.   It was a long, long way from completion, and it's almost chilling, realizing how much work went into making it into an elaborately embellished sterling silver bracelet.  But, as you can tell from the photograph of Ivaan below, he was young and perhaps thought he had a long life ahead of him.
Today is our  21st anniversary, and now whatever work gets done is done by me.  It is a lot of work (says she through gritted teeth.)  Sure hope you don't want a nice bracelet like Klaus has.  If so, you may be waiting a while.   Happy Anniversary, Ivaan.  I miss you for much more than your art, but when I look at this bracelet, I miss you profoundly for your intense devotion to creating beautiful things.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Lots and lots of exciting things have been going on at Atelier Ivaan lately, not the least of which is new lighting. For years, I've had a grudge against the recessed lighting in the shop window. Those pot lights illuminate absolutely nothing. And, although I'm an impulsive person, it was taking me a long time to decide on a replacement.

There is a terrific store on Queen Street West called Old Faithful Shop, which sells really well-made things for the home. That's why it's called Old Faithful: because the items it sells are going to be around and working well, for a long time. They have some very interesting and well made light fixtures. One day it hit me: their pendant lights are the exact length to be perfect in my window. They're not exactly cheap, but I rationalized that they are in Canadian dollars, and I like supporting Canadian small businesses.  So I did.

After the pendant lights were installed in the window, I turned my attention to the lighting inside the store.  I love my store. The only thing I disliked about my store was the horrible Ikea track lighting overhead. It flickered like strobe lighting when I first turned on the lights and made everything look nasty.  (I didn't buy the track lights; they came with the store.)

So one day I was trolling around on Kijiji and I saw an ad for a pair of very sculptural new schoolhouse-type pendants. I corresponded back and forth with the owner for a while, and realized these were high-quality light fixtures that would probably look perfect in the store ..... if only I had four of them.  So I went to pick them up. When I arrived at the seller's home, she invited me into her kitchen, and there she had a whole row of these light fixtures overhead. I was just bowled over by how perfect they looked.

Sold!  I scuttled off home with them, intending to search for more of them, and by a miracle I was able to find another two.  The third arrived by courier yesterday, minutes before the electrician arrived. The fourth one won't be delivered till next month, but I love anticipation.

And then yesterday afternoon, while the electrician was installing them, I received a phone call from the gold platers to tell me that all the altar pieces I'm having repaired and replated for St. Volodymyr Cathedral were completed. I picked them up this morning and they look beautiful. You can see the ones made by Ivaan; they're the ones with the gemstones on them.  This is my gift to the Cathedral this year, in honour of Ivaan.

All that glisters is not gold, said Shakespeare.  The Bard was wrong, of course. Generally speaking, if it glisters, it's gold. I can already feel Ivaan beaming down on me, saying "Not bad!"