Sunday, 19 May 2019

My husband says I'm God

So my husband and I (poor, long-suffering man!) moved the mountain of soil yesterday, all by ourselves, with one shovel and four buckets, and finished before noon. The wheelbarrow tire developed a leak so was of no use to us. But the sun held out, no rain came, and neither one of us threw our backs out. Even had time to do some weeding, take the pool cover off, and I mowed our yard and the neighbour's. And still had time last night to watch an Australian crime show and eat ice cream. A successful day! But I under-estimated the amount of soil we'd need (I now have eight raised beds to fill!), so I've ordered another 5 cubic yards to be delivered on Tuesday. Which is probably now an over-estimation. Oh well, there's always somewhere to put dirt.

As we laboured together, I cracked that my husband would never need to pay for a gym membership, being married to me. Think of the money he'd save! (Nevermind the $435 spent on soil.) And my husband said solemnly that he thinks I'm God. God gives us challenges to strengthen us and help us grow. And I do indeed challenge him... Tee hee. Thirty-two years of marriage, of me keeping him hopping and guessing and on his toes, and he's still in the trenches with me (literally), scooping dirt. Gotta be love.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Digging Out

The floor loom has sold to a really nice girl I met on Facebook and then in person at the highland games. She's a farmer/forager/craftsperson/earth goddess type who will give the loom a loving home and put it to good use, so I'm content.

The soil arrives on Saturday, and before then I need to move a miniature mountain of compost into the raised beds. I've been chipping away at it, but it has rained nearly constantly since I got back from Utah, which has slowed things down considerably. The compost heap never ceases to amaze me -- how all that muck and waste and cast-offs can become crumbly, sweet earth full of worms. It's like discovering gold in your garbage bin.

We purposely built an extra-wide gate into the fence so that trucks could bring soil straight into the backyard...but then found out that no delivery men are willing to drive over the boulevard to get to the gate. So it means schlepping three cubic yards of earth by bucket and wheelbarrow. I fear Saturday will be a very muddy day, but it's all got to be moved quickly because I can't leave a hill of soil on the boulevard overnight. Even if I can get it all scooped into the backyard and piled in a heap on Saturday, I can then take a bit more time to get it into the beds.

If I had the time and inclination to ponder it, I'd see all this as a metaphor of digging out from the winter's depression, digging out of my inward-looking self, moving out from under bad habits or unhelpful thought patterns, turning over a new leaf, new spring beginnings... but no. It's a literal ton of earth, and it's all mine to move. I may get a little sporadic help from family or volunteers, but in the end, it's going to come down to me, slogging for hours...days... And you know what?

I love it.

I can't wait to dig in, to get my hands into rich soil, even if it's soggy. To smell that indefinable scent of wetness and spring and good things growing. To feel it clump on my boots and work itself into my skin. To pile it into the raised beds and bring out my tender little seedlings (which aren't so little anymore -- I planted them way too early!) and get going on my garden for the season. Now that's a metaphor that rings true for me -- I'm always yearning for the next season of life to begin, instead of being content with where I am. But spring does that to me -- an inner straining to get on with life, to move forward. To grow.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Zipping Along

Wow, it's been a month already since I last posted. My apologies! Life seems to have escaped me lately.

I just got back from a great trip to Utah and Idaho for two family weddings, which were lovely. My sister-in-law Carrie (two of whose kids were getting married) had everything so amazingly organized that it all went smoothly. She remained so calm and serene through it all! Maybe she was like a duck, perfectly still on the surface but legs paddling madly below water---but if so, I couldn't tell. I told my mom I wanted to be like Carrie when I grew up. My sister chimed in,"I'll never be that grown up!" Anyway, it was a heavenly week filled with family, food, fun, and my beautiful, much-missed mountains. And sunshine! Utah is about a month ahead of Toronto in weather.

This past month has also involved turning in a manuscript to the publisher (who rejected it...another post for another day), teaching a gardening workshop, and planting seeds to start under my grow lights. My wonderful husband kindly built me four big raised beds for the garden, so now I need to order soil and get it all in place before planting out at the end of the month. The tomatoes are already about eight inches tall and craning toward the light with great promise. And my lemon is almost ripe.

