the bakeries of 118th ave

It's two years this month since we moved into this house, and so far I've done a terrible job of exploring the neighborhood. I've complained that my precious self has felt isolated, out here with the mall rats in the blue-collar boonies, but I've never done very much to make myself at home. I've never, for instance, taken myself out to discover 118th ave, exactly the kind of gritty, colourful, mixed commercial and residential zone I go on about. It's only 8 blocks away. Wednesday morning I left the house with the idea that I would go and find the cafes and Portuguese bakeries that supposedly line the street.

I went alone. I have spent whole years too inhibited to embark on this kind of solo expedition. Not Wednesday.  I put on a lot of wool: black wool dress, sweater, peacock cardigan, blue toque, Ethiopian scarf. It was only -5 C, and the city was filthy. I had a childish feeling of being small and curious and interested and hopeful--a red boots feeling, and my black beetle boots do actually have red buttons . . . This L-theanine is magic.

I found two Portuguese bakeries and bought cookies and fig jam at Popular Bakery, and egg tarts and bread at Handy Bakery. I went into the Mexican grocery store, made note of a pho place and a barber shop (in case I ever get another buzz cut, Sinead-style), and ended up at The Carrot, which is a volunteer-run cafe and arts centre, opened as part of the 118th revitalization effort. It's lovely there. Paintings covering the walls, a piano in the corner. They were playing CBC radio. An older couple was running the counter (the woman asked me if I minded that their biscotti weren't hard biscotti, and the man told me I should probably stir my hot chocolate). I've been wondering if I should see about volunteering there myself. It would be good to have something close to home. At very least, I now have a cafe to write in and no-need-to-cross-the-river.


We've been gone for five weeks now. We've spent three weeks at Tim's parents', one week with four of Tim's coworkers at the Transcend house, and one week at a seventh floor concrete sanctuary of a condo downtown. We're back there for a few nights. We are living on the back of a community, eating very large crumbs. Remember: We cannot become hermits. I cannot burn bridges. We need other people. They've fed us, taken vegetables off our hands, given us beds, lent us phones, driven us around. They've invited us over for supper and to stay for weeks.We're seeing a lot of our friends. We're seeing much more of the city. It's all practice for Germany, I suppose.

I need surprisingly little. Some of the things I've been hauling around with me: Annalena (my yellow road bike), a cloth tape measure, headphones, brown sugar, steel cut oats, laptop, paper clip stitch markers, four books of poetry (Bertolt Brecht, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Stanley Kunitz), two scarves, two dresses, two hats, two hoodies, two mittens, a foil packet of black tea, a huge ball of wool yarn, a flat of mason jars, a pumice stone.

I've been borrowing books from friends and the library. I've read more than I did over the entire summer. Last night at the condo I canned green tomato salsa after Tim and I biked home and pillaged the tomato plants one last time. It has been suspiciously warm all autumn, but the contractor ferreted my parka away in a storage pod, and I am knitting a cardigan just in case. Simpkin mostly stays with us. He is a courteous, comforting, admirable cat.

In brutal contrast to Simpkin: contractors and insurance adjusters. Can I properly express how much I have grown to despise bureaucracy over this past month? The Circumlocution Office (Little Dorrit) could hardly seem more intent on doing absolutely nothing useful or reasonable.

I should sign off--it's 6:47 am and I need to leave for work. I've been working so much. It's hard. But I think the move is really going to happen. We jumped the gun and bought suitcases, and we apply for visas next week. I'm using some gorgeous free software to study German. Work on the house is supposed to start this week. We have three invitations for Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe we'll be home (for a while) by the end of the month.

The Finishing Project--Day 7 (that is, 9)

Indian Summer

Forget your gift of an Indian Summer.
We do not want it;
We run on towards Winter.

This pulpy haze seems kinder,
But we gnaw the pit,
And your gift of an Indian Summer

Deflects our dive for the center.
Like the whitening rabbit
We run on towards Winter. 

