The Living Village

I grew up in a small town.  I remember sitting on the bottom step of the staircase and looking out the window on frigid winter nights. Seeing  the smoke curling out of our neighbours’ chimneys warmed me as much as our furnace rumbling away in the basement.  It reminded me that we were all connected in our need for warmth – and each other.

I haven’t lived in a town for the last thirty-five years and sometimes I miss it, which probably accounts for my returning to this Mexican village on vacation. Yelapa is a small town built on a steep hillside in Jalisco, Mexico. It reminds me of the genesis of all villages. It was reportedly first settled by four families who had come down from the village of Chacala high in the mountains. The town has grown since then but its growth is limited by the mountains and the sea. Most supplies still come in by small fishing boats. There is a very rough road leading to the ancestral village of Chacala, but it’s not always passable and even it doesn’t directly enter the village. There are no cars here.


The village awakens slowly in the mornings. The sun doesn’t rise above the mountains until after seven. The first water taxi leaving for Boca is the only movement on the sheltered harbour but is soon joined by fishing boats leaving for the day. The few little grocery stores (tiendas) open after 9:00. The village awakens slowly but work and pleasure continue well into the evening hours when the sun isn’t as hot. It’s a different rhythm dictated by climate and geography and culture.

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Most people live and work in the village. They fish, or help on construction sites, or use their horses and burros to haul supplies. And nowadays, of course, there is the tourist industry which keeps many people busy.


One of my biggest pleasures here is walking along the stone path to the center of the village in the evening. The villagers have gathered on their stoops now and have a “hola’ or “buenos noches” for everyone passing by. We begin to recognize each other as time goes on and the smiles become warmer and the greetings longer. For a short while, we are welcomed into this little living village on the side of a mountain in Mexico.


The flip side to all this connection, of course, is that everyone knows everyone else’s business and there are stories floating around about this person or that one.  I remember it was just this storytelling, often tinged with some judgment, that had me less than enamoured with small town life when I was an adolescent.  It never discounts, however, that everyone has a place in the fabric of the town and the connections run deep and last forever.

It’s nice and I miss it.

What Kind of a Traveller Are You?

A lone street light illuminates the walk home after dinner. (Yelapa, Mexico)

A confession: I have never gone on an all inclusive holiday, been part of a group travel package, or taken a cruise. It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy these experiences, it’s just that I haven’t been drawn to them.

I am not the kind of traveller who needs to be up at 6:00 in the morning to make an early start on seeing all the sights and tourist attractions. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. For me, most days start with a morning stroll to a local café or breakfast spot. I’ll see where the day takes me from there. Sometimes it’s a trip to a market (I always check out those) or a walk to a waterfall, or vineyard or….

I do check out a destination before I visit and may have a rough plan of some of the places that I might like to see, but there is nothing set in stone and I’m rarely disappointed if my trip is over and I haven’t managed to see or do the things on my list. That’s because most of the things I ended up doing were spontaneous, suggested by locals, or experiences I just happened upon that were so much more appealing than anything I read in a book or saw online.

There are always adventures to be had when travelling, especially if you find yourself off the beaten path. You might have to share your chair with something like this.


Or guard your bananas against night time visitors.


But, oh the stories you’ll have to tell!

What kind of traveller are you?


I’m a huge Instagram fan. I love photos – well composed ones,  evocative ones,  ones that are the holders of memories. I have been curious lately about the grid of photos that we see when we click on a profile in Instagram.  I’ve noticed that some of the people with the most followers have a very curated looking grid of pictures.

Here is one example.
And another.

Their photos seem to all have the same style, light quality, and spectrum of colours. I must say I was a bit impressed that anyone could maintain this consistency. My photos seem to be all over the place. I have warm whites and cool whites, pictures of food interspersed with photos of family, and a whole slew of nature pictures thrown into the mix. It’s a hodgepodge.

The latest grid you’d see on my Insta feed.

Yes, there’s an old family photograph, a few seasonal pictures, some food, a picture of a shawl I knit, and my calligraphy  supplies for a course I’m taking.

I have to admit,  I thought about making my grid more cohesive, perhaps more appealing to those people who happen on my feed and might want to follow me. But in the end, it’s not a brand I’m trying to create, it’s a life I’m trying to live.

The Sap Is Rising


The first harvest of the season is underway here in southern Québec. The success of this harvest is dependent on the perfect combination of below freezing nights and mild days. We’ve had a few of those perfect days, but in the last week or so the daytime temperatures didn’t go above freezing. The sap flow stops on those days and the busy maple syrup producers, who are often farmers as well, continue on cutting wood, birthing calves, plowing driveways…  I think you get the picture. They’re very busy people.

Drinking the first sap is built into our DNA – at least my DNA.  Here are my parents circa 1948 doing just that.  My mother is recently arrived from England in this picture and obviously hasn’t purchased her Canadian “going out in the woods”  clothes yet.

old picture #30

We haven’t been to a “cabane à sucre”  this year to see the sugaring process in full swing,  but we did tap a lone tree not far from the house and stopped at it yesterday on our way back from a cross country ski to quench our thirst.


Another nor’easter has blown in today. It is snowing heavily now and the fire is lit. We’re staying close to home to wait it out. The trees will be waiting it out too. It’s like that this time of year.



It’s Not as Easy as It Looks


When I saw the drill sheets for week one, I almost laughed. Easy peasy, I thought. In fact, I was wondering if I was going to be bored with this whole learning calligraphy thing.

And then I started. Who knew? First of all, it took weeks of detective skills to track down the special pens I could choose: big brush, small brush, hard tip, soft tip, pointed pen, nib holders… and the list goes on and on. Even Amazon seems to have to look to Japan for some of the pens. The ones I ordered on February 3 have still not made it here yet. And that’s just the pens.

I’ve also been visiting paper supply stores and “petting” all of their stock feeling for just the right smoothness. Most of the papers we use all the time are quite abrasive and can apparently wreak havoc on pen nibs and tips. Rhodia has  a paper that is very smooth, a high grade vellum. Pens just seem to want to write on this surface.

The drills started this past Monday and were accompanied by a video. How hard can this be? A simple upstroke and downstroke and a combination stroke. It turns out, it can be very hard! There’s slant and pressure and holding the pen in the right way to get those nice thin and thick lines. Just to demonstrate, I am showing you some of my first results.  Yes, those ARE “drunken cobras” you are seeing where a downstroke should be.


Now that I’ve been humbled, I can see I have work to do. Apparently people can become quite tense while practicing and some people have suggested a glass of wine and relaxing music. I can do that. My teacher has suggested yogic breathing as being helpful too in getting the right speed and rhythm. Inbreath up, outbreath down. You laugh, but this is probably the most helpful piece of advice I’ve received so far. It seems we all go way too fast, especially in the beginning. Isn’t it amazing that in calligraphy, as in most things in life, the secrets to success  are the same:

  • Relax
  • Breathe deeply
  • Exercise

If anyone else is interested in learning calligraphy, I have included the link here to the online course I’m following.



Weaving in the Ends

I started this scarf/shawl while my mother was dying in the hospital. Knitting was a way to calm myself while accompanying my mother on her last days. And I think it calmed her too.  Knit, purl, knit….. a steady incantation in a predictable pattern, like breathing.  Knitting was one of the womanly arts that was big in my mother’s life and in her mother’s life before her.

It is now March and the scarf is almost finished. It continued to work its magic over the months since my mother’s passing as memories of a long life lived arose and faded while I knit.  I’ve had a hard time finishing it, but I have a hard time finishing most things. Now it’s time to weave in the ends of which there are many, as you can see. Fitting, I guess.


The Crows are Gathering

The spring migration of crows has reached our area. Now as I lie in bed in the early morning light, I hear the birds awaking too. The crows have been the first to break winter’s silence. Robins won’t be far behind. Migrations are happening as they should which feels comforting in a world so full of bluster and chaos these days.

Something New

I have some new socks on my knitting needles. I joined the Handmade Sock Society during the winter. I just loved the name. It speaks of a different time when people gathered for simpler reasons. Except now, of course, we gather online – hashtag handmadesocksociety. I love knitting socks, they suit my practical nature.  I rarely knit socks with patterns, but I’m making an exception so that I can be a society girl.

Winter Rose socks.



Today I start learning calligraphy.  I’ve always felt this pull to create with my hands. It’s something passed down to me from my mother’s lineage – they were knitters, and dressmakers and midwives.

