Friday, 13 January 2023

How long?

Three years ago, the art group I belong to, Fibre Art Voices, made plans to put on a show at our local community art gallery. The theme would be “In My Garden.” That was before Covid, before social distancing, show cancellations, gallery closures.

This week, the show finally opened. It was worth the wait. It is beautiful! (IMHO). I think most viewers will be delighted. You can visit it virtually at this address:

Now I’m steeling myself for the one question that is asked every time I display some work: “How long did it take you to make that?” The short answer is, “Maybe a day or two of actual work.” The long answer is much more complicated.

I started out well. It was fall, so my first piece would feature seed heads from the many varieties of flowers we grow in our garden. 


But before I could do that, I would have to create a background on which to place these flowers. It took two or three days of trial and error before my fuzzy vision came into focus. I found a background that pleased me: a table cloth fashioned from a lace hanky; a sheer organza curtain, a nubby loosely woven background. How long did it take me to make that, you ask?  Days and days of muttering, and then an hour or so of sewing. Maybe too long, but it feels good: I’m on to something.

Every day for the next 10 days or so, I thread sketch a new stem with my sewing machine on to the background, using a real winter bouquet as my model.


I like it! I add a see-through blue chiffon vase, and we are done. Sort of. Okay, it’s not laying flat like it’s supposed to, but maybe I can fix that later. “I’ll fix it later = many, many more hours.

I echo the background composition in the next piece, a big one that I call Homage to Holland. It will feature a Delft blue vase of tulips, a lace curtain, and a nubby table cloth. It’s a piece full of nostalgia, recalling elements of my growing up years in a Dutch immigrant family. 


I add tulip after tulip after tulip to the bouquet – seems like it will never get done. And how long did that take you, you ask? Literally years, before I finally felt it was done. In between creative spurts, it hung on my design wall waiting for me to see what was missing. Finally, the “aha!” moment arrives:  more tulips, and, of course, a cup of tea. Now when I look at it, I can feel like I am sitting down with mom having a good visit.

By now covid has invaded our world. You’d think with all those hours of isolation, I’d be producing big time. But that’s not how it works. Knowing that our show would be delayed, I worked on other things. (Check my blogs for April 28, 2020; Nov. 7, 2021, and Jan. 7, 2022.)

But the Garden pieces niggled at me, so I began creating pieces depicting four seasons in the “Garden in the Woods.” I created a big piece, but after a week or so of work, I knew it wasn’t what I’d envisioned.


Start over again, this time in a small format, using the same trees in each piece, but changing the background and foreground to depict the seasons. Better! It involved handwork and embroidery, which I did while watching TV. If I’m working as I watch Wheel of Fortune, is it okay if I count those as work hours? But when I knew these pieces would probably work, they too were laid aside “for later.”

We finally got the dates for our show: Jan. 10- 28, 2023, almost a year away. No rush, lots of time, and besides, we have a road trip across the country planned. The Garden in the Woods pieces accompany us across the country and back again, but I am never interested in taking out my embroidery threads and beads to complete them. How long did it take to make those pieces? Does languishing in the back seat of an overstuffed car for two months count? Every time I saw those pieces, it activated my creative juices. Does that count?

Suddenly, it’s the middle of October, and now the pressure is on. I know December is crowded with other commitments, and I give myself a deadline. Finish 8 pieces by the end of November: four Woodland pieces, and four bouquets of garden flowers, including the winter bouquet. Those six weeks of being in the studio every day for at least a three or four hours is how long it took to get the fabric versions of the 8 pieces close enough to done that I can see the finish line. Unfortunately, I’m prone to running down rabbit trails that lead least not right now. But maybe someday?

Then it’s December, and I stuff it all in the closet, again.

I surface again in January. The pressure is on. I am in the studio fixing up those “I’ll do it later” details. 


The resident sweetie and the daughter step up to the plate. 



