September 18th

My business is named for my children – my three children if you consider my logo. When people ask what ‘Olives and Bananas’ means I always reply that it’s a play on words using the names of my two living children, Oliver and Hannah, and when the moment seems right (which most often it is) I add that the dragonfly in the logo is for our son, Finn, who lived and died in 2013.

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In the first few years after Finn lived and died I spent a lot of time reflecting and writing about him.
I didn’t go out much, I felt exposed and fragile, while also feeling like my heartache was being worn like heavy armour. Five years later I still feel that way, though over time I’ve found ways to express my grief that make it more comfortable to wear.
In those first years there was a lot of alone time and space to think. I needed to talk about him, but silently while I worked on the right words. It was easy to purge my feelings in the Instagram community because I knew there were others out there who identified with my words, and that made it safe.
In the past year my safe place has become the wool shop. I know that one of the many reasons I don’t write as much about Finn as I once did is because I talk about him more, I have real life conversations about him now in ways couldn’t before. This past year has forced me into the confrontations and questions I feared the most, and in that I learned that I can handle it, I can cry in front of someone and recover and move on with my day, I can catch my breath. It’s okay to cry, it’s okay if I cry, and we can hug it out – or better let’s dance it out like Grey’s.
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The subject of child loss isn’t one that comes up often in casual conversation, but because the “how many kids do you have?” question is asked all too often, for some of us child loss does come up all.the.time.
I could have avoided the subject more easily by naming my shop ‘Amy’s Wool Shop’ or something equally uninspired, but there wasn’t much heart in that, and not in line with what the shop is about. More often than not people who shop & stitch here are making something for someone else; if not it’s something special for themselves. It’s more about the pride in creating and giving than anything else, and it’s been deeply inspiring to be surrounded in that kind of sharing.
I think naming the shop for my children points to who I’m creating for and why on a personal level, which opens the door to deeper conversations – which I think is lovely, and we need more of that in this world.

 

There’s a perception is that the subject of child loss is too sad or complicated to talk about openly, and I know some people worry about my response and wonder if they should bring up Finn and his story. You should, you always should. It would be much more sad to not hear his name, or feel like he’s being forgotten because he’s not physically present. When his name is said aloud he is acknowledged, as is our grief, and makes me feel less alone in remembering him.
The experiences in the months since opening the shop have been hard to put into words for many enormous and extraordinary reasons. There have some been some really profound exchanges and heartfelt moments, confessions, tears, sharing, hugs, laughter, …all the emotions that seem indescribable when I try to transcribe them.
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Finn’s photo in his rainbow knit elf hat hangs prominently in the shop. That hat, that photo, that memory… it all represents such an important step toward my business – long before I even knew the direction I was headed. By the time the path appeared I was already well on my way.
Some of you have come in wearing dragonfly clothing or jewelry as a gesture in honour of Finn. Some have brought me little dragonfly trinkets, candles, and bookmarks. You have shared heartfelt stories about what dragonflies mean to you, and the folklore that makes you believe there’s something magical about them. All of this demonstrating the best of the human heart, and I’m eternally grateful.
Finn’s dragonflies originate in a simple pencil drawing by Betsy Bowen, whose original sketch of ‘green darner dragonflies’ for the book Hawk’s Ridge was for sale as part of the 2012 Crossing Borders Art Studio Tour. I bought it a few months before I was even pregnant, but knew it was special instantly. It was he first thing I hung in Finn’s nursery in 2013.
In the shop I’ve been visited by other bereaved parents, who find the right moments to share their stories. Talking openly together somehow softens the effects of our tragic stories. Losing a child can feel isolating, it’s an incomprehensible grief unless you’re in it. You can imagine the worst – and I’ve lived the sad losses: my parents are both gone, friends, deeply missed, so many people live in my heart…, but nothing compares to the longing for Finn. My little Finn…
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It is so important to me that Finn is remembered for living as much if not more than because he died so young.
He lived.
Finn brought so much joy, relief, peace, and hope to our family when he was born. A rainbow baby himself, he was a bright light after years of miscarriages. Once he was in my arms I felt calm like I hadn’t in years. The future was wide open with potential and possibilities.
He was such a beautiful baby; his golden hair and bright, curious eyes made my heart melt. Tiny and loud, he was perfect in every way.
He had visitors, people held him, we all cooed over him. I nursed him, changed him, bathed him… unaware that all these firsts were his last. Our last. The only.
His death blindsided us.
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Five years later and for weeks now I haven’t been sleeping well. I’m waking in the very early hours and can’t fall back asleep despite all my hacks. In the months following Finn’s death I couldn’t sleep without some kind of white noise being pumped into my head, anything to drown out the wheels turning. The only times I felt I really slept was after an acupuncture treatment, and though I still see my acupuncturist weekly it’s not enough to ease this restlessness.
Every morning for weeks I’ve felt butterflies and anxiousness as if I’m heading into an important interview and it’s messing terribly with my physical well-being.
There’s nothing in particular keeping me awake or making me feel anxious; it’s simply a function of grief and the time of year bringing all the feelings to the surface. The air, the way the sun rises and sets, the changing colours of autumn, all of these earthly reminders of Finn are impossible to escape. And why would I want to? It’s always been my favourite time of year. I felt so lucky to be able to celebrate my special boy in this beautiful season.
Now he is everything autumn is to me; he is the lake breeze, the sunrise and shine, and all the warm colours – everything reminds me of him. It’s both paralyzing and full of static energy. He’s my forever baby, he will never grow up, he will never have a first day of school, ride a bike, play with friends, choose Halloween costumes, or celebrate Christmas. All these occasions still come and pass without him, and all I can do is imagine him and wonder who he would be.
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September is difficult to navigate. This year I’ve felt numb, distracted, and unable to express myself in the ways I’ve found healing in the past. I’ve learned enough from previous years to know that I can’t predict anything, the triggers will catch me off guard, some will devastate me and others will lift me (and everything in between). I try not to schedule too much or makes plans knowing that each day needs its own space.
Five years ago I thought I would never leave the house again. I definitely wouldn’t have believed I would be running a wool shop, talking to people about Finn, least of all smiling.
Thank you, to all of you who have shown such genuine thoughtfulness, compassion, and empathy for my little Finn, myself and my family. I’ve learned a lot more about humanity this year than wool. We really do need more togetherness in this world because we heal better in groups leaning on one another.
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I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.

Dragonfly Tales

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The book pictured is A Dazzle of Dragonflies by Forrest Lee Mitchell and James L. Lasswell. It’s an enchanting view into the world of dragonflies from an imaginative perspective.

There’s a dragonfly commision coming up that means a lot to me. Each custom order has had it’s poignant effect, and I feel privileged with the confidence and whole heartedness people share their stories. The upcoming dragonfly will in part bring some healing to breast cancer patients, and I can’t help but feel my mother strongly, imagining her holding my little Finn wherever they are, as I bring this project together.

On September 30th 2012 my husband and I travelled the north western shore of Lake Superior visiting artist’s studios as part of the Crossing Borders Art Tour. While at Betsy Bowen’s studio in my favourite escape Grand Marais, I bought this little print of dragonflies which were an illustration for the book Hawk’s Ridge. At the time I didn’t know what I would do with the green darner dragonflies, but the drawing captured a piece of my heart so I knew immediately this would be special.

One year later was the first day of my life without Finn. When I started decorating his nursery earlier that year, these dragonflies were the first thing I put in the room.

The drawing has always made me smile. It’s musical, playful, and elegant just as dragonflies are. Just think about the number of people who associate dragonflies with something magical or profound in their life, to me that says these widely adored insects do possess a connection to something mysterious and lovely.

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Betsy Bowen’s green darner dragonflies

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Also coming up is another infant elf hat using Dauntless Dragonfly from Expression Fibre Arts. Not only is this yarn stunning and soft, it’s named so appropriately, and is also the shades of my favourite Oliver baby blanket from Aunty Helen, Uncle Patric, and cousins Alex and Phoebe. It will be decorated in needlefelted dragonflies in a colour and number chosen by the buyer. I believe strongly in the ways we relate to symbols.

Some time ago I edited a photo I took of a dragonfly that Hannah rescued at Little Dog Lake one day when we were swimming with the dogs. It rested on her hand long enough for me to take a number of photos of it and it was beautiful. I won’t link the quote because I’m not sure the full text is really in context, at the time (when I was reading random leads to all things dragonfly) this particular quote sunk in deeply and still resonates.

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‘Hannah’s dragonfly’ 2010

Why Pigs?

img_7476I’m not sure how to explain this without making my mother sound like a crazy person, so I hope I tell this story in a way she would approve. She was always my best editor; an art history professor by day, she was also an effective, eloquent writer, widely published, an architectural historian, and respected researcher. She was my best teacher.

