Saturday, August 30, 2014

Haunted: 5x5 Fiction Project

A little while ago, I signed up for the 5x5 Fiction Challenge through the Art House Co-op (who also coordinate the Sketchbook Challenge). I had a lined notebook to fill with a fictional story and the (loose) theme was "June". Here's what I came up with:

Haunted

I'm sitting on the bench directly in front of the library, as I do every week at this time. It's an old wooden bench, etched with decades of initials, hearts, stars, and swear words. My fingers trace the patterns absent-mindedly as I watch the boy across the street. I don't know him, but his red backpack has caught my eye. He's looking at his brown boots, scuffed and worn, his hands reaching deeply into the pockets of his olive green multi-pocketed coat. He needs a haircut – the ragged dark brown strands cover his collar at the sides and brush the bridge of his nose.

I can't decide what he's up to. I usually fabricate stories about the random people I see while out and about and especially while sitting on this bench, waiting for my ride home. My stories are elaborate and dramatic, real heart thrummers... but this guy. There's just something about him that leaves my imagination blank. There's nothing striking or funny or quirky about him, nothing that stands out except for the colour of his pack. He's scruffy, but not in the homeless sense and definitely not in that chic, poseur student-who-just-doesn't-give-a-damn way. He doesn't even look like a student, but he's certainly not old enough to be out of school. He is completely mundane, totally run-of-the-mill, plain jane, all the same. I can't put a label on him. He doesn't fall into any of my categories. I keep staring, trying to place him into a role, into a scene. But he has no place.

Suddenly he looks up and stares straight into my eyes. I can't tell their colour from this distance, especially shaded as they are under his shaggy mane, but they appear to be dark and drill into me, locking me in place. I can't move, I can't look away. I blink as he blinks.

Everything else fades away. I don't know how long we remain connected across the road as my mind has gone completely blank, a black void, but eventually I notice the edges of my vision are going black and starbursts and I shudder as I draw a long awaited breath. He nods once, directly at me, then breaks the eye contact, walking away down the street. I track his progress, knowing he knows that I watch.

And then he's gone. But only from my vision. I cannot get him out of my mind. He stands out, in his own space, pushing against all the other stereotypes I've collected.

---

A week later, same bench, same graffiti at my fingertips. I'm living through the traumatic birth of the little blond girl singing in a dark green wagon, jouncing along behind her weary mother. It wasn't easy for her, she laboured for hours in the dark, alone, but the rewards have been great.

A flash of red in the corner of my eye breaks my vision. He's back. He's standing in the exact same spot, wearing the exact same clothes. He's standing the same way, hands in pockets, eyes on his toes. Once again, he occupies his own unique space in my mind, no fiction attached. He consumes me, distracts me. He erases all the other stories I've been collecting over the last 20 minutes.

This time I feel like he's asking me to look, knows I'm staring, wants me to watch. I suppose this might be his story, his supernatural power over me, but I can't take it further. I can't find his motivation, the reason for his being there. Besides, I don't think I'm making anything up – he is back to see me. I wonder briefly if he's been here every day, waiting for me, discerning my patterns. But that doesn't seem to fit either. I think – no, I know – he's only been here at the exact same time as I have. He already knows my habits.

At the moment this thought flits behind my eyes, he locks his with mine and nods. Significantly, confirming my suspicion. He has only been here for me. He is here for me.

Shivers slowly crawl down my spine and limbs. My insides quake surreptitiously. My eyes close as I take a deep, calming breath.

A jarring honk causes them to fly right back open. My mom is looking at me impatiently through the dirty windshield. The boy – my boy – is gone. How long have my eyes been closed? It felt like seconds. Where did he go? How did he vanish before my very face?

---

I'm thinking of him. I have every day since I last saw him. He seems to have relocated in my head, disappearing from the sidewalk to reside in my brain until he can manifest once more in “our” spot.

Still, I cannot fabricate a legend around him, I simply think of his face, his manner and wonder. Who is he? Where did he come from and where does he go? What does he do with his days?

What does he want of me?

I am haunted.

---

Our routine – he appears, seemingly out of thin air, looking at his boots; he looks into my soul; he disappears for another week – continues for a month, two, three. I can't remember what the wait was like before him. I can't remember how I spent the week, the evening before, without that building anticipation. I can't remember my life without him in it.

