Sunday, 29 December 2013

Smashing Plates

In the middle of the night I heard someone out in the street smashing china plates. I swear that's what it sounded like. Followed by some sharp bangs that sounded like gunshots. A domestic altercation? Had one of the neighbours finally snapped? The holiday pressure and one too many visits with his in-laws and he was taking it out on the Royal Doulton?

No, it was a thaw. The coating of ice that has encased the trees for the past week was finally sliding off, shattering down through the branches to the ground, bringing the ice below it with it. It was a glorious, frightening sound that went on all night, but this morning the trees are bare and water is dripping from the eaves. The storm has lost its grip, and we are free.

Everywhere lies evidence of the storm's destruction. Trees split in half, great limbs lying on the snow, some broken branches snagged and dangling high up in the air, ready to fall when the wind blows (which makes walking the dogs a bit scary). Bits of twigs are scattered everywhere.

Our yard seems to have been spared the worst of it. A couple of larger tree limbs will have to be sawn off in the spring, but on the whole, we got off lucky. Now comes the Big Tidy-Up, when neighbours who possess chain saws will become suddenly popular. On the news it said city crews have been going around trying to clean up the broken trees, but they have found that, in general, the citizens have already cleaned things up themselves. Canadians are a hardy lot, and I am discovering that friends I'd never suspected of it own chain saws and wood chippers. I should stock up better. I own an axe and a hatchet, a pick-axe, four sets of secateurs, a limb lopper, and three heavy-duty electric hedge trimmers the size of claymores, but I think a saw and a generator would be good to add to the arsenal. I'm sure this won't be the last storm.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Attachment to Stuff

Well, after my last post, where I said we shouldn't get too attached to things, someone tried to break into my house last night. At least, that's what I surmise from the two sets of boot prints going around the side of my house, stopping at the back door, and then taking off across the snow-covered garden and over the fence. The people tromped my lavender on their way and apparently took with them the snow shovel that was leaning beside the back door, because it's missing. Their tracks get lost in the general slush on the other side of the fence.

I suppose whoever it was didn't get the memo that we'd already been burgled a few years ago and there's nothing good left to steal. I never replaced all the jewelry (including wedding rings) that were stolen at that time. Our electronics are outdated and the most valuable thing I have is an 1869 edition of the Book of Mormon in the Deseret Alphabet, which I imagine would be difficult to pawn or mail in to Cash for Gold.

Still, I'm glad I had the deadbolt on. Maybe the dogs heard them and barked, frightening them off. I'll never know. Just as I'll never know what happened to my snow shovel. I admit I was attached to that snow shovel. It's hard to find a good tool, and when you do, you latch onto it. It was sturdy and efficient and shaped just right, with the perfect length of handle. It's annoying, especially since we're currently having a snow storm/ice storm, and a shovel would be handy about now.

The trees are encased in ice this morning, as if they'd been dipped in paraffin, and the branches sound like wind chimes against each other in the breeze. Lacy little icicles line every horizontal bar in the wrought-iron fence like some Victorian embellishment. It's pretty and magical and cozy. When the sun comes up it will be like being inside a diamond. Canadian winters are lovely, if you don't go out in them.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

It's been one of those days for a week now

A lot has been happening at the McKendry house the past few days. We discovered mice, for one thing, whooping it up in our crawlspace. We've been finding evidence of them everywhere -- in our box of Christmas ornaments, in boxed-up baby clothes and fabric, books, suitcases, the tent, folding chairs, rolled-up carpets, bags of beanie babies, and of course in the food storage. So we've been hauling everything out of the basement and doing a thorough cleaning and using this as an opportunity to pare down. I don't know how long they've been down there - it can't have been long - but they've made the most of our inattention.

And then while we had the basement torn apart, the furnace quit and we woke to a 17-degree (Celsius) house and the dogs curled into teeny balls trying to keep warm. My husband skipped work to wait for the repairman, who got the thing going but told us it will need replacing soon.

While he was testing things, the repairman apparently unplugged the chest freezer, and didn't plug it back in again. We didn't discover it until last night. A lot of the food couldn't be saved, including most of the produce from the garden that I'd put up, the freezer jam, and the boxes of meat pies, spanakopita, and sausage rolls (i.e. the expensive stuff). But some of the larger meats were just starting to thaw and were still frozen in the middle, so my husband spent the evening cooking hams and a turkey, spare ribs, beef stew, and curry chicken, in order to rescue what we could. I turned the melting tomatoes and hamburger into spaghetti sauce and set aside the thawed berries to make huckleberry jam and strawberry shortcake (which I did today), and I think the rescued pumpkin will become bread I can freeze again.

My noble husband let me go to bed and stayed up so he could mind the oven and crock pots overnight. At two o'clock this morning I could hear the electric carving knife as he carved up the turkey. Such a thing, to fall asleep to the mingled smells of turkey and curry! And to wake to find the fridge full of about ten meals' worth of food, as if elves have been visiting the kitchen in the night. My husband got to bed at four o'clock this morning, which is about the time I get up.

And that is why, in the midst of disarray and loss, I find myself feeling extremely lucky and grateful. Not every woman has such a husband! Not just heroically hard-working and self-sacrificing, but a talented cook who can whip out multiple meals at the same time and still remember to set aside the little picky bits of the turkey for the dogs. And beyond that, I woke to a spotless kitchen, all dishes done, crock pots scrubbed, and meals sealed in containers awaiting the freezer -- once it's cold again.

So what did I learn from all this? 1. Check your freezer every couple of days. 2. Watch the repairman. 3. Huckleberries make the most beautiful violet juice...such a pretty contrast to the white bottom of the freezer. 4. Don't store stuff, lighten your load, and don't get too attached to things. 5. I've married Superman.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Family History

I sat down to work on some sewing the other evening with the idea of finishing off a Christmas project and then making cookies afterward. I relish having free evenings like that, because they don't happen often. Usually there's piano lessons or band practice or somewhere my son needs a ride to. A few minutes after I sat down, my husband's music student arrived and my husband, who was trying to slip in a little genealogical research online, went to teach the music lesson and asked me to please just finish looking at this one Web page for him and then shut the computer down. So I set aside my sewing and went to finish the little research task for him.

About two hours later I realized I was still online, cookies unmade, sewing abandoned, and bedtime approaching. I had gotten hooked instantly and had spent the evening plowing through buckets of stuff on and filling pages and pages with notes. I managed to find the maiden name and parents' names of my husband's great-great-grandmother, something he'd been hoping to find for a long time. I might have found her husband's immigration record, though that still has to be verified. And I had unearthed a family puzzle: a Theobald marrying a Theobald. Cousins, one assumes...

When I was about thirteen or fourteen, family history was my passion. I spent hours at the library looking at microfiche and copying down the research my parents' families had already done. That's about the time when I developed a love of bagpipes and all things Celtic. I ended up playing the pipes, doing a semester in Wales to learn Welsh, and marrying a piper. If you think about it, the whole course of my life was affected by my interest in genealogy.

I've found some interesting stories along the way. There's the ancestor who got hit by a train and wasn't found for three days. There's the one who sang for Queen Victoria, and the one who sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (now why didn't I inherit those genes?). On my husband's side the stories are a bit wilder. There's the man who fell off a hay wagon onto a pitchfork and took two agonizing months to die. There are the illegitimate children, the orphaned Bernardos children, the grandmother who chased away a bear with a broom, the grandfather arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, the one who got drunk and shot holes in the laundry with a rifle as his wife was hanging it out on the line to dry. Boy, life seems kinda boring nowadays in comparison, doesn't it?

Over the years I've tried to make time to follow the family history passion. My office is next door to the Provincial Archives, so I can fit in research on my lunch hour. We've spent many a weekend poking through old cemeteries around Ontario while our children ate fried chicken and played Frisbee among the headstones. We put together extensive books about the family and organized reunions with long-lost relatives. I even wrote a fiction novel based on my husband's great-grandmother (The Ties that Bind). Now that my kids are older and I have more free time, I hope to do even more. My family is out there waiting for me to find them. And finding them teaches me more about myself.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Saturday, 30 November 2013

A little adaptation

So I tried my mom's recipe for making caramels...sweetened condensed milk, butter, sugar...can't go wrong with those, surely. But the heat was on too high, and even though I stirred like mad, bits of brown "stuff" floated to the top. Not burnt, exactly, and still tasted fine, but it was not great-looking. So I disguised the brown bits by adding chopped pecans and shredded coconut. They cut into fine caramels, sweet cubes of goodness...but they started to melt at room temperature. Once again I improvised, smashing a lump of caramel between two chocolate wafers (the kind you get at the bulk store for melting down into molds). And voila! An instant "turtle" sandwich. I made jillions of them, wrapped them in plastic, and put them in the freezer. And oh my word, they're yummy!