We need to make frames. We need backing. We need business cards and hanging hardware and staples and glue. And patience and kindness as we work together. Several hours every day are spent measuring, sawing, measuring again, sawing again, fiddling, hammering, sanding, wiping them with tung oil, and finally putting the whole shebang together. This is the business end of the creative process, and it is not my thing. At all. Thank goodness for my dear, dear helpers.

And now all the pieces are hung.


It’s up to the viewers...and I know I’ll get asked THE question a few more times. I’ll hand them my business card on which I’ve included my blog address, and they can read the answer for themselves.

Really, it takes a lifetime of gazing at beauty, dozens of years of quilting experience, weeks and months, sometimes years of cogitation, imagination, and rumination, and a few hours of sewing, unpicking, and sewing again until it’s pretty close to right. With a lot of help and encouragement from friends and family, that’s how long it takes.

Friday, 14 October 2022

Great Canadian Road Trip: Debriefing

After 9 weeks and 3 days on the road, 18,000+ km., 30 different beds, 9 provinces coast to coast, we are home again!

In my last post almost a month ago, I was wondering what the future of this journey would look like. Could we maintain it? Would it be the zesty adventure we’d been hoping for? We were tired.

But we got our second wind! 


Sunset at Cheticamp, location of my last post.

I posted lots of photos on FB about our journey. (For those of you not on FB, I've posted photos down below the rest of this posting.)

Yes, we’d do it all over again. (But I don’t think we will.) On our last evening on the road, the RS said to me, “It’s kind of too bad that it’s over,” and those words were music to my ears. It’s no secret that I’m the one that has the itchy feet, and he’s the one that is content at home. He won’t say, “Wow, wow, wow! What a trip!” but he’s glad we did it, and so am I. Driving coast to coast we watched the country unfold from one region, one landscape, into another, and we saw it as a whole. We live in the midst of beauty all around, if we but have eyes to see it.

I thought immediately of writing a blog post to answer the question we get most often these days: “What were the highlights of your trip?” There are many that I’ll probably share over time, but this photo is a favourite, and makes me smile. It seems to capture the spirit of our adventure.


 Yes, that’s me behind the wheel of a U-Force 1000 side-by-side (I call it a 4x4 or dune buggy, but what do I know?) It’s advertised as having “mind-blowing power and heart-stopping speed.” This granny’s gonna go, ho boy!  Here’s the story behind that photo.

We were visiting my cousin’s daughter’s family who live on a pig farm east of Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. Amy and Joel invited us to join their family for a traditional boiled lobster dinner. We were pumped! 


 But before we could get started on the eats, they took us on a tour of their farm, their truck bumping over fields recently cleared, showing us the huge eagle’s nest, visiting the pens where the young pigs were kept, admiring the small abbatoir for which they have big plans, checking out their amazing garden full of flowers and vegies. 

Their 5th grade son was riding around on the U-Force doing some chores for his parents. I was intrigued. A 5th grader driving a motorized brute? Amy saw me looking at it, and she said, “You want to try it out?”

Who, me? Nah. Too many “what if’s” attached to that adventure. What if I make a fool of myself by showing I can’t do what a kid can do? What if I tip it and end up in hospital? And honestly? I’ve often disparaged those noisy buggies driven by yahoos messing up pristine woods and pastures. Taking one for a ride is kind of against my core beliefs ... isn’t it? And besides, I’m a 74-year-old granny who should be acting her age. Shouldn’t I?  I turn down the offer.

Amy grins. “Aww, come on, you know you want to do it! It’s easy. Try it.”

She’s right. In spite of my doubts and objections, I’d really like to try it. And I do! It is easy, just not perfect. The initial slow crawl escalates into a jerky ride down the gravel road and into another field where I screech to a stop and inspect Rose’s Roadside Boutique, where her 12-year old daughter sells lemonade and flowers during the summer. She uses the U-Force to get there.

(unfortunately, the hurricane knocked over the "bouitique", but knowing Rose, it'll soon be on its feet again.)

