Drifting, floating

Speaking of things that have washed ashore:


These old glass fishermen’s floats were picked up on a family trip to the Maritimes in the early ’70s. Before plastic and styrofoam took over, these handmade glass bubbles were widely used to keep fishing nets afloat. They were often made of recycled glass. Many are bottle-green, but you’ll also find them in a rainbow of colours, like the ones above. From what I’ve read, glass floats originated in Norway in the 1840s and became popular world-wide, especially in Japan. The Japanese ones were made from sake bottles.

There are roughly three grades of floats if you’re a collector:
1) Authentic old ones that were used by fishermen.
2) Authentically made ones that were sold directly to gift shops. While they never saw action on the seas, they were made by the same glass makers who made the working ones, and they’re identical in form. Collectors call these “contemporaries”.
3) Reproductions. These are made from thinner glass that would likely shatter if used as floats. These started to appear in the early ’80s when the supply of the authentic and contemporary floats dwindled.

The bowl above is full of contemporaries. Back when we got them, they were a popular souvenir of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and were in every gift shop and lawn sale. When I returned to Nova Scotia several years later they were harder to find.

I have a few more hanging around picking up the light:


I have a few authentic ones that I picked up that are made from recycled bottles. You can see the circles of the bottle bottoms beneath their rotting rope. They’re not as pretty as the contemporaries, but they have character:


If you live near an ocean you may still come across the odd one that washes ashore after being adrift for many years. And supposedly there are large numbers of them somewhere in the North Pacific that have been stuck going around in circular currents for decades. I know all the man-made pollution in the oceans is a tragedy, but I can’t help thinking there’s something whimsical about all those pretty glass baubles spiralling around on the waves.

Ooh I just spotted another Nautically-themed item in one of these pictures that may get its own post eventually…


Yes, my attention has drifted away from this blog, but I’ve been getting a few requests to resurrect it.  As some downsizing is happening in my life, I may uncover a few oddities to blather on about. Or I may just get completely overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that I own. There’s a part of me that recognizes that attachment to things can be emotionally and spiritually detrimental. I’m working on that. Really. But dang, then I uncover something that is just too weird/sentimental/story-worthy/weird to part with.

Like my friend here:

DriftWoody This is Drift Woody.

For the first seven years of my life our family had a cottage a bit south of the one that later became my second home for the next 40 years. Spiritual home(s), really – both the first and second cottage. That first property was on low ground and would flood every spring. One day there was a lot of flotsam on our shore, among which was this piece of driftwood. My mother was about to pitch it back into the lake, but my grandmother stopped her and said, “Wait! It looks like Woody Woodpecker!” (For those not as old as I, Woody was a popular cartoon character of the day.)

So Grandma brought it inside, glued a bit of cork in an auspiciously placed knothole for an eye, shellacked the whole thing, and hung it on our wall.

Drift Woody came with us when we sold the cottage. It was later re-hung when we bought the second cottage. Now that cottage is being sold, and Drift Woody is coming with me. He will look completely out of place in a downtown Toronto condo. And for all I know, I may be the only person (after my late Grandma) who thinks it looks like Woody Woodpecker.


Tu m’as trouvé

This is the latest addition to my special bookshelf–the one out of my many bookshelves that holds the books that will always move with me, even in a future situation when I might have to downsize to, say, living out of my car.


Sonofabitch Poems by RL Raymond, PidgeonBike Press, 2011. Four-colour offset, signed by the author.

Great title, eh? Makes you want to read it, doesn’t it? Well, you should. It’s a beautifully written volume of poems with surprising imagery, cadences and stealthy rhyme, but it also reads like a novel–with narrative, suspense, emotion, atmosphere, myth, plots and subplots, mysteries and revelations, and a great deal of heart. It’s populated by characters who may or may not be Sonofabitches–you’ll have to read it to find out what I mean. “Dedicated to all the non-poets”, it will convert readers who never read poetry. For those who do read poetry, you will say “wow!”; and maybe put this on your own special bookshelf. It’s terrific.

It’s a book I will re-read often. It’s a book that reminds me why I love language. And poetry. And stories. It’s a book that makes me marvel at what books can be, and do.

