Thursday, 31 December 2015

A new project to do together

I was in for a surprise this week when my husband suddenly expressed an interest in aquaponics. The vegetable garden has always been my sole domain, and though he's been happy to assist now and then, he has always considered it my little realm. But he saw a documentary about growing vegetables aquaponically, and now he's intrigued. Today we went to a store specializing in aquaponic systems, and we were fascinated by the slowly revolving towers of lettuce on display, the buckets of tomatoes, the six-foot-tall rosemary bush. But all the white plastic columns and tubing looked a bit clinical, like an operating room, and the costs were sky high. My handy hubby studied the systems a while, and then we went to the Home Depot and he figured out he could build his own system for under $100. We're going to start with a small unit, just some tomatoes and lettuce, to see how the experiment goes. We can expand later as we work out the quirks.

The idea appeals to me on a few levels. No weeding. No bending and crawling on hands and knees. No mud. Fewer bugs. The water units can tend themselves for a little while if we go out of town. Intensive vertical gardening allows for more food produced per square foot. And fewer squirrels, if we do at least some of this indoors. But best of all, it's a project my husband and I can do together.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Finished with room to spare

I got the rewrites done in record time. It was cosy, I'll have to admit, sitting in the garage with the laptop and the space heater while the freezing rain fell outside. No distractions but the bowl of chocolates that somehow followed me out there... I think the reviewers' comments were valid and helpful and the story will be stronger because of them.

Still a few days left of vacation to enjoy, too! Glad I don't have to make the trek back to work yet. Shoveling the snow today was more like bailing, it was so wet and slushy. We got off lucky having wonderful warm weather up until Christmas, but now it appears we're going to pay for it. But I don't think the usual winter depression will be so bad this year. After all, there are only three or four months of winter left! That's nothing!

Time to break out the seed catalogues and start thinking about spring.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Down to the Wire

One week to complete the rewrites on my next manuscript. Stormy weather forecasted for Toronto. The perfect time to hunker down in my "office" in the garage and write.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Okay, so I have a weakness...

In spite of all my talk about lightening up, discarding what I don't really need, and everything, I gotta admit...I got fifteen books for Christmas and another $50 gift card to Chapters Bookstore and I couldn't be happier! My family and friends know me well...

I'm like a kid in a candy store. Which will I choose first? What a delicious decision!

Thursday, 24 December 2015

A Gardening Metaphor for the Coming Year

I was up a few hours before the rest of the family this morning, so I curled up on the couch in the lamplight to read. And got to thinking. And pulled out a notebook and started writing. And as sometimes happens during periods of quiet reflection and introspection, thoughts I never knew I had in my head came pouring out of my pen. And here is the insight I had this morning, with the wind whistling outside and the house hushed and sleeping.

I know I often beat myself up for not doing everything correctly or well, and I'm especially hard on myself for not having done in the past all that I knew I should be doing. I got caught up in the day-to-day and "young motherhood" chaos and neglected some of the more important things. I'm reaping -- I think -- some of the results of that in my present life. I tend to see my children's struggles as the result of something I neglected or failed to do in the past. I have always had a hard time not judging myself harshly about this. But here's what came to me this morning: At that difficult period of my life, as a young mother, I was a seed, pushing through mud. Slogging through mud, really. And maybe in my life now I'm beginning to blossom, to become what I'm supposed to become, but I can't look back on that seed and judge it for not being a flower. That seed pushing through mud was a vital, necessary stage of my growth, and any flowering I may be on the verge of now is due to that process the seed went through. It isn't realistic to blame myself for not blossoming sooner, or to expect that seed to have thought as a flower. It was the best seed it knew how to be, and even if there were things I knew at the time I could have done better, it was still an aspect of being a seed: thinking like a seed. I know more now and I can't expect myself to have acted then on what I know now.

But then the really staggering thought followed: God doesn't expect that either. He understands the process and allows for it.

And now it's my children's turn to be seeds pushing through mud, and I need to understand that process and allow for it for them.

Ha! It may not sound profound to anyone else, but I just had an epiphany. And no doubt when I'm eighty and in full bloom, I'll look back on this insight and laugh at how little I still understand.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Paring Down the Purse

I've never really used a large purse, but for the past many years I've used a clutch purse, like a large wallet. It is so old that bits of the leather are falling off and sticking to the contents, and I have to scrape sticky bits off my credit card whenever I want to use it. The outside layer has worn away to reveal a thin cloth layer below, and it's only a matter of time before it falls apart all together. I hate spending money on such things, but I knew it was time.

In the spirit of going smaller, I have downsized to a truly tiny wallet that fits in my hand. It's so small I fear for my credit card, which looks like it might snap. It's difficult to pry out, so it will give me a second chance to rethink purchases while I wrestle with it. Maybe it will save me money!

In this process, I have had to go through my old wallet to cull out unnecessary things and decide what was truly vital. Library card, MasterCard, Air Miles card, health card, bookstore points card, driver's license, a card giving my blood type and St. John's Ambulance ID, and my insurance info card. Bus tickets, money, and a few gift cