Friday, April 24, 2015

Photo Friday: Killers of Orchids

For years, my wife would buy potted orchids from Loblaws and proudly display them in our kitchen, or our bathroom, or next to any window that would allow plenty of light to fall on the delicate, white flowers.

We'd appreciate these flowers for months, gazing at the hints of pink and yellow, the three or four flowers balanced on the single stem that stood like an antenna, supported by a stick in the soil. The tongue-like leaves, at the base of the plant, would spill over the top of the pot like panting dogs.

And then the flowers would drop off, leaving just the stem and the leaves. The orchid would look bereft of life, though the plant would survive for years, before we would give up and add the pathetic plant to the compost heap.

Try as my wife might, she has never successfully made an orchid reflower, and it would become a ritual for us to replace the plant every year or two.

Until the last attempt.

My wife never gives up on anything. And so, with the stem bare, she continues to ensure the plant has the right amount of water, careful above all else not to overwater. Just a spritz every week or two. For myself, once a week, when I found myself at the kitchen sink, washing my hands, I would let a few drops drip from my fingertips into the leaves of the bare orchid that sat in the window sill.

After months, we noticed miniature buds on the stem. We tried not to make anything of them, lest we jinx them. After a few more weeks, one of the buds sprouted a slender stem, from which a bulb appeared. Again, we restrained ourselves, and continued doing what we had been doing since we placed the plant in the window.

It flowered. And, as it flowered, we could see more stems and bulbs. Soon, we had two, then three (as I showed for Wordless Wednesday).

We currently have four flowers on the orchid, with a fifth imminent and several more on the way.

All week, I've been photographing the plant, admiring the renewed life. Capturing the moment. And, for my 1,000th blog post on The Brown Knowser, I thought I'd share it.

Because, with our history, these flowers won't last long.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Songs From a Dentist Chair

Breathe, I kept telling myself.

I could smell burning. And a pungent decay.

My eyes stayed closed for most of the time, as I tried to concentrate on the music flooding my ears: R.E.M., Kathleen Edwards, Sam Roberts, Peter Gabriel, Midge Ure, Matt Good, The Cranberries, The The. Twice, my smartphone stopped the music, inexplicably, and I'd have to wait until there was a pause in the procedure, when I could start the music up and drown out most of the noise.

The drill would sometimes drown out the sound.

No one was there to hold my hand. Even when the dentist would move in close, would unintentionally press her breasts against the top of my head, I felt no comfort.

Sometimes, a hand would rest on my lower lip, push that part of my face against my bottom teeth, as leverage was gained. The inside of my lip, rubbed raw, wouldn't be apparent until the anesthetic wore.

But, while the outside of my face and my gums were numbed, the inside of my poor tooth was not. I felt some discomfort, but no pain, with the first two channels. The nerves in those spots were dead. But the third channel had nerves that were very much alive.

Tears streamed from both eyes as the probes scrubbed inside the canal. I expected the drilling to reach into my brain, and I wished for the end to come swiftly.

And all the while, I had to remind myself to breathe. In, through the nose; out, through the mouth. The smell of burning, made from the drill. The smell of pungent decay, made from my bad tooth.

In, through the nose. Out, through the mouth.

After an hour and a half, I was assured that the worst was over. The tooth had been drained and sanitized. It would now be filled: the old filling, made more than a year ago when a popcorn kernel took almost three-quarters of the tooth, had to be replaced.

I kept my eyes closed, turned the volume up, and lost myself in my music.

And breathed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


My hands were too full.

It had been 11 years since we had visited Stanley Pottery, in that cottage-like house, nestled in the woods, in Breadalbane, Prince Edward Island. Hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists had been through the workshop and store since we last stopped by.

And yet, Malcolm Stanley said he remembered us. And despite the fact that my head told me that he said that to anybody who mentioned that it wasn't their first visit, my heart wanted to believe those eyes that smiled and the gentle voice that said, "Welcome back. I see you have a couple of additions to your family," the artist acknowledging our two kids, aged three and five. He nodded, when we told him that we still have the wine goblets that we purchased, in 1995.

My wife and I were looking for coffee mugs: something that we would use every day and would make us think of the red sands of this island province. As soon as I saw the tall pines over the red earth, the warm tones of the mug, I knew I wanted it. The price was more than I would usually spend for something to hold my favourite hot beverage, but I was purchasing more than the mug: I was investing in the memories and the kindness of Mr. Stanley.