I have decided I need to concentrate my energy better on the things that are really important to me. My neighbour's husband died recently and I'm going to try to pitch in to help her with her yard in addition to caring for my own. I want to spend more time with my grandkids this summer. And I really need to focus more on my ministering responsibilities at church. Life is short and I need to ensure I'm not neglecting the important stuff. With all that in mind, I have decided---reluctantly---that I need to sell my big floor loom. I don't have space for it, and it's a sort of expensive hobby that takes up a lot of time. Anyone want a 45" countermarche, rather unusual loom? Going cheap.

Other than all that, life continues apace. There is a hint of spring in the air and my spirits are lifted, anticipating warmth and greenery. I am waking up along with the crabapple blossoms.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Starting Seeds

There's the hint of spring in the air. The hyacinths are an inch tall, just poking their noses out of the ground, and the snow has melted off to reveal surprisingly green onions still left from last year's garden. If you don't harvest all your onions and leave some in the ground over winter, they'll go to seed the second year. Sometimes I collect the seeds, and sometimes I let them fall wherever they like, and I get baby onions springing up all over the garden. Who says things have to grow in tidy rows? I do the same with cherry tomatoes, radishes, and garden huckleberries, letting some fall, and I always get vigorous volunteer plants the next spring that produce as well as the ones I nurture tenderly and transplant out. Why go through the work of starting seeds and planting out if the garden will do the job for you?

Having said that, one of my favourite things is to start seeds in the early spring. There's something about the scent of damp soil, the finickiness of planting in tiny pots, that energizes me. The trays of seedlings sitting happily under the grow lights make me feel proudly maternal. After a winter of drooling over seed catalogues, I make my selection (or dig out the seeds I harvested and saved from last year) and get down to...pardon the pun...plotting. How many pots can I fit on my counter? How many extras should I plant just in case some don't survive the rabbits? How many tomatoes can we really eat? How much should I grow extra for the kids or to give to my ministering sisters at church?

This year I'm planning to build some raised beds and level off a sloped part of the yard to make room for more garden. I'm going to limit myself this year, though, and instead of planting a little each of forty varieties, I'm concentrating on only tomatoes, squash, lettuce, green beans, and cucumbers. (That doesn't, of course, include the perennials such as asparagus and rhubarb.) I ordered three new varieties of tomato from the University of Florida that are supposed to be disease-resistant and good producers. I'm also growing cherry tomatoes and Red Pear cherry tomatoes, making 21 plants in all. (That's nothing. One year I planted 55 Roma tomato plants and still ended up buying in some bushels. We eat a LOT of tomatoes.)

I'm also doing Armenian cucumbers, Ronde de Nice squash, spaghetti squash, and zucchini. LOTS of zucchini. Like, 18 plants. I know, I know, you probably think I've lost my mind. But now that we're cutting down on carbs, we eat zucchini almost every day, sometimes for two meals a day, and it freezes well. And I inevitably lose a few plants each year to rabbits, and the last few years it's been so hot the plants mainly produce only male flowers so I only get a couple of squash per plant anyway. I will fill in any gaps in the garden with green beans, my favourite vegetable, which can be frozen too. I'm still eating last year's harvest, which should last right up until the new crop begins to produce.

After watching Love Your Garden with Alan Titchmarch, I'm also contemplating putting in a pond. Just a little one, with a few bog plants, to attract frogs to the garden. And putting up bat boxes. And maybe some bee boards for wild bees to nest in. If I can't move to the country, I will make the country come to me.

There's a feeling of triumph, this time of year, at having survived another winter. I love the anticipation of gardening, the feeling of planning to feed my family. When the tiny sprouts are starting to rise under the lights, I survey them with great satisfaction...and try not to think about how my back will feel planting them out in May.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Tentative steps toward summer

My word, I can't believe how long it's been since I last wrote. My apologies. I feel like I've spent the winter curled up in a ball on the couch, and only now am I starting to emerge timidly into the light, like a mushroom, blinking in the unfamiliar sight of the sun coming up over the rooftops.