I guess all of this is just another way to weave in the ends.


I Was Going to Write…

I was going to write about the woes of March. I was going to call her a lyin’, cheatin’, bad friend full of broken promises. I was gathering sad pictures to prove my point.

Our sad woodpile with only one row left.
Our very sad, muddy road full of potholes.

But then something shifted. I had written earlier that our love or hate for winter was a question of attitude. If that was true, and transferable to other seasons, my loathing of March and April might be in need of a serious attitude adjustment.

My body tenses just thinking about March and April. My mind is wanting to embrace the beautiful idea of spring but my body memory tells me of cold, northerly winds, fast  moving weather systems  that dump 30+ centimetres of wet snow overnight, and interminably grey skies. We don’t have spring in southern Quebec, we have winter’s slow and painful exit.

Buddhists would say I have set myself up for stress and suffering – one part of me desiring an early spring  and the other part resisting what is present.  And they would be right. Since I’m on the path to ending suffering, there seems to be work to do here.

The first order of business is changing my thinking about spring’s arrival. If I no longer believe that spring arrives here on March 21st,  I can’t be disappointed when she doesn’t show up. So, I’m officially moving the start of spring to April 21st. This is much more realistic and a very good first start in my attitude adjustment.

Now that I’m not expecting spring until the end of April, I can move into acceptance.  I anticipate there’ll  be some exquisite days when the sap runs in the trees and our bodies will feel a joy that only people who have wintered here can really know.


On those days, I’ll be outside breathing it all in.

It’s the other days that might be more of a challenge.  Facing challenges reminds me of a story that Fred Rogers, the creator of the children’s program Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, used to tell. He said that when he was a boy and would see scary things, his mother would say to him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” I’m wondering if a similar strategy could work in facing the challenge of a winter that never seems to end. We could seek out the helpers:

  1. Visit a local maple syrup producer and breathe in the sweet aroma of boiling sap. Have a sip of fresh maple syrup or eat some sugar on snow while we’re there.
  2. Listen and watch for the returning birds.
  3. Invite friends for dinner or meet them at a local pub or eatery.
  4. Add lighter foods to our diet – more vegetables, less carbs.
  5. Buy some tulips to add a little colour and to remember that spring has arrived in other places.
  6. Look for the beauty in the changing light, the sun’s last rays, the moon rising…


I’ve Been Wearing My Mother’s Perfume


I’ve been wearing my mother’s perfume. The first time I put it on was the day she died. In my blurry-eyed grief, my gaze settled on the perfume bottle sitting unobtrusively on her bureau amongst other personal care items strewn there during her final days. Without thinking, I picked it up and spritzed some on my neck. I wore my mum all of that day.

I’ve worn her perfume twice since. I wore it the day I went to pick up her ashes at the funeral parlour. Without much thought or reason, I again spritzed it on my neck and drove to the funeral home to pick up her ashes which by now were safely stored in the blue china urn I had chosen shortly after her passing. The urn reminded me of my mother. It was her colours.


I wore it again yesterday, this time for no reason at all, except I like it. It’s strange. I spent most of my life distancing myself from my mother and her choices. Her clothes, not the ones I would choose, her shoes, sensible and comfortable, but not at all stylish. I wasn’t judging,  they were all perfect for her and I was happy that she had found her style. (Actually, I wasn’t happy when I tried to choose tops for her with the perfect neckline.)  It seems though that I have spent most of my life looking for differences instead of celebrating what we shared in common.

In the interest of righting this imbalance, I’ve decided to share some of the many things we did have in common:

  1. We both turn in the wrong direction when we exit from elevators or shops in malls.
  2. We both are introverted and prefer small gatherings of people to large groups.
  3. We both believe a good cup of tea can cure just about anything.
  4. We both love hearing and telling good stories.
  5. We both enjoy our own company and can spend many excellent hours alone.

And…it turns out, we both love the same perfume.



The Lost Art of Cursive Writing

Writing as unique as its creators.

It was close to the end of the period and there were some notes that I wanted to quickly put on the whiteboard. I grabbed my marker and began to write in cursive, “Canada’s population…” I was just getting started when a boy at the back called out, “I can’t read joined letters.” I was floored. I knew we were no longer teaching cursive in elementary schools,  but this was the first time I realized the full scale of the loss.