And still, I don't know who he is, what his name is, why he has targeted me out of a crowd of many. Some days – usually the day before the day I wait and see him – I am almost convinced that he is a ghost, a figment of my vivid inner world. I can almost hear the timbre of his voice though I can't fill it with words. I can almost feel his hand in mine, warm and supple. Surely none of this is real. It is much too strange to be real.

It occurs to me that I might beckon him over, to cross the street and sit on my scarred bench. Or I might cross the road myself and finally determine the exact shade of his eyes. But I don't. No matter how many times I tell myself that today is the day we will finally meet under my own initiative, as soon as I see him I sit frozen under his spell. He controls our meetings, he keeps me in my spot and stays in his, not breaking the routine. I unwittingly, helplessly, leave it up to him.

---

Today marks the beginning of the last week of school. The last evening for me to sit outside the library and wait for a ride. The last time I sit on my bench and stare across the street, transfixed in wonder. My insides have been in a turmoil for days knowing that this might be the last time I see my boy without a name. The not-such-a-stranger who remains a stranger with no back-story. I can't imagine how I'll survive the summer. I know I'll be shipped off to camp for most of the two months, far from home, far from the ever present ghost-boy. Worse, the after-school program that brings me here weekly is being discontinued. This will be our last scheduled non-meeting.

June's humidity is wrapped around my shoulders like a moist, fetid wool blanket as I slowly step down from the library entrance, my eyes on the bench. I let the anticipation build, imagining all the things I might do to culminate these months of communion. But I know in my heart that if he does nothing different, neither will I. Could he possibly understand the monument of this occasion? That this will be the last time? Could he feel my anguished yearning?

I take a seat and immediately look to his side, to his spot. It is empty. Too soon. He is never immediately there. He never arrives before I do. Always, I must wait. Instead, a sweaty, fat man catches my attention and his past slowly unwinds before me. The poor fellow has struggled all his life with his weight, with the ridicule flung at him. He mops his forehead with a wet rag as others point and laugh. His genius – a virtuoso on the trombone – is ignored. He contemplates suicide daily, toying with the method that would work the quickest and most painlessly.

Just as I pick up the thread that will lead to the fat man's survival, his safety, the story is lost, replaced by the blankness that can only mean my friend has once again returned to his spot. I take a deep breath with eyes closed before turning to look. Of course he is there and already he is looking at me.

He knows.

He must know that this is the last. One corner of his mouth actually curls up in an ackowledgment. He does know. He does feel the same despair as I do. If not here, where else shall we meet? Where else can we find each other?

I urge him to feel all my longing, all my bated breaths, all my discarded bravado. I plead with him to not let this strange relationship end here. The sadness in his eyes breaks my heart. The sadness in my heart is too great to bear. I rise, my knees working on their own volition, incredibly shaky. His head jerks to the left, ever so slightly, a no. I can't move any further. I can't do anything further. I can only hope and regret.

The sleek silver car pulls up and my mother looks at me expectantly. My concentration breaks and in that moment, he is gone.

---

Bereft.

No other word can adequately describe how I feel. The entire summer is simply bereft.

I fabricate tales around my fellow camp-dwellers, but they don't comfort me as they used to. I see my shade everywhere I go, and yet it is only an impression, a ghost image against my eyelids. He isn't really there with me, it is only me wishing it were so.

And yet I see him everywhere – in countless cars, trucks, vans, pulling up beside and passing the yellow school bus that is slowly conveying me to camp. He is at the rest stop, just coming out of the restroom as I enter the girls'. He is pumping gas at each station we pass, taking photos at every scenic outlook. He is on the lake, in a canoe just past the buoy line we cannot cross.

He is everywhere.

He is not there.

---

One day, late summer, I realize that I've been talking to my ghost-boy. I'm not sure how long I've been doing it, but instead of making up stories about the people I see, I hold in depth conversations about them – and everything else, from the day-to-day happenings in my life to deeper existentialist themes – with him. And his voice responds. It isn't me talking to myself, he literally has come to reside in my head, expressing his own opinions that I don't necessarily agree with, laughing at things I don't find funny and revealing truths I'd never considered.

It isn't strange. He is a comfort. I knew I would never be lonely while he is with me.

---

I'm sitting on a bench, waiting for the school bus. The bench is a new one – no scars to run my fingers over. As usual, I'm talking to my man, discussing the book report I need to finish for class tomorrow. I barely notice the people walking by, listening intently to his interpretation of the ambiguous ending I don't quite understand.