I miss her. She died in May of 2013 when breast cancer became more than her body could fight.

I think she would really love what I’m doing here; not just the fibre art creations but the process and how I’m combining my skills and interests in literature, horticulture, writing, photography, and fibre to make it happen. Her influence is everywhere – art and art history, her eye for perspective, her books, her prints, her pigs…

Her pigs, you say? Yes, her pigs.

This isn’t a story about a collection of pigs or a hidden closet of pig paraphernalia, it’s really a story about just one pig and a few others. It began one Christmas when I was old enough to know that Santa was really my mom; that year my father gave my mother some money and said, “go buy yourself a sweater.” as her Christmas gift. (Which makes him sound sort of terrible, but to all of our surprise every year he came out of nowhere with some extravagant gift for her – img_3063usually a hard to get editon of some art book she really wanted. He did the same every birthday and mother’s day too.) That year she took the sweater money and came home with this pig.

I’m not sure where she got it, and it has no inscription but she was thrilled with her pig and my father was completely confused. I don’t believe he was truly mad, but he was certainly unimpressed. A sweater was a practical gift and he saw no practical use for this pig. I don’t think he ever really understood that her pleasure came not just from the pig, but his reaction to the pig. When she knew she was dying she brought my sister and I together to divide her belongings. The process went smoother than in a lot of families I know, I think because my sister and I are such completely opposite people that we were drawn to completely different things. This pig was one of the first things my mother gave me.

Also in her funny collection of folk art were some quirky flying creatures – a frog and a cow  who hung in her kitchen for many years. (I’ll come back to cows soon – with a felting project, my mother, and Joe Fafard.) A flying pig would seem like an appropriate fit, but she didn’t have one of those. I know that my felted flying pigs would make her smile.

I suppose, for me, the flying pig represents an impossibility (an adorable impossibility). Everything about my life feels like an impossibility now, but I’m still living it; I just can’t believe I breathe without my son. It’s sad living without my mother, but losing your parents is meant to be an inevitability in life; it’s supposed to happen in that order. Life without Finn is blanketed in a different kind of grief. Something feels wrong every minute of every day, something is missing – that panic feeling you feel when you wonder where your child is, a little pit in my gut that never goes away. I can wish that my parents were here to meet Oliver and to admire Hannah, and imagine it happily, but when I wish and imagine Finn here it hurts and I see ghosts in places he should be.

When I was first learning to felt a flying pig was one of the first things I thought of, though I didn’t actually create one until last year. My first self written crochet amigurumi pattern however was a flying pig (someday I’ll translate that to a readable pattern, but for now even I don’t understand what I wrote). I do believe a part of my imagination lives in an impossible place now – thankfully it comes out in the form of ridiculously cute felted sculptures and tiny crocheted creatures.

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Hi, my name is Joe. (and the teeny tiny pig)

As I write the instructions for the flying pig needle felting kits I was joined by a few more of my mother’s pigs. Well, these guys were my find and first love, which I brought home from Australia one summer to live with my mother. I sent her a text from Australia the day I found Joe with his photo and that lovey eyed emoji to which she responded the same. I can still hear her silly giggle in my memory. Joe and the teeny tiny pig were found at a garden centre in Wentworth Falls, NSW (a little west of Sydney in the mountains) and carried home with care. (Which, by the way, Australian garden centres aren’t much different than Canadian garden centres except the seasons are backward and perennials and annuals are all mixed up. It’s pretty fun actually – like being in Wonderland… or  uh, Oz..)  My late mother-in-law did not understand the attraction to the pigs, but I do recall the faintest glimmer of a smile when she looked at Joe. Pigs, who doesn’t love them?flyingpigpng

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes-and ships-and sealing-wax-
Of cabbages-and kings-
And why the sea is boiling hot-
And whether pigs have wings.”
Through the Looking Glass
Lewis Carroll

garden blogger to wool blogger

For years I kept a garden blog. It was something I worked hard on but never took too seriously, purposely. The point was to document my gardens and horticultural interests, and somehow keep a record of my adventures in gardening. I did, and it’s wonderful, and I hope to someday get back to writing it all down. It would be a shame to not have a record of how my garden has developed at our new house.., which we’ve now been in three and a half years, long enough for a lot of gardening to have happened. It’s just that so much else has happened that I don’t know where to begin, or catch my breath sometimes, so writing it just hasn’t happened.