I’ve been thinking about handwriting a lot these days as I sort through paperwork and personal items that belonged to my mother and father and grandmother. Their handwriting says more about each of them than any portrait possibly could. My father’s handwriting is large and flowing and my mother’s much more measured and cautious. I feel their presence as if they were sitting beside me when I see snippets of things they have written. It’s as distinctive and personal as any work of art. Which begs the question, what will we have lost when handwriting becomes extinct?


Back in my day, cursive was taught in grade three and by grade four we had graduated to our first fountain pens. It took some practice to learn how much pressure to apply and how to stop dragging our hands through the freshly written letters. We all had ink stained fingers and sides of the palms in those days.

I remember realizing early on that even though we had all been taught the same way, handwriting morphed into something unique for each person. In the interest of experimentation, I tried out large letters, small letters, different slants, and the full range of coloured inks – all to explore who I was and who I wanted to become.

A few years after these experiments with my fountain pen, the Bic Cristal made its appearance. It was cheaper, handier, and certainly less messy than a fountain pen, but it wasn’t the same writing experience. Which brings me to this article I recently read in The Atlantic titled, “How the Ballpoint Killed Cursive.” Many people will tell you that computers spelled the end to cursive, but the author of this article, Josh Giesbrecht, thinks it might have started well before that with the emerging popularity of the Bic pen in the 1960’s.  The ink in the Bic was made much thicker to prevent leakage and the long nib of the fountain pen was replaced by a rolling ball. The fountain pen with its thinner ink dances across the page while the Bic needs to be coaxed and pushed across. Giesbrecht puts it this way, “Fountain pens want to connect letters. Ballpoint pens need to be convinced to write.”

Handwriting expert, Rosemary Sassoon, makes some really interesting observations about the experience of writing. She explains that children today are still being taught the same pen grip that’s been used for generations. She points out that ballpoints and other modern pens need to be held at a more upright angle to the paper and this position is uncomfortable with a traditional pen hold. It seems the ballpoint was straining our hands long before keyboards and carpal tunnel syndrome made their appearance. She writes:

We must find ways of holding modern pens that will enable us to write without pain. …We also need to encourage efficient letters suited to modern pens. Unless we begin to do something sensible about both letters and penholds we will contribute more to the demise of handwriting than the coming of the computer has done.

There seems to be a general consensus that joined letters are faster to write than separate ones.  And new studies suggest that writing by hand may be better for kids’ learning than using a computer. So where does this leave us? Our modern tools don’t seem to support writing in traditional ways.  It’ll be very interesting to see how this all unfolds.

For my part, I’ve decided to take a step backwards and learn calligraphy.  Surely there’s still a place for the art of beautiful handwriting in this world.

Wonder how these new Japanese calligraphy pens will work.


You can read the full article in The Atlantic  here.

The Snow Sings

A winter painting by artist Antoine Bittar that sits above our fireplace.

I wrote a blog post awhile back asking if you were a winter lover or hater. You can read it here if you missed it. I concluded that it was a question of attitude: how willing we are to embrace winter. I realize I am a winter lover, especially when we have an old fashioned winter with plenty of snow.


I love the deep dark of December. The lights are brighter and the music sweeter because of the dark.



January is traditionally our coldest month and finds me in full hygge mode. There is always a fire in the fireplace, I have the books I haven’t had time to read  stacked on the coffee table by the couch, a knitting project or two in the basket, and a list of Netflix shows friends have recommended to check out. I am so ready for all of this!



There’s not much that I don’t love about February. I love the peachy light that floods the fields and woods this time of year.


I love that the sun rises just that much earlier and sets an hour later than it did at solstice. And I love the snow. After my month of hygge in January,  it’s time to get outside and move. The snowshoes and x-country skis are left in the entrance way or by the front door and it doesn’t feel quite right if they aren’t used once a day.


I especially love ending February outdoor days  having a drink in town in one of the bistros that the after ski crowd frequent. It’s contagious, this enjoying winter thing.


Mary Oliver, the poet, writes: “The song you heard singing in the leaf when you were a child is singing still.” I’m thinking that the song we heard singing in the snow when we were children is singing still too.  We just have to be outside to hear it.