A flash of red makes me glance up briefly. I look away before realizing he's back. It isn't the same spot, it isn't our spot, but he's there. My ghost is wearing the same green coat, the same scuffed boots, the same pack sack. I'm so shocked at seeing the owner of the voice in my head that everything goes blank. A few seconds pass before I pick my jaw up and close my mouth.

There's no pretense this time. He's looking right at me and has been since I noticed him. His expression is unreadable. I want to rush across the street and continue our conversation, ask him about a particularly difficult math problem from the calculus class he's been helping me with.

And yet...

I like the boy in my head. What if this boy isn't my ghost-boy? What if his voice isn't the same voice?

What if this is all he wanted? He'd had plenty of opportunity to approach me before – perhaps this was enough.

The school bus pulls up. I smile and we nod at each other from across the street and I get up and climb in.

Monday, August 25, 2014

29 List

This weekend, I finally sat down to hash out my 29 List. I went over my 28 List and tried to find things that worked and things that didn't. I'm terrible at "open ended" goals and documenting daily/weekly/monthly goals. So this time around, I'm making myself a few reminders so to speak. I'm going to start a new journal to keep track of daily/weekly things and I made up some cue cards with monthly goals on it. That way, I can easily "check off" things when I've completed them. Hopefully this will keep me on track a bit better!

Anyway, here's the recap - italics are some comments:

28 Things To Do Before Turning 28
  1. read 50 new books - I read 25, so HALF complete
  2. read 5 French books
  3. join (or start) a book club
  4. catalog all my books
  5. maintain a daily yoga routine - I've started one many times, but haven't managed to maintain it
  6. go skating at least once a week all winter
  7. find a new place to explore (museum, hiking trail, gallery, etc) once a month (and document each excursion) - I explored many new things, but didn't bother to document it...
  8. cut down on take out to once or twice a month - pack lunches for work everyday
  9. grow an herb garden
  10. cook one new recipe from each month's Bon Appétit magazine (and keep record of each one!) - I think this one is about half done as well
  11. blog at least twice a week - take lots of photos on the weekend to make this easier
  12. revive Etsy shops, one at a time
  13. design new blog logo, layout and colour scheme
  14. design one or two tutorials (at least), including video, and post them here
  15. design and post a journaling workshop
  16. sew mom's bedspread, pillowcase and napkins (before Thanksgiving!)
  17. finish the 2013 woodland sampler
  18. write something daily - diary, story, whatever, however long or short, write!
  19. work out a design for my sister-in-law's tree "guest book" painting
  20. fill 2 regular black sketchbooks
  21. completely fill Amber art book
  22. completely fill Art of Spring sketchbook
  23. finish 5 canvases and post on Etsy
  24. finish all 3 of the Christy Tomlinson workshops I signed up for last spring - only 1 completely finished
  25. finish the Healthcare Improvement course I started last year
  26. reorganize closets, including my wardrobe (extending to dressers) and jewelry collection (extending to organizing dresser tops)
  27. reorganize my desk and craft space to make it more usable and inspiring
  28. visit a new city and sight-see
Too many of the art and internet related goals got pushed aside while I was busy with work and life. This time, I'm aiming for a bit more balance:

29 Things To Do Before Turning 29
  1.  try a new recipe from each new magazine I receive (Bon Appetit and Saveur) and document it
  2. drink more water: aim for 1.5L daily
  3. pickle/can/preserve something: one sweet, one savoury and one more
  4. cook dried beans monthly (freeze leftovers for the month)
  5. make more things from scratch: bread, hummus, cheese, yogurt, sauces (see "Making from Scratch" cookbook for ideas) - try one monthly and document it
  6. make lunches the night before - aim to pack a lunch every day
  7. start Christmas baking in October: go through and empty freezers and bake one recipe a week until Christmas - try at least three new recipes
  8. keep on top of cleaning up: spend at least ten minutes a night setting things right for the next morning
  9. wake up early and go to the gym (or do yoga) - spend at least 45 minutes every day being active
  10. make it a habit to go for a long walk / hike every weekend
  11. find a rink to go to regularly - skate as often as possibly all winter
  12. find a doctor, dentist, esthetician, massage therapist - use them regularly
  13. visit a new city
  14. swim in the ocean
  15. take a class, be it art, science, exercise/dance, cooking or something else
  16. go to a show/event monthly: concerts, sports, theatre, museum, art gallery, etc
  17. make time for a weekly "date night": no devices allowed - mix it up, don't always just go out for supper
  18. read 20 books that I already own (as of August 21, 2014)
  19. make a proper inventory/database of books owned
  20. downsize wardrobe (including jewelry): keep only the most comfortable and flattering pieces (plus a few sentimental ones)
  21. organize craft room: downsize on supplies
  22. hang more art on the walls, including my own work
  23. blog at least twice a week - take lots of photos regularly to simplify the process - bring camera along on trips and walks more often
  24. design and post a journaling workshop
  25. design a new blog logo and theme
  26. finish Amber art book and start a new altered book
  27. finish the Woodland sampler and work on seasonal samplers
  28. finish tree guest "book" for Pat's sister
  29. write in journal weekly - art journal at least twice weekly
Some of these goals are recycled - they are the ones I really, really, really want to accomplish this year. I've also added in some more quantifiable goals which should make them easier to keep track of. Lastly, I've added in a few things I know I'll be doing in the next year - crossing things off the list is way more satisfying that seeing how little I've actually done in a whole year!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lately... Around the House