We crones won't stand the meander--
Our short time is split.
Take your gift of an Indian Summer,

Give way to the year's inevitable splinter,
Let us begin the fit;
Forget your gift of an Indian Summer.
From here we will run on towards Winter.

An imperfect villanelle, to finish off. Yes, this one's for school too.

The Finishing Project--Day 2

Plates, pitchforks, knives, dishes
And extra bought
All we have for the loaves and fishes
All panicked, caught

Crumbs, soupbowls, bones and cups
And broken plates
All the dishes wash them up
All we will wait

Another ENGL 294 assignment--surprise! A nursery rhyme. I'm not bothered, using school writing for this project, so no one else needs to be bothered either. It's a small miracle that in September I'm writing anything but smarmy essays. 

ETA syllables

The Finishing Project--Day 1

I've responded to Candace's invitation to The Finishing Project--one poem a day for a week, the goal being simply to produce finished work. This is Day 1, and I have a poem.  I must fess up, and tell you that I'm killing two birds with one stone here. I've been assigned 10-12 lines of blank verse for my Introduction to Writing Poetry class. These are them.

A Misuse of the Word 'Entropy'

Pining for nothing more or less than pure
Fabrication, now that I can't construct
A thing, and unlike before, nothing will
Materialize out of thin air under
My hands, and more and more, even more appears
Under others' hands in China. We know
"Longevity is the antithesis
Of fashion". We feel the horror of that
Life which causes visible wear. The scab
Of repair, a darn or a patch, will peel
Back to gnashing of teeth, detritus, debris--
We must make all things new every morning. 

on casting on

My sock pattern is 15 pages long. 

I assumed I would be casting on the same day my yarn arrived; but I was so daunted, it was two days before I even wound the skeins into balls. The first lines of instruction informed me that, to begin from the toe up, I should cast on using the Turkish method. Undoubtedly so. But I had no experience with this exotic-sounding technique, and as I read on, I became more confused. Further down the page, reference was made to the "instep and sole needles". What? Two sets of stitches that remained separate on two double-pointed needles? Presumably a working needle was also required . . . but how could one possibly knit in the round on three needles, and without moving the stitches along in a circle? 

I had uneasy thoughts about my prospective First Socks for a couple days more, then finally just googled 'turkish cast on double pointed needles'. Voila. 10 youtube tutorials at my disposal, including this one, wonderfully clear and narrated in a confident and soothing tone:

Watching this video, I couldn't stop squeaking. How ingenious! How perfectly simple and elegant. And how marvelous that I was able to benefit from a virtual lesson taught by a skilled knitter I've never met, for free. Even ten years ago, in the internet's earlier days, I would have had to comb through a stack of knitting books from the library, or search out someone to demonstrate the technique. The size and generosity of the communities I benefit from, even from the furthest fringes, is truly astonishing.

All this to say: I am casting on tonight, and I can't wait to start. 


First thing when I got in to work at 7 o'clock yesterday morning, Justina handed me a brown paper package with my name on it - evidently dropped off at the cafe the day before. Inside: a blank, handbound journal with cartoons from China, a chapbook, and a note from Jocelyn.


If you go to the same places every day, you begin to meet the same people. You see them, they see you, you exchange hellos. They already know one of your habits. If you carry knitting or a notebook, they learn more. Perhaps one of them does the same work. They see you working, they ask you. Perhaps you buy 2 litres of honey from one of them. You overpay. Suddenly, there are small gifts. 20 pounds of apples.

Perhaps one of them is a bee keeper, and one is a writer. Another asks you for a sweater pattern. The writer lends you a book. Suddenly, at the usual intersections, friends pass you three different ways. Startled, you whip your head around. When the writer has a bicycle accident, you buy her a Frank McCourt audio book. You get her address when her mother waltzes into the cafe like a plot device. When you go to deliver the present, you find the writer lives only a block away, which is astonishing. Furthermore astonishing, you know the man who saw her on the road and took her to the hospital. Even there, the nurse was familiar with the patch of broken sidewalk that sent Jocelyn flying. Other cyclists know.