Monday, 31 December 2012

The end and the beginning

Today we acknowledge the passing of the old year and the beginning of the new one. It's the 46th time I've done it. When we kids were small, Mom would set the alarm clock early, to go off at about 8:00 p.m., and when it rang, we would shout Happy New Year as if it were midnight and throw confetti, which then had to be vacuumed up again. Then there were the teenage years, when New Year's Eve was spent more often than not watching TV and later lying in bed listening to firecrackers and car horns go off around my neighbourhood. Now I suppose I'm a grown-up, and get to go to parties and stay up until midnight. Though since the new puppy starts his day at 3 a.m., I'll most likely fall asleep around ten-thirty with my head in the guacamole.

I can't help but contrast this New Year's to the last one. The year 2011 was a disaster for me in every way. If it could go wrong, it did. There were times I seriously wondered if I was going to live through it. On New Year's Eve 2011, I wrote down on a sheet of paper a big long list of everything that had happened, all that had gone wrong, from big to small, leaving out nothing. Then I took the paper out in the backyard and burned it, and I stomped the ashes into the soggy ground. Throughout 2012, whenever I was tempted to bring up all those bad things and rehash them or feel sorry for myself over them, I reminded myself, "That's gone, stomped into the ground with the other ashes." And I would consciously set the burden down. I would look only forward, not back.

Now that I'm safely twelve months away from all that happened, I can peek back a little bit and marvel at what we survived and how far we've come. Things have turned completely around. We are well, we are whole, and whereas last year I feared I'd never be happy again, now I feel there is nothing at all that can stop me from being happy. I have everything I need, almost everything I want, and a terrific husband and children to share it all with. I can see absolute evidence of how we were cared for and watched over through it all, and how much healing has happened in 2012. While I know 2013 will bring its trials (I'm kicking off the new year by having surgery), I've decided to look at it all positively (surgery means four weeks in bed with a stack of library books, for example. You can't get better than that!). While 2012 was the year of recovery and being kind to myself (okay, licking my wounds), 2013 will be the year of health. Physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and financially, I will focus on being healthy. If something doesn't contribute toward our health in one of those areas, I will get it out of our lives. It's time. I might even limit dessert to once a week. (So now you know I'm serious!)

Whatever your focus and goals are for 2013, I wish you peace, happiness, and contentment.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas Presents and Bucket Lists

Happy Boxing Day! (A holiday I had never heard of until I moved to Canada.) Yesterday was a pleasant, peaceful family time, spent eating and reading and playing new board games. There's nothing quite so sweet as having your six-foot fourteen-year-old son ask you to play with him...and not an electronic gizmo in sight.

My son's gift from his uncle was a voice-activated alarm clock. To turn her on you say "Hello, Ivy." You give her verbal commands to set the time and sound, etc. She responds in a cultured English accent. My son confessed that when he tells her to "Set Date," he feels like he's asking her out.

My husband's gift to me was dog sledding. I have had it on my Bucket List for years and I won't feel truly Canadian until I've tried it. There's something in me that longs to swoop forward through blinding white snow and bright freezing air behind a team of dogs. Maybe I've read too much Farley Mowat. To me it is the perfect, most thoughtful gift, an adventure I will treasure. Not because of the thing itself, but because of the loving insight (and patient sacrifice) behind it.

Now let's just hope it snows!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Relaxing this Christmas

I was at a store the other day and said something about having a nice holiday to the cashier. And she replied that she was so stressed out and so busy, she hated Christmas. She wanted it to hurry and be over.

I was stunned. If she doesn't like the stress, why does she allow it? If she doesn't want to be busy, why is she? Surely she can control her calendar and her craziness to some extent. Who is putting these demands on her? I went home musing about it, and I tried to identify why I find Christmas so peaceful and relaxing when others around me are literally making themselves ill over preparations.

Maybe I'm not preparing the right way. Maybe I'm being lazy. I try to do any shopping before December (partly because I have to mail gifts to far-away family). I avoid stores. I avoid driving if I can help it. (That's true all year long, not just in December.) I keep gifts simple - homemade or special in meaning. Maybe giving experiences instead of objects (for example, a coupon entitling the bearer to a special outing with me in the new year). I make one kind of Christmas cookie to take to the neighbours instead of twenty different kinds. I slap up the same decorations every year and don't get too carried away (half of the decorations stay in their boxes. I mean, how much do you really need?). I rely on music to set the scene more than tinsel. I go to church and remind myself frequently of the real purpose and meaning of the season.

Granted, we have little family in Canada, so there aren't very many social demands. Christmas Eve we lounge around watching TV and waiting for the kids to go to sleep so we can shuttle all the gifts down from their hiding place in our room. We don't put gifts under the tree until late Christmas Eve. That way, when the kids wake up, the transformation has all the more punch, and it doesn't take a huge pile of wrapped boxes to excite them. Some years we forgo the turkey dinner and just have lasagna or something else that's simple. Christmas Day is spent eating, sleeping, reading, taking the dog on long walks, and just hanging out with family generally. And for some reason I can't figure out, it has become a family tradition to watch Planet of the Apes every year. I know, it's weird. But it suits us.

I think that is the key. Find what suits your family and your particular circumstances. Don't try to live someone else's version of life. Don't try to be Martha Stewart (after all, she has a staff and television crew to help her clean up the mess!). Don't think you have to have the perfect Hallmark celebration. Do what feels right to you, and let the rest go. If you want to stay home, do. If you want to forgo gifts altogether and donate to World Vision instead, do. If you want to skip the big meal and go hang out and help at the local food bank, do. If you don't like the idea of climbing on ladders in the snow to hang lights on your house, don't. All our neighbours deck their houses with garlands of lights, beautiful greens and golds and whites. It's lovely. We don't do it ourselves. We plunk a couple of spotlights in the ground to give the front of the house a demonic red glow and leave it at that. And it's enough.

Knowing when you have enough is the key to happiness, I think. If you don't want it in the first place, it's as good as having it.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, 15 December 2012


So many things I'm feeling grateful for today, my children and grandchild being the top of the list. Grateful to have them in my life. Grateful they're alive and healthy and noisy and annoying and crazy and spectacular. There aren't words for what I felt watching the news coming out of Connecticut. Heartbreak. Horror. Despair. Sorrow. Such inadequate words. But above all, an increased devotion to loving my children while I have the chance. Life is fragile. We must remember to cherish every drop of it we have.

Friday, 7 December 2012


Maple, my Shih Tzu, has a thing about seeing his toys lying neatly in their plastic basket. It's too much for his chaotic soul to handle so much tidiness. Whenever he sees the basket, he tips it over and scatters the toys all over the living room. Then he stands back and surveys his work smugly and is satisfied.

Enter Brio, the new puppy, who it turns out has a streak of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in him. Or else he's a shepherd at heart. All he wants to do is collect and round up. Several times I have watched him rush over to right the basket and then busily collect all the toys and drop them one by one back into the basket. He'll stand and consider them for a while, choose the one he wants to play with, and frisk away with it. When he's done with it, he returns it to the basket and selects another. I can't get my teenagers to do that!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

December 23 or Why Christmas Adam Should Come Before Christmas Eve

Goodness knows the Bible women
get the limelight at Christmas time.
Elizabeth and Mary,
and even the innkeeper's wife...
"All is bright 'round yon virgin,"
"Mary pondered it in her heart..."

But Joseph's in the back of the scene,
anonymous figure with a staff
standing behind the donkey.
We don't acknowledge enough
the sacrifices he made,
the doubtful heart he stilled,
the tender courage he displayed.

The best crèche I ever witnessed,
Mary was sacked out cold
on the hay - exhausted new mother -
and Joseph was cradling the child.

We don't think about the years
that followed that Christmas night --
the arduous escape to Egypt,
life-saving visions in the night,
leading his family to the temple,
Joseph working the wood in his hands
while the young Jesus watched and learned.

There couldn't have been a Saviour
wrapped in swaddling clothes,
lifted upon the cross,
risen from the tomb,
without a Father first.

- Kristen

Friday, 16 November 2012


I was walking through a mall today on my way to somewhere else, and I tossed an old receipt in the garbage can. And did a doubletake and went back to look. There in the garbage can was a beautiful white orchid plant. Still in the pot. Still in the plastic wrapper from the store. I pulled it out and it was just beautiful. So I took it back to my office and put it on the windowsill. I have been gazing at it all day as I work. What on earth is its story? Was it a rejected gift from an unwelcome admirer? Did a jilted lover toss it in a fit of frustration? Did someone just suddenly feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for such a lovely creature, throw it in the can, and run screaming from the mall? I am puzzled. It is a crime, such a waste of beauty, of life, to put a living thing in the garbage. It seems content and none the worse for wear as it stands in my window, soaking up the filtered light through the blinds.

I am notorious for killing houseplants. Outdoors I can grow any vegetable you can name, but indoor plants defeat me. Except for orchids. Yep. Those delicate, finicky, high-maintenance flowers seem to actually like me. A simple hardy no-fail African violet wilts and turns to fungus as soon as I walk into the room, but the ethereal orchid perks up and smiles at me and bursts into repeated bloom. Weird, huh? So maybe this amazing acquisition will thrive in my window. It has a better chance there than in the garbage, anyway. I felt heroic rescuing it. Every time I look at it, I will marvel at its survival, the serendipity of its being found, the beauty it brings to my humble cubicle. The audacity of someone to have thrown it away.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Zen and the Art of Housebreaking a Puppy

The faithful followers of this blog (all two of you) will have noticed I haven't written for a couple of weeks now. That's because we got a new puppy, and suddenly little things like writing - or showering - or breathing - are overwhelming to me. I haven't slept more than an hour at a stretch since we got him. I hadn't realized that having two dogs at once would be equivalent to having one-year-old quadruplets. But he's a sweetie, a charmer, and once we're past the leaky puppy stage, we'll be dandy. He's a cocker spaniel mix named Brio, which is Italian for liveliness, vigour, energy, and enthusiasm. His name fits.

