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Once Upon a Midnight Dreary...

With our faces artfully disguised and our costumes billowing in the evening breeze, my boys and I excitedly made our way towards the School entrance where the annual Hallowe'en party was being held. Living in a country where this celebration does not take place, I was certainly aware of the perplexed stares we received as we had made our way through the village. Completely oblivious to this, my sons happily chattered about all the activities they were looking forward to. High on the list was the Haunted House, which was actually the gym ingeniously transformed by the senior students who each year took great pleasure in creating a spooktacular experience and leading you through a tour of darkened corners where you could touch such wonderfully gruesome things as bowls of eyeballs (peeled grapes) and warm intestines (buccatini pasta in warm water). Even in the moonlight, as the street became unusually noisy with more costumed families walking in the same direction, I could see the eyebrows of those within earshot rise even further at the gleeful talk of guts, ghouls and gumball candy. I'm sure they wondered what on earth those people who belonged to the International School were doing and for heaven sake's why. When my then six-year-old turned to me and said how he had heard that when parents were kids 'in the olden days', that we actually went house to house, knocking on doors saying 'trick or treat' to neighbours for our candy, I realized just how strange this holiday truly was.

It is certainly not your typical wholesome, family-gathered-around-hearth-and-table kind of observance but just how do you explain a celebration where menacing faces carved into pumpkins are proudly displayed and where after dark, children dressed up as monsters go door to door and blatantly threaten to deliver a trick if they do not receive a treat?

What's more, how do you explain that this is a much beloved holiday where planning ways to scare people are actually part of the fun?

To the uninitiated, and even to those of us who have grown up doing our own fair share of 'trick-or-treating', the meaning behind Hallowe'en and its customs are baffling. To begin with, one of the biggest misconceptions about Hallowe'en is that it has its beginnings in North America. Its origins actually go back to ancient European civilizations and are a mixture of pagan and Christian customs.

The history of Hallowe'en happens to be quite intriguing and so 'my pretties' (cackle, cackle), if you have ever wondered why such things as candlelit carved gourds with silly sinister faces, eerie disguises, black cats and witches are part of this spookfest, or even whay it is celebrated at all, then read on and ponder no more as you learn about the reasons for "once upoon a midnight dreary"...


Hallowe'en was first celebrated well over 2000 years ago by the Celts of Britain (the ancient Irish, Scots and Welsh). This makes it one of the oldest festivals that we continue to mark. The Celts did not call it 'Hallowe'en' then; that came much later. They celebrated what was called 'Samhain' (pronounced 'sawh-in'), which marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter. They actually considered this holiday to be their 'New Year's Eve' and they celebrated it on October 31st.

The Celts believed that winter brought with it evil spirits. They also believed that the spirit world and the human world were at their closest proximity to one another on the 31st of October, and that on that night all the spirits from the underworld such as ghosts, ghouls, witches, fairies and goblins walked the earth. They even considered roaming black cats that crossed their paths to be all those who did evil deeds while they were alive.

As a way to protect themselves and frighten off this group of evil entities, the Celts lit bonfires and carved menacing faces onto turnips and other vegetables. No doubt this is where the custom of pumpkin carving comes from and why black cats and witches are the most traditional symbols of this celebration. In case you were wondering, pumpkins were not used in ancient times simply because they are native to North America and only became the main gourd used when this custom was introduced there centuries later.

Now the Celts thought they were clever in coming up with a way to mislead those evil spirits by disguising themselves in scary costumes so the ghouls would be fooled into thinking that they were one of them. Well, that explains why wearing a costume is fundamental to Hallowe'en and why they are so expectedly gruesome.

The other indispensable custom of the night where children go door to door asking for 'treats', known today as 'trick-or-treating', stems from the ancient Irish and Scots' custom of 'guising' in which, dressed up in their scary costumes they would knock on each door asking for food for the village Samhain party. Folklore is a little divided for the reasoning behind those famous words of exclamation, 'trick-or-treat': good luck was promised if food was given but threats were made to those who refused to give anything, and it is also said that children performed a little trick, rhyme or song in exchange for an offering for the village's celebration table.