That was fun! And doesn’t life need to have fun moments to spice up what can easily become hum-drum, same-old, same-old? Don’t we sometimes have to ditch the “what-ifs” and try something new? (Like a coast-to-coast trip with the resident sweetie? Or, more low key, buy that bright red dress, or add a streak of purple to your grey hair, or jump into the river fully clothed on a hot, hot day... ) You know you want to do it, so why not?

Fast forward to this weekend. We accompanied kids and grandkids on a walk around Courtenay’s Air Park, a paved trail circling a landing strip for small airplanes. It’s perfect for scooters, and widely used. Grace and Mitchell were having fun racing against Uncle Jonny. 


We took a quick break and sat on a bench for a photo op. 


"Uncle Jonny" caught me eyeing the adult scooter and asked, “You want to try it, mom?”

You know you want to do it, so why not? And I did. They made me wear a helmet, and I couldn’t keep up with the grandies, but ... hey, that was fun

To find out more about the U-Force: 

And here are the rest of the photos of our trip:

PEI seashore -- note the sandy red water. We camped in Amy and Joel's 5th Wheel, visited Green Gables, had supper with nephew Mike and his family. Great times!

We whipped through New Brunswick on 4-laners, but did get off the beaten track to visit the longest covered bridge in the world at Hartland.   

Our stay in Quebec included 2 nights at B&Bs, where we met lovely Quebecois folk who advised us to take the route through Kamouraska. Beautiful! Also stopped in Magog in the Eastern Townships.

Our stay in Ontario included a visit with family near Ottawa -- so good to catch up! And we stayed four nights with my sister and husband at their cottage near Peterbrough, gearing up for the long push home.

In Northern Ontario, our first stop was Sault Ste. Marie, visiting the locks and International Bridge. 

North of Superior was spectacular, even though the maples were not quite turned yet. This is Chippewa Falls, inspiration for the Group of 7 Painters. 

We hardly stopped for photos on our drive through Manitoba, but it was beautiful too, especially the river valleys brushed with early morning fog. This is Happy Rock in Gladstone, Manitoba. Get it? I'm thinking a dad came up with that one. 

We spent two nights in Saskatoon after four long days of driving. We visited the Western Development Centre, a marvelous museum. Bucky, Parka and Chippy liked it too.

The South Saskatchewan River Valley was clad in glowing gold. We could hear the chattering and clacking of a flock of Sandhill Cranes somewhere out of sight. Afterwards we had supper at the neighbourhood pub. It took us about 2 minutes to figure we were the wrong demographic...everyone was about 40 years younger than us. But the waitress reassured us that they regularly have a 96 year old man come in, so I guess that puts things in perspective. 

We had amazing weather throughout. This is the Edmonton River Valley from one of its many bridges. 

It had been 14 years since we visited the Rockies together. This is Athabasca Falls south of Jasper. Mountains, we missed you and we're determined to return and spend more time there, hopefully next year. Perhaps you've noticed that we seem to be wearing the same clothes in most of our pictures! We found out that you really don't need much, and that we had packed an awful lot of unnecessary stuff.   

There are no superlatives good enough to describe the glowing aspens in the mountain regions. I took bzillions of photos of them, but the photos don't do them justice. 

Last picnic as we take the last leg of our journey through Rogers Pass and down to Abbotsford to have a visit with friends and family there. Lunch picnics on the road are the best!

And this is how it's done! A cooler, a picnic basket, a bin for food, a bin for shoes, a bin for cooking stuff (which we didn't use at all), some games for evenings, two lawn chairs, and two suitcases. Our picnic basket consists of an old computer case that holds two of everything plus place mats, a tea towel, dishcloth and soap. Hey, it works! The Beavers were stuffed wherever there was room, and were very happy to be delivered to their new owners, our grandies.  

Our final "cruise" to Vancouver Island. We're already feeling nostalgic! What kinds of adventures can we dream up next?