Today was glorious, though, and I was drawn out into the afternoon in spite of a wickedly strong wind and chilling temperatures. The sunshine was amazing, the sky was so blue and filled with puffy clouds like wads of quilt batt, and it was impossible not to whistle up Brio and stride out. We hit the path that leads through the woods to the library, Brio's ears flying back in the breeze. He waddles a bit now -- looks like a caramel-coloured sheep, plump from too little walking this winter. Me too, truth be told. Hopefully some of the excess weight will drop off as we increase our activity, energy levels rising with the sap.

The trees are still bare, of course, though the crabapples have just the faintest promise of hazy pink buds starting to form. Walking through the woods at this time of year is odd, really -- during summer you can't see a thing past five feet into the thicket, but in winter you can see right through the bare trunks, the scoured floor of the forest, to civilization beyond. In the summer you aren't aware there are houses around the edges, but in winter you're looking right into people's backyards.

There's no sign of trilliums yet, but in a few weeks they'll be thick and white on the ground. That will be followed by a gauzy veil of palest green as the buds begin to unfurl, the lamb's quarters will shoot up, and the houses will disappear again for a few months, like Brigadoon.

With no foliage on the deciduous trees, you're also suddenly aware of the tall white pines scattered sparsely through the forest. They stand out green and wind-swept like a Group of Seven painting, and the wind rushing through them sounds like the ocean. Sometimes in early morning, when I'm taking the dogs out and it's still pitch black outside, I hear that rushing sound and it seems more like an out-of-control semi truck roaring down on me, and I find myself jumping up the steps and darting back inside as if the truck's fender is on my heels. A silly impression, really, but that sound does tend to scare me just a little. Or "thrill" might be a better word. It makes my nerves jump and suddenly I'm very much awake and alive. A real ocean gives me the same sudden awareness. A feeling of being very small in an immense world.

Walking today, behind the waddling, tongue-hanging-out-with-joy Brio, I could feel the pores in my skin opening up to soak in the sun. The air flung itself against my face, and I was filled with a feeling almost of going back to my childhood. I don't know why it struck me that way, exactly. Maybe the freshness of the air reminded me of being up the canyon. The roar of the wind sounded like a cascading river. Maybe it was just the freedom of it, the clean, refreshing purity of it. The joy of wearing tennis shoes after months of clompy boots. The knowledge that at that precise moment, there was nowhere I needed to go, nothing I had to do, no one I had to be. It was just me, walking in sunshine. Glorious!

Brio, contentedly gaining weight on the couch.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The Home Show and Canada Blooms

My husband and I spent Saturday afternoon wandering the Home Show and Canada Blooms in Toronto. We haven't done that sort of thing for a while now, and it was great fun though--admittedly--slightly claustrophobic. Lots of displays, everything from rain gutter systems to cured meats to hot tubs to fake grass to massage chairs. We walked through the full-size pine forests and tiny Ikebana displays, ate a potato pancake with sour cream, and talked to knowledgeable people about waterproofing the basement. I enjoyed the mosaics made from seeds and grasses and dried beans (my husband snickered, "That's like what the kids used to do in kindergarten with macaroni"). And we saw the Enbridge truck for which Son #1 did the graphic design, and the Mohawk College garden design that Son #2 helped to install. Definitely beyond macaroni!

I especially liked the sunroom displays. I could easily see living in one. I asked my husband to describe his ideal home, and he immediately said a big square box with an entire glass wall at one end, and the kitchen facing the glass so you can look out while you're cooking. Sounds perfect to me.

That led us to a discussion of dwellings in general. We walked past a lot of displays for granite countertops and over-the-top architecture, and my husband pointed out that on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, our society seems to keep wanting to reinvent the housing part and never moves on to higher things. We keep getting stuck at the lowest levels. It isn't enough for us to put a roof over our heads and say that that need for shelter has been met, so we can move on to other needs. We keep revisiting it, painting, tweaking, up-scaling, remodeling, lusting after double vanities and engineered hardwood, and we're never satisfied. It's to the point where you don't even recognize the home as your dwelling, a simple shelter to keep you safe and warm. Now it's a Home System, with so many features and details and high-end finishes it's become almost suffocating. We spend our time maintaining and paying for our shelter and don't know when to say enough is enough.