Now, add the Romans to those Celtic customs who, 2000 years ago were in Britain along with their own traditions of the Harvest Festival they celebrated at that season. The Romans worshipped 'Pomona', the goddess of fruit and they combined their festivities with those of the local Celts for Samhain. One of the fun activities that we still continue from that time is 'apple bobbing' (the apple was the symbol for Pomona).

Centuries later when Christianity reached Europe, Popes Gregory III and IV in 835 AD, decided to move the date of the Christian celebration of All Saints Day from May to November 1st so that it could coincide with the other festivities already taking place at that same time of year. This was actually a strategic move to help convert more followers to Christianity. Interestingly enough, the name 'Hallowe'en' is actually a direct result of this calendar change. "Hallow" is another name for 'saint' and "e'en" was the shortening of the word 'evening', therefore, "All Hallows' Eve" (Hallowe'en) was the day before "All Hallow's Day" (November 1st). Consequently the name for such a primary pagan festivity comes from the Christian celebration of "All Saints' Day", which is still observed today.

Hallowe'en did not become a holiday in North America until the mid 1800's when a massive Irish and Scottish immigration occurred bringing with it various versions of this celebration. Mass commercialization with costumes and masks did not start in the U.S. until the 1930's and what we refer to today as 'trick-or-treating' became a fixed custom both in the USA and Canada only in the 1950's. So strangely enough, although Hallowe'en is considered today to be a traditionally uber-North American holiday, it has actually only been celebrated there for a mere 80 odd years.

Today, Hallowe'en is celebrated in England, Ireland (Irish children have the pleasure of enjoying a week off school for this event), Scotland, Wales, Canada, U.S., Puerto Rico and more recently Australia and New Zealand. During this past decade especially, the popularity of Hallowe'en has grown to the point where countries who have no real connection to it, like France, Italy and Germany, have adopted this spookfest and all its strange customs.

I guess it's universal; everyone likes to play dress-up, receive treats and be a little frightened by "things that go bump in the night... oh my!"


The Finish Line: It just keeps moving

I remember now. I had a life once. I did, I just can’t quite recall where I left it. I must have put it down somewhere when I became busy doing something else, like giving birth to my first child. I guess I became distracted ... I remember being engrossed with trying to figure how to put that stroller into the back of the car and making sure I had packed enough diapers, bottles and extra clothing for those inevitable little mishaps, and all for just for an afternoon’s outing at the park. The next thing you know I’m packing that child’s things for University and making sure he has a two week’s supply of clothing before he needs to do any laundry.

Looking back now, I have a feeling that somewhere along the line when I was dealing with those truly important issues, like making Halloween costumes and using face paint instead of masks to create elaborate “oh-boy-oh-boy-no-one-is-going-to-recognize-me” disguises, like making up songs to help memorize the multiplication tables that were sung everywhere even while checking out groceries, like whether to read ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ for the fourth time before bedtime or have a third go with ‘I Love You Forever’  (remembering of course, to always use different voices for each of the characters), like baking hundreds and hundreds of cookies, cupcakes and dragon birthday cakes, like driving to Tai Kwan Do classes after the Clarinet lessons and just before the soccer match and still managing a warm dinner on the table in twenty minutes flat after getting home, like making sure broccoli looked mouth-watering and even convincing the unconverted that spinach would indeed make you strong (just go ask Popeye!), like constantly reminding everyone right before the morning school run not to forget anything only to find forgotten homework left by cereal bowls or gym kits left inside the front door, like quickly making a second morning school run to deliver those important forgotten items to their relieved owners, like making sure never to miss a recital, sports event or school play … yep, somewhere in all that I must have inadvertently stuffed what remained of my life into the bottom of my handbag. Well, we know what that means; I’ll probably find it years from now along with a packet of dried up wet wipes, some dusty gummy bears and a few stale mints.

