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Clearly not my neighbour, but someone like him.

Clearly not my neighbour, but someone like him.

One of the world’s greatest bagpipers has moved onto my street. This is a good and not-so-good thing. 

As a native Nova Scotian, I have been known to burst into tears when confronted with a pipe and drum band.  I am inordinately fond of pipe music. It makes me emotional. The sight of a line of swinging kilts clutching armloads of pipes with the drums rat-a-tat-tatting right behind never fails to send me over the edge. Blame it on all those Natal Day parades in front of Lake Banook. Where I’m from, where most people have their own tartan, a party isn’t a party unless it ends with a drunk piper wheezing on the front lawn at 4 in the morning. That’s just the way it is.

However, it takes an enormous amount of practice to be one of the best pipers in the world, and the people in my neighbourhood can tell you that this practice happens religiously between 9 and 10:30 every weeknight.  Not that we’re complaining. It’s exciting to have a celebrity musician in our midst, and who hasn’t cut loose with the stereo or an amplified electric guitar once in awhile…live and let live, right? These last few weeks, we’ve been humming along, then closing our windows and putting the kids to bed under the cooling breeze and insulating sound of a floor fan.

Except last night, something cut the practice short. I’m not sure what it was. Speculation has arisen that it might have been complaints from a protective grandmother with visiting toddlers. Maybe the piper got a blister.  Whatever prompted it, a blissful silence fell over the neighbourhood. We switched off the fans, threw open the windows and breathed the sweet night air. It was lovely while it lasted, but I hope this is just a temporary hiatus.  I’ve never been the best in the world at anything – and I respect the amount of work and sacrifice (and practice) it takes to master an instrument as difficult as the pipes. When I listen to my neighbour work at it night after night, I feel like I’m part of his clan, and frankly, I’m rooting for him. Even when I close my windows.


Wednesday, July 22, 8:17 a.m.

Light rain and fog.

Unidentified man in navy suit jumps out of idling Prius, which is parked sideways in narrow passage of St. John Street lot.  Man looks around, removes one of three dark green sawhorses erected to a) protect grass and b) ensure access to large dumpster. Man wedges Prius into spot, parking on grass immediately in front of green dumpster.

My mother has discovered Skype. She called last month and asked if we could try it, because her friend Fran uses it to talk to her daughter. She and Fran are fast friends, but my mother doesn’t like Fran to get ahead of her on anything, especially when it comes to connecting with daughters.

It took us three weeks and several false starts to start talking via video, while we tried to figure out why a) I could neither see nor hear her (turn camera on) b) I could see but not hear her (purchase and install microphone) c) I could hear but not see her (enable camera on Skype).  The first time it all came together I had to work to convince her to put the phone down. She didn’t believe we were talking through the computer until she actually saw me through her computer without a phone in my hand.

My mother lives in Halifax, which is about five hours away. We talk weekly on the phone and are now strangely even more connected through this magical digital phenomenon. I now risk that little phone ringing everytime I go online, but I admit it is reassuring to see her smiling brightly on the other end of the video link, having just applied lipstick and fixed up her hair for the occasion. She wants to “see” me, she says. And more to the point – she wants to “see” her grandchild. It’s lovely to see the look of glee on my mother’s face when Lucy climbs on my lap and appears onscreen. Fran doesn’t have any grandchildren yet. At least Mom’s ahead of her on that one.

At the risk of alienating my vast audience that is apparently quite interested in the Edward Greenspon/John Stackhouse drama unfolding at The Globe and Mail this week, I must share this video I just found on youtube. It’s brilliant and guaranteed to make you smile – a jam on a bus travelling through the Belgian countryside with members of The Waterboys from 2001.

We are big Waterboys fans in my house. Five-year-old Lucy is in the midst of a terrible crush on Mike Scott and tonight asked me to email him a love note, requesting that he post her favourite song on youtube. She has a thing for pale blue-eyed boy musicians. Yes, already.

My laundry line hangs under our crabapple tree in downtown Fredericton.

My backyard line hangs beneath a crabapple tree.

I have a confession to make. I love clotheslines. I hang mine with pride and look for them everywhere. The Ottawa Citizen recently ran an essay I wrote about the art of hanging laundry. I am not sure how long the piece will stay on their site, so I am posting it here.

The family line

A clothesline was once about drying clothes. Everyone’s mother knows that sunshine and a stiff breeze are all anyone needs to get all the sheets and Dad’s shirts dry.

But in this age of hipster-cool fixed-gear bikes, slow-cooked organic food and urban car co-operatives, pinning your fair-trade cotton undies across the yard is almost a political statement.

New suburbanites, forced to retreat to more affordable neighbourhoods where they can raise their toddlers on pesticide-free lawns, are fighting subdivision covenants that forbid the display of damp sheets. It’s about the planet, they argue.

Here in the Maritimes, that sort of self-righteousness makes us smirk. We’ve always known the value of a good laundry line. It’s less about the planet and more about being sensible. And there’s the satisfaction of building something beautiful and revealing from the daily fragments of your life.

I often wonder what people think as they walk past my backyard line, pinned daily with a flashy mix of little-girl skirts and nightgowns, towels, pants, mismatched socks and the occasional black, metal band T-shirt owned by my teenage stepson.

When my father built our childhood home in Dartmouth, N.S., in 1976, my mother asked for two things — a canary yellow double sink for the kitchen and a clothesline. My mother, a Montrealer, was ahead of her time in many ways, teaching my brother and me to step lightly on the planet and to avoid chemical foods and hydrogenated fats. She is also a domestic esthete, and appreciated the je ne sais quoi that a laundry line added to our new street.