This blog is loosely about found objects that I love. I didn’t so much find this book though as be found by it. It appeared in my life because its author, a long-lost friend, found me on line. In minutes we’d closed the gap of nearly twenty years, and we continue to talk about language and stories and poetry and books and life.

But despite all the talk, I’m at a loss for words when I try to describe how great it is to hold this book, a product of all the years between when we last talked about poetry, and his desire to be a writer, and the seeds of his writing career germanating in his nascent talent all those years ago.

RLR knows that I’m happy for his accomplishments, and especially that he’s shared them with me., I hope he also knows how glad I am to have been found. See, books are wonderful things.


Fool, Britannia!

It’s the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend. I do not own an outrageous garden-party hat to wear in honour of Her Majesty’s 60th year on the throne, but I do have these:

Hoarder confession: I have owned them for years – nay, decades, at this point. Years ago my British mother brought them back from a trip to England—not that she would have ever worn such things herself! (And even more horrifying: each of my three brothers got a pair, too…as if the four of us would actually wear matching socks.) How have they lasted so long? Well, I am not a loud-sock-wearing kind of person, so I have never, ever worn them. Plus, they are polyester. Plus, they got stuck in the bureau behind a drawer for several years and I didn’t rediscover them until I moved a fews years ago and took the drawer out. Tomorrow, I may get up the nerve to put them on my feet. A sartorial sacrifice from the Commonwealth. Pass the Pimms!


Peeps in High Places

Peeps…not you, as in “Hey, peeps!” I’m talking those chick-shaped, sugar-coated-sugar (“marshmallow”) blobs that appear at Easter. Some people love ’em. Some people hate ’em. And some people turn them into conceptual art projects. Or maybe just release them back into the wild, like this one:

This Peep was part of a gaggle of Peeps found a few years ago while exploring the town of Jerome, Arizona. I mean, we were exploring the town, but it seems so were the Peeps, who randomly appeared throughout this mountainside town.

I’m not saying that Peeps are one of my favourite things (they’re not), but for the purpose of this blog, a found Peep is – especially since it was found in one of my favourite – and largest – kind of found objects: a ghost-town. Not my first, if you read my earlier post about a BC ghost town. Jerome, Arizona is a “living” ghost town, in that it’s still inhabited.

Jerome is a former mining town sitting a mile up on Cleopatra Hill, between Flagstaff and Prescott.  Jerome has a colourful history, in the Wild West tradition: gold rushes, brothels, gunslingers, disasters, natural and otherwise. At the height of the 19th century mining boom, it was one of  the largest cities in Arizona. But then a series of strikes, fires and other events closed down the mines, and the town was mostly abandoned, down to about 50 people. More recently it’s been partly repopulated (current population around 350 or so).

That’s Jerome in the distance:

Jerome from a distance

The small number of folks who stayed behind still enjoyed a nice view and some cheap real estate.

So it was still an ok place to live for some, although remote, at least for a while. But Jerome was sitting on abandoned mine shafts that started to collapse, and the buildings sitting atop the mines didn’t fair so well. Many buildings cracked, like this old theatre:

And others collapsed.

The town jail slid right down the hill.

But despite the devastation and continued precariousness of the place, the die-hards remained. And some artists moved in, as artists do when neighbourhoods become really cheap. Creative types have even taken advantage of the ruins. This studio is “open” in more ways than one:

Talk about optimism: this fixer-upper is for sale:

I was told the pink trim may indicate that it was a former brothel. A selling point?

The town is attracting tourism; there are shops and restaurants, and a couple of historic hotels to stay in, if you’re brave. Although I couldn’t shake the vague fear that the sidewalks might collapse at any time (I was assured they wouldn’t), I loved this place. It’s a great place to visit and explore—just ask the Peeps.

Happy St. Pat’s to the Irish and the Wannabees

Today’s find: a Guinness-flavoured macaron:

It’s pretty much my only concession to St. Patrick’s Day this year. I am one-quarter Irish—giving me licence to legitimately celebrate, but not enough to feel obligated. As I hate being around really drunk people, I will likely not be going out tonight.