I’m reflecting on all this because at the end of our summer holiday, I boarded a plane with all of my most precious baggage, except one. It felt odd; I had a gnawing sensation that something was missing, like an arm or a piece of my heart. I was so tempted to leave my seat and head straight for the exit door insisting that I had to get off that I couldn’t go home yet because I had left something irreplaceable behind and we just could not take off without it! But instead, not wanting to embarrass my family I stayed quiet in my seat, gripping my armrest ever tighter knowing that a huge hunk of my heart was sitting on that tarmac as the plane took off.

 “Was it just me, or was it the worst feeling to board a plane and leave your child on another continent?” a good friend asked me a week later who had made a similar trip the year before.

I was relieved to hear that I was not the only one. I didn’t tell her how close I came to being banned from an airline but I bet she too thought about stopping the plane. Just when exactly, did overnight stays turn into a four year sleepover? And when did that finish line get so close?  Someone surely must have moved it nearer when I wasn’t looking.

There are some of you reading this who can appreciate my astonishment at how that finish line came up so quickly. There are others reading this who see that finish line so far off in the distance they are convinced it will be a lifetime before they ever get there. Feeling somewhat qualified now, I can honestly tell you the reality is that finish line is not so far away; it just seems like it is. One day they need Halloween costumes and then all of a sudden they need graduation gowns. Well, actually, it’s not all of a sudden it just seems like it is.

So, seemingly without warning, laundry piles have shrunk, the refrigerator doesn’t empty so quickly, you can actually find cereal in the box, there are less pairs of gargantuan sized sports shoes loitering by the entrance door, no more late nights pretending to be asleep while waiting to hear that familiar rhythm of feet run up the stairs two at a time, no more goofy grins hello or head-grazing kisses goodbye.

And then suddenly, while pondering in disbelief at abruptly finding yourself at the end zone, you just happen to get a phone call from a dorm room an ocean away and you are soon made aware that perhaps you haven’t reached that finish line just yet. Thank you, to whoever keeps moving it.

Oh, and guess what? I just remembered where I left my life; like most things we think we’ve lost, it was under my nose all along!


Making the Ordinary Extraordinary


There appears to be a new contributing factor to the planet's recent global warming trend and it has more to do with fuzzy threads of wool and an 'underground' art movement than with the ozone layer. Hundreds in city streets worldwide are finding themselves victims to 'Guerilla Knitting' and so far the reactions seem to be positive and welcoming.

Innocently appearing out of no where, in places you would never expect to find them, city dwellers around the globe are being greeted by multicoloured knitted creations hugging the most banal items that one would never normally look at twice; the experience is similar to finding your grandmother's knitted tea cozy covering a park bench. The incongruity of such a sight is what is so disarming.

Just as spray-can graffiti is usually executed covertly at the location, so too is 'graffiti knitting' or 'yarn-bombing' and 'yarn-storming' as it has become known. A group of 'outlaw' knitters stealthily place pieces of their handiwork on public fixtures from fire hydrants to buildings, using anything from dainty knitted flowers to boldly covering entire telephone booths. However, unlike paint graffiti, which despite being its own art form is seen as an act of vandalism leaving most people annoyed, this form of street art leaves its mark as a colourful leg warmer on a lamp post, as scarves and mittens adorning a statue, as a crazy, cozy sweater worn by a tree on its branches, and the resulting reactions are that people tend to smile, leaving them appreciative of the whimsical and cheerful homey touch to their urban panorama.

And that is precisely the aim of these non-threatening, wool-needle wielding anarchists: to reclaim and personalize sterile public places by spreading some magic and injecting a little whimsy and warmth into our daily mundane urban scenes through this new form of street art.