I've been adapting and improvising in a few other ways lately, too. I have difficulty walking Brio, my puppy, as much as he would like. He really is a calmer, happier dog if I can give him the proper amount of exercise. So I've been teaching him to play off the leash, and now we can go to the park and I can throw a ball or fling a Frisbee and let him do all the running. And running. And running. While I just stand there and throw things. It's much easier on my body and he's deliriously happy. He'd play for hours if he could.

I've also discovered a solution to my gardening withdrawal I go through every winter. No, I don't have to build a greenhouse or move to Belize. I found a great book about miniature gardening by Janit Calro, which teaches you how to create worlds in a pot. I can design whole landscapes and scenes (which of course creates plots and stories in my writer's brain at the same time) on my kitchen counter. I get the scent of damp earth, the mud under my fingernails, the smell of snipped greenery, and my spirits instantly lift. I think this will turn out to be a major hobby.

Life may not always work out the way you want or expect, but little joys can be found all around you, whether in a terra cotta pot or between two circles of chocolate.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Winter's Coming

At about this time every year, I feel myself start to slip into depression. I know another winter is ahead of me -- cold, dark, bitter, suffocating -- and it's all I can do to drag myself out of bed every morning. The thought of having to struggle into six layers of claustrophobia-inducing clothing and slog down to the bus stop in the dark at 5:30 every morning, and then having to peel off five of those layers once I get into the overheated bus...and then having to put them on again before we reach the subway an hour later...and taking them off again once I get to my office...It all just makes me want to bawl -- not a gentle weep, mind you, but a raging howl of protest. I see the leaves falling, the frost forming on the crunchy grass, and I know what I am in for.

I try to combat it with positive thoughts and vigorous exercise and vitamins B and D and grow lights hanging over my dining table. And, occasionally, poetry.


snow is falling,
mounding on bush, tree, fence.
My world becomes a padded cell
in white.

clouds drift lower
awakening the grass,
hidden flowers astonish, gentle

crimson and gold,
autumn's bright fierce glory
in one brief soundless explosion
like blood --

It dies,
turning to brown,
sodden, cheerless, whispering
of winter's soulless chill and white's

To My Mothers

Not for me these pizza-cutter methods,
zipping together a quilt top in a weekend.
Rather, savour it as a sacred thing,
ancient ritual repeated,
communion with my mothers.
More than mere fabric --
life's mosaic
binding piece to piece,
generation to generation.
I carry on their primitive rhythm,
needle and chair rocking together,
and hear the gentle lesson --
Use every scrap offered, discarding nothing.
Weave in contentment, sorrow too.
Stitch with joy, bind in pain,
blending together,
indiscernible in the end.
We can't always see the overall plan,
the beauty in each piece,
but we are diligent with details,
persevere in faith,
until the whole becomes clear,
the pieces suddenly coherent.
Ah! we say. Now I understand the pattern.
A little flawed, not quite straight,
the corners not quite aligned,
but mine, and many-layered.
The meaning is in the process, not the completion.
When you are sewing
the quilt wraps itself around you warmly --
a hug from your grandmothers.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

My Own Happiness Project

So I read The Happiness Project and decided to set some of my own goals each month. I have discovered that a) there's too much to work on to be able to cover everything, and b) it really is possible to form a good habit in 30 days. I've also discovered that whatever I happen to be focusing on, the universe supplies me plenty of opportunities to work on it.

For example, this month I wanted to focus on service. As part of that, I set the goal of being more aware of those around me and open to opportunities to serve. This isn't always easy for me, as I tend to be introverted and - let's be honest - hardly notice there are other people in the room, especially if I'm wrapped up in a book or engrossed in a project. But behold, the minute I looked around, the world, the workplace, the subway - all turned out to be full of chances to serve others. Some were consciously sought out, such as volunteering with the Second Harvest Hunger Squad (picking up extra food from restaurants and taking it to a shelter). But other things have been happening spontaneously, and I find myself leaping to help before I even consciously think of it. Just this morning I managed to do the dishes so my husband wouldn't have to, made my son a nice breakfast, gave a token to someone on the subway who needed one, and helped a blind man to a seat and conversed with him - all of this before 6:30 a.m., and without thinking twice about any of it. So good things do happen when you open yourself up and look around you. Opportunity is everywhere. Big changes can come about by small means. You just have to chip away at them consistently. I'm hoping that by the end of this month, being aware of others' needs will be a bigger part of my habitual way of living.

Some people have said that serving others is demeaning or somehow lowers yourself, but I see it as just the opposite. Serving someone is recognizing their need, and then recognizing the ability or strength within yourself that can meet that need. If done properly and with compassion for the other person's true needs (and not just what you want to give), it builds up both people.

Look around you today and see who you can help. Even if it's just a smile for the lonely-looking teenager on the bus or helping an elderly woman carry a suitcase up the subway stairs, or even thinking a prayer every time you think of the Philippines - it's all good, and it all contributes to the happiness in the universe. And if you can think bigger, do greater things, do more, then do it.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Fall Fusion Bagpipe Workshops

I just got back from Brantford, where I spent a day attending four workshops on various aspects of piping. I took two classes from Michael Grey, one on the history of piping in Ontario and how it is descended from the Cameron School (which ties back to Patrick Og MacCrimmon), and one on canntaireachd and piobaireachd, which was fun and surprisingly practical. Then I attended a class with Ellen Mole, who taught us some execution techniques which especially helped with my tachums. And then I had a class learning competitive reels with Bob Worrall. In between, we were served a fantastic lunch (and I make here a full confession: I broke down and ate a pulled pork sandwich in spite of myself, the first in two years. I'm a semi-vegetarian, but I just couldn't ignore that yummy smell.) The evening wrapped up with a brief concert by Willie McCallum. All of this amazingness was sponsored by the Paris Port Dover Pipe Band.

Now for people who don't play the bagpipes, the above names may not mean anything to you. These are some of the top players, not just in Canada but in the world. I can't believe my luck, to live in a place where such opportunities are available. It's a bit mindboggling. Between classes we stood around a refreshment table, chatting, and I couldn't help telling Michael Grey and Bob Worrall, "I can't believe I'm standing here eating doughnuts with the gods of piping!" This is the sort of stuff you tell your great-grandchildren.

After this long day, the teenage boys in our group were giddy and bouncy, pumped with adrenalin. You sure don't see that after they spend eight hours at school. You could just see the enthusiasm, the twitching of the fingers, the realization that they had a rightful place in the group - they weren't just tagging along with the adults; perhaps there was the beginning of an understanding that they were the key to carrying this whole enterprise and history forward.

I came away wanting to learn canntaireachd in more depth, wanting to sit at these people's feet and soak up every bit of what they know, wanting to play more. You can't help but feel that if you were exposed to that kind of instruction more often, you would really grow by leaps and bounds. You couldn't help but soar.

There is something fundamental and - what's the word I want? Inherent? Visceral? - about a big group of people sitting around playing traditional folk music together. There is a sudden bond with these unknown people, a feeling of identity, of ancientness and timelessness, of sharing a common heritage. But there's also a strange feeling of "If the world ends in a zombie apocalypse and we're reduced to sitting around a fire eating locusts and lichen, we will still be able to produce our own music." Maybe that quality - being drawn to beauty, to creativity - is the core of being human. We are the keepers of the culture, the ones who will pass the traditions down to the next generation - not just the piping, but the history and the values and the quirkiness and the sheer determination of our predecessors. From what I could see today, the next generation is receptive, talented, and more than capable of carrying it on. The future is in good hands.

Friday, 1 November 2013

My book is out!

Desperate Measures is now available in stores. You can find it at Seagull Books, Deseret Books, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and maybe Walmart in the western U.S. However, some websites seem to have it listed under their music category for some weird reason. While I did throw some bagpipes into the story, I promise it's a mystery novel, not music. (Though there is an audio book!) If anyone feels inspired to set it to song, though, feel free! :)

I guess, after all, it is a mystery...

A little consideration goes a long way

I was recently in the Dulles Airport and came across something I'd never seen before - a relief station for service animals. The door was slightly ajar, so I peeked in. There was a room with fake grass and a fake fire hydrant, complete with white picket fence. And I was astounded to realize I've never once wondered what people with guide dogs or other service animals do about -- er -- that end of things. The animals get stuck for long hours in airports too, same as their people, and I thought it was so sensitive and compassionate for both people and animals for the airport to provide this service. Do all airports have this and I've just never seen it before?

In the Salt Lake City Airport they have a playground with jungle gym in the middle of the terminal, for entertaining small children during waits. I thought this was brilliant too, taking the needs of both parents and children into account. I myself have been reduced to entertaining children for hours with Kleenex puppets and paper cup towers, so I know how appreciative parents of young kids must be for a real-life playground.