Lori bought a similar mug—no two pieces were identical. We also acquired a tall, clay water jug, all of the pieces bearing the similar trees and soil.

The mug has been a favourite of mine for almost nine years. I keep it at work, where I fill it countless times. I have often thought, if I should ever break it, I would be heartbroken. But I would absolutely return to the pottery shop in PEI and replace it.

My hands were full: several lunch containers, destined for the communal refrigerator; a case of Girl Guide cookies, the second one that I planned to sell for my daughter, who would have been only two, when I purchased the mug.

I quickly set the case of cookies in a prominent spot in the kitchen. Usually, chips, chocolate bars, and gum would line a shelf, but the social committee hadn't restocked in more than a week. They would be an easy sale for those looking for a snack.

I had one free hand, with which I opened the fridge. The other held a container with a salad, and another container, with a ham and cheese sandwich. I had also carried a muffin container, which I had meant to leave at my desk, with which I would enjoy with the coffee that I would put in my mug.

As I held the door open, I balanced the containers and mug, and adjusted them on one of the fridge shelves. Because there were many lunch containers already filling space, I had to fumble as I found a spot.

That's when the mug slipped from my fingers.

There are certain things that we visualize in slow motion, most of which are some form of accident. It somehow seems that the faster me move, the slower we play it back in our minds.

My right hand still held the fridge door handle, and was blocked by the door. My left hand was still placing my lunch on the shelf. I had only one action that I could take, and before I could even move, I prepared myself for the horror, got ready to say goodbye to my beloved mug.

Balancing on my left foot, I swung my right leg sideways, and caught the mug on the edge of my shoe, near the ankle. In a motion I remembered from the one time in my life where I played hacky sack, I kicked the mug upwards as I swiftly shoved the containers into place.

I could see the mug move straight up, and for a moment, the pine trees and red sand seemed to freeze, the mug stopped in motion. The range of its upward ascent had reached its limit, at eye level.

With my left hand, now free, I snatched at the mug, but came at it in an upwards but diagonal motion, and I seemingly swatted the object away. I let go of the fridge door, raised my right hand, and caught the mug with a secure grip.

With a pounding heart, I inspected my mug, made sure that there were no chips or cracks caused by being kicked. It was fine, had escaped an untimely demise. I retrieved the muffin container, which was on the top of my lunch stack, and proceeded to make myself a coffee.

In my rescued mug.

That return trip to Stanley Pottery will have to wait. I wonder if he'll remember us again.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Music Monday: Scatterlings of Africa

I think the 1980s brought South Africa into the minds of Canadians, thanks, in part, to the music scene. Peter Gabriel sang about Stephen Biko, the anti-apartheid activist that died in police custody, and much of Gabriel's music from his album, Security, had South African influences. Paul Simon's 1986 album, Graceland, also was recorded in South Africa with local musicians.

And then, of course, there was Band Aid. Not so much as African-inspired music as for the plight in parts of Africa, where people were starving, that got musicians from around the world to take action.

However, nothing brings South Africa and music to my mind more than Johnny Clegg, first, with his band Juluka, and later with Savuka.

One of the great things about Johnny Clegg was that, despite the racial tension that came with apartheid, he managed to bring both black and white musicians together and create something beautiful. For a Canadian mind such as mine, that didn't seem like such a big feat: why should colour matter?

But in Johannesburg, that was big.

Juluka and Savuka have come back to mind with me, lately, not just because I'm rediscovering a lot of the 80s music that inspired me, but I now have a close connection to these bands.

Johnny Clegg's drummer, Derek De Beer, not only lives in Ottawa, he lives in my neighbourhood. And, he teaches drum lessons to one of my daughters.

"Savuka" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -
Small world.

Derek (seen above, far left) travelled  the world with Johnny Clegg (seen fourth from left) but found his love in Ottawa. Derek married, had two kids, and chose Canada's capital as his home. When he and his wife split up, Derek kept the kids. "She's no longer in the picture," he told me when I asked him about settling in Barrhaven. He decided to raise his kids in Canada, away from the troubles of his home town.

"There are things I've seen [in Johannesburg] that I wouldn't describe in front of your little one," he said, motioning to my daughter, who was preparing for another lesson with Derek.

For Music Monday, I want to share one of Juluka's hits from 1982, from their album, Scatterlings. Decades before I knew Derek, what drew me to this song was the solid percussion. The vocal accompaniment and flute also make "Scatterlings of Africa" a great song.

If Derek can teach my daughter to be half as good a drummer, I'll be a happy man.

Happy Monday!