The birth of 'Urban Knitting' is attributed to a former Texas clothes shop owner, Magda Sayeg, who in 2005 decided one day to cover the handle of her shop door with some knitting. As the story goes, people reacted with such delight to this little detail that it inspired Magda to go about town wrapping up several other everyday objects. She eventually closed up shop and started a group called 'KnittaPlease' whose logo is "We Knit Graffiti", and some examples of her crew's achievements are the knit-wrapping of an entire bus in Mexico and a small piece of the Great Wall of China. Magda was also recently asked to be part of and exhibit at 'Il Lusso Essenziale' (The Luxury of the Essential), which is a yearly festival in Rome celebrating the extraordinary in the everyday (just the very thing this Soul Scribbler revels in!), where she covered a Smart Car in her trademark handiwork. In the past five years KnittaPlease has travelled throughout the world from From North America to Australia to Europe to Asia, spreading a little magic and turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Since then, dozens of inspired mavericks around the globe have formed similar underground Urban Knitting groups and the trend just continues to grow. Despite the edgy moniker like Guerilla Knitting or Yarnbombing, some of the groups have the cutest names like the Yarnachists, the Knitwits, Who Dunn Knit, Knit Happens, Knit The City, Masquerade and the Knitted Landscape. Who knew that a centuries old craft could ever be considered subversive?

What I find so intriguing about this street art are the reasons why the concept of Urban Knitting in general has become such a worldwide craze. Why are so many so inspired and willing to spend their time creating and installing these knitted pieces? Knitting conjures up images of hearth and home and can be a metaphor for caring, nurturing and the handmade; the physical act itself involves a unifying factor, a coming together. So what does the popularity of bringing this art form to our public streets echo about the era we live in? Given the global economic climate of the last few years, I wonder if society feels the need to be less commercial and more appreciative of savouring the pleasures of non-machine made objects around them? If it has a need to bring more creativity and spirituality into daily life? Or does Urban Knitting simply and subtly remind us of the importance of home and family and the comfort it ultimately provides, especially when times are difficult? What ever the reasons are, being able to make people smile is a gift, and the fact that hundreds of knit-wit mavericks are using creativity and daring to do so is just another confirmation that ART indeed lifts the soul, both for the inspirerer and the inspired.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this, especially if you have seen examples of Graffiti Knitting in person or are a member of a Yarn-bombing group.

For those creative souls of the 'purl one, knit two' faction out there, why not consider spreading some magic with your craft and remove some of that everyday dust Picasso alluded to by turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. I'm not suggesting you go out and sweater-up lamp posts but who wouldn't warmly smile at finding a sweet tiny scarf tied to their bicycle handlebars?

Hmm.. this Soul Scribbler is now wondering how long it takes to learn to knit? She suddenly sees visions of red and green mini scarves adorned with tiny jingle bells mysteriously appearing in her town this Christmas... but shhhh! You won't tell anyone, will you?



And so it begins...



I have a secret. It sits safely nestled in a soft orange leather case at the bottom of my handbag. Every once in a while I catch of glimpse of it while rummaging for my keys and I smile. It feels a little self-indulgent enjoying something no one else knows about but is there just the same, like wearing your most beautiful lingerie under your everyday clothes. Actually, it goes beyond anything hedonistic because this beautiful commonplace object makes me feel joyful, blessed, grateful and inspired all at the same time. In fact, it happens to be the catalyst and muse for this very journal.

What is this secret, you may ask? What is that item sitting at the bottom of my handbag (besides those random bits and pieces of my life) that can bestow such contentment and pleasure?  Intrigued? Well, you ever so kind and generous readers, as this is my first post ever and I am a storyteller at heart, you will have to to be patient with me a little longer for the answers are in the story scribbling that follows. After all, what better way to start this journal than with the day and object that inspired it. And so folks, my Soul Scribbles begin...

Not too long ago, I was sitting in a restaurant enjoying the company of Dee and Kay, two of my dearest and closest friends. Now that we live two hours away from each other, we don't often get the chance to visit in person anymore. It also happened to be my birthday, and even though it was a busy time with graduation ceremonies, house guests and end of school year events, Dee and Kay insisted that we spend at least some part of that day together. And I was so very glad they did because after the year I just had, I truly needed to see those faces of theirs.