I purposely left my garden blog stopped where it is. I like that photo of Adam holding the bees a lot. We were in the Roots to Harvest backyard beekeeper course, and those downtown bees were fueling up around the Cornwall garden site, and charming us all. I was pregnant with Oliver at the time, and it was the last time I felt truly consumed by gardening. (Well, other than the autumn of 2015 when I planted over 600 bulbs in my garden.) I’ve worked on our beds since, but it’s going to be a while before they’ll make sense to anyone but me. In the meantime I’m using my #amysgardentbay hashtag on Instagram photos to track the little garden moments.img_2667

My horticultural adventures understandably appear in my fibre art work, whether needle felting or crochet I’m always inspired by my garden. The colours of the wool look like a garden to me, and throughout the seasons I felt and hook what I’m growing (or eating).

As with photographing my garden, I find immense enjoyment and forever changing challenges in the photography of crafting. It intrigues me not just personally but also technologically, and from a marketing perspective. My photography browsing is now often spent admiring how creators capture their work.

I love the combination of my garden and my wool. The textures of nature matched with the colours makes for endless hours of creative heartwork. When my friend Sheri was teaching me to crochet she described how her addiction isn’t just to the making of things but to the feeling of the yarn in her hands – the “buttery softness” as she says. This is so true – to many from my understanding, the healing in #craftastherapy is found most in the texture, the softness, and comfort of wool. It’s not that different than the power of garden therapy, the texture of the soil, plants, and scents. I have to say my house never smelled better than the day I unpacked a shipment of merino wool in my sunny dining room – in a way is smelled like there was a herd of sheep in the house, ..but nicely washed sheep.

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even my winter garden inspires

My hope is that this blog will become as personally valuable a record of the evolution of Olives and Bananas, as my garden blog is to the evolution of “amy’s garden” and when I compare to the records I’ve blogged, drawn, and scribbled about my garden over the years, I see so much of the process is the same. Keeping a journal of the journey.

New Blog, First Post

img_1570This is it, the beginning of a new adventure. About a year ago, when Olives and Bananas first came to my mind I didn’t really know where it would go or what it would be, I just wanted to find a way to share needle felting and fibre art with others. After making gifts for friends for a couple years I began entertaining requests for custom orders, from there the development of needle felting kits came about as more and more people requested supplies and instruction, and together it grew into this little made by me business that I’m really enjoying.

I realize communication is an area I need to improve, thus the creation of this blog. One of my many goals for 2017 is to maintain this with weekly updates, a newsletter perhaps, so that those following know where I am on projects – especially the creation of needle felting kits, what is available, and what is coming up. I also want to relay better information about workshops, which I plan to host regularly on Sundays in my sweet little detached sunroom (which is an inspiring room to create in!).

I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions, but this year the turn of the calendar is feeling like turning a corner. It’s been a difficult few years for my family. Loss and grief weighed on us after losing my mother then our son Finn in 2013. Then the emotional highs and lows of bringing a rainbow baby into this world – followed by my husband’s job loss, and the changes that made to our lives. We struggled for a while, but it’s turning around. Finally some better employment options are arising for R, and I’ve found both healing and challenging work in this business venture. I feel like we’re finally headed toward some better days.

Olives and Bananas is more than felting, more than crochet, fibre art, and creating from wool. It’s also challenges me in photography, marketing, and business planning. The math is done in collaboration with by my husband, my accountant and calculator, as all the supplies, duties, exchange rates, and prices whether wholesale or retail is quite complicated. Completing and posting my price lists are a high priority on my to do list right now. My hope is that 2017 is the beginning of a solid business plan in action, even if it takes a few years to get there.

My main priority now is still my sweet Oliver, my wild little rainbow toddler. He’ll grow up too fast, just like his big sister Hannah has, so I’m savouring my time with him while he’s little. Wool will always be waiting, but he’s happening right now. So, please bare with me as I sneak in small moments each day to work on Olives and Bananas, while enjoying him.

I’m excited about what’s ahead. Posts I’m drafting include more information about needle felting kits, what goes in them, how I account for supplies and costs, future kits and where I stand in their development, as well as information about “just wool” kits, downloadable instructions, felting supplies, and retail wool.  Stay tuned!

Thanks for all the support this past year. Now let’s see what happens next….