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A is for Alberta: That’s Where It’s Really At

It is the first day of the 2013 A to Z Challenge of writing a blog post a day for the the month of April.  This my 3rd  year of participating in the A to Z and I am writing about places I have lived or love.  A is for Alberta, Canada, where I lived until I was 17 years old.

I realized that I didn’t know how Alberta got its name, and discovered it was named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta(1848-1939), 6th child of Queen Victoria, and Lake Louise was named for her as was the town of Caroline, AB.  At one point, there was talk of combining the territories of Alberta and Saskatchewan into one big province named Buffalo, which would have shifted this to the letter B.  Princess Louise Caroline Alberta was an artist, and she married(a “subject of the crown”), and did not have any children.

I learned a song about Alberta in the late 1970’s, and we sang along with a loud cassette tape recording, but I can’t remember it’s name. I did find Hey, That’s Alberta, written by Carol Bonham of Delburne, AB, which declares in the liner notes that this was a Provincial Song, an Alberta Anthem, which could spread the fame of Alberta to every corner of the world.  Alberta has it’s moments of fame, and enfolded within the name is this Princess I never knew about, who I have more in common with than I would have expected.  Alberta, that’s where it’s really at.

Custom Mosaic House Number 1670 by Nutmeg Designs.

A Custom House Number Inspired by Totem Poles and Emily Carr

Blue Green House Number by Nutmeg Designs
Custom Mosaic House Number 1670 in Teal and Rusty Red by Nutmeg Designs, 12×8″ on slate.

I am grateful for clients who ask for colors in such a vivd and detailed way, and then set me loose to translate this into glass mosaic. Stratoz’s Flickr friend Ghir commissioned a house number for a Christmas gift for her sister.  She described the house and her vision:

It is a bluish grey with darker charcoal grey roof, with dark teal and white trim. Inside, they’ve decorated with many items from Alaska trips, so the colors on the outside of their house remind me of weathered totem poles. I was thinking white numbers on a dark teal or teal and blue mixed field, maybe with contrasting details of dull red or yellow for the totem pole idea. . .

This made me think of one of my favorite artists, the Canadian Emily Carr(1871-1945), and some paintings from Emily Carr: An Introduction to her Life and Work by Anne Newlands.  Emily Carr made totem poles a central part of her art, and in 1912 visited over 15 coastal First Nations villages in Northern British Columbia, drawing and painting the carvings.  The watercolor that I remembered from Newlands’ book was House Post, Tsatsinuchomi, BC, with the weathered blue-green and bits of red.  Working on this house number commission was a delight, and several other clients have asked to have those colors in their signs.

Emily Carr, House Posts, Tsatsinuchomi, B.C., 1912 watercolour and graphite on paper 55.4 cm x 76.6 cm National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Purchased 1928 3542
Emily Carr, House Posts, Tsatsinuchomi, B.C., 1912
watercolour and graphite on paper
55.4 cm x 76.6 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Purchased 1928

Check out Ghir’s Flickr Photos of her 2010 Trip to Alaska for more totem poles.

Order your House Number here at Nutmeg Designs Etsy Shop.

Emily Carr, Group of Seven and Canadian Art Love Pinterest Board

Remembrance Day in Canada in the 1970’s: Poppies and Neil Young

Red Blanket Flower Mandala by Margaret Almon
Red Blanket Flower Mandala by Margaret Almon, glass mosaic on wood, 8 inches.

Growing up in Canada, November 11th was Remembrance Day, and we would have assembly in school, with a moment of silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve their country during times of war, conflict and peace.   Growing up in the 1970’s made for some unusual assemblies.   I remember both being chosen to recite John McCrae’s In Flanders’ Fields.  McCrae was as a physician in WWI and wrote this poem about the red poppies that sprang up in the many fields in Flanders where soldiers were buried.  For a moving reimagining of these fields, read Maureen Doallas’s poem What Girls in a Poppy Field Know, from her blog Writing Without Paper.

«In Flanders' Fields» - published & illustrated in 1918 via stoixeia on Flickr.
«In Flanders’ Fields» – published & illustrated in 1918, written by John McCrae via stoixeia on Flickr.

I also remember my grade 5 class sang Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush at assembly in 1977.  We practiced for several weeks in the music room, which was a series of carpet covered steps, auditorium style, no chairs or desks, descending the lowest level, where the piano and our teacher would stand.  We learned the song from listening to a recording of Neil Young, and I picked up on the mournful nature of the lyrics, especially this stanza:

I was lying in a burned out basement
With the full moon in my eyes.
I was hoping for replacement
When the sun burst thru the sky.
There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high.
I was thinking about what a
Friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.
Thinking about what a
Friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.