Little thoughtful things like this go a long way, letting other people know we've thought about their needs and cared enough to do something about them. A small gesture, a little accommodation, can change a person's whole experience.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

My son is a cow

My fifteen-year-old went off to school today dressed as a cow. I have never really understood Halloween (I mean, every other day of the year, you tell your children not to take candy from strangers, but this night it's okay). I remember feeling quite self conscious as a kid trick-or-treating, as if I were panhandling for sweets. It's not my favourite holiday, and watching my neighbours really decorating their yards is sort of baffling to me. (Where do they store all of these ghouls and skeletons the rest of the year?)

Having said that, I do have some favourite costumes I've seen and/or made over the years:
  • one year I shaved my boys' heads and wrapped them in saffron-coloured fabric and they went out as Buddhist monks (everyone thought they were Hari-Krishnas)
  • once my son wore a lawn bag like a dress, with shoulder straps, stuck fake autumn leaves around the top edge of it, and went as yard waste
  • once my sister did the same with a large dog food bag, with her face painted brown and a rubber bone in her hair, and went as dog food
  • someone I know stuck paint swatches all over herself and went as Fifty Shades of Gray
  • I remember sewing a hula-hoop into the hem of a red silk dress and going as a Southern Belle
  • once my older sister was supposed to go to a party dressed as her favourite literary character. She was very pregnant at the time, so she put a big scarlet A on her chest and went as Hester Prynne
In the paper yesterday there was an op ed piece from a woman, a stay-at-home mom, who declared she was going to be a "mummy" for Halloween. That's my favourite thing to be too.

Monday, 28 October 2013

A Joyful Weekend

I was going to sit down and write about my brother's wedding, which I attended this past Saturday in Washington DC, but it turns out I'm too full of happiness to even write about it. I can't capture the joyfulness of it all, and anything I write will be woefully inadequate. Looking back on it, it seems we packed a week's worth of emotion into one day. All the details have blended into one warm, glowing blur. But the highlights that stand out for me were these:
  • the feeling of recognition as the Larsens walked into the lobby, even though I'd never met them
  • the peaceful smile on my brother's face
  • Carol's big brother telling her she looked beautiful (how often do you hear that between siblings?)
  • the hugs and the laughter and the tears  
  • the fun of sharing a bedroom with my niece and my sisters, like slipping back into childhood
  • the nine-year-old nephew who felt perfectly comfortable tagging along with new in-laws he'd only just met
  • we siblings spontaneously bursting into the same song without planning it, right on cue
  • the instant feeling that Carol's sisters were my sisters, even though I may never see them again
  • the sunlight gilding the temple spires
  • the perfect flawless blue sky
  • the darkness of Brian's suit against the white swirl of Carol's wedding gown as she and Brian waltzed in the middle of Dennys restaurant while the cook staff took photos with their cellphones. Dennys will never be the same again!
I have never attended a more perfect, beautiful event or felt more surrounded by love. Now I honestly know what it's like to experience pure joy.


Thursday, 24 October 2013


A while ago I posted a photo of Son Number Two as he "shipped out"...

And here is a photo of him today as he appears on Facebook...
I'm seeing a trend...

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A letter from my veterinarian

We received a nice letter from our veterinarian upon the passing of our pet chameleon. The intention was sweet, but we were reduced to tears of laughter by it. It was obviously meant to be sent in any situation where a pet has died, and it contained a lovely poem about running in the sun and catching balls in a kinder place with a good Master... and we suddenly had visions of our "tai chi" slow-motion chameleon running in the inch a minute...and catching a ball that would have squashed her one-ounce body flat... Anyway, it was much appreciated, but absolutely hilarious.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Gene Simmons turned out to be a girl

Lest anyone slap me with a libel suit, I hasten to remind my readers that Gene Simmons is the name my son gave his chameleon, on account of the long tongue. In any case, Mr. Simmons turned out to be a female. For the past few weeks she had been growing more lethargic, spending a lot of time on the bottom of the cage and hiding under foliage, and finally not moving at all. Even when my husband picked her up, she wouldn't try to climb his shirt as usual. She was also growing chubby.

He took her to the vet, who took an x-ray and told him that unfortunately young Mr. Simmons had started producing eggs before her body was really ready to. They were forming in such quantity that they were sucking up all the calcium she got, and her body wasn't expelling them, so they were just building up inside her abdomen. "Egg bound" I think is the term, though I had only heard that used with respect to chickens.

In the end, the vet confessed she didn't know what to do except try surgery, which she had seen on video but never done. Visions of this tiny little body hooked to an IV. How does one judge the amount of anaesthesia for a creature that weighs an ounce? It was too horrible to contemplate. So in the end, they decided to put her down. It wasn't fair to prolong her pain, and her condition would have led to death eventually anyway. It's still sad.

The cage at home stared reproachfully at us, still looking full with foliage and crickets. As we stood looking thoughtfully at it, my husband asked, "Do we still have the bird cage in the basement?"

"No, but we have two hamster cages and the fish tanks."

A pause.

Not yet. I don't think we will replace Mr. Simmons right away. The cage will wait quietly until it's the right time. She was an interesting little being, who intrigued and charmed us. In the end all we could do for her was give her a dignified passing, to be witnesses to her tiny existence. To thank her for sharing a small moment with us.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

What do you know! First Aid Class came in handy!

I actually got to use some of what I learned in my St. John's Ambulance First Aid course I took last month. I was lying on the couch, feeling yucky (I took today off work) when suddenly the front door closed and the dogs began barking their heads off. I went downstairs to find a little old man standing in my entry. I'd never seen him before.

He apologized for barging in and explained that he needed help. After a little questioning, I learned he had passed out and fallen, and he'd realized he needed help, so he had come into the nearest house to find it. He was 90 years old, named John, and lived alone around the corner and down the street from my house. He seemed a bit disoriented and shaky, and I asked him if he was diabetic. He was.

So I laid him on the floor with a blanket and pillow, keeping him on his side, and I gave him a fruit cup to sip. I called 911 and hurried back to sit beside him and keep him from trying to get to his feet and go home. He seemed sleepy, so I kept him talking. He had a daughter but didn't know where she was. He had lived in his house since 1977 and had to replace the aluminum wiring with copper. His family was from the Kitchener-Waterloo area. He'd always been in good health and took care of himself, and he didn't remember hitting his head or anything when he fell. He knew his last name but was hesitant when spelling it. He thanked me for helping him and I told him that's what neighbours were for. I was just glad he had sought help.

My husband came home while we were sitting there. He took it in stride, as if he came home to find a man stretched out on his floor every day of the week. He said hello and he was sorry they hadn't met under better circumstances. The little old man looked up at him from the floor and said very solemnly, "Good evening." I almost laughed.

Then the paramedics arrived and did everything I expected them to do. John told them he'd been trying to walk to the hospital (about a forty-minute walk away). He knew the address of the hospital but didn't know the day or month. The paramedics seemed to think he might have had a stroke. I went outside to speak to one of them, explaining what I knew of him, his name and age, that I'd given him some fruit juice, that he'd replaced his aluminum wiring with copper. (Well, okay, they probably didn't need to know that. But somehow it felt important to tell them at the time! I mean, it did demonstrate some lucidity and ability to carry on a conversation - on my part or on John's, I don't know which!)

They hauled him away with lights flashing. As the door closed, I told him again I was glad he had come to our house. And I likely won't know how things turn out, because, after all, his health information is not my business and no one is going to update me, no matter that he himself brought me into his story by walking in my front door. But I sincerely hope he's all right. I hope I won't see a house around the corner and down the street go up for sale in the next little while. If I do, I will know how the story ended. Ninety years or not, somehow it doesn't seem like long enough.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's Thanksgiving in Canada, and I feel to make a list of just some of the things I'm thankful for.
  • sunshine
  • the smell of homemade bread baking
  • the sound of my husband putting dinner in the oven
  • ovens
  • the feeling of Brio's soft head under my hand as I sit watching TV
  • the ability to see
  • the ability to read
  • good books to read
  • a day off work
  • a job to take a day off from
  • my kids
  • my grandkids
  • my siblings and parents
  • the fact that my siblings' spouses feel like my siblings
  • music
  • the friends that music has brought me
  • automatic washing machines
  • finely sharpened gardening tools
  • the man who comes around in a truck twice a summer to sharpen the tools
  • Skype
  • my charmed childhood
  • moonlight
  • sleeping in
  • having a day to wake up to
  • the ability to walk
  • a beautiful world to walk in
  • friends to walk with

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Praying in the Weeds

I was telling someone about the trouble I'm having with my knees, and she asked if I knelt a lot. My first thought was "Well, I pray quite a bit..." and then thought, "Duh! I'm a gardener! I'm always kneeling to weed."

Which got me to thinking about the similarities between weeding and praying. Both involve efforts to eradicate the prickly or the ugly from our lives. Both involve seeking forgiveness for small omissions and damage done through ignorance or carelessness, for not mulching properly, for harsh words spoken, for last year's mistakes not pulled out before they went to seed. Some things -- harsh words, scattered dandelion fluff -- can't be regathered or retracted. But there is always the promise to do better next time.

In both praying and weeding, the point is to dig deep, turn up the surface to find the unpleasant secrets underneath, to eliminate the harmful, and to compost the bad things in life into something beautiful and useful. To reach out both hands to grapple with nature, with my nature. To connect with the universe, with something bigger and wiser than I am. To learn to trust the Master of the garden. In both prayer and the garden, I seek to touch love, to find nourishment. To find hope.

A glimpse of warm sun
alleviates my dark and
rain for a moment.

A glimpse of God's son,
and I step boldly forward,
embracing storm clouds.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Catching Up

Here it is, well into October already! Time flies when you're...well, doing anything, really. It used to seem like summer spread out long and lazy like an endless flow of golden syrup. Now it's over in the blink of an eye. I've always liked that quote from Thoreau, roughly recalled: "Lo, it is morning, and lo, it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished."

I have been accomplishing things, though. Just this weekend I've made grape juice (37 litres). I've planted a jillion seeds in tiny pots, getting ready to move my gardening indoors for the winter. I've reconnected with a friend and we went to the farmer's market together, where I bought garlic to plant in the garden. I went to the greenhouse to get some triple mix. I ran to the bank. I've helped overhaul our house (new bamboo flooring put in upstairs - turning out lovely - but now reorganizing furniture and STUFF). I read for a while and watched two movies. Walked the dog and played fetch with Brio for - not kidding - four hours. Made bread this morning. Also watching an 8-hour church conference on the Internet this weekend... It all adds up to some busy hours! And that's just in one weekend. But even though it's busy, it's still a peaceful pleasure, and I dread going to work in Toronto tomorrow morning!

Sunday, 22 September 2013


I have been contemplating making some changes, in preparation for the New Year's Resolutions which I always make and break each January. As yardwork winds to an end for the season, I know I need to get more exercise (well, let me rephrase that. More varied exercise. I get plenty dashing along behind the puppy at the end of a leash and sprinting up and down stairs with baskets of laundry). But exercising is plain drudgery to someone who prefers curling up with a book, and the idea of working out in a gym makes my brain numb. (I also find it ludicrous to watch people drive to the gym so that they can run on a treadmill. And all that wasted energy! Can't we connect all those stationary bikes to a generator or something?)

So I knew I needed to find a fun way to exercise in order to actually carry it out. I browsed through the local Recreation & Parks book to see what classes my community offers. There was an amazing selection, from toddler ice skating and arthritis therapy swims to Bollywood dancing, wall climbing and curling. But one in particular jumped out at me: swing dance. I have always thought that looked so fun. And not too hard on my achey joints. I love the music. What more enjoyable way could there be to burn that many calories? And it was being taught at my local community centre, which I could walk to, during an ideal timeslot, being the same time my husband has bagpipe students here at the house - a perfect time to be away!

Ah, but there was a catch. You had to sign up with a partner.

Now this is a problem for me, because my husband WILL NOT DANCE. Not even at a wedding. It just isn't his thing, even though he is obviously musically inclined. And when you are married, it's not as if you can go out dancing with any single guys you might know. So I haven't been able to really dance since I got married, and I love dancing. So I fell back on the only single guy I am allowed to dance long-suffering fifteen-year-old son.

I hasten to add at this point that none of his friends, I'm certain, follow this blog. (I know, because I only have two followers and I know who you both are! Thank you, by the way.) So, with no hope at all in my heart, I approached him with the idea of taking swing dance lessons with his mother. If I could guarantee no other kids his age would be there to see. Of course his first response was an emphatic No. As in, No, and if you dare to mention such a thing again I'll run away from home. But when he saw my crestfallen face and resigned nod (accepting that I'd have to fall back on yoga or Bollywood...) he said, "Okay."

I blinked at him for a second. "Okay?"

"I'll do it." He shrugged. "It'll give me something to do at school dances."

Was he saying it just to avoid the embarrassment of having his middle-aged mother take up Bollywood dancing? Was he going to extort large sums of money from me in return? No, he agreed just because he knew it would make me happy. I know it isn't his idea of the favourite thing to do on a Friday night. I shouldn't make him actually carry it out, and still might even chicken out myself...but I thought it was heroic of him to be willing to do this for his mom. I was touched by his sacrifice. He's turning into a brave, noble, kindhearted man. And I aim to tell him so, to his face.

In a loud voice. In front of all his friends.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Desperate Measures

Today I received a sneak peek at the cover for my new book coming out in November. I think you'll be surprised by this one! It's another lighthearted mystery. The blurb on the back cover says:

When you’re the frazzled mother of eight rambunctious children, there’s little in life that throws you for a loop. So thinks Mormon mom extraordinaire Annie Fisher . . . that is, until she finds herself embroiled in the baffling disappearance of family friend Angus Puddicombe. Following the delivery of a puzzling message and a few startling discoveries, all signs point to—confusion. What Annie knows for sure is that Angus is in over his head, and there is no time to lose. Unaware of the danger that awaits, Annie, her trusty husband, Newton, and a vanload of kids forge ahead to unravel the mystery. Can this group of amateur sleuths get to the bottom of what’s going on before something goes horribly wrong?

And there are bagpipes. But that's all I'm going to tell you!

Congratulations to my sister!

My sister Alisse has produced her first novel, and it's lovely. It's fiction but addresses the issue of science vs faith and how the two can be reconciled. Alisse is a molecular and conservation biologist as well as a deeply religious person, and I think she has beautifully expressed a resolution of this age-old conflict within this book (I got a sneak peek before it went to press).  You can find Alisse's blog and a link to her book here:

A lot of people intend to write books, and some even start to write them, but not everyone finishes and ends up with such a solid story. I am proud of you, Alisse!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

St. Jacobs Market Burns Down

I've always loved going to St. Jacobs to the Farmers' Market, ever since I moved to Canada. It feels like home, a touch of the real and familiar. Recently the main building at the Market burned down, and about 60 people lost their inventory and took a blow to their livelihoods, and not all had insurance. As a goodwill gesture of support, I think it would be cool if we collected fabric, quilt batting, yarn, etc. and donated it to those who lost their handmade items. Even if they don't need it, it would be a way of showing we care. What do you say?

Sunday, 1 September 2013


Tomatoes tomatoes tomatoes! Bottling stewed ones and making salsa. Thirteen hours standing at the kitchen sink yesterday. Half a bushel more to go! Will write later when there's more time...before the grapes come on next weekend!
This is a photo from last year, but this year will be about the same amount. :)

Wednesday, 21 August 2013


So I was reading a really interesting book on Mindfulness and how to be aware of what's really going on in your life. And looked up from my reading to realize I was 45 minutes late for a meeting. Ha!

Really, though, it was a fascinating read. If I could incorporate more awareness into my daily life, I bet I would lose weight. I bet I would sleep better, and maybe stop the endless discussions going on in my head. I compose arguments, rebuttals, and defenses in my brain constantly. Just in case they're needed. Just in case I ever bump into the person I'm imagining carrying on the other half of the conversation. I get so wrapped up in imagining the future that I totally miss the present. And it's a pretty good present. I shouldn't be missing so much of it.

The problem with this mindfulness approach is that it requires one to sit still for periods of time. And that's something I've never been good at. Walking meditation, I can do. Deep thinking and deep breathing in my garden. But sitting is painful...which I guess is the point. The amount of discomfort is probably directly related to the amount I need to sit.

I think it sounds fun to run a meditation retreat. To organize it, to create a peaceful venue, to take care of people. To have meditative thoughts wafting through my home. I once attended a loving-kindness meditation session, which basically walks you through thinking kind thoughts about other specific people, yourself, and the world in general. Even that one small experience had a profound impact on me. Could I really wish someone else happy who had hurt me? Could I honestly wish them well and at peace? Could I do the same for myself? It was revelatory. I used to think that spending time in meditation or retreat was a bit selfish, especially a fully monastic life. How could a person hole up and withdraw from the world when there was so much need out there? They could do so much good if they would come out and act. But I don't see it that way anymore. Meditation and sitting are acting. The person is contributing - perhaps differently from the person who is digging the well in Africa, but still contributing in an equally important way. If we all spent more time sending good thoughts out into the world, imagine the difference it would make!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Reinventing Life - a Call for Stories

I recently turned in another manuscript to the publisher and have a few days' breather before the next edits start. Time enough to start thinking about the next book I'd like to write.