Monday, 12 September 2022

Three Days

I ended my previous blog with news that our brother Hank was dying, and so we had put our travel plans on hold while we did what was most important. For those who do not follow me on FaceBook, I posted more news there: that Hank had passed away on Sunday August 28 and was buried the following Friday. On Saturday we resumed our travels. 

 Day One: 

As I’m writing this, we are in St. Anns, Nova Scotia, a tiny hamlet about 15 km. North of Baddeck on Bras d’Or Lake. The motel is situated at the end of St. Ann’s Bay and from the window of our room, at night we can see the lights of ships going by on the ocean. 

 This morning, we had our coffee and breakfast on lawn chairs outside, watching the cormorants dive and play on the calm waters of the bay. The sun has been shining all day. Doesn’t that sound idyllic? 

“What’s wrong, babe?,” asks the resident sweetie. “You look sad.” He’s being kind: I’ve been cranky. The wheels have fallen off for me today. 

 Perhaps this was bound to happen. We’ve been through a lot in the last two weeks. It was a sacred time, a time when we were surrounded by family. And it was an emotional time. One moment we would be filled with gratitude that the three brothers had been able to spend a splendid last week together, that in some mystical way we were supposed to be there that week. But the next moment, we’d be stressed by the uncertainty of the situation. 

When we resumed our travels, we put in some long days to catch up with the parts of our journey that we didn’t want to miss. We were carried along by adrenalin, high on the beauty of the St. Lawrence river and the villages of the Gaspe. 



But somewhere along the way, the adrenalin ran out and we began to run on empty.

 “Be kind to yourself,” advised a friend. “You’ll need to rest, to take time to process all that has happened.” 

How do you process the highs and lows of a road trip, and all the experiences that entails? How do you stick to an itinerary and still find rest? How do you come to a place of peace, and how do you rekindle your zest for adventure? 

I think about things I would normally do in times of turmoil. I turn to my writing. When I write, I figure out a lot of truths about myself and my life. But the insights don’t come. I don’t know how to finish this blog, so I stop writing. I’m still cranky. But it’s a start. 

 Day 2: We are on our way to Cheticamp – a short drive, but packed full of stunning sights, as well as enticing craft shops, funky eateries, and charming villages. This was the final destination of our road trip, before we turn around to go home again. It’s the road we travelled 51 years ago on our honeymoon. It is a good day. We stop often. 


We reminisce. We talk a little about the way we’ve changed. This morning I had read an article about the ins and outs, ups and downs of a long marriage – the petty annoyances, the frustrations, the misunderstandings, the grey and gritty times, as well as the highs and joys and blessings of knowing you are joined in heart to someone who loves you. The psychologists who wrote the article says it’s like life: anything worthwhile takes a lot of effort. We agree. 

 Then we arrive at our destination. What a disappointment! The upgraded motel room we sprang for is a spartan affair. 


Only one burner on the stove works. We can’t connect to the internet. There's a list of rules -- beware if you don't obey, you'll be heavily fined. (Of course, we were planning on fish cakes for supper that night.) There’s a howling wind that makes it hard to be outside. Now it’s Al’s turn to feel down, to doubt whether this trip was a good idea, after all. His back hurts. We have to plan the rest of our trip, but we have no internet to book anything. And the prospect of the long drive back home is daunting. ]

 I walk alone in the wind, and see a marvellous sunset. 


Maybe it will be okay, after all. It’s like life: anything worthwhile takes a lot of persistence and effort. 

Day Three: It’s Sunday. I use precious data allowance on my cell phone to check out my email and facebook feeds, looking for my favourite spiritual posts by Father Richard and Diana Butler Bass. They will be my Sunday morning devotions. 

As I wait for the phone to connect, I look up and around. Just outside the door lies the ocean – wow! And something in me shifts. Wow! We are here! Wow! (Al says I am a “three wow” person. He is a “one wow” kind of guy, and a mild “one wow” at that. Just one of the ways we are different.) 

And here’s what I find – a blessing by John O’Donohue on the Contemplative Monk website: 

When you travel, 

A new silence goes with you 

And if you listen, 

You will hear what your heart would love to say. 