I don’t recall what my teacher said about why we were singing this song on Remembrance Day, but looking back, the image of being in a burned out basement, and hoping for a replacement seems apt for evoking the desolation of war.  I didn’t literally know what it meant to “get high”, but I understood the longing timbre in Young’s voice.  I remembered this assembly when hearing Neil Young interviewed on Fresh Air about his new album Americana, and how American folk songs and protest songs ended up in schools cleaned up and deprived of some of their power.  Young is Canadian, but drawn to these American tunes.  I wonder what he’d think of one his songs in a school assembly.

Here’s a great version by Thom Yorke of Radiohead:

Pencil Crayon Love: From Laurentians to Prismacolors

Prismacolors in Yellow Orange
Prismacolors in Yellow to Orange from the Box of 150. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

Due to the kindness of family birthday gift certificates, Stratoz broke open a box of 150 Prismacolors, and also did an inventory of the ones he already had, in various states of stubbiness. The smallest ones, often consisting mostly of the color name and nothing more, will go to the school with him for student drawing. The new ones have both English and French color/colour names, and a friend noted that the French names will be the last remaining ones after sharpening, and very elegant.  There are a few new oranges, which pleased me:  Cadmium Orange Hue, Deco Peach, and Neon Orange.

Prismacolors On the Drawing Board
Prismacolors On the Drawing Board in Stratoz’s Studio. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

When I met Stratoz, he was already a doodler, and Prismacolors became an important part of his designs, with their blend-able nature. Several years later, I took a workshop on drawing mandalas on black paper with white and colored pencils, and was pleased to get my own set. When I was in junior high, I remember getting a booklet promoting a contest by Canada’s Laurentian pencil crayons, with elaborate example drawings. I would study it, imagining what I could draw, though I never did enter the contest. I had decided I wasn’t an artist.

Laurentien Colored Pencils Commodore 64 sweepstakes!
Laurentien Colored Pencils Commodore 64 sweepstakes! By John Redpath. The contest closed August 1985.

I looked up Laurentian, and was sad to see they were bought up in some pencil crayon merger of the Century, first to Sanford(who makes Prismacolors!) and then Newell-Rubbermaid, who appeared to discontinue or change the formula. The internet is echoes with the refrains of those who are looking for Laurentians[edited to add that the original post is now for invited readers only] (or Laurentiens as they were later spelled).  I also discovered that “pencil crayon” is a remnant of my Canadian past, and in the US the “colored pencil” is more common.  Stratoz calls them “art pencils” which indeed they are.


What is your favorite color pencil?

How Prismacolors are Made(I’ve got to love a “pencil sandwich”!)

Milestone Glass, Rochester, NY. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

Going North: Of Canada Day and Rochester, NY, Jazz, Poutine and Tim Horton’s

For Canada Day, and I am reflecting on my circuitous route from Edmonton, AB to Lansdale, PA and my vacation to Rochester for the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.  2012 was the 4th year Stratoz and I have made the journey north for the festival, as we both love jazz and I particularly love going north in the summer.  We stayed with our friends who Stratoz met through his blog, and enjoyed good company and 5 nights of jazz.  The Nordic jazz venue was a favorite of ours, with Sunna Gunnlaugs trio from Iceland, and other musicians from even farther north than Rochester.

Milestone Glass, Rochester, NY. Photo by Wayne Stratz.
Milestone Glass, Rochester, NY. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

On the way to my pilgrimage to Tim Horton’s for a maple dip donut and coffee, we rediscovered Milestone Glass Creations, and got some fine sheets of glass as souvenirs of our trip.  I remember Timmy’s from my youth, the shop on Whyte Ave in Edmonton, and I still do not understand why something as delicious as  maple glazed donuts are so scarce in the US.  Rochester is far enough north that Tim Horton’s has infiltrated.

Tim Hortons Coffee and Maple Glaze, Photo by Wayne Stratz.
Tim Hortons Coffee and Maple Glaze, Photo by Wayne Stratz.

Most unexpectedly, our friend Kathryn alerted us to the Le Petit Poutine truck parked at Abilene, one of the jazz fest venues, with owners from Quebec.  I had not partaken of  poutine since the night the Edmonton Oilers won the Stanley Cup, and all the food trucks were out for the revelers downtown.  In the interim, I became a vegetarian, but happily, Le Petit Poutine has a vegetarian version of the luscious gravy, fries and cheese curds, topped with fresh thyme.   Apparently, the name “poutine” comes from an Acadian word for “mess” and yes, it’s a big delicious mess, and being descended from Acadians, I approve.