I have always been fascinated by people who suddenly reinvent themselves midway through life. The paediatrician who goes to Nunavut, lives in a yurt, and makes ceremonial masks. The high-power business executive who sells all and becomes a pig farmer. The 59-year-old I know who decided to go to med school. The woman who left husband and five children and went to run a Baptist mission in New Guinea. People who dare to think outside the conventional box and try a different path. It takes a certain nerve, a willingness to risk, to dare to think life could be different. People, in short, who are braver than I am.

I have started collecting these kinds of stories, and I think they will make an interesting book. I would welcome hearing from any readers out there who have a similar story they would like to share with me. I can be contacted through my website Thank you!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The Shoemaker's Elves Have Moved to the Garden

On Sunday I did something I've never done before. I asked for help weeding my garden. Even though I know the Relief Society (a charitable LDS women's organization I belong to) is there to help people, I have always been on the giving end and never on the receiving. It isn't in my nature to ask for assistance unless it's something I really honestly can't do for myself, like digging out a massive tree stump or lifting a chest freezer. But this week I admitted defeat in the face of the weeds brought on by all this rain, and I told the group I'd throw a root beer float party for anyone who wanted to come help weed. Instantly I had volunteers, some of them women I really don't know well.

Two of them came last night, ahead of the rest of the group, and between them they cleaned up most of the garden. They were careful, deliberate, and did a great job, and it was like magic, coming home from work and finding it done. One of the ladies is a spry 70 years old, and her last name, appropriately enough, is Shoemacher. The Shoemaker's Elves did indeed visit my garden last night.

I admit I am resisting this lesson I'm supposed to be learning, to open myself up to others, to let them serve me as I serve them, to let them care about me. It's a weird thing, being on this end of things. You always feel there are others who need help more, so how can I complain? In the grand scheme of things, is my vegetable garden that important? Well, no, but it is to me.

There is a hymn we sing that says the errand of angels is given to cheer and to bless in humanity's name. I was on the beneficiary end of that last night. Yet another lesson in grace.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Congratulations at the Cambridge Highland Games

I'm pleased to report my son won the piping competition in his division at the Cambridge Highland Games on Saturday. It's pretty impressive to me that a 14-year-old boy can get up in front of a judge and play without being nervous. But I'm equally proud of my not-14-year-old friend Tracey who can get up in front of a judge and play in spite of being nervous. I really admire how she can challenge herself, set herself difficult goals, and carry them out without anyone else cheering her on or even necessarily knowing about them. I don't have that kind of drive myself, so I really admire it in her. I do have a streak of perfectionism in me, but if I know perfection isn't going to be the likely end result, I tend to give up and not do it at all. Thanks, Tracey, for being such a great example, to me and to my son.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Zen and The Art of Being a Dog

Brio was neutered a couple of weeks ago, poor chap. Things went somewhat awry and he ended up very swollen and bruised. I swear it looked like they'd held him down and wrestled the things out with pliers. All dogs act pathetic in a cone, but he was in real pain. We went back to the vet and did what we could for him. I can't imagine what I would be like if you bound me so I couldn't inspect or care for an injury like that inflicted on me. I'd be climbing the walls and protesting loudly. But sweet, slap-happy little Brio accepted it all. He wasn't pleased, and he reminded us frequently of how sad and uncomfortable he was. But really, he accepted the cone and the circumstances, accepted that he couldn't get at the site, and patiently bore all that was inflicted on him. He would lie resignedly on the couch looking like that droopy Pixar lamp. And when we returned yet again to the vet, he bounced in to wag his tail and lick the now familiar faces of the people who had inflicted this on him, not holding any grudges.

There was no way to explain to him what was going on, and that this discomfort would be temporary. For all he knew, he was going to spend the rest of his life in that cone. But he---and I've noticed this in all dogs---didn't spend his time wishing things were otherwise. He coped. He figured out how to eat and drink with the thing on. He accepted that he could no longer fit on the back of the couch or chase balls or hold a bone between his front paws to chew on anymore. He was just in the moment, resigned to that moment, with no anticipation of the future. And Maple, my other dog, accepted without a blink that his friend could no longer play tug-o-war with him.

How often do I spend my time champing away at my restraints, bewailing my fate, howling my disappointment, and protesting discontentedly at my situation? I need to be more like my dog. Riding the moment and waiting to see what happens next, with no expectation, no judgments, only openness.

The cone is off now, he's pretty much healed, and life has resumed its slap-happy pace. He went bounding around the backyard barking his head off for sheer joy. Broadcasting to the dogs of the neighbourhood: The Cone is Off! Repeat, The Cone is Off! I doubt he carries any of his recent patience into the next phase of his life. But I will. I've learned something about Zen from Brio.

Once he had his microchip, we licensed him with the city. And they got his name wrong; they listed him as Biro instead of Brio. Another Italian word. My dog went from being a soft drink to being a beer.

Such is life.

Monday, 1 July 2013

I'm washing worms

So we didn't check the supply of crickets before the long weekend, and we only have two left. So in desperation I went out to the garden and brought in five small earthworms and a little caterpillar. Rinsed the dirt off. And put them in the bowl in the chameleon's cage. My goodness! He scampered - if such a slow-moving critter can be said to scamper - and slurped them up like spaghetti. And sat in his bowl looking expectant until I put in more. I don't know how good they are for him, but he certainly likes them. Maybe even chameleons get tired of a cricket-and-superworm diet, day after day. How horrible it must be, to be stuck in a cage and unable to go forage for one's self. To be stuck eating whatever is put before you, with no other options and no way to request a menu change.

I went to the farmer's market on Saturday and found myself growing increasingly depressed as I went up and down the rows of tables laden with local produce. I miss being able to grow it all myself. I miss the option of going out to the backyard and returning with everything I need for a meal. I can't bring myself to buy zucchini, when most years I have such a surfeit of it. And who wants to buy a pepper with a sticker on it? Really? Stickers on my food? Why not just print a barcode right on it?

I know this year is unusual and hopefully by next year I will be able to garden again at the same intensity as before. Until then, I have to be satisfied with Styrofoam green beans (really, how big are they trying to grow them??) and questionable basil. I'll have to knuckle under and purchase zucchini (and hope that no one I know is watching this fall from grace). This is my year to do things I never envisioned I would do.

Including washing worms.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Highland Games and Family History

The second Saturday in June was the Highland Games in Georgetown. As the new clan convenor for Ontario, I ran a booth for the Henderson Clan while my husband and son competed in piping this year. Other than the fact that the powers that be positioned me downwind from the port-o-potties, it was a fun day. For the first time in years, the rain held off all day, and we got to hear fantastic bands and soloists. Friends and band members came to hang out in the tent to escape the sun. The cheese and onion pasty with mushy peas was delicious. The Iron Bru tasted like melted bubblegum (trust me, it's a good taste). And from the clan tent I could see the heavy athletics (tossing telephone poles, hoisting weights that would cripple lesser men).

The dogs lay under the table in the shade and darted out now and then to get crooned at and have their ears rubbed. My son checked in once in a while to spell me off and keep me company, tall and slim and handsome in his kilt. I had a display of everything Henderson I could get my hands on, with newsletters and histories and photos and books and membership applications. Though only a Henderson by marriage, I had studied up on interesting facts and stories to share.

Nobody came.

Well, my son informs me that while I was out scouting for an apple dumpling with caramel sauce, a bunch of Hendersons stopped by the booth and picked up business cards. But that was it. I never met another single one all day. Surely there are clan members out there somewhere. But none of them stopped by. I have two more Games to attend this summer, and hopefully traffic will be a bit better. It would be really embarrassing to finish my first season as a convenor without having spoken to a single clan member!

I know more about my own family history, of course. I was raised on stories and folklore, music and songs from my family history. Both of my parents are genealogy enthusiasts and I have spent many hours researching and writing ancestral history. I fell asleep at night to stories about Great-Grandpa Lonnie blowing up the school stove, Grandpa Waite hitting bullets with hammers, Uncle Owen sticking apples on the electric barbed wire fence for the cows to bite into. Mom didn't always like me to hear these stories when I was young and impressionable, but they gave me immense joy and satisfaction. And then there are the stories of the pioneers, my ancestors who walked to what is now Utah to escape persecution, the sacrifices and challenges they went through, their offerings that formed a wonderful legacy for me and my siblings. Their stories form the foundation of my own life, give me roots and bearings. Give me direction and hope.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The $100 Gummy Bear

My youngest son just finished his first year of high school with great success, so to celebrate I ordered the world's largest gummy bear (5 lbs, something like 32,000 calories, 51 servings, and no, he isn't going to eat it all himself. He has friends to help him). The bear itself cost $39. The shipping cost $40. And then with the exchange rate, it came to another almost $17. That's $96 for a gummy bear. Even if it is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, it's still---er---hard to swallow.

I tried to order a book off of used book for under a dollar. The shipping to Canada would have been over $16, so I chickened out and didn't place the order. You can't tell me a paperback costs that much to send here. (Unless it's coming by Lear Jet and hand-delivered by the Archangel Gabriel.) I will find a new copy at the local bookstore and it will cost me maybe $11.

My parents were in Hungary for a year and a half and couldn't find chocolate chips at first, so I offered to mail them a couple of packages. The Post Office informed me it would cost $30 to mail them. So I took them home again, made cookies with them, and emailed Mom and Dad to say "They tasted great."

When my son in the Arctic found an ideal crib, the crib of which dreams are made, he was told it would cost $2000 by the time it was shipped to Thompson. They went with a cheaper one from the local Wal-Mart, thank you very much.

I went to the Post Office the other day - again - to mail a small packet. When the lady asked me how I wanted to send it, I told her as cheaply as possible. Slow surface. Like, by mule train. She didn't smile.

All I can say is, the scientists better come up with a teleporter soon, because I'm about an inch away from going "non-Postal."

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Sharing the Chicken Pox

A friend of mine came to visit from Utah last week. I've known her since kindergarten. We had chicken pox together. We had sleepovers together. We had our share of arguments and upsets, I'm sure, but looking back over the expanse of 41 years, the things I remember are the banana pancakes, the laughter, the Archie comics, and her cool poodle who could play fetch better than any other dog I've known.

It felt like we were five years old again and no time at all had elapsed. We fell right back into conversation as if the long separation since my move to Canada had never happened. We remembered so much - and we have so many memories in common - that it was like a deep conversation with myself. I think I learned some things, too: that she had the same insecurities and fears, the same challenges and hopes that I do. I felt we understood each other instantly, without having to say anything - though we talked more in that week than I've talked in a month. I felt so good knowing she was willing and happy to come all this way to visit me. It's not every person who would leave five kids and come to a foreign country to help an old friend weed her garden. We're plotting how to marry our kids off to each other so we can end up in-laws and thus ensure we never will lose track of each other. (Are you reading this, kids?)

Ostensibly the visit was to celebrate our birthdays together, which are close together. In reality, it was to celebrate a lifetime of  friendship. Close together.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Really Going This Time

Son number two has decided he is going to join Son number one in Manitoba after all. He flies out tomorrow morning. The ticket is in hand, the suitcase is packed, my old black one I took the first time I left home for any length of time, when I went to Britain on a semester abroad at the age of 18. (How on earth did my mother let me go?) It doesn't quite seem real yet, but I'm sure it will tomorrow night when he isn't home for supper. When I pull the sheets off his bed to wash them...and don't put them back on again. When no one is home to let the dog out mid morning. Brio will miss him most of all, I think.

Maybe it's the openendedness of his leaving that upsets me. I don't know if he'll be gone three months, three years, or the rest of his life. We can't predict the future. All we can do is plan what we can and then muddle along as best we are able, playing whatever hand we are dealt as we go along. Actually, I guess that's true all the time, isn't it? Anyway, I've gained a new appreciation for what my mother felt when I packed up husband and baby and move to Canada twenty-four years ago.

I'm sure he'll be fine. I'm not so sure Brio will be...

Son Number Two, shipping out:

Saturday, 1 June 2013


Not a month ago, my husband told me he was feeling a bit overwhelmed caring for things and didn't want me to bring another thing into the house that needed looking after - not even a house plant. I was feeling a bit the same myself, still adapting to this hyperactive puppy I brought home last fall. And then last night...

My husband brought home a chameleon.

And a cage. And a light. And plants we have to soak with water spray. And crickets in a cage who also have to be dampened and fed and taken care of, so that they're fat and full of nutrients for the chameleon. And suddenly I'm the one feeling overwhelmed. It's not mine to care for, it's not my responsibility...but suddenly I have not one but about thirty new critters to worry about. Not to mention the few crickets who escaped while we were figuring out the system and ended up in the fireplace and down in the basement and who knows where else we'll find them.

He's a cute little thing, walking along his stick with great deliberation as if he's doing tai chi. What to name him? My son suggested Gene Simmons because of his astonishing tongue. I suggested Spock because of his funny cloven-looking feet. He remains as yet will the crickets.

He's really not that hard to care for, he's not too demanding, and he's fascinating to watch. I expect I'll stare at him more than at the TV this summer. So why the anxiety in my stomach? When I stop to analyze my trepidation, I realize it stems from two things: First, I was just gearing myself up to warp speed to keep up with my puppy, and then suddenly I have to decelerate to handle this tiny tai chi artist. It throws my equilibrium off. Am I meant to be speeding up or slowing down? And I worry that my inner tug is toward slowing down, letting myself stop and sit, which in my mind equals letting myself grow old. And I'm not ready for that yet. But at the same time, I worry that I can't rachet it up and summon the energy I need to face my future. Second: I was hoping to do some serious traveling soon, and it was hard enough thinking what to do with the dogs and the kids and the garden...and now the chameleon and the crickets. Is there a boarding kennel for reptiles? No neighbour or friend I know will want to handle crickets, quite frankly. It is a solvable problem, I'm sure, but just one more glitch to throw in the mix. One more thing to remind me how tied I am to this spot, this situation, this life. It's funny to think that a two-ounce little being can feel like an anchor.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Hope Springs Eternal

The garden is in. The mounds for the blue hubbard squash, the bamboo stakes for the Brockton beans, the tidy cucumber cages, the astonishing colour-changing sweet potato plant. The mulch has been dragged away from the blueberry bushes and piled around the squash hills. The first juice-dripping rhubarb and bouquets of asparagus have been picked, the radishes already two inches high. I've discovered a volunteer cherry tomato plant left from last year and put a cage over it so I won't inadvertently step on it, in the middle of the path. When it's larger I'll transplant it. Last year's onions are already sending out their seed heads. The rain has been just enough, the sunshine long and hot. Perfect weather for the garden. And right on cue, the peonies are blossoming. They say to plant the cold-weather stuff (peas, lettuce, etc.) when the maple trees blossom, and the rest when the peonies bloom, so we're right on track. I can't always figure out the calendar and the moon phases and the whole global warming effect, but the plants know. So I time myself by them.

Because I'm dealing with some irritating health issues this year, I can't garden as intensely as I have in past years. I have pared down from the usual 40 or 50 varieties of vegetables and chosen only those that won't require daily attention. This year I will spend more time in a chair, watching things grow, than I will weeding or harvesting. I'll buy my green beans by the bushel at the farmers' market. I'll support my local growers. And I'll discover just how well I can survive without the usual amount of dirt under my fingernails and straw in my hair. It should be an interesting experiment. I will either begin to drool and gibber and wall myself in the bedroom with stacks of old seed catalogues...or I'll find out that it's okay sometimes to just sit and watch and smell the lilacs. I will grant myself grace, forgive the frailties, appreciate each quiet moment. Cultivate gratitude instead of broccoli.

But if anyone wants a Zen exercise, they're welcome to come over and pick the teeny fronds of clover out of my gravel garden for me. I'll even give you lunch. I hope you like asparagus.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Small Explosions

Today fireworks and bottle rockets will go off (a few escaped last night) to celebrate Queen Victoria's Birthday. But the celebrations have already been underway in my garden for a few weeks now. Each time I go outside, there has been another little burst of colour. The privet hedge leafed out into full green seemingly overnight, and now tiny white showers of flowers are emerging. The grape hyacinth like a million birthday candles pop out of the chocolate mulch. A frilled and midnight-blue iris, weeks earlier than the others, unfurled in a showy flourish and then retreated like an embarrassed actress realizing she's jumped on stage ahead of her cue.

Now the lilacs are bursting out, smelling deeply purple, filling the house with their scent. When I was a teenager, I spent the night at my friend Celeste's house and we watched the royal wedding (Charles and Lady Di) on TV and fell asleep with crushed armfuls of lilacs under our sleeping bags. It has always been one of my favourite scents. The jasmine is popping like fragrant popcorn, the ground cherries are covered in tiny blooms like miniature bottlecaps, and the onions and chives are shooting out their puffy balls of colour. The nameless ferny weed that I've let remain because of its delicate fronds is sending out pink blossoms the shape of forget-me-nots. The star crocus is at its peak. The crabapples all up and down my street are a riot of pink and rose and burgundy, a froth of scent and colour. And the peonies are gathering themselves together for their grand finale, about a week from now. They are the crowning explosion in the flower garden, the dancehall girls in their frilly petticoats, bawdy and blousy and utterly exuberant.They give their all for the fleeting moment they last until heavy rains will inevitably rip off their frills and bend them into the soil. But while they have their brief moment, they dance with all their hearts.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Circle of Sisterhood

The last few days have impressed on me the importance of women having other women in their lives. These are just a few of the things I've observed in the last few days: a neighbour and friend opened up to confide she's just been diagnosed with breast cancer, knowing she will need supportive friends down the road. A woman holding the arm of a friend recovering from a brain tumour, to help her balance as she walked. A woman sitting next to me in the temple helped me tie a bow when I seemed to be all thumbs. A friend offered to meet me to walk the dog together so we could chat while we exercised. A young soon-to-be-mother from the Philippines surrounded by women happy to be substitute moms and help her through this new experience. A baby passed from arm to arm down the row at church, face after smiling face beaming down on her. A blind woman on the subway being helped to a seat, and her seatmate striking up a conversation with her about her placid black guide dog. A friend had a baby prematurely, and a host of knitters instantly reached for their needles to bring comfort and optimism.