So...I'm getting ready to say enough is enough. How much do I really need? Can I let go of all this stuff and free myself up? Become more nomadic? More nimble? I'm going to leave everything behind one day, anyway; why not leave it a little earlier and hit the road in an RV? Or find that crumbling stone hut on a mountain top in the Piedmont. I'm rethinking a lot about what "shelter" really means.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Reinventing Yourself

One of the dangers of bad winter weather is that you can easily get sucked into living like a slug, immobile on the couch, watching back to back episodes of TV shows. I admit I've done my fair share of that during this long, gray winter.

My favourite indulgence this winter has been the BBC's Escape to the Country and Escape to the Continent. My word, the beautiful places there are in this world! The intriguing houses people have built! I've seen everything from huge barn conversions to dinky low-ceilinged stone cottages to actual French chateaux and even an ancient castle gatehouse. We've toured caves of ripening cheese and interesting woolen mills and river long boats and boulangeries that make me want to lick my TV screen.

The thing I find most fascinating, though, is the pervading theme all of these prospective buyers talk about-- they want a slower-paced life. They want more time with their families, shorter work hours, more opportunity to go outdoors, more time for their hobbies. They want to re-focus their lives on what's important to them.

Why do they have to move to Cyprus or Liguria to do that?

I mean, don't get me wrong, I'd love to up sticks and live in a Maltese farmhouse or a mountain-top lookout in Abruzzo too. But why do these people think that they have to go to such extremes in order to change their routines or emphasize their family life? Maybe they live in such an expensive area that they have to work long hours to sustain it. Maybe their current lifestyle cannot reflect their values because of external circumstances. Or they simply don't have the space to develop their interests. In that case, sure, I'd encourage them to downsize or change neighbourhoods or whatever it takes so they can lessen their work hours or gain a garden, etc. It makes sense to move, then.

But sometimes I get the sense that these prospective buyers on the shows could change what they do without moving, but they somehow think that starting over in a new place will change who they are. They talk about taking up new pastimes they have never done before, taking up golf or cycling or gardening or other interests they've never tried, and that for some reason they've never done living where they are (even though there's nothing stopping them from doing it in situ). So instead of trying them, they want to move the whole kit and kaboodle to a new place, thinking that they will somehow magically become different people if they do.

I think if you are a certain personality type, you will not magically change that type overnight by relocating. If you didn't make time for reading or walking or playing with your kids before the move, you won't do it after the move. If you didn't value a quiet evening at home before, you won't later either. You can slow down where you are. It's a matter of making some (sometimes difficult) choices.

I've been through the usual young-parent mode of dashing between soccer, piano, rugby, gymnastics, swimming, archery, dance, cub scouts, karate, and band practice. I've done the on-the-bus-by-5:00a.m. to get my kids to seminary. The drop-offs at friends' houses. The dentist and doctor appointments. Just thinking about it all makes me exhausted, and I wonder how I survived it. How do people do it who have more than three kids? When your kids grow up and go, you automatically slow your pace a little, but I personally don't think you have to wait until your kids are gone to slow down. We got to the point where we realized things were too crazy, and we limited the kids to one sport and one musical instrument each. I cut out some of my interesting-but-not-vital activities. I started auditing classes instead of taking them for university credit. I started saying no to things that weren't crucial to someone's well-being. I can safely say my life is pretty calm now, I have time to read and sew and garden and learn new things. I've let go of some of the trivialities.

I think what I'm saying is, you don't have to relocate to find a better way to live according to your values. And relocating won't suddenly change your values. No matter where you live or what your current circumstances are, you are still free to figure out what is important to you and emphasize it in your life.

Now, having said that, if someone wanted to offer me a hilltop home in the Piedmont, I wouldn't say no...