My kids are happy about the addition to the family, and my husband has been a patient trooper. But the shake-up has made me wonder: what is it in me that feels compelled to stir up calm waters? Why can't I leave things peacefully status quo? Things calm down for two minutes and I feel the compulsion to plunge us back into the whirlwind. "Gee, the McKendrys haven't had a catastrophe for a couple of months now. Let's get a puppy!" Or renovate the house. Or move. Or go back to school. Or bring home another foster kid. How about a pyromaniac this time? We haven't had one of those for a while.

My husband is the quintessential practitioner of Zen. He's in the moment. He's content. He's not yearning or striving for life to be different. There's nothing he wants or needs. He's peaceful. I wish some of that would rub off on me. But if it hasn't in 26 years of marriage, it isn't likely to. So I will go on shaking things up, and he will patiently come along for the ride and help me pick up the pieces when my latest disaster explodes in my face.

I don't think Brio will end up being a disaster, though. He climbs up to drape himself across the back of my neck, snuffles in my ear, pants his sweet puppy breath, and beats me with his tail, and I am filled with love for this fellow sentient being. I guess, in a way, that is also Zen.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Man of La Mancha

I just rewatched Man of La Mancha with Peter O'Toole. It's low budget, more suited to the stage than film, and overly theatrical, and I absolutely adore it. The glorious music is going to be running through my head for days. Peter O'Toole has the most beautiful eyes and voice. And I still cry when Don Quixote dies at the end, no matter how many times I've seen it. It shows the impact one man's dream can have on everyone around him. How we have to strive for life the way it should be, the way it's meant to be, and not settle for what is. How a simple act of kindness can change someone forever. It got me thinking about the importance of quests.

In cultures around the world, adolescents are given rites of passage into adulthood. Some are given quests or missions to accomplish before they are considered adults. Some undergo rituals or formal ceremonies when a certain milestone in life is met. Others are given a "man's job to do," such as taking part in helping to support the family. All of these mark the adolescent as having "arrived" at a certain readiness to become part of the adult group, and they are pronounced adults in a formal way.

In western culture, however, we tend to scramble to find meaningful events by which to mark a child's passage into adulthood, mostly contrived or arbitrary milestones, such as the first job, obtaining a driver's licence, graduation from high school, the first time leaving home, or the arrival at legal drinking age. These contrived rites of passage may have little or nothing to do with the child's actual level of maturity or readiness to take on adult responsibilities. Some leave home because it's expected when they are not yet ready and experience failure or disappointment and return home. How many stories have we heard of kids going off to school, spending the first semester in an alcoholic stupor, and subsequently flunking out? Obviously they were not yet at the required maturity level.

Youth in western culture have reacted to this arbitrariness by establishing their own indications of adulthood: loss of virginity, inclusion in certain gangs or peer groups, the use of alcohol or drugs, the performance of some expected act of violence required by the group. Passage into adulthood is seen as a time, not of self affirmation, but of rebellion against authority or social strictures. Western youth are typically not given true quests or missions or challenges by which to prove themselves adults. We are not holding up any standard by which adolescents can measure themselves and their maturity. How do they know when they've arrived? They decide for themselves, and inform the parents and society at large that they are no longer to be treated as children. This declaration may come in many forms, not all of them verbal: the first ignored curfew, the first skipped class, the first body piercing, the first arrest.

And as their parents, we look at each other edgily and wonder if we, ourselves, are quite ready for this thing called adulthood.  We remember that we ourselves have never quite found that golden fleece.

So quests serve an important purpose. Attaining something worthwhile gives us not only meaning, but a milestone by which to measure ourselves. Someone has said that the purpose of life is to live a life of purpose. We need to determine for ourselves what quest we will pursue, what cause we will take up. What value and meaning our lives will have. No one will pronounce it for us. It is up to us to decide how we will change ourselves and our world.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Picking a Puppy

So lately I've been feeling the need to get another dog. The one I have is sweet and lovable, but he's more like a squirrel - aloof, doesn't like to be touched, basically ignores you. It's the breed, but I opted for non-shedding and easily-washed over personality, and now I'm feeling the need to branch out a little. I'd also like to get a companion for him, so they can keep each other company if we're away. I've always had large dogs before, and this one is the first small breed I've owned. And yeah, well, I still prefer large breeds.

I picture myself with something a bit more athletic, who can jog with me and haul me home when I conk out a mile from home. Something I can tramp the fields with and paddle in rivers with. Something that likes and returns affection. Something bigger than a hamster. Something with an IQ above that of a radish.

There is every kind of breed available. I prefer mixed breeds, but there are so many designer combinations now! And most seem to have poodles in them. Shi-poo cockapoo goldiepoo malti-poo...a whole lot of poo out there from the sound of it. I guess everyone dislikes the shedding, because really, that's the only thing that can recommend a poodle. Every breed I consider has advantages and drawbacks. Every person I meet has an opinion about the particular breed I'm considering. Boxers are great, Boxers are terrible. Goldendoodles are wonderful, Goldendoodles have skin and health problems. This one is too big. That one drools too much. That one is prone to hip problems or blindness. This one is difficult to train. That one is too hyper. Huskies are "massively destructive." Beagles don't like to be left alone. Yada yada yada.

Centuries from now, an anthropologist will study our culture and conclude that the dog was at the top of the hierarchy and we humans were its servants. After all, who is following whom around, carrying a bag of whose poop? You don't see anyone following me around, carrying mine. I send my kids to First Choice Haircutters for ten-dollar buzz cuts, yet cheerfully plop down seventy bucks for my dog's haircut. Humans live off Kraft Dinner and Mr. Noodles while Fluffy dines on roasted lamb and wild rice. No, argue all you like, but the dog is definitely at the top.

I sit back and ask myself what my real motive is in looking for another dog. Is it that my current dog isn't affectionate enough? Or it is really that I'm missing my granddaughter and my arms just feel a tad too empty? Am I really intending to go jogging that much? Or is it a whim that will fade along with the resolve not to eat late at night...? If I am honest, I have no fields to tramp in and no river to paddle in. I want a rural dog for a rural lifestyle I don't have. Getting the spaniel or hound won't give me the rural life I want. I have to face the fact that I live a suburban life, and the Shih Tzu I have is perfectly adequate and suitable for a suburban lifestyle. It's not my current dog I have to reconcile myself to; it's my life.

Having said that, there's always room in my heart for one more friend. So I think I'm going to wait and see what the universe brings. Maybe the right dog will find me.

Choosing a Story

After twenty-six years of marriage, I've finally figured out the fundamental difference between the way I think and the way my husband thinks. He observes the situation he is in and then adapts accordingly. He molds himself to suit his circumstances. He acknowledges whatever is going on and fits himself neatly into whatever it is. He doesn't fight those circumstances or rage against fate or wail when things don't go the way he anticipated or wanted. In fact, I don't think he wants. He simply, neatly, and quietly just goes about his daily business. He is in the moment, and doesn't waste energy wishing things were otherwise. He accepts and then just gets on with it. If you ask his opinion, he doesn't have one readily available.

I, on the other hand, am never in the moment. I am irretrievably somewhere else all the time. I constantly live in my head, where I am bombarded every moment with stories. I see a house for sale, and instantly I envision living in it. I see a dog for sale and instantly I'm jogging on a deserted beach at sunrise with it. I hear of a fun-sounding career and bingo! in my head I'm doing it. A cool place to vacation? I'm there in a flash. A neat name? I imagine having a kid to name that. Because of this, I rarely stop to observe the situation I'm actually in, and when I do bump up rudely against reality and look around, I realize my life doesn't match the life I have going on in my head at that particular moment. It's very disorienting, sometimes, to look up and see what and who and where I actually am.

But I am crushed at the thought that, of all those stories, I can only live one. Ultimately I only have so many years on this planet and so many resources. So I look at where I am now and think "This is it. This is all there's going to be." And I want to rail against the unfairness of it. This is life as I have managed to create it (or fall into it, or however it is I got here). I will not, no matter how long I live, be able to live all of those stories I've imagined, all of those stories that are floating around out there in the world. And sometimes I wonder why I've been given these dreams if I can't possibly fulfill them all. It's sort of a cruel joke, like holding a cookie in front of a child but not letting him have it. You can sniff it, you can maybe even lick it a little, but you can't eat the whole thing. I suppose this might be what they call a mid-life crisis, when you pause and look around and say "So this is it?" Except I've been doing it my whole life, so I can't blame it on that. And if I can only have one, which one is the right one for me?

I can't complain about my life as it is, really. I've done a lot of the things I wanted to. I had a charmed childhood. I have all I need, I have a wonderful family, three kids I adore, a patient, gentle and wise husband, a beautiful country to live in, and a job that - for all its mindnumbingness - puts food on the table. I can't pinpoint anything wrong with my life. It just isn't other.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Harvest Season on the Urban Farm

The air has turned cold, the frost hit this week, and leaves are falling. Time to put the backyard to bed. Patio furniture, hoses, pool, flowerpots, windchimes, lawnmowers, tools, all tucked away. Lemon trees and oleanders brought indoors. I spent about seven hours yesterday digging, washing, peeling, blanching, and freezing carrots. Of course I didn't thin them well enough in the spring, so many of them are about three inches long, which makes peeling ridiculous. But they are so sweet and tender and golden and good! Nothing like the woody, bitter, but beautiful ones you buy in the store. It feels good to know the freezer is full and we can enjoy them in the winter.

The only things left to process are the onions, cabbages, and ground cherries, which are still determinedly producing despite the cold. And the rabbits, of course. They zip away from under my feet, scaring the bejeebers out of me every time. I assume they'll find somewhere warm to stay for the winter, burrowed into the straw or under the hedge. Goodness knows it looks like the mice have already taken up sanctuary in the shed.