By and large, not much has changed around our home - but there have been a few new additions. And a few losses... I had an infestation of some sort in my indoor plants - as well as a fungus on my herbs - so I practically had to start from scratch with everything. So sad..

First, I bought a new polka dot plant (having lost the first last summer due to lack of water... oops.):

I picked up a new basil plant and some thyme next:

At the same time, I grabbed some flowers for our balcony, which I placed on a small table Pat's parents gave us:
My Christmas cactus is still kicking though - and growing wonderfully:

Besides plants, last time I was at the mall I absolutely could not resist picking up this little lady:
Her name tag is "soar" and I just love her! A perfect addition to my collection.

Last but not least, here's a shot of my new laptop (and you can just barely see a sweet little green-striped pitcher in the background - a gift from my mom last time I was up North):
I'm very happy with my new laptop. I've been using it everyday - and so I expect I'll be blogging a lot more now that I'm back into the swing of things. I have quite a few journal pages to post; I just need to sit down and edit some photos. But it's much too nice out to be doing that now - off for a hike we go!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer Goals

Since summer is basically almost half over, it seems a little silly posting my summer goals. But I really do like keeping track of them here as well as in my "Lists & Plans" notebook, so why not?

First, let's recap my spring goals:
  1. Read the eight books on my Spring Reading list. I read 4 of 8 plus 2 that weren't on this list.
  2. Get back into yoga. 
  3. Finish a canvas. 
  4. Complete six pages in my Amber altered art book. Completed 2 pages in March, 1 in June and have 2 half finished pages from April.
  5. Visit an art gallery or museum. 
  6. Cook recipes from February, March, April and May Bon Appétit magazine. 
  7. Blog a workshop. 
  8. Stitch two squares in the 2013 Woodland sampler and work on the spring sampler. 
  9. Go for at least three hikes. Only went for 1 hike this spring.
  10. Organize my closets. 
  11. Find a dentist and make an appointment. Also book a massage. 
  12. Finish going through the Art of Spring workshop.
Let's just say this spring wasn't the most productive season of my life. Here's hoping the summer is a touch busier!

Summer Goals:
  1. Read eight books:
    1. Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adachie
    2. The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
    3. Hawthorn & Child - Keith Ridgeway
    4. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down - Anne Fadiman
    5. Shadow of the Alchemist - Jeri Westerton
    6. Various Positions - Martha Schabas
    7. Written in my Own Heart's Blood - Diana Gabaldon
    8. August book club pick
  2. Have Pat's aunt and uncle over for supper.
  3. Get back into blogging.
  4. Get back into daily yoga and start exercising regularly.
  5. Complete 5 pages in my Amber book.
  6. Go for at least 5 hikes.
  7. Organize craft room and closet.
  8. Plant polka dot plant and restart herb garden.
  9. Cook recipes from March-August Bon Appetit magazines + another recipe from the Jerusalem cookbook + pickle something + preserve some fruit
  10. Go swimming.
I'm pretty happy to see how many items I've already crossed off! I was able to go swimming (albeit very briefly) when I was at my gramma's cottage at the end of June, I've gotten back into some good habits and we had Pat's aunt & uncle over for dinner last weekend. I had some bugs and fungus attack some of my plants, including my basil and mint... so I had to restart my herb garden from scratch. The basil and thyme I have now are doing wonderfully - as is my cute polka dot plant. Now I just have to replace some of the other plants I lost.

In terms of goals, I've been reviewing my 28 List and crafting a new list of 29 Things To Do Before Turning 29... more on that later!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Last Published on May 4th

Gosh... it has been a long while, hasn't it? So much has happened in the last 2.5 months... both good and bad, exciting and sad. I've been wanting to get back on here but haven't had much motivation. It's always hard to get back into things like this when you feel like there's just so much to catch up on but where do you start???

I'm choosing to start randomly, listing things in no particular order. I miss blogging... nothing but to get back into it, head first.

What's been going on since I last posted:

  1. The greatest reason I quit blogging for a bit: we lost my aunt Caroline on May 7th. After 5 long years courageously battling cancer, she is finally at peace. Those left behind will forever feel the hole that she once filled in our family and in our hearts. I made a sketchbook page similar to the page I made for my grandpa last year - that deserves its own post though, so more later.
  2. Another reason I quit blogging: my laptop was so old, it just became extra frustrating to use it. I don't think I used it more than once or twice in the last 2 months (and only because I absolutely had to). Lucky for me, Pat bought me an early (very early) birthday gift: a new Lenovo ideapad S400 touch. A beautiful laptop that runs at lightning speed (at least compared to the old one!). Pat even made it better by switching the hard drive to an SSD one and installing Ubuntu on it (no more Windows!). I love it!
  3. Promotion and raise. I love my job!
  4. A few of the girls at work and I wrote an abstract about our program and submitted it to a large international conference. It was accepted within days. Unfortunately, no one expected us to get in, so we can't go present it because there isn't money in the budget to send us. Frustrating and disheartening to say the least.
  5. My brother and his girlfriend came to visit and we went to Wonderland (among other tourist-y Toronto things). I love roller coasters! We had a great time! I especially love when our family stays at our place: they get a taste of the big city (and visit us here as opposed to the usual opposite where we go North to visit them) without having to worry about crazy hotel costs.
  6. Pat and I took a few days off to make Canada Day an extra long weekend. We went North for about half of it. I was able to spend a night with gramma at her cottage. We had a lovely time. It had been so long since I was last there. I went swimming (alone) for approximately 7 seconds, visited with family, had a delicious supper (and wine) and had a great chat with gramma, spending the evening (and half the night) in the gazebo. I wish I could spend 2 weeks there like the old days...
  7. We bought a new car! Pat's been wanting a new one for almost a year now... and he finally settled on one. We pick it up on Thursday. I can't wait! It's beautiful!
  8. We hosted Pat's aunt & uncle for supper last Saturday. It was such a nice visit. We always say we need to do these things more often... let's hope we do. If point #1 has taught me anything, it's to spend more quality time with family. 
  9. I started a book club at work. This was one of my goals for a while now and I finally organized it a few months ago. It's been quite a success so far! More on this later (probably when I recap my 28 List).
  10. Pat and I celebrated 13 years this July. We went out for dinner and the waitress was shocked - no, not just shocked, she was absolutely flabbergasted - with how much food we ordered. Which was basically an app and meal each (Greek food, so there was salad, rice potatoes and meat with each meal + the app - hummus for me & a souvlaki skewer for Pat)... and although the portions were big, it wasn't that much food. Very odd. You'd think she'd try to sell us more food, not less...?
OK... that's all I can think of right now - I'm sure there's more, but these are the high(& low)lights. I have quite a few posts lined up in my mind though, so I think I'm back in the blogging groove. Fingers crossed anyway!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Coffee Table Glass

Over Easter my brother had a surprise for us - he finally brought in the template and had the glass cut for our coffee tables (part of our Christmas gift from my parents, but Matt had the glass cut since he works next to a glass cutting company). It looks SO nice:

The cute little chicken was an Easter gift from my sister-in-law.

Now if only we had a place for this gorgeous piece of furniture! As it is, it's sitting behind our couch... not ideal, but it works for now. It will certainly be getting a place of honour when we eventually get a bigger place! 

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Sketchbook Project 2015

I have much updating to do, but I don't feel like taking about any of that. Instead, I want to mention the Sketchbook Project. I skipped 2014, but kind of missed it, so I made sure not to skip again this year. Especially since the tour is coming to Toronto again. And one of the themes (which I signed up for) is "parts of a whole." I can't wait to get started... I've already been brainstorming, as you can see!
Have you signed up for this year's tour? If your sketchbook is going to be in Toronto, let me know, I'll check it out!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sketchbook Pages: Spring Doodles

Some doodling in my sketchbook:
This last one is from the next page, as yet unfinished. I love these simple doodles - they are a very relaxing way to spend an hour or so!