However, being one-quarter Irish, I can say I’ve done some pretty stereotypical Irishy things that have not necessarily involved alcohol. Like being in Dublin on Bloomsday, and taking part in a 24-hour reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses. And having a pretty extensive collection of Van Morrison, the Chieftans, et al.

And letting a complete stranger dangle me by the legs 125 feet above the ground so that I could kiss the Blarney stone.

It doesn’t look all that challenging when you see in on video, but once you’re up there, you realize a) you’re really high up; b) those “safety bars” are still wide enough apart that you could fall through, and c) when you’re only 5 feet tall, a significant section of your body has to hang over the gap. I was comforted by the knowledge that my great-grandfather, who came from Cork not far from Blarney Castle, likely may have also kissed the Blarney Stone, before they installed the safety bars. He was apparently the genetic source of my shortness, being himself only five feet tall, so if he could pull it off, so could I.

But now that I’m older and lamer, I’m just going to stay home and eat a Guinness-flavoured macaron* and call it a day.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day—have fun and stay safe, folks!

*from Nadege patisserie on Queen West in Toronto. (Also accompanied by a salted caramel and a mocha…did you really think I’d only buy one macaron?)


Today I walked up a stretch of road I normally avoid. I always thought it was devoid of interest, run-down, bordering on sketchy, and just sort of depressing. Well, the joke was on me. First I noticed a little plaque on the side of a building:

It stopped me in tracks and made me laugh.

This quote, which on first glance appears to be a zen-like statement expounding on the wisdom of observance, is actually attributed to Yogi Berra, the Major League catcher famous for his malapropisms. Nonsensical though it may be, it goaded me into paying more attention.

So next I saw this:

And this:

And then this:

Lessons learned, street, lessons learned.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”–the wisdom of Yogi Berra

Another almost-spring post

A friend just returned from Japan and brought me this lovely tea:

She told me it’s a “spring” tea. It contains cherry blossoms (Sakura) that are symbolic of springtime. Houjicha (also spelled Hojicha) is a green tea, but it’s been roasted, so it’s darker, richer, and more complex than regular green teas. I’ve heard it called “tea for coffee drinkers,” which I think is a good description. Anyway, it’s delicious. I’m not sure if I was supposed to save it for Cherry Blossom season though, so I’ll try to keep some until April, if I can.

The best part is that it came with matching flower-blossom-y looking sugar! They’re actually more star-shaped, but their colours suggest cherry blossoms, so that’s what I’m going with.

They’re called Kompeito (or Konpeito) and are traditional Japanese candies that are sometimes served at outdoor tea ceremonies. They are pure sugar, like minuscule versions of ye olde fashioned rock sugar on a stick that you buy from gift shops or chi-chi coffee shops. They were initially brought to Japan 400 years ago by the Portuguese, whose own word for them was confeito or “confetti”.

If you’ve ever seen the anime film Spirited Away, there’s a scene where the the little soot sprites go crazy when a character throws handfuls of Kompeito at them. I totally get their enthusiasm. So pretty and tasty!

Never too early to think it’s almost spring

They’re orange.

I bought myself some tulips the other day. They were closed up so tightly I didn’t know what colour they’d be until they opened today.

It’s about this time every year that I start to buy myself tulips to remind myself that it’s not far to spring.

I inherited my love of tulips (and vanilla ice cream) from my dear friend Bruce. Years ago, Bruce threw himself a birthday party. He filled his tiny apartment with pots of tulips in every colour. And I mean filled. He’d cleaned out the tulip supply of every market in his neighbourhood. Tulips covered the tables, his desk, the bookshelves, the floor…it was beautiful, and very Bruce-like. I remember meeting some really interesting, smart, creative and nice people at that party. But what I remember most is that whenever anyone left the party, Bruce hugged them then handed them a pot of tulips to take home. He had made sure to buy enough tulips so every guest could leave with some.

Bruce passed away some years later, at Easter, so of course there were tulips at his funeral. But it’s the birthday tulips I’m reminded of every almost-spring, when a little joy and colour is in order.