We've put away the fountain, and yesterday we watched a miffed little bird hopping around where it used to be, looking for a drink. "I could swear it was right here!" Hop hop to look at it from another angle. "Nope, not here either!"  We'll have to rig up something else for them that won't freeze.

I used to detest the Canadian winter, the six or seven months of gray and bitter cold. The interminable putting on and taking off of layers of clothing. The mounds of steaming boots in the hallway. The eyelashes frozen together by the time the bus arrives at the stop. The darkness of it all. Three things changed my attitude toward the season, though: a) peri-menopause ("Six months of sub-zero temperatures? Bring it on! I'll get out my shorts and flip-flops!" b) heavy doses of vitamin D all winter, which works wonders for my semi-Seasonal Affective Disorder, and c) gardening. I put so much energy into my garden now in the summer that I'm thoroughly worn thin and wrung out by the time autumn comes. I've gotten my money's worth. I've gotten my fill. I don't resent having to put the garden away and go indoors because by then I am thoroughly satiated with the tastes and smells and textures of summer. It's enough to sustain me through the dark hours until spring. I can relax and wait and know that there's nothing outside demanding my attention (well, except shoveling snow, but that's what teenage sons are for). In winter, I can rest.

Until about February, of course, when the seed catalogues arrive and I start scrawling plans on graph paper. After all, a man's dreams should exceed his reach, or what's a garden for?

Sunday, 7 October 2012


I just finished reading Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister, which is about how a group of women support and help each other through changes in their lives - divorce, death, cancer, the birth of twins. I was really touched by how they formed a tight circle around each other and didn't let go. It was gently and beautifully written.

I have not always appreciated the value of friendship or how vital it is to our well-being. I grew up with lots of acquaintances and people to hang out with, and cousins everywhere I turned. But when I was fifteen, I left high school early and went to university, and suddenly I was surrounded by peers who were not really peers - these people were primarily grad students, married, with kids. I had pigtails and braces and a curfew. I could no longer relate to kids my own age, who were caught up in proms and drama and high school football games. But I couldn't relate to these older students either, whose lives and concerns seemed so different from mine. So I became quite solitary, more than I ordinarily was. I spent all my time with books, isolated, where I was comfortable. Social interaction was painful to me. I married my husband partly because he didn't make me date him.

I married at nineteen and went straight from Mom and Dad's house to his. He was and is my best friend in the world...but to the exclusion of other friends for many years. I knew lots of people, but there was no one I'd get together with, no one to talk to but him. The few female friends I felt closer to didn't seem as interested as I was in keeping in touch. Things were compounded when we moved to Canada where I didn't know a soul, far from my sisters, where the only people to interact with were co-workers and fellow church members, who - for the most part - had very different backgrounds and languages from mine. We were friendly toward each other, but there was always a reluctance on my part to get too attached, to put myself out too much. I saw people as transitory and unreliable. I did make one good friend through my work, but he turned out to be unhealthy, and he ended up betraying me horribly. In the end I had to cut off association with him to preserve any shred of self esteem.

And then three women entered my life, quite by accident, through the band we all belong to. Instantly they drew me into their circle and made me feel I had sisters again. It was unquestioning and determined on their part. I still can't fathom why they like me - but I sense they do. They don't seem to notice my social awkwardness, my tentativeness. They just haul me along with them, including me, loving no matter what, and I can feel myself begin to thaw and expand and warm under their influence. I have my own circle I can rely on now, and I would do anything for any of them. Their happiness is vital to me. I don't understand it, but I am beginning to trust it. And I'm beginning to experience for myself the importance of friendship, of breaking out of isolation, of letting joy in.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Lavender Cookies

My lavender hasn't done very well this year, so I ordered two ounces of dried flowers from someone on (culinary grade). I don't care about sachets and potpourri, but I only get lavender cookies once a year and I'm not going to forego them just because a few plants take it into their heads to be stingy this year.

The shipment arrived - joy! - except there was only one ounce. So I sent a quick email to the seller to remind her about the other ounce. She acknowledged the goof and said she'd get the other ounce into the mail right away... but it never arrived. I inquired, and she said the packet must have gone astray. So she sent it again. This time it arrived, and inside I found this nice person had added a third extra ounce of lavender plus some gorgeous lemon-orange homemade soap as compensation for the wait, along with a nice note. Isn't that sweet? So now I have enough lavender for TONS of cookies. I am sending her some homemade dish cloths as a thank-you. Who knows? Maybe I've made a friend. And somewhere someone unknown has received a packet of lavender gone astray, and is puzzling over it.

Here's the recipe:

1 c. shortening
2 c. sugar (hey, I never said they were healthy)
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
3/4 c. milk
Mix together. Then add:
2 t. baking powder
1 t. soda
4 c. flour
1/3 c. crumbled fresh or dried lavender flowers

Roll into balls, flatten slightly on parchment-lined cookie sheet, and bake at 375 degrees 10-14 minutes until golden. Makes 4 dozen. These freeze well. Not that you'll get any into the freezer, because they get snarfed down the instant they come out of the oven.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Boredom for Fun and Profit

My friend sent my husband a message today (I don't have a cell phone) saying she had nothing to do and he should tell me to update my blog with something new for her to read. So here I am, just for you, Della. And I've been musing about the nature of boredom. I've heard it said that without boredom, there would be no progress, nothing to spur us to creativity. I suppose there's some truth to that; if you don't have some free time on your hands, you won't be able to explore new inventions or daydream and come up with new solutions. If you're so busy eking out a living that you don't have time to dream, you will experience your own Dark Ages as far as creativity goes. Susan Maushart says "The role of boredom in encouraging innovation and creativity is a critical one." She also says essentially that the discomfort of boredom is what jump-starts motivation, and that you need to have room in your world for staring into space.

I can see that side of it, and I've certainly spent my own share of time staring into space. I strongly believe everyone needs "down" time to rejuvenate and restore and rest their brains. And occasionally that blah-period will bring some fresh ideas to the surface. I have also found the opposite -- that the busier and more engaged I am in daily life, the more creative thoughts crowd into my head. Terrific writing ideas pop into my mind at the most inconvenient times when I am at my most busy (and of course have no time to stop and write). Activity stimulates further activity. Ideas create other ideas. If someone could harness my brain waves at those moments, they'd have a working perpetual motion machine, where the slightest nudge touches off a string of increasingly wild ideas building more and more energy. Sometimes a single thought will trigger all sorts of reactions and my thoughts go in all directions, like breaking a formation of billiard balls. At those times I feel like I must sit down and write to capture those ricocheting and interesting new thoughts or I'll burst. And if I don't take the time to do it, the tension continues to mount until I start getting snappish with total strangers, grow absentminded, become grouchy and short-tempered. I pace the subway platform muttering to myself like a mad woman. I try out dialogues and block out scenes while I'm driving. In short, the busy real world around me recedes more and more as the world of my mind's creating comes to the fore. The static only goes away when I finally put pen to paper (well, okay, when I start rattling the keyboard of my laptop. But "pen to paper" has better alliteration). It's like those people who don't experience REM sleep; you can only go without dreaming for so long before you start hallucinating while you're awake.

I have learned to carry a small notebook with me everywhere I go. When an idea crowds itself into my head while I'm otherwise engaged, I whip out the notebook and jot a quick note. It's sort of like a release valve letting off the pressure so that it doesn't build to the bursting point. Of course, later when I look at my notebook, I can't decipher my writing, or I'm left facing such cryptic notes as "The Japanese Beekeeper" and "Name for Pita Place: No Bun Intended" and "Plant calendula" and "decorative futilities." What the heck am I supposed to do with that? Where was I going with it? Why did it seem suddenly vital to me to write it down? Then again, I can sometimes take those weird tidbits in my notebook and recreate the scene I had in my head when I wrote them down, and then I can run with it. I've written entire novels based on one or two words that triggered whole plots in my head.

David Grayson said "True literature, like happiness, is ever a by-product; it is the half-conscious expression of a man greatly engaged in some other undertaking...he is more profoundly, vividly interested in the activities of life and he tells about them...over his shoulder."

So if you agree with that sentiment, essentially you believe that creativity comes out of being busily involved in the other activities of life. That thought begets more thought, and energy leads to more energy. I am at my most productive and creative when I'm at my most busy in other parts of my life (which can be both exciting and frustrating). And yet I still agree with Susan Maushart that you need that daydreaming, quiet time and - beyond that - you need some boredom in order to stimulate you to action.

Of course, who am I to say? I've never been bored.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Making Grape Juice

Today I am bottling grape juice. For weeks now I have been pestering my pet farmer to find out when the concords would be ripe. Thursday he reported they're ready. I met him this morning at the Etobicoke Farmers' Market and picked up two bushels. Beautiful fresh things that look more like blueberries than grapes. (And then of course while I was there I had to load up on frilly lettuce and Ontario mushrooms and Scotch Bonnet peppers and Bartlett pears and a fresh, hot apple fritter with amber maple syrup that made me want to weep with pleasure... but I digress).

Ahem. Back to the kitchen. In and out of the garage all day, loading up bowls of grapes to dump into my steam juicer. Wafts of fragrant steam billowing out of the pot. Sticky purple juice the colour of melted crayon. Finger-burning mason jars. The stove ticking like a Ford engine cooling down. The tricky bit trying to get the clamp back on the hose before the juice runs over the top of the jar. The satisfying thuck of lids snapping down and sealing.

Then carting the bowls of steamed, mushy residue out to the composter, where hornets are beginning to gather in delight. Look what I've found, they cry. I clap the lid back on the composter and imagine the heat building, cooking the weed seeds that might be within the black plastic box, something like a pressure cooker. We'll be smelling grapes and dodging hornets for days. Back to the kitchen to start another batch. The jars of gleaming juice forming beautiful rows on the counter; the promise of the taste of summer in winter.

Friday, 14 September 2012

A Fresh Look at Rejection Letters

They say to write about what you know. Well, I know publishers' rejection letters. I'm thoroughly acquainted with them, having received every conceivable kind over the past twenty years.

There are the apologetic ones that fairly sob in your hand: "We tried and tried and just couldn't fit your manuscript into our publishing schedule this year and we're sorry and we don't want you to take it as any indication at all of the quality of your writing or to get discouraged and if we could possibly change the course of the world we would and please don't hate us!" I don't get many of these.

I heard of one from a Japanese company that said approximately, "Your writing is so wonderful that we couldn't possibly do it justice, and if we accepted it we'd never be able to match that sort of quality again and our business would be in ruins."

There are the polite ones that seem fairly sincere: "We're sorry we can't use your submission but we encourage you to keep looking for an appropriate publisher." The ones that make you shrug and try again. Most fall into this category.

There are the ones that rip your heart out: "The last editor really loved your stuff and wanted to publish it, but the day before your contract would have been sent, he went to work for another company (no telling where, of course) and the new editor is too busy cleaning out the old editor's desk and can't be bothered."

Then there are the stiffly indifferent ones, usually photocopied onto blank paper instead of letterhead: "Sorry, this doesn't fit our needs." The ones that make you want to scream "What about MY needs?" The ones that make you wonder if they even opened your submission envelope.

And then there are the no-answers-at-all, which is a heck of a way to run a business, if you ask me.

And best of all, twice I got rejection letters from publishers that weren't even mine. Someone else's rejections were sent to me. As if my own weren't enough.

At first the letters devastated me, then amused me, and now they just bore me. Someone needs to come up with a new way of rejecting me. Singing telegrams, perhaps, or maybe wrapping my manuscript around a brick and throwing it through my front window. I'm to the point now where I anticipate being rejected. I add a little note at the bottom of the query letter: "If this does not meet your needs, please recycle it rather than return it." It's my little contribution to the environment.

I have collected rejection letters from publishers big and small, American, Canadian, European, Australian. I organize them in a scrapbook according to politeness of tone and colour of paper (interspersed with those choice, heartwarming little news articles about first-time authors who started off as casual bloggers, were approached by Penguin to write a novel, and signed a blockbuster movie deal after their first book came out). I've decided to make a game of it, to see how many I can collect in all. It makes me look forward to the rejections instead of being destroyed by them. Maybe we could take up trading rejections on eBay. "I'll trade you two Hodder & Stoughtons for a Random House."

Sunday, 2 September 2012

To Do or Diet

Okay, so I've finally admitted it's time to do something about my weight. Well, not so much my weight as my shape. I can't bend over without impaling myself on my zipper tab, I get breathless emptying the dishwasher, and someone recently offered me his seat on the bus because he thought I was expecting (the "baby" is fourteen). I accepted the seat without correcting him.

There are so many weight-loss programs and ideas out there. I've watched friends get out the calorie charts and fork out tons of money for pre-packaged meals, herbal supplements, and gym memberships. I've seen others dive into all-protein diets or all-veggie diets. They never seem to keep off any weight they manage to lose. And I can't help but think it would be cheaper to just hire a ten-year-old to follow you around all day and slap your hand every time you reach for the french fries.

I've spent a lot of time pondering why diets always seem to fail. And I've decided it's because they all have one thing in common: they all focus on FOOD. What you can eat, what you can't eat, when you can eat it, counting calories, weighing portions, substituting celery for corn chips...All a dieting person does is think about food! They shoot themselves in the foot every time they get on the scale and think about what they are supposed to eat that day.

To be successful, I think a diet should get your mind OFF of food and focused onto something else. I want to walk into a Diet Centre and have the instructor announce, "Today we're watching slides of the chateaux of the Loire Valley. After that we're going to teach you how to shear a sheep, take a field trip to a butterfly conservatory, go white-water rafting, and then we'll come back and have a guest lecturer teach us all how to speak Swahili."

Wouldn't that be a kick? Keep your mind so busy with other things that you don't have time to think about food. Keep your hands busily entangled in knitting or macramé so you can't reach for the Twix bar. Keep life so enthralling you won't even notice you only snatched a healthy shake for lunch.

It is possible. There have been days when I've been so caught up in what I'm doing that I actually forgot to eat (or do laundry or pick up the kids from piano, but that's another issue). Until I can find such a Diet Centre, I think I'll sit here at my desk with my bowl of Ritz Crackers and watch to see how my friends all make out on their diets.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

When XBox isn't Around, Life Happens!

I had a bizarre experience today. I was upstairs working on my computer. My fourteen-year-old son and his friend were moping in the living room because they couldn't access the XBox. It's in the basement bedroom, where my 21-year-old son was in bed with a migraine. What? An entire day to fill without video games? Impossible!

I shouted down some suggestions for activities (go to the park, play frisbee, go swimming, walk the dog, mow the lawn), which were roundly declined. There was just nothing to do! What's more, they were hungry and there was nothing in the house to eat! Frustrated, I told them to cook something.

And to my surprise, they bounced up off the couch, got out the cookbook, and started looking through it. And found the cakes and frostings section.

"Mom, we are so going to kill your kitchen," my son declared, and they were out the door to the store to buy ingredients.

For the next hour and a half, I listened to them downstairs, giggling hysterically, using the electric mixer, banging cupboard doors. Voices, laughter, happy sounds. I tried to peek in on them once but was quickly shooed away. "Don't look! It's a surprise!"  Whatever they were up to, it smelled good.

At last I was told I could come downstairs "with eyes closed" - a dangerous thing in our house - and there on the counter, with candle merrily burning in the centre, was a wild and beautiful crazy creation. A white cake at the bottom, soaked in frosting, topped with chopped Boston Cream doughnuts and chocolate swirls. In frosting was written in the centre "Dub Step Forever." They took a jillion photos of it with camera and phone.

It was super sweet, probably a million calories, and glorious. If you had told me two teenage boys could get such glee out of baking a cake, I would have scoffed. It's terrific what creativity and old-fashioned fun - and pride - can spontaneously erupt when the XBox is turned off.

Thursday, 23 August 2012


The light has changed
from summer to fall,
the golden haze of humidity gone.
All around me is renewed
in cool sharp-edged clarity.

So too I perceive differently,
with clear eyes and fresh heart.
Transfused with vigor, hope, peace,
I'm warmed by the grace
that grants this new season.

Sunday, 19 August 2012


I was sitting at the table on the patio, reading, and looked up to see a flash of movement among the sunflowers. It took me a while to discern the American Goldfinch - he was the exact same black and pale gold as the sunflowers. He hung upside down over a drooping flowerhead, picking at the tiny black seeds within. It was like watching a flower itself, in motion.

Was he created to camouflage with his food source? Is he attracted to the seeds because of the flowers' familiar colours? Does a goldfinch see his own colours as welcoming? What did he eat before I planted those particular flowers this year?

I go back to my reading, he goes on with his feeding, and peace infuses the morning. I am happy he thinks my backyard is a friendly place.

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Purse Duel

At a family reunion, a number of us went to an outdoor theatre to see a play. We had some time to wait before it started, so my mother turned to my cousin and challenged her to a purse duel.

The basic idea of a duel is to see who has the most bizarre stuff in her purse. My cousin won. Her purse contained a stuffed monkey, a travel Boggle game, and a container of peach cobbler.

Remember the old "Let's Make a Deal" game show? Under the influence of Bob Barker's smile, women cheerfully bared their purses to nationwide audiences without a flinch. And they carried the oddest things! Screwdrivers, cans of whipped cream, road maps of Istanbul, Ace bandages. We all watched breathlessly, wondering what amazing item would be produced next.

I figured Bob Barker wouldn't find my own purse very interesting, until recently when I took a good look for myself. I had some ordinary stuff - Advil, my day planner, my wallet, three pens, a notebook full of cryptic notes I can no longer make sense of, and six old bus transfers. But digging deeper, I found an empty Tupperware salt shaker, my snow hat, a pair of sandals, an overdue library book, a baby pacifier (the "baby" is about to start high school), a dry-cleaning stub so I can retrieve the dress I took there three months ago, a hair scrunchie (I haven't had long hair in years), a Pokemon card, a packet of Velcro, and a Chess piece. Just let me chuck in a fire extinguisher, a hammer drill, and a can of shoe polish, and I'll be ready to take on any challenger.

Except my cousin. I don't think I can top peach cobbler.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Snubbed by Sunflowers

My parents spent eighteen months in Hungary and sent us beautiful photos of the sunflower fields there. I thought I'd grow a big bed of these cheerful flowers in the garden this year. But my planning was faulty---all the flowers face the rising sun in the East, toward the hedge at the back of the bed. They all have their backs turned toward us. I feel rather snubbed.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Gardening with a Machete

A friend in Alberta is selling his house in Ontario, and he asked us to tidy up the yard before prospective buyers came by. The last tenants cleared out a couple of weeks ago, and it's obvious to me they hadn't mown the lawn or weeded the yard in weeks, or maybe even months. The thistles and ragweed were five feet tall, and the grass came to our knees.

His mower was broken, so we walked ours down the road, hauling a hundred and fifty feet of extension cord with us. It wasn't quite long enough. We couldn't water the grass as instructed, because the handle was broken off the spigot. The vacating tenants had left their garbage in the shed, in 100-degree heat. The friendly but non-English-speaking neighbour couldn't quite tell me what day was garbage pick-up day. But he had a nice smile.

We managed to mow most of the lawn, struggling up the 45-degree hill in the backyard, but eventually the thistles and heat defeated us and we retreated, to return to fight another day. But the little dent we did make revealed a rather nice, long yard, some decent trees, a patch that would make a sunny vegetable garden. The dip at the bottom of the hill would make a snazzy pond, and if you terraced the hill itself, you could make quite a stunning landscape. Even my thirteen-year-old was wandering around saying things like, "They need a brick path here" and "You could plant some neat bushes here..."  It was like walking around a blank canvas, the possibilities tantalizing.

Not that I need to take on any more yards. Mine is more than I can stay on top of already. But wouldn't it be a fun job to work for a real estate company cleaning up and "staging" yards for prospective home sellers? A touch of colour, a pot of flowers by the doorstep, a little shave and a haircut here and there, and the space is transformed. Maybe that will be my next career.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Importance of Lunch by John Allemang

I just read a great book by John Allemang. Aside from the fun fact that he's a local and so refers to places I know well (Fran's Restaurant in Toronto, St. Jacobs Market), he has an attitude toward food that I can wholeheartedly - er - swallow. He asserts that people have taken an adversarial stance toward food; we think it's out to kill us. We fret about cholesterol and fat and sodium. We cut out sugar and gluten and joy. We act as if "good" food were medicine - good only because it's a source of anti-oxidants and Omega 3s. We forget the simple, vital pleasure of just enjoying what we eat.

Last night I hosted a potluck for my Edible Garden club. Everyone brought dishes they had concocted primarily from ingredients they'd grown in their garden. There was beet salad, fresh green beans, hearty chili, coleslaw, kale and tomato dip, crisp cucumbers, homemade grape juice, lavender cookies. Things I'd never tried before. We sat on the back patio in a cooling breeze and let the astonishing flavour of yellow ground cherries explode in our mouths. Great food and interesting conversation, shared by near strangers, all brought together by their common passion for growing food. No one weighed the fat content. No one pontificated about the life-promoting qualities of deep-yellow vegetables. We just ate. Swapped gardening tips. And laughed. Which is, I think, the most important ingredient of a meal.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Ode to Motherhood

In reality a child's birth is the birth of a mother,
an occupation with its end inherent in its beginning.

When they're infants I'm the Dairy Queen,
all-knowing Goddess, bestower of good things.
Weeks without sleep, hair held by a clothes pin.
I don't have bags under my eyes - I have suitcases.
Laughing in order not to cry.
Last to eat, first to wake.
My reward: a tight grip on my finger,
the soft breath of sleep, an occasional smile,
and I am ridiculously pleased.

Then they're in the age of piano lessons,
school concerts in the gym, dentist bills,
concussions, skinned knees, hurt feelings.
I am the chauffeur, the boss, the healer,
long nights in hard hospital chairs,
pillowing small bodies with mine.
Once a year my reward: a bedraggled begonia,
a heart-shaped note pasted to a paper doily,
and I am ridiculously pleased.

When they're teens I become a toilet brush,
embarrassing but necessary,
brought out when there's a mess to clean up,
then tucked away and forgotten until the next time
they need field trip money or a ride to the mall.
Gripping the dashboard as they lurch the car forward,
trying to think of a Mormon equivalent of a Hail Mary.
My reward: the bright smile on the driver's licence,
and I am ridiculously pleased.

Then they're off to university, with all my money and half the house,
an occasional email, wild hair and tattoos,
prepping for exams, interviews, heartbreak.
Fledgling independence, gaining flight.
After decades of fear and sweat and sorrow,
my reward: to see myself become unnecessary.
My goal of obsolescence is in sight.
An empty room, quiet nights, gray hair,
and I am ridiculously pleased.

A Visit with my Sister

My sister came to visit this week, taking three flights from Idaho to reach me here in Canada. That alone tells you what a fantastic and supportive person she is. It was a week filled with long walks by the river, leisurely swims, lavender cookies, and evenings of quiet knitting. We explored jewel-box churches in Toronto, bought baskets of produce at the St. Jacobs Market, got mist-soaked at Niagara Falls, and just talked. She is five years my senior and I have always considered her very wise, perceptive, and level-headed. No one would believe it, but we have never fought, at least not since I was four and coloured war paint on her doll with a ballpoint pen. (Honestly, I thought it made her look better.)

We only get to see each other at family reunions every few years, when there are always lots of other people about, so it was nice to get her all to myself for six days. That bond is always there, a given, but this week made our friendship even stronger. I feel somehow refreshed and fortified for her having been here.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

High School Class Reunion

A short fictional piece, for which there is no real venue for publishing, so I'll dump it here.


It's coming around to that time we anticipate with both eagerness and alarm: the twenty-year class reunion. This is the event where we all find out the school idiot became a high-flying CEO, the ditzy cheerleader became a congresswoman, and the skinny kid with bad acne in typing class became a millionaire business tycoon. And this is when all of them find out that I've put on forty pounds, dropped out of university, and married someone from the rival high school across the valley.

The ticklers have begun arriving months in advance. Last week I received a form by email from our class president (now district attorney). I was to fill out the questions, attach a photo of myself, and send it back. These answers and photos will end up in a directory so we can all look up our former classmates. I'm breathless with excitement at the prospect. Who will I look up first? The girl who shoved me in a locker and stole my gym shorts or the boy who laughed hysterically when I asked him to Sadie Hawkins?

I really did my best to fill out the form, but how can you possibly be honest with questions like "What are the dreams you had in high school and did you fulfill them?" Well, I didn't end up running away to Europe with my French teacher. I never wrote a bestseller, flew in a hot-air balloon, or hosted my own TV show. I never backpacked across Iceland or met Mother Theresa. I'm a suburban secretary with three kids, a dog, and a mortgage to feed. I left this question blank.

The next question was "What do you do?" What do I do? I drive a car pool at 6 a.m. I fold a pile of laundry every day that would rival the Rockies. I hide the last bite of Pralines & Cream at the bottom of the freezer under the bag of turkey burger and sneak it after the kids are in bed. I lock myself in the bathroom at work so I can finish the last three pages of my novel. I use black ballpoint pen to colour in the hole in my stockings. I make the best shortbread at the PTA bake sale.

"Where do you live now?" I am not going to give any identifiers that would allow Janice the shorts thief to track me down. I write in simply, "At wit's end" and move to the next question.

"Do you keep in touch with anyone from our class?" We graduated twenty years ago. I have moved 3,000 miles away. This was deliberate.

"Please give your spouse's name and children's names and ages." Like a retiring Hollywood starlet, I am reluctant to give out personal information. What if I'm just feeding info to a stalker? What if they realize one of my sons was named after my French teacher? And if I give the age of my oldest, everyone will know how far I got in college. I write "Huey, Louie, and Dewey, ages unknown."

"What is your greatest accomplishment?" I know that one. Huey, Louie, and Dewey.

I sent back the email and got an immediate reply. "You forgot to attach a current photo."

I am not about to admit I don't know how to download pictures from my digital camera and still go to WalMart to print off all my photos. I email back, "Just stick in a photo of Julia Roberts and say it's me."

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Farmer's Market Today

We were up at dawn to go to the Farmer's Market at the Etobicoke Civic Centre today. We took the dog along (he likes to linger at the sausage table). There's a cheerful acquisitiveness at the market. Lots of colour and sound and shape to employ the senses. Many of the farmers are immigrants to Canada, and I listen to their happy banter in whatever languages and find myself wondering how they moved here and managed to afford farmland. Where did they settle? Why did they choose to settle there? And why can't I afford to join them?

I like to try new things - duck eggs, bizarre-looking squash, greens I've never seen before, dangerous-coloured mushrooms whose names I can't pronounce. There's a wonderful feeling of abundance at the market. No little cellophane-wrapped packages of four potatoes here. No limp strawberries trucked in from Chile. Just piles and piles of healthy, heaped beets and radishes, onions the size of baseballs, pyramids of fat zucchini. The stacks of lettuces look like the frilled petticoats of Old-West dance hall girls. How did their beets and leeks turn out so uniformly shaped? Mine always look like the results of nuclear fallout.

I can't help touching - bumpy gourds, brittle wicker baskets, crisp bell peppers, buttery-smooth tomatoes. Sorry, not going to buy anything from you today, but do you mind if I just stand here a while and stroke your chard, inhale the scent of your basil?

I was looking for a bushel of green beans - mine aren't doing well in the garden this year, thanks to my furry friends - and I wanted them slim and tender, not those thick Styrofoam things you get in the grocery store. But two different farmers confided to me that I should come back later in the summer, when they're desperate to unload the end of the crop; the prices would be much better then. People who buy in bulk should wait until toward the end of the season, they told me, when they're practically giving things away. I appreciated their honesty and went home with only some heavenly-smelling garlic and two bouquets of asparagus.

I go out in my backyard and smile benignly at the rabbit munching in my oat patch. Go ahead, sweetie. I know where I can get more, and there's plenty to share.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Emotional Rollercoaster - I'm just going along for the ride

Most of the books I read describe the characters in a few short words meant to convey their personality - "a taciturn man" or "a soft-spoken woman." As if a few adjectives can describe a person. As if people are static.

If I were to write myself as a character in a book, I wouldn't know how to begin to describe myself. I don't think I'm one dominant trait that's easily identifiable. Just today, I've experienced anticipation, hope, nervousness, disappointment, frustration, despair, anger, disgust, resignation, gratitude, compassion, love, boredom, contentment, sadness, self-pity, impatience, embarrassment, loneliness... and the day's not over yet. Am I the only one who flicks emotions on and off like an OCD child with a light switch? Or is that just menopause turning me into a feverish madwoman? I don't think I can blame it entirely on that. I've been this changeable since childhood. I think people are more complex than writers give them credit for.

That, or I'm a feverish madwoman because I'm a writer. After all, I have hordes of characters to keep in touch with. How do I portray them authentically if I've never experienced what they feel?