A journey can become a sacred thing. 

Make sure, before you go, 

To bless your going forth, 

To free your heart of ballast, 

So that the compass of your soul 

Might direct you towards 

The territories of spirit 

Where you will discover 

More of your hidden life; 

And the urgencies 

That deserve to claim you. 

(Excerpt from the blessing “For the traveler” found in his book “To Bless the Space Between Us”.) 

 I read it aloud to Al, and he agrees: it’s time to dump the ballast, the petty annoyances of this journey, and free our spirits to explore what lies in store. I think we're going to be okay.

 Later that evening, we park our lawn chairs by the ocean and watch another sunset. Wow!Wow! Wow!

Saturday, 27 August 2022

A Detour on the Great Canadian Road Trip

Some time ago, one of the kids said to me, “Mom, we know quite a bit of your family’s story, but not so much of Dad’s side of the family.”

Well, since our travels have taken us to Woodstock, where much of the Schut family story plays out, and since the Resident Sweetie and I have been poking about the back roads of Oxford County, and since we’ve been hanging out with his brothers a lot and listening to their stories, I figured maybe this blog could begin to remedy that omission – a family story for our children, and a story about a family for the rest of you readers.

It starts with a woman, a strong and determined woman, who lost her husband to encephalitis when she was just about 40, two weeks before her youngest son, my RS, was born. Her husband – the father that Al never knew – owned a shoemaker’s shop in the town of Emmen in the Netherlands. They had been partners in the business, with mom behind the counter and "Pap" making and repairing shoes. Now she was alone

The shoe shop where Al was born. It has since become a cafe.

Al visits his dad's grave and poses with his children and grandchildren in 2015. Such a special moment.

And it starts with her four sons, aged 16 down to newborn at the time: Ralph, Hank, John, and baby Albert. Ralph at the age of 16 had  to take on his father’s role and job. It was a year after the war had ended, and times were tough. There was a shortage of almost everything – supply chain issues, they’d call it now -- and nobody had money to spend. Mother Schut wondered what the future held for “mijn jongens” – my boys. She took in many boarders to make ends meet, and she was tough on her kids – Hank remembers peeling potatoes for all those boarders when he was just ten. But with the support of the extended family around them, they were making a go of it.

And then, in 1954, Ralph fell in love and wanted to get married. Not only that, but he wanted to immigrate with his bride Tina to Canada to seek a better future. My future mother-in-law could not fathom this. Her family had lived in the villages surrounding Emmen since the 1600s. However, if Ralph was going, they would all go. Who knew – perhaps there would be a better future for her boys. She knew nobody in Canada, she could not speak English, she was a 49 year old widow without any marketable skills, but – come hell or high water – the family would stay together. Her brother-in-law, who had been a surrogate dad for the boys, said he and his family would come too.

Ralph and Tina left for Canada right after they were married. Ralph dreamed of starting a business, but in the meantime worked in a brick-manufacturing plant to amass some capital. The shoe shop in Emmen was sold, and Mom Schut and her three boys, aged 18, 14, and 9 got ready to go. Two weeks before they were to leave, the brother-in-law backed out. Mom said, “We’re packed now, we’re going.” 

On April 15, they boarded a turbo prop airplane in Amsterdam. In the photo they are smiling, but on the inside, there was much turmoil. Hank, at 18, was apprenticed to a gardener with the parks department. He loved his job. What would await him in Canada? John, 14, was a scholar; his teacher had begged Mom to leave him in Holland, where he was sure to get into a university. What was there for him in Canada? Al was too young to feel much of anything, but he didn’t like change, and this trip would mean change.

The plane landed in Montreal, and from there they boarded a train that took them to Brantford Ontario. They  arrived at 3 o’clock in the morning. Ralph was waiting with a pick-up truck. And life in Canada, with its many ups and downs and surprises, began.