I'm reading a history of the Klondike right now, and I am struck by the feistiness and adventurous spirit of the women who left society behind and struck off into the Arctic to seek their fortunes, to make a mark on the world, to pan for gold and to start businesses and to staff the hastily-built hospitals. They flexed their independence in an age when it wasn't expected or even well tolerated. Where did they get their courage from? What made them jump to their feet, pick up their boots, and say "I can do this!"?

I think women are amazing. The ones I know are strong, stubborn, fearless, determined, with a vision of what they're capable of and what the world holds for them. They see a need in the world and a strength within themselves that can meet it. I really believe that when we pull together, women can do anything.

Friday, 26 April 2013

New Baby

Our former foster son and his wife have adopted a newborn little girl and are naming her Aspen Nicole. I have claimed her as my granddaughter, of course, and now have two grandchildren named after trees. If I were better at knitting, I would pour so much love and tenderness into the wool that she'd feel it encompass her when she wore it...but I'm lousy at knitting. And I'm too far away to see her, touch her, hold her. So I'll just declare my feelings to the general populace on this blog and send happy thoughts over the miles to the proud new parents. Our foster son is a sweet, special guy and I am so happy he has this opportunity to enjoy fatherhood and pass his gentleness down to this child.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Life doesn't always work out

I'm sorry to report the baby rabbits didn't make it. When I peeked in on them last night, all were dead but one, probably frozen. And this morning they were all dead, and one partially eaten - raccoon maybe? - and I was left with the sad task of cleaning up. There are a lot of nasty things we're called to do as mothers, from wiping noses to catching vomit, but the removal of small dead animals is particularly unpleasant. And I've had to do it with unfortunate frequency in my career.

I think maybe it's such a troubling thing to do because mothers, by definition, are all about life and giving life. We nurture, we fix, we comfort, we feed, we rescue. And when we're left helpless, unable to fix the tiny thing that is just too small to rescue, it goes against our natures. All I've wanted to do today is curl up on the couch and hug my puppy. But life has to grind on, and so instead I spent today teaching, talking, listening, setting the table, going on with regular things. I know the mother rabbit will no doubt have another litter within weeks. I know there will likely be no shortage of rabbits to chase out of the garden this summer. I know this is how life - and death - have happened since the beginning of the world. But I am still heartsick.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Mama's ripping her hair out

Smart Mother Bunny has returned to the nest and reblanketed her offspring with more pulled-out fur, and my clever husband has rigged up a sort of roof to keep the worst of the rain out, so all is well. They should survive the expected 20-degree drop in temperature this Saturday.  It's a heck of a way to run a family, though, if you ask me. Choose a vulnerable spot in a wide-open yard, at the base of a hill, in the direct path of the dogs, in the rainiest month of the year, plop your naked babies in, and hope for the best!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

We've come full circle

I started keeping this blog last year upon the discovery of a nest of wild rabbits in my garden. Well, today we've found another nest of them, this time at the side of the house. Very tiny and new, their eyes still closed, just mini bundles of soft brown and black. As far as I can determine, these are the fourth generation since the last ones. And so here I am with the same dilemma as last year -- heavy rain forecasted for tomorrow, and worries that the bunnies will freeze tonight (my dog scattered the protective fur blanket around them before we realized what he'd found - but luckily no injuries as far as I can tell). Do I rig up an umbrella over them?  Try to regather the scattered fur from their mother? Knit them tiny sweaters?

No, I'll do what I did last year; I'll pray for their safety and leave them in God's hands...which is where we all are anyway, whether we realize it or not.

Friday, 29 March 2013

The Joy of Motherhood

What kids bring into your life...


Just feeling grateful for everything today.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Training the Mommy

I have been thinking about our puppy class all week, and it occurs to me that I could use a similar class for myself. Just think about it: a snap of the fingers, the command to "leave it," and I'd walk right past that peanut butter cookie or fudge brownie! And it could only be useful to have someone remind me from time to time to "focus." Or to command me to "sit" once in a while!

It's easy to get distracted. It's easy to lose focus on the important things and get caught up in the busy and urgent and noisy things. And we don't take the time to sit enough, to just relax and be, without bouncing up every few minutes to do something else. Most of what we scramble to do really isn't that important or even urgent. But it takes a moment of sitting and thinking to figure that out.

I recently read Michael Moss's book Salt, Sugar, Fat wherein he says many people tend not to cook, but rely on pre-packaged and prepared foods for almost every meal. That is a horrifying thought to me. He says it's because we're so busy that we look for convenience and time-savers and so have lost the cooking-from-scratch that our great-grandmothers took for granted. We just don't have time to do it anymore. Surely Great-Grandma, who had to wash clothes by hand, knit her own socks, dip her own candles, milk her own cow, and churn her own butter, would laugh if we asserted we're busier than she. What is it that's keeping us so busy, anyway?

Part of it is women working outside the home more, obviously. Part of it is the 90-minute commute to work. Some of that is unavoidable nowadays if you want to put any food on the table at all. But really, what else is convincing us it's more important to do than to spend time feeding ourselves nutritious food? TV? Clubs? Junior's piano lessons? Soccer practice? Shopping?

I look at my own life. I work an hour and a half from home every day, leaving at 5:30 a.m. and getting home at 5:15 p.m. (if I'm lucky enough to catch the right bus). I belong to a band that keeps me busy 1-2 nights a week. Junior does have piano lessons and Young Men's group he must be driven to. I write books. I read 2-3 books a week. I walk dogs. I teach workshops, do book signings, and I attend church each week for three hours or more. I garden like a madwoman and put up much of the food we eat all year. I do knit socks. I clean house once in a while... and I watch probably more TV than is good for me (but who can resist Inspector Murdoch, I ask you).

But I also have time to make ricotta cheese, to make pasta and peach pie from scratch, to hang garlic to dry in my laundry room, to make my own grape juice. And if I ever felt something was coming between me and my homebaked bread, believe me, that thing would be outta here. Because really, what's more important to us than health? We can't do a single other thing very well without it. And where is the joy in life without hot homemade bread? No sir, homemade food is the last thing to go in my schedule.

I just re-read this blog, and I seem to have ended up somewhere I hadn't intended to go. I started off talking about puppy class, and the need to focus...isn't that ironic? But I guess it all ties together after all. If my focus becomes too distracted by trivial things, I have to find a way to bring the right things back into priority. I need to sit for a while.

Which is why when my husband "zones out" to do zazen once in a while, I don't see it as "doing nothing" or "staring at a blank wall." He is doing something. He's sitting.

 (Proof that I do sit once in a while!)

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Training the Puppy

Brio had his first puppy class last night. He is so tuned in to people that I think he will respond well to training. His eyes never left the instructor's face...except when a tiny moth fluttered by about a foot off the ground, taking its time to work its way across the carpet. Brio went up on all fours into classical stance - target locked, ready to pounce, let me at it! - and I found myself thoroughly distracted by the moth too. Two ADHD partners, doing their own thing in tandem while the rest of the class doesn't even notice the fluttering distraction.

Anyway, I came home from the class optimistic about one day being able to live without barricades, without moving all potted plants four feet off the ground, without Maple's tail being chewed to bits. The instructor is teaching us silent hand signals as well as verbal commands, so we can theoretically communicate with our pets from halfway across a football field. And I find myself wishing I had taught my children similar hand signals while they were growing up, so I could have summoned them (or told them off) from afar. The closest I ever came to it was training my kids that when they heard bagpipes start up a block away, it was time to come home from the park. My husband asserts that he knows plenty of silent hand signals that communicate perfectly well whatever he's thinking...but those are Italian, and not to be demonstrated at puppy class.

My 14-year-old attended class with me, and several times during the evening he leaned over and said, "This is fun. I want to practise more when we get home." Maybe even a new career option? (for him or for me?)