Because they do feel, you know. All I do is pry them out of my head and spread them onto paper. What they do after that is up to them.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Canada Day

Happy Canada Day! I have been in this country nearly 23 years now, and a citizen for about eighteen. I was sworn in as a Canadian along with about a hundred other newcomers in a Croatian Banquet Hall (somehow that seems so Canadian!). We were told to bring along a Bible or other religious book we valued. I took along my LDS scriptures, and as we sat waiting for the ceremony to start, I let my book fall open wherever it wanted to. It opened - I kid you not - to Ephesians 2:19 "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens..." It seemed apt for the occasion. I started to laugh and tried to show the passage to the man sitting next to me, but he didn't speak enough English to get it, I don't think.

I have been in Canada more than half my life, and I am very happy with the move. Ontario is beautiful and green, both gentle and rugged. I find Canadians very friendly and honest, kind and concerned. They vote. They let others merge into heavy traffic. They laugh a lot. They're down to earth. They don't take politics overly seriously. They remove their shoes in your home. They're avid for world news and stay up on current events. They appreciate a good joke, especially if it's about them. They're genuine; they let you see who they are, and they let you be you too.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

User-Friendly Technology

I was discussing pet peeves with my husband one morning. His is the computer that asks you three times if you're really sure you want it to carry out the command you just gave it. Mine is cell phones ringing everywhere, all the time. We envisioned a world where technology was useful and friendly, not annoying. Technology that actually enhanced your life. So here's the list of devices we think need to be developed:
  • An alarm clock that, after you've hit the snooze button three times, is programmed to phone your boss and say "She just won't get up. I've tried and tried, but it looks like you'll just have to go ahead without her today. I'm sorry. I've done my best." Or it could cough and wheeze and say you're staying home ill.
  • A cell phone that politely clears its throat and whispers, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but you have a call."
  • A fridge that asks you gently when you open the door, "Are you really sure you want to eat this cheesecake? You don't really need that extra 500 calories, do you? How about you go for a run instead?"
  • A treadmill that makes encouraging noises, says motivational phrases, and announces every so often, "Congratulations! You just burned off that leftover pizza you had for breakfast this morning!"
  • A clothes washer that doesn't buzz, but instead calls out a cheery, "Yoohoo! It's time for the fabric softener!" 
  • A cupboard where you can keep all the stuff you don't want your kids to get into, and if they manage to break into it, it immediately sends you an instant message: "Albert's into the chewable vitamins again!"
  • A Home Alarm system that - rather than barking "The police have been notified" - instead flips lights on all over the house, slams an upstairs door, and shouts, "Martha, get the rifle! There's someone downstairs!"
  • A car that automatically starts to recite a Hail Mary when you go over the speed limit.
  • A lawnmower that politely reminds you when it starts getting low on gas. Or better yet, mows the lawn for you, like one of those robot vacuums.
  • An ATM machine that says "Your account is getting a little low. You might want to rethink this withdrawal." Or a wallet that absolutely refuses to let you take out your credit card when you're near your limit.
  • And I've always maintained that a photocopier that is smart enough to tell me it's jammed should be smart enough to clear the jam itself.
Now, wouldn't that be more useful?

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Staking Tomatoes

I spent this morning stringing up my 18 tomato plants. I'm doing less this year. One year I planted 55 plants of Romas and still found I needed to go buy four bushels to bottle at the end of it. So if I'm going to have to buy them anyway, I am just scaling back this year and putting in 18 plants of beefsteak tomatoes.

I don't use the wire tomato cages or wooden stakes. I have had the best success growing them up strings. They are vines, after all. And growing them vertically up strings allows you to fit them much closer together. My 18 plants, in two rows, take up a space approximately 5' long and 18" wide. I put up a simple frame above each row (two posts with a cross bar, nailed and lashed together). I gently tie a loop around the stem of each plant, which I've allowed to grow a bit first so they're thick and strong. Keep the loop under a strong-looking branch so it doesn't slip up the stem. Wrap the string a few times around the plant, working upwards and giving support to each branch. Then pull it up so there's no slack and tie it to the cross bar above.  Don't get too carried away pulling tight, or you'll uproot the plant. And ta da! It's done. Throughout the growing season, wind wayward growth gently around the string, and nip out side shoots so that you're growing more fruit and less greens.

There's nothing so lovely as a fat, fresh tomato, warm from the sun, sliced and broiled with a little mozzarella and fresh basil.  Don't you just love summer?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Home Renovations Relay 2010

We want to renovate our bathroom. It is ancient and moldy and when we turn on the shower, it rains in the family room below. We have chosen fixtures, debated over tile, and decided on the design. However, we can't renovate until we have an alternative to our one and only shower. We have three teenage sons, and a few weeks without a shower will render them public health hazards.

At first we considered running them in the car through the car wash once a week with the windows down. We considered checking the kids into a homeless shelter for a few weeks. We priced what it would cost to get them all gym memberships so they could shower there. The logistics were daunting, so we decided since we eventually wanted a second shower in the lower level of the house anyway, we might as well install it now.

To install the second shower, we first have to knock a hole into the powder room wall to expand into the garage. The powder room is smaller than a kitchen cupboard and you have to sit in the sink in order to close the door so you can get to the toilet behind it. Expanding into the garage will solve the problem, and the garage is too small to ever hold a car anyway.

However, we can't break into the garage until we build a shed to hold the bikes, lawnmower, snowblower, sleds, snowboards, skates, table saw, and lawn furniture currently stored there. We have a lovely corner of the back yard that would be perfect for such a shed.

We can't build the shed until we install a gate into the back yard to allow the work crew in to pour the concrete slab. The wheelbarrows won't fit up the side of the house between us and the neighbours. They inform me they need five feet of clearance and we have only four. They refuse to schlep cement in buckets up the side of the house. They will need to access the back yard directly from the side street.

We can't install the gate until we rip out a section of the hedge. This hedge is eight feet tall and so wide my husband and I can stand on ladders on each side of it and our industrial hedge clippers won't meet in the middle. Taking out this chunk of hedge will be like clear-cutting the rainforest.

Once the section of hedge is out, we will need to erect a temporary fence to keep the dog in the yard and small children out of our fish pond. Once the shed is done, we can put in a permanent gate. Try to find someone willing to take on a single gate. Eight fencing companies inform me it is too small a job for them to consider. But they'd be happy to give us a quote if we want to rip out the rest of the 310-foot-long hedge and fence the whole yard.

So when people ask why I'm buying a wood chipper and an axe, I'll say it's so I can renovate my bathroom.

Maybe the boys can just bathe in the fish pond...

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Burlington Sound of Music Festival

No one told me when I first started playing the bagpipes that I would be risking heat stroke and hernia nearly every summer weekend for the rest of my life. I should have stuck to the piano. No one asks them to wrap themselves in 8 yards of wool and walk several kilometers in 90-degree weather.

On the other hand, piping does have its advantages. You get to skip work and school to do performances. I got to play for Prince Charles once (he was surprisingly and disappointingly short). I actually got P.E. credit in university for playing (it's an aerobic activity, after all). It comes in handy when trying to give the noisy partyers next door a hint at two in the morning. I can use the pipes to call the kids home from the park two blocks away. And piping led me to meet my husband. So I guess it's worth the heat stroke in the end.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Sorrow and Strawberries

I took the day off work and went to The Big'r Apple on Heritage Road to pick strawberries. I've been coming to this place for over 20 years. They have the biggest, brightest, sweetest berries, they keep their fields clean and bug free, and they very kindly offer an outhouse for your convenience. They're also super nice and friendly people.

I spent three and a half hours picking 63 litres of berries in glorious sunshine. The weather was perfect - breezy and cool, the sky a spotless blue, just the right temperature for picking. I loaded up the car with red juicy jewels, dreaming about the shortcake and milkshakes to come. The only sound was the occasional redwing blackbird and the soft murmur of my fellow pickers consulting each other. One fellow told me he's been coming to pick berries for 45 years.

But he also told me that The Big'r Apple has been sold to developers, and after next year, they'll be out of business.  I wanted to lie down in the straw between the rows and weep. I spoke with the owner, who - understandably - wants to retire, and needs a nest egg to do it with. His children apparently aren't interested in being farmers. His cousin who owns the farm across the road is going to do the same in a few years. I totally understand his position. But housing and bypasses cutting into this perfect corner of the earth? It's unthinkable. It's tragic. And it's short sighted. We are losing farmland at an alarming rate. With all these houses being built on our limited land resource, what do the people in those houses expect to eat?

As one elderly woman in the field today said to me, "Where will I go for my strawberries? I won't eat those awful things in the grocery store." I told her we should all chip in and buy a farm and I'd run it for them and they'd have free berries for life. I was only half joking.

But I know just how she feels. The sorry excuses for fruit coming from Chile and Mexico and China just don't meet the standard. They lack flavour, colour, nutrition - but more than that. They lack heritage. They lack locality. They lack history and connection. They lack joy. No old man in the future is going to remember wistfully how he took his children and grandchildren every year for 45 years to buy rock-hard berries from the Metro. No woman is going to wail at the loss of the latest limp shipment from Chile. The loss of this farm hits a lot of people right in the heart.

While I know the farmer deserves his retirement, I hope he knows the meaning his farm has had for so many people, the memories he has created, the happiness he has contributed to. I don't know the man personally - today was the first day I've spoken to him - but I love him and his family for feeding my family for all these years.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

I'm Relaxing as Fast as I Can

It's spring, heading for summer, and that means the second busiest time of the year for gardeners. I've spent the winter drooling over seed catalogues and making elaborate lists and diagrams. I daydream of ordering seed by the kilo instead of by the tiny packet. I draw up plans worthy of a ten-acre hobby farm instead of my humble suburban backyard. Gardening dreams even sneak into my writing, invariably colouring my plots and settings.

Now I'm up to my neck in mulch and mud, bringing it all about and loving every minute of it. Gardening is relaxing to me, the suspension of time and stress, when I can just commune with the plants and with my own soul. A robin follows me around hoping I'll dig up worms. A rabbit hops from the hedge and grazes companionably beside me as I weed - I suppose he thinks I'm grazing too - close enough that if I wanted to, I could reach out and stroke his red-brown fur. I love nothing more than plunging my hands into good rich loam, dark as chocolate, breathing in the scent of damp earth, and anticipating the abundance to come.