Mom climbed into the cab of the pick-up, the three boys climbed into the back bed of the truck, the luggage got piled in, and they were off into the frigid Ontario spring air, bouncing over 35 kilometers of dark country roads to arrive at their destination, the village of Drumbo.

The farmhouse in Drumbo is still there.


Within a day or two, Hank and John were sent off to work for farmers, even though they had been city boys all their lives. Hank went to work for a tobacco farmer and came home every day with tobacco tar smeared over his hands and arms. John remembers that year like this: “Imagine: one day I was a 14-year old high school student, and a day or two later I was crouching on a milking stool beside a cow. If I could have, I would have crawled back to the Atlantic Ocean and I would have swum all the way back to Holland.” Albert was sent off to school; it was a mile away, and on the walk there every day, he passed some nasty geese that set his heart to beating anxiously. His teacher gave him an Eaton’s catalogue so he could learn the English words for common household items and clothing. And mom tried to make an old farmhouse into a home. In Holland there’d been indoor plumbing – but not here. In Holland, she knew the names of the milkman and baker but here she hid behind the door and pretended nobody was home when they came calling. In Holland, she’d lived in an urban neighbourhood; now she was by herself all day out in the country, unless she walked into the village and hung out with her daughter-in-law and the new baby. John said, “Mom never told us, but I think there were buckets of tears shed in that lonely farmhouse everyday.”

Was it worth it? Some immigrant stories do not have happy endings. Life is too hard, the high hopes that inspired the move dashed to smithereens. The immigrants either return home with their tails between their legs, or they become hard and bitter as they tough it out. But many stories do have a happy outcome. 

 The first year was hard, but then the family moved into town. Mom Schut watched proudly as her boys fulfilled her hopes for a better life. Ralph began his own side-line business of shoe repair, which became a full time job, with shoe sales as an extra.. Soon he was operating a men’s clothing store in small town Ontario. Hank began working for a bricklayer, which really suited his skills for precision.  John says, “After a year of farming, I was apprenticed to a carpenter. This suited me so much better. I learned the skills, and then began working for a house builder. By the time I was 22, my boss was taking off for Florida for three months and leaving me in charge. A little light went on in my bean: why should I be doing his work, when I could have my own company and get the profit.?” Hank joined him in this, and H&J Schut Construction was born, a company that built about 350 homes and owned numerous apartment buildings.



Two of their own homes that Hank and John built: their own, when they had young families.

 And my RS completed high school and university, and became a computer professional.

Al and his mom when he was a university student.


They all got married.


14 grandchildren graced Mom’s life, with lots of great-grands to follow. 


And we all grew older.


“Her boys” and their children were her life, and she kept a tight hold on them. She was still tough on her boys, expected much from them, until the day she died in June 1999 at the age of 93. On the night that she died a white dove sat out in the courtyard of her nursing home, an angel come to guide her home.

Of course, the story is not over. The oldest, Ralph and his wife, have died. 


Hank’s wife died unexpectedly two years ago. The two older brothers have memory issues now, so all the time spent with them this week, every country drive we take with them, every outing we take them on, every story told, is a precious jewel to add to our memories. One week ago today, despite a bad medical report about Hank's latest blood tests, we had a wonderful road trip to the Farmer’s Market in St. Jacob’s – I shared that experience on FB.


One never knows how much time is left on our life clock, and so it was important that we make this trip sooner rather than later. When we started out, we knew that unexpected things could happen. All our well-laid plans might not work out. And that is what did happen. As I write this, Hank is on life-support in the Woodstock General Hospital as a result of a bad reaction to a blood transfusion, followed by a heart attack. After all the grandkids have had a chance to say goodbye today, the life-support will be removed. 


We have put a hold on our travel plans for now, doing what is important for us and for the rest of the family.

Mom Schut, you were a gutsy lady; because of your move, I’ve become part of the Schut family story, and my children and grandchildren, too. Thanks for raising my RS to be such a special guy. Brothers, you’ve been rocks for your own families, and for us too. It’s an honour to share this story today.