Mmm...Le Petit Poutine, Rochester NY food truck
Mmm…Le Petit Poutine, Rochester NY food truck

The final thing to evoke Canada for me was the accent I kept hearing in lines for jazz venues, almost Canadian in inflection, with some Chicago thrown in.  I don’t know why I didn’t notice this in previous years, but apparently Rochester has its own dialect.  People were always delighted and surprised to discover we had come up from Philadelphia to the festival.A jazz bonus:  Taurey Butler trio ended the festival for us, and he was a wonderful pianist, from East Orange, NJ who discovered Oscar Peterson(Canadian), and after a degree in engineering and Japanese, eventually started playing jazz piano, and moved to Montreal, Oscar’s hometown.

Jack Layton’s Words of Love, Hope and Optimism

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

Early on the morning of Monday, August 22, 2011, Jack Layton – the charismatic leader of
Canada’s New Democratic Party –succumbed to his battle with cancer.

These are some of his words he wrote in a letter to the Canadian people.

C is For Canadian Content

Canadian FlagI moved from Canada to the US in 1985, when I was 17.  It was like Canada vanished the minute I crossed the border, with all the books by Canadian authors, and music by Canadian singers, and art by Canadian artists not even registering, a cloak of invisibility.  This is ironic, because Canadians had a hard enough time getting recognition in Canada if they hadn't yet had a hit in the US–thus Neil Young, Margaret Atwood, and The Band. 

But there were Canadian Content(Cancon)rules that were enacted when I was in school, where broadcasters had to play a certain percentage of Canadian artists, and somehow among the Guess Who and April Wine, I heard artists like k.d. lang, and Jane Siberry.  I remember reading an essay by the Canadian writer Robertson Davies about Canada's "inferiority complex" and it resonated very much with my 16 year old self, and my own search to find people outside of myself to affirm who I was, much as Canadians went to the US to gain credibility.  Moving to the US was a shock, since a lack of confidence was not a US problem. 

Canadian Broadcasters claimed there wasn't any talent in Canada, and that's why they played only US artists on Canadian stations.  Sometimes, even past adolescence, we assume we have no talent, when in fact no one has given us a chance.  How much of your own soul's content is in your own self?  Sometimes I assume if it came from me, how could it be good?  But I've met enough people who have the same thought to recognize that this is a corrosive belief, and that affirming what makes us "ourselves" is the root of our talent.


Over at Stratoz:

C is for Chiral Molecules

25 Years in the United States: My Journey as a Expatriate-Semi-Canadian

Margaret Almon circa 1985 with Hercules the Cat.
Margaret Almon circa 1985 with Hercules the Cat.

The summer of 2010, I reached a milestone 25 years of  living in the United States.  I left Edmonton, AB, Canada, in July of 1985, to go live with my mother and sister in Bethlehem, PA, the Moravian Mecca, where my mother was attending Moravian Seminary to become a minister.  I was 17, almost 18, and couldn’t imagine ever becoming comfortable in my new home.  Seriously, I didn’t understand flag worship, and my husband tried to explain it to me when I met him at 19.  I felt like an alien.  Now, after moving to several states, including Massachusetts, Oregon and Illinois, I have lived in PA for longer than anywhere else in the US, and it is my home.

I’d never heard of a rowhouse when I moved to the Philadelphia area, and now I live in one!  As my husband says, it’s our 1 bedroom-2 studio house.  There are still ways that I feel like an outsider, but this is where I have friends, where I know the back roads, where I make art, and now I can’t imagine going back to Canada.  But growing up there did shape me, and I am grateful for the perspective it gives me.  I always was a kind of alien, being born in the US, and moving to Canada when I was just a baby, and becoming a resident alien, a “permanent resident” which becomes impermanent if you leave for more than 2 years, and dont do arduous paperwork.

This photo is from the week before I moved to the US.  The back of the photo is labeled, in my stepmother’s handwriting, “Hercules and Margaret Almon, June 28th, 1985.”  Obviously, the most important person is listed first!  Hercules was a big lug of a cat who wandered around my father and stepmother’s condo complex, in search of superior victuals, and found the smoked salmon at their place suited him fine.  My haphazard buzz cut was from a woman at a $6 haircut shop, who watched tv while loosely interpreting Annie Lennox, left some bare patches, but overall, 6 weeks in, things were evening out.  Finally, I am wearing a Brave New Waves t-shirt that I received after writing many letters mentioning local bands to this late-night indie music radio show from the CBC.  I am taken aback by how currently “retro” it looks, with the old-school headphones emblazoned on the front.

How do you know when you are home?  I’d love to hear your stories.