The early onset of hot weather has sped things up this year, however. Everything is a month or more early. It seems I have hardly gotten the seed in the ground, and the plant's bolting into flowers and running for the border. The asparagus is going to fern faster than I can pick it. I gather bouquets of it, a foot tall, and by evening there's another foot-tall harvest to bring in. I keep it in vases of water in the fridge, and it's too tall to fit. Amazing! The lettuce and radishes have long since gone to flower, three feet tall and filled with butterflies. At this rate, summer will be over by August and we'll be thick into the busiest season for gardeners -- harvest.

Harvest time is when I cease to sleep. I've told my editor I can't travel or do book signings in the fall. The garden comes first. I pack the work into every spare minute of my day - shelling beans, bottling tomatoes and peaches and pears and apples, making grape juice, jelly, jam. Dehydrating carrots and herbs, stringing up garlic and onions, freezing squash and pumpkin. I don't want to waste a second of precious time. I think it's probably safe to say I'm the only person ever to have threshed wheat on the Toronto subway system. But I couldn't bear to just sit there, commuting, knowing how much work was waiting to be done. The funny thing is, no one on the train raised an eyebrow. Torontonians are an unflappable breed.

It's worth every bit of effort, though, to be able to open a jar of strawberry jam in the middle of January and taste fresh, wonderful berries, the essence of summer. Opening a jar of homemade grape juice in winter is like drinking in sunshine. Once you have experienced that, the culmination of all your efforts in something so rewarding, you can never go back. You are hooked on gardening for life.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Halfway There

Today I turn 45. I'm sure the significance of giving birth on D-Day wasn't lost on my mother.

I figure I'm about halfway done. My goal is to live to 90, and it's not a far-fetched idea. Many of my ancestresses lived to their late 80s, and one lived to be 107. So I felt this would be a good time to take stock of the "Bucket List" and see how I'm doing. Ordinarily I dislike lingo or new terminology, but the term "Bucket List" is handy, and I think having one is valuable. I'm not entirely sure what's on mine, but I know a few things, and the majority of them have happened already.

I've married and had children, and now I'm enjoying having a grandchild - and I'd love to have more. I finished school. I have my own home. I've been published. I've traveled - and I'd love to do more. What else, really, is there to put on the list?

Well, I want to see my children and grandchildren grow up. I'd like to go on a cattle drive. I want to go dog sledding. I want to see the Northern Lights again. I wouldn't mind finishing my Masters. I want to learn to operate a greenhouse and maybe start a nursery. I'd like to see Ireland. I want to learn Iroquois. So I guess there are still a few things left. But I think the best things to put on the list are the simplest ones: Laugh a lot. Eat well. Be kind to people. Get to bed earlier. In the end, those will make the most difference in my life and be the most satisfying.

I'd l\ove to hear what's on your list. Maybe we can help each other reach them. Is there a company out there that will help you complete your Bucket List? If not, there should be. Someone to help Granny go bungee jumping. Someone to whisk Fred off to Egypt or take Mabel whitewater rafting. Someone to call me up at nine o'clock every night and say "Bed time."

Monday, 4 June 2012

Rats in the freezer, snakes in the basement

My sister just emailed to say they bought a 4-foot king snake for their daughter's birthday (at her request), along with a year's supply of food. They now have 75 frozen rats in their freezer. Now while I might be a bit leery of the idea of rats mingling with my frozen corn and asparagus, part of me has to laugh. It's like watching our childhood repeat itself.

We had a zillion pets growing up, from hamsters, mice, and rabbits, to frogs, dogs, cats, and horses. My sister would come home with garter snakes in her pockets (there would be surreptitious hunts through the house when one got loose - "Quick, help me, before Mom finds out!"). Once I came home with a field mouse in a paper cup. Once a hamster got loose and turned my only Barbie doll into a pile of chewed bits of rubber under the bed. And our parents were amazingly calm about it all. Dad would build wonderful cages with elaborate latches for taking Snowy to show-and-tell at school. Mom let us bring Pipkin the bunny into the house in a cardboard box so we could keep watch over him when he was ill. When Grandpa showed up one evening with a gift of a new horse in a trailer, my parents staked her in our suburban backyard without batting an eye until we could find somewhere to board her, and they let me stack a ton (literally) of hay on the lawn. Dad helped me break her, walking patiently around and around the paddock behind her with long reins in hand. We children learned lessons in birth and death, in hard work and compassion.

My parents took us out into nature, bird watching and animal tracking, hiking up the canyon to see golden eagles, down to the lake to feed ducks. They allowed me to disappear for hours on end in the trees on the hillside above the house. They let us wade and chase water skeeters in the irrigation ditches. They let us take a roll-away bed out to the carport, where we spent the night reading Tolkien by flashlight and hiding under the covers from the mosquitoes. We went camping a lot, and I remember listening to Dad play the harmonica as all seven of us watched the night sky, hoping to see a shooting star. They encouraged us to be curious and courageous, and the encyclopedia was always somewhere handy to the dining table, so we could explore some more while we ate and discussed.

I am extremely grateful to my parents for encouraging us to experience and love nature. It has added a rich dimension to my life. And my sister with the snakes in her pockets - now the mother of the seven-year-old king snake owner - grew up to get a Masters Degree in conservation biology. So I suppose it's not new to her, having small mammals in her freezer. 

Thursday, 31 May 2012

(Ahem) Winner of the 2012 MARTY Award

Well, that was a lovely evening at the Living Arts Centre. A room full of amazing, creative people, all learning about each other, and the energy in the atmosphere was rejuvenating. I think it's good for writers, who tend to be solitary folk, to get out and interact with humans once in a while. And such interesting humans they were tonight! I met a man who paints in 3-D (requiring 3-D glasses, I mean). I met a woman who captures vitally important social commentary photographs in such places as Sierra Leone. Our common passions immediately drew us together. I was humbled to be included in the midst of so many deeply dedicated and talented people. Kind people. Everyone sincerely wished the others well. We each wore different coloured badges to proclaim what category we had been nominated in. When you found someone wearing your same colour, you gravitated to them with open arms. You're wearing red? I'm wearing red. We're best friends!

I won the Established Literary Arts category. A beautiful handcast glass award to put on my bookshelves, made by local artists. Something I will treasure, not because of the win, but because of the beautiful people my mind now associates with it.

The MARTY Awards and No Little Black Dress

Tonight are the Mississauga Arts Council Awards at the Living Arts Centre. This is the third time I've been nominated in the Literary Arts category. The last two years I've skipped the awards ceremony, but this year I felt I should probably attend. It's a Red Carpet affair, with TV cameras and extensive media coverage to help promote my books. I admit it - I need the free publicity!

Which leaves the dilemma of what to wear. Ordinarily I couldn't care less about such things. But today I stare at my closet and draw a complete blank. The nicest thing I own is a black and white chequered skirt that - if in red - would look like a picnic cloth. With black blouse and plastic necklace, the whole ensemble cost $8 at Value Village. The rest of my closet consists of gardening clothes, knitting bags, and a shelf of books and binders. And my tap shoes, but we won't get into that.

I must be the least glamorous person I know. I imagine other nominees tonight will be wearing classic evening wear, glittery, glitzy, with heels. If I tried to wear something like that, I'd feel as awkward as a moose in a tutu. I don't have the aplomb, the figure, or the inclination to carry it off. I want to be myself. After all, isn't this award judging my writing? And isn't my writing a natural extension of myself? So the picnic cloth it is. If anyone asks, I'll tell them it's vintage Value Village - the ultimate in recycling, when you think about it. That's me, just doing my bit for the planet.

So I'm off to schmooze!

Maybe I'll take my knitting.

Saturday, 26 May 2012


I was reading through a back issue of Harrowsmith at the library and found an article identifying types of dairy cows and discussing how their milk differs. Instantly I was six years old again, in the back seat of the station wagon, listening to Mom extole the matchless quality of Jersey cream while we sped through the countryside. The snippet in the magazine overwhelmed me with a homesickness I didn't know I had.

Both of my parents come from farm families, and when Mom married Dad, she thought she was marrying a dairy farmer and would spend her life in the country. When Dad's interests changed, Mom ended up in suburbia as a math professor's wife. She adapted well and contented herself with a vegetable garden and fruit trees, and we had rabbits and horses (boarded down the road). But even as a child I sensed that, deep down, it wasn't quite enough for Mom. Every spring, she would take long drives in the countryside. It was like the pull of the moon on the ocean tides, I think. Something about springtime beckoned her to green, open spaces.

I would sit in the back seat on these rides, absorbing the view and something of what Mom was feeling, too. By the time I was ten, I could differentiate - as they zipped past the car window - Guernseys from Jerseys and oats from wheat. She would tell me about chasing the pigs when they got out, about how Longhorns can leap fences like deer. As I listened, a terrible longing would rise within me, a depth of feeling - of love - that I didn't understand or recognize as an echo of my mother's quiet yearning.

Somehow, without meaning to, I ended up living in the suburbs too, married to a man who thinks "wildlife" is pigeons. I have my vegetable garden, and I'm content on the whole. But I've inherited that farm-lust from my mother. Every spring I get that tug, the inexorable pull, to drive through the country. I roll down the windows and drink in the smell of damp, churned earth. There's a visceral need to let my eyes flow out over unstopped space. I tell my sons the advantage of one kind of milk cow over another - you never know when you might need to know. We play Name that Grain as we pass the fields. My kids probably think I'm crazy, but Mom would understand.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Rethinking Retirement

When you think about it, the way we have organized our working lives doesn’t make sense. We spend the time when we’re feeling our physical best locked away in cubicles and offices. We’re expected to be out of the home right when we’re at child-bearing age. And we’re not released until we feel too old and rickety to do much of anything. Right when our health begins to slide, we lose our employee medical benefits and insurance. In an ideal world, we should retire early, spend our 30s and 40s and maybe 50s enjoying our interests and families, while we still can, and then return to work when we’re old and feel like sitting down anyway.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Romance Novels and Other Drivel

I just sent off the final proof of my next book, which will come out in September. This one is historical fiction...well, I admit it's sort of a romance...set in 1870s Wyoming. But I still cringe when people call my books romance. I guess that's because romance has become so cliché and cookie-cutter, and I hate to think my writing is that.