Mom got the yellow sink and the laundry line. I spent a lot of time in service to both and learned valuable lessons about beauty in the everyday. Laundry, like art, is all about choice and expressing your own idea of what’s acceptable and beautiful.

There are no real rules about what goes on a clothesline, only a generally accepted set of principles, some practical and some not, usually handed down within families. Some people hang their underwear, some don’t . Some hang only sheets, tablecloths and towels; I hang everything.

My mother taught me that large or heavy items go first, because they take longest to dry and can be left out while the line is refilled. Items of similar shape should go together. Underwear and socks go last.

Similar colours should go together. Red things go next to pink things, and if you want to hang an orange thing next, find something with pink and orange in it to separate the two.

Colour order is less important than hanging a taut and tidy line using just the right number of spring-loaded wooden pins. Towels must be hung level with the line, sheets folded over and pegged three times. Speaking of pins, they must do double-duty, connecting each item so nothing bunches in the middle.

My mother is a wise woman who taught me many things and encouraged my independent spirit. I have absorbed her lesson and incorporated my own, admittedly more random clothesline esthetic.

Years ago, an artist friend introduced me to the idea of wabi-sabi, a Japanese concept that finds beauty in asymmetry, impermanence and natural transience.

Wabi-sabi celebrates imperfections, simplicity, modesty, intimacy and fleeting beauty. No concept more fully expresses my own approach to hanging laundry.

To wit, the sum total of this morning’s effort is as follows; a large, lettuce-green bath towel, two tablecloths (one green, one yellow), a women’s knit top hung upside down, two pairs of women’s shorts (forest green, beige), a set of green-patterned, kids’ one-piece pyjamas, three green napkins, three pairs of panties (one large and two very small with Curious George on the front), a pair of white ankle socks, and a bright blue bra.

The items are arranged more or less by their membership in the greenish-blue colour family, except for the large, yellow tablecloth in the middle. I am not sure why I put it there, except that it seemed right to put the two tablecloths together and because it looks pretty there, with the breeze lifting it up

But everyone has different ways of doing things, and family traditions are displayed in backyards and front porches all over the world.

Big families, or people with a lot of laundry, tend to try to fit as much as they can on the line using as few pins as possible. Couples, including the pair of scientists who live next door, hang their small loads in the centre of the line, sometimes with large gaps between items, with two pins per item — an unheard of luxury in most families.

In countries where personal space is limited, people get creative. There again, it’s less about the planet and the perception of cool and more about simple necessity.

At dusk on one January night in Shanghai, I watched a small girl in pigtails stand on a wheelbarrow and lift hangers filled with clothing from the branches of a tree on a busy commercial street. She gathered the dry items into her arms before walking alone into the crowd.

My own daughter is just five and cannot yet reach our laundry line. She often stands with me on the lobster box we use as a step, handing up pins and helping to fold smaller things as they come off. She helps mostly to fill the time while she waits for me to finish, so I can watch her practice bike riding.

I am not sure what she’ll remember from these long summer days , but I hope she’ll embrace the impermanent beauty of all this. The time we share stringing memories across the backyard and the beautiful, moving sculpture we build together, waving gently in the breeze.

And OK, I don’t really mind that it saves on my power bill.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

My bandmates and I recently had the great privilege of playing at a benefit for a much-loved family in Keswick Ridge, New Brunswick.  Jeff and Eloise Stillwell-Kennett are hard-working parents, community members, volunteers and all-round great people. Jeff is sick and can’t work so of course, their friends and neighbours wanted to do all they could to help.

The first thing people did was start a facebook group. Word spread like crazy and a few weeks later, more than 300 people turned up for a benefit concert and supper that raised many thousands of dollars for the family. People paid $5 to get in, $2.50 for a bowl of donated chili or baked beans and $1.50 for a piece of homemade pie. People brought more than 30 lemon meringue, pecan, blueberry, butterscotch and coconut cream pies, in case you were wondering. Volunteers laid out a silent auction of donated items like woven hats, massage therapy, music lessons and even somebody’s old printer. Ladies sold raffle tickets on a mother’s day basket and dozens of local musicians (including our band, Delilah) played for free. A local CBC celebrity emceed the event with panache. 

Now Keswick Ridge is a farm community. Jeff is an organic farmer, in fact. Community events in are held in the school or a small building with buzzing flourescent lights. Most people are, well, older. Think white hair and pantsuits. Plaid work-shirts and mesh ballcaps. Not exactly the kind of folks you think of as being connected with the latest social media tools.

 Still, the whole thing was planned online. Most people in this farm community have access to high-speed internet. Many of them video taped the performances for posting to youtube. (I’ll post them here when they make it). The facebook group became the equivalent of the old-fashioned community phone tree – somebody was in trouble and everybody jumped in to help. Old-school community involvement, using new-school tools. Cool.

I love Matt Bai. For anyone who doesn’t know (and I didn’t until a few months ago) he covers politics for the New York Times.  His writing is both clever and funny and he has considerable insight and depth on what’s going on down there in Obamaville.  On Sunday, he wrote about Washington’s current love affair with Twitter, explaining how politicians of all stripes are providing moment-by-moment updates on their travel plans and coffee consumption. He says this is boring, and doesn’t serve democracy.  He says most people are tired of the often meaningless brevity of comments that show up on what has become our endless news cycle. Despite my own mad crush on twitter and tweeting, I think Matt’s probably right on this one.

July 2018
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  • throwing my grammaaa a party today cant wait to dee the surprisment in her little face :) it makes me excitied evertime i see shes 99 now 5 years ago
  • genuine people dont come around often.If you find somebody real,enough to stay true,keep them close. 5 years ago