Feeling the warmth of the afternoon sun through the glassless window, I was grateful for their friendship and smiled. We've known each other for many years now, growing up together as young mothers right along with our own children who are in turn good friends themselves. We've shared kindnesses, tears and humour. We've watched our children grow from toddlers to teenagers, and as I sat back admiring how lovely they looked all dressed up for our special lunch, with Kay even wearing heels and a daring decolleté (not exactly something we would normally see this most practical girl wear), I couldn't help but imagine and look forward to the three of us still meeting up like this in our future golden years.

Being a part of each other's journeys has been a gift and a pleasure, even when at times those paths became less smooth and the 'Delicate Cycle' would stop working right in the middle of one of us doing 'Life's Laundry'. Good friends don't need an invitation if they sense something is wrong; they are at your side offering whatever support is needed. The really good ones also step in to make sure you don't disappear under that growing pile of 'living laundry'; they find you, help with the clean up and make you press the 'Reset' button.

That's exactly what Dee and Kay did for me this past year. Even from a distance their caring vigilance would not succumb to my stubbornness in wanting to hide away and be overwhelmed. They tied a lifeline around me and pulled and tugged and pulled some more until I came up for air. Now, as our lunch and chatter continued, I realized I was laughing; a lot. That sound had become foreign to me and I vaguely remembered it, but I liked it. That lifeline I had held onto so tightly suddenly became less taunt and I felt that I could finally begin to heal. For so long now I had been struggling with that messy, heartbreaking pile that life had so unexpectedly thrown over me that I didn't know who I was anymore and I so desperately wanted to be my old self again.

As if on cue, a gift was placed in front of me. I opened the box and found an adorable orange pen. I felt my heart jump and smile all at once. Those creative whispers that were murmuring away inside of me for so long suddenly became loud and clear. I instantly knew that the time had come to finally put those aspirations into action even if I was unsure about the process. There was just something about that colour that was so delightfully unexpected and inspiring that it instantly made me feel joyous and want to have fun again. That pen was urging me to find my old paint box and pastels and fill up canvases with colour, to take out a stack of paper and start to scribble away words. I wanted to go home and open up that drawer where my forgotten dreams had been pushed way too far back and one by one, I wanted to dust off them the self-doubt and believe in their potential again. That magnificent crazy orange pen was calling out to me and it said "Hey girl, it's been a while, but now that you're back, pack up all that knowledge you have learned earned this year, pack up all that potential you've forgotten about, put them in that bag called Possibilities and let's get going!" Sometimes inspiration and catalysts come in the strangest forms and they speak to you with such clarity and calling that all you can do is listen and yield to its summons.

Yet, the biggest revelation of the day came when Kay and Dee explained they had chosen to give me a special writing instrument and that particular colour because it reminded them of me. Me? I suddenly saw myself through their eyes and with much gratitude, I felt found. At that moment it dawned on me that although I had forgotten how to be me, although I had trouble finding that person I once could so easily describe as me believing her now lost and broken forever, those two never lost sight of her. Who else but those who know you so well, the ones who never give up on you are always able to still see the real you in spite of your pain, physical changes, or self-imposed exile? The simple fact is my friends never stopped seeing who I was; they were just waiting for me to recognize her once again.

So, you see folks, an orange pen is my secret and it has become my muse. Every time I look at it I am reminded that I am a writer and an artist and that I should never stop scribbling from my soul, because if I do it would be like holding my breath. It reminds me that authenticity, passion and compassion reside within and because of that I am fierce. It reminds me of the joy I find in living a perfectly imperfect life and how extraordinary celebrating the ordinary moments can be. It reminds me of how blessed I am, of what good friends I have and of how our stories can be messy, complicated and beautiful and because of that my journey is enriched. It reminds me that practicing courage, gratitude and forgiveness makes me free.  And lastly, though by no means least, it reminds me never to lose sight of myself or the knowledge that I am always able to press that reset button when the delicate cylce breaks down again. This is why I just can't help but smile a little when I catch a glimpse of that orange leather case in my handbag, even if I can't find those darn keys again.