An evening out with my kid, the hope of a mellow dog and an undestroyed couch...priceless.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Reporting Back

Okay, well, that was interesting. The media fast didn't go quite as planned, but it was eye-opening anyway. For one thing, I spent one day in the Emergency Room and took along a book to keep me company, so so much for swearing off books for the week. (I took along In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré, which seemed appropriate as I sat waiting...and waiting...while the nurses at the desk chatted and Skyped with a colleague who was on vacation).

For another thing, when the TV was turned off in the evening, we discovered that we, in fact, were tired - and instead of letting the TV keep us up later than we really intended, we found ourselves going to bed at 8:30. Even the teenager.

My son and I played just one board game, a lovely homemade Parcheesi game my sister sent us at Christmas, and we cooked together once, but most evenings my son retired to bed with a book and fell asleep reading.

It wasn't too hard to let go of Facebook, though I did peek a couple of times to see if any new photos were posted of my far-away grand-daughter. And I did email a couple of times to check on my sister in law, who was slated for cancer surgery this week, but I think that's forgivable. I also emailed a friend a lead on a job, but I think that's okay too.

So did I learn anything? I learned that the puppy can suck up every spare minute I want to give him, playing fetch. I learned that my favourite TV show, while fun, is not vital to my happiness (currently it's Murdoch's Mysteries). I learned I can do without the news - the bits broadcasted on the screens at the subway were enough. I learned that I really CAN'T go a week without reading, or I start hanging over people's shoulders on the subway to see what they're reading. I learned that even if given the time to do it, I still don't knit.

Was the experiment worthwhile? I think so. Will I do it again? Probably fairly frequently. But next time I force us to stay awake long enough to have more family time!

Friday, 1 March 2013

Media Fast - or - Where I Went

Once a month, members of my church go without food for 24 hours and donate the money we would have spent on food to charity. But this month we've been asked to try an additional, new kind of Fast.

In preparation for an upcoming church conference, we have been asked to go for a week without using electronics and other media, including telephones, TVs, computers, radios, magazines, and newspapers. The time we would have spent thus engaged is to be used for a better purpose, serving others, playing together as a family, and focusing on our spiritual preparation for the conference. The only exception, of course, would be if our jobs truly require the use of these things. Even then, use is to be kept to a minimum as much as possible.

I am all for this. I am a Luddite at heart anyway, and I have seen my children all too easily get sucked into their computers, to surface only at meal times, looking pale and dazed as they crawl into the light... So of course I assumed I would get some resistance when I told my 14-year-old son about the media fast.

His reply? "I can do that." Simple as that. We discussed the alternatives to video games and You Tube and came up with other activities we can do together. He remarked that it would have been easier to do in the summer, when there are more options (true), but he's still willing to give it a whirl. There aren't many teenagers, I'm guessing, who would face a week without Facebook without flinching. What a kid!

So next week, beginning March 4, you won't find me on Facebook or here on my blog or even - gulp - curled up on my couch with a book (I figured if he can give up his computer addiction, it's only fair I give up my book addiction). Never fear, I'll be back after the week is up. Perhaps a bit wiser, a bit calmer, a bit more in tune with my family. See you then!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Envy as Recreation

I have always enjoyed looking through real estate ads. At one point I considered becoming a real estate agent, but I've decided I am not interested in sales; I'm just nosy. I like looking at other people's homes and seeing how they live. I see a cute cottage or a majestic mansion and my head fills with stories and plots. I always begin writing by thinking of the setting, not the people or the plot. The setting is a character in and of itself. My husband the social worker walks into a room and the first thing he notices is the people in it. I walk into the same room and the first thing I notice is the colour, the texture, the fabric, the windows...oh, and are there people here too? I missed them completely.

I envision myself living lives in these houses for sale. I could easily do the writer-in-a-garret thing, a studio apartment with no furniture but a loom and a harp and a battered desk. Or I see myself in a stone cottage surrounded by green fields and sheep, with a spinning wheel by the hearth. Or a chalet in the pine woods with a river running past, in which my dog dabbles. A geodesic dome, off the grid, with a well and solar panels. A funky loft in downtown Toronto, with canvas on which to paint and a nightlife humming below my feet (I'd never go down and join in, of course). A greenhouse with little shop attached, a market garden behind the house.

I will never purchase any of these places. No matter if I find a perfect, beautiful place that would be ideal for me - I find another, and another, in the next issue of the real estate magazine. As different as they are from each other, they are all perfect. I could see my lifestyle flexing and adapting to fit any of them. I can see myself writing my life story into all kinds of settings. I can picture my retirement being a myriad of things - a homebody working in my garden, or a footloose traveler roaming the world. And so, being overwhelmed with options, I choose none of them. It's not a fear of the unknown that keeps me in my current house. It's not sentimentality either. It's the certainty that - once I chose a place and moved - I would keep finding yet more places, and once the ball was rolling, I would want to try them all. I am not good at closing other doors once I've walked through one. And if that feeling is there, then I know I haven't really found THE place for me.

I also know myself well enough to recognize I am the type to see first the sunshine coming through the windows and the wisteria blooming over the trellis and not notice until too late the dry rot in the floorboards or the flight path directly overhead. Reality rarely lives up to the expectation. Better to stick with what I have and keep fantasy in its place: between the pages.

I will continue to munch my way through real estate ads like a sugar junkie eating candy corn, finding right place after right place. It is entertainment, not to be taken too seriously. (I have learned not to take too much about myself seriously, in fact.) And as a writer, I can create people to inhabit these lovely homes in my place, and let them deal with the dry rot while I soak up the sunshine in the greenhouse.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Non Habemus Papam

Well, we know what the Pope is giving up for Lent. It's eerie, because just the other day I watched a movie on cable called "We Have a Pope." It's about a cardinal who is elected pope and refuses it and runs away. It's a bit freaky that a day or two later, Pope Benedict announced his decision. Maybe he saw the movie too. Metaphysical or coincidence? Whatever the case, it makes me glad I didn't watch "Armageddon."

The good thing about being Mormon is I can enjoy the pancakes without having to observe Lent. But if I were to observe it, what would I give up? (I can picture myself phoning my boss and saying "I won't be in for forty days. I've given up work for Lent.") Would I give up something superficial like chocolate, which I know isn't good for me anyway, or would I put serious thought into it and give up something important and valued? Would I be willing to sacrifice reading, or music, or gardening?

I think Pope Benedict has been brave and humble and has put his concern for the Church ahead of his own pride. Would I, like he, be able to admit when the reality isn't able to match the expectation? When something defeats me? It's a difficult thing. We are taught all our lives to strive and reach and not give up. But sometimes, I think, recognizing our limitations requires more strength and wisdom than sticking to an impossible path.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Books and a Snow Day

We were hit with a wonderful snowstorm yesterday. We must have shoveled the driveway and sidewalks three or four times, not wanting to let it accumulate to the point where we couldn't dig out. I am recovering from surgery, so I left the heavy machinery to my husband and just cleaned along after him with a shovel. The garden is a soft sculpture in meringue - windblown curves two feet deep, drifts in fantastic shapes. The statue of the praying temple boy is buried all but his head, which sticks out of a snowbank as if he's wrapped in a cozy white blanket. This morning the sunrise was golden and magical, lighting specks of tiny snowflakes drifting lazily - slow motion - through the air, like pixie dust.

I love the feeling of being snowed in, with nowhere I have to go and nothing I have to do. It was a great way to end my four-week time off work. I am reading Barbara Kingsolver's book Flight Behavior, and it was perfect to curl up with, with one puppy at my feet and the other spread over my stomach like a hot water bottle.

For years I have kept a notebook of the books I have read, with notations about whether I liked them or not. I have found this handy since my memory is going. If I can't remember if I've read a book or not, I can look it up and see, and I can also see if it's worth rereading. There are some books I reread every year or so, such as Martha Grimes's series. My memory is so bad, I don't remember how the books end, so I am able to enjoy them all over again as if for the first time.

Skimming through my notebook, I realize I have a very eclectic taste in books. I go through phases, too. One month I'll read entirely classic stuff, like Jane Austin or Charles Dickens. And then I'll go through a Back-to-the-Land phase and read nothing but "How to Grow Everything You Need on an Acre" type of stuff.  Here's just a sampling of what I've read (ones I'd recommend):

  • Mr. Monk on the Road by Lee Goldberg
  • A Nation Worth Ranting About by Rick Mercer
  • Horse Sense for People by Monty Roberts
  • Letters from Wingfield Farm by Dan Needles
  • Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
  • Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda
  • Environmental Restoration: Ethics, Theory and Practice by William Throop
  •  The Importance of Lunch by John Allemang
  • The Egg and I by Betty McDonald
  • No Greater Love by Mother Teresa
  • Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv
  • Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall
  • Day Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America by Chris Wood
  • Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox
  • Ripe: The Search for the Perfect Tomato by Arthur Allen
  • Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid by Lemony Snicket