I mean, is it just my perception, or is every romantic heroine twenty-two years old, petite, redheaded, and green eyed? Her name is always something like Saxony or Brandi and she's always a manager of an exotic travel agency or a personal buyer for someone fabulously wealthy. The hero is just as predictable - a high-power executive or SWAT team member or district attorney, with a shadowy past and a secret pain deep in his dark eyes. It goes without saying that he's 6'2", gorgeous, with a full head of hair, and he smells good.

Why can I never find a romance where the heroine is a cashier at Safeway and takes three tries to get into her nylons? Where the hero washes his white socks with his red shirt, and eats mac and cheese right out of the pot? Personally, I think we need to balance fantasy and glitter with some good ol' comforting reality. We need literature that doesn't leave us with a dissatisfied taste in our mouths. Literature that tells us we can have romance and happiness even if we're fifty-two and pudgy. Books that show us how to find love in our own lives instead of making us long for the unattainable. I worry sometimes that a generation of girls is growing up bombarded with images from books, TV, and movies that give them false expectations about what life and love are.

Maybe I'll start a line of geriatric romances, books that celebrate how much living the older folks still have left in them. I can see it now: "When their eyes met across the crowded cafeteria, Ernie was suddenly glad he'd put his teeth in that morning..."

Sunday, 20 May 2012

You know you're a mother when...

  • You're sitting in a high-power meeting at work and find a pacifier in your pocket.
  • You realize you own nothing that's "dry clean only."
  • You consider it decadent if you sleep in until six-thirty.
  • You find marbles in your garbage disposal.
  • Your fridge is full of plates with half-eaten jawbreakers on them.
  • You make your own birthday cake, light the candles, blow them out, and then serve everybody else first.
  • You can wear a Batman Band-Aid without humiliation.
  • You can cook, dress, tie shoes, drive, or change a diaper one handed. Or a combination of them at the same time (still one handed).
  • You go to lunch with your boss and tell him to eat his veggies.
  • You're given a choice between Royal Doulton and paper plates, and you choose the paper plates.
  • You can shower, do your face, teeth, and hair, and get dressed in under two minutes.
  • Your tax return is signed in green crayon.
  • You can peel potatoes with your eyes closed.
  • You can find a specific piece in a 30-pound bucket of Lego but you can't find your car keys in your own purse.
  • You throw a fancy dinner party and serve celery sticks with peanut butter on them as an hor d'oeuvre.
  • You have Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham memorized.
  • You know the birthdate, phone number, soccer schedule, and allergies of every kid in the 4th Grade but you can't remember your own PIN number.
  • You call the hospital emergency department and they recognize your voice.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

I wish I could make a living from my hobby

This is Victoria Day Weekend here in Canada, also known as Empire Day or Firecracker Day. To me, it's Gardening Day. This weekend marks the official "frost free" date when it's usually safe to start setting out your plants. I've been outside for the past nine hours, digging, hauling dirt, mulching, and planting. I'm muddy, sore, and sunburned, and ridiculously happy. I could do this every day. I wish I could quit my job and just muck around in the dirt for a living. While it keeps the family fed much of the year, it doesn't pay the bills, unfortunately, but it should. I think people should get to do what they love for a living.  Ah well.

So this is what I'm growing in the garden this year:

Beans: Blue Lake, Brockton, Mayflower, White Rice, Beka Brown, and Ireland Creek Annies.
(That's nothing. One year I planted 16 varieties. Such fun!)
Mint: peppermint, lime mint, and chocolate mint (Yes, there is such a thing. Isn't nature wonderful?)
Asparagus peas (which is not related to either asparagus or peas)
Radishes (which I don't like to eat, but they have lovely pink flowers)
Cabbage: red and green (the rabbits go for the green as a decoy and leave the red alone)
Kale: Green and Blue Scotch
Green Onions
Carrots (three kinds, can't recall the names)
Beets: Bull's Blood and Crapaudine
Blueberries: dwarf and regular
White Cucumbers
Lettuce, Spinach, Mesclun, and other assorted Greens
Swiss Chard
Tomatoes: beefsteak and cherry
Ground Cherries
Peppers (Bell): orange, red, and yellow - green is boring
Collective Farm Woman Melon (if anyone wants seeds, let me know - I have a zillion)
Pie Pumpkins
Russet Potatoes
Oats (don't laugh - one year I grew wheat)
And I'm planning to put in grapes as soon as my hubby finishes building the arbor.
There are a few assorted flowers scattered about, but for the most part the yard is entirely vegetables. Even some of the flowers I grow are edible. What can I say? It's all about the food!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Things That Defeat Me

  • The cereal box that keeps appearing on the counter, which I've put away three times already this morning.
  • Disentangling the drawstring of a hooded sweatshirt from the paddle in my washer.
  • Having to throw out a perfectly good glove whose only fault is that it doesn't have a mate. I mean, we don't do that to people, after all.
  • Wondering how my kid came home from school with only one boot. Did he not notice one foot was wet?
  • Easter and Halloween candy hidden in the closet with the promise to myself that I won't get into it before the holiday.
  • When I'm going through my performance appraisal at work and my boss asks where I see myself in five years. Do I have to answer honestly? Is it okay to say "Barefoot on a beach, far far from you"?
  • The little bowl of jelly beans on my co-worker's desk.
  • My son's Grade Eight math. I swear I've done this before. Why can't I remember it?
  • Bus time tables.
  • Small talk.
  • Figuring out how I got to work wearing two mismatched socks - neither of which is mine.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Pet Food Conundrum

I know pets are a booming business, but until recently I had no idea there was such variety available in the world of dog and cat food. One company alone makes 91 brands. Are there really that many different recipes? Do we need that many?

I've come to the sad conclusion that dogs and cats around the continent are eating better than I am. They're snarfing chicken, duck, turkey, pork, lamb, beef, and tuna while millions of human beings around the world subsist on rice alone. I love animals, don't get me wrong, but it seems weird that I'm donating canned beans and Kraft Dinner to the food bank while Fluffy dines on duck with wild rice.

I hope my dog can't read or he'll figure out that he's been getting the cheap-o store brand stuff while all the other dogs on the block are getting roast lamb.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

First Grandchild

So much hope and happiness,
potential and joy,
love and longing,
so much history,
an accumulation of genetics,
the breath of your ancestors -
all reaching culmination
in this small, perfect body.
This weight of heritage,
this light, this future,
all resting in you.
No wonder you stretch and squirm so,
trying to contain it all.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

This morning I am getting on a teeny teeny plane and flying as far north as I've ever been. Whenever I hear the word "propeller" I immediately picture the balsa wood airplanes we used to wind up with rubber bands and fling down the staircase. My adventure this morning sounds just as flimsy and fruitless. They might as well put me in a trebuchet and hurl me northward.
My husband gave me my Mother's Day gift early - a wheelbarrow. Last year I got three cubic meters of dirt. He knows me well. Other men might scramble to take their wives to brunch, buy pearls, send flowers. But after 25 years of marriage, he knows - the best gifts to give me are things for the garden and books. Better yet, books about gardening.

Someone called me a treehugger once and I was taken aback. Is that how I'm perceived? How could I be a treehugger? I work in a big-city corporate office and use words like Strategic Priorities and Measurables and Deliverables. I don't even like Granola.

But then I go out to my garden and plunge my hands into that rich dark loam and smell the dampness from last night's rain. I lie with my head in the patch of lime mint and inhale all that goodness and freshness, and yes, I feel I could hug the earth. It gives us everything we need. It loves us. We put in a seed and get a hundredfold back. Where else can you get that kind of return on your investment? I go out in my garden and I'm overwhelmed with abundance. And I begin to understand grace.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Emergency Evacuation

We had a severe rainstorm the other night, and when I went out to check the rabbit burrow, it was vacated. Just a shallow depression in the ground with an inch of water in it. I found one baby rabbit under the hedge while I was weeding, but there's no sign of the other five.

Now I know rabbits have been breeding and raising their young successfully without my help for thousands of years. But I feel responsible for these little guys, you know? They're too young to be on their own - they're still nursing. How will Mama find them, scattered all over the yard? How will she call them together? Did they have a plan ahead of time for such emergencies? "If the burrow floods, we'll meet there." Just how organized are rabbits, anyway?

They are in the hands of the universe, I suppose, and there's nothing I can do but hope and watch. A vegetable gardener hoping the six bunnies survive? Well, of course. They are my children.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

An Eruption of Bunnies

The other night I was working in my garden, and a large wild hare hopped in to join me. She slipped inside a wire cage I've erected over my carrot patch (to keep rabbits out - obviously unsuccessful). And suddenly the ground erupted with little furry baby bunnies. There was a hidden burrow among my carrots. Smart girl to put it there, where the wire would keep out hawks and dogs. Mama stood spread-eagled while they nursed, a bemused look on her face. She didn't seem to notice me at all, where I stood with my mouth open.

I counted six babies. A couple of them lay on their backs to nurse, their hind legs sticking out from under her like mechanics working on a car. After a few minutes, Mama hopped casually away and the babies tumbled back into the burrow. Within minutes you couldn't see where they had been, not a clue left behind of their existence.

I am reconciled to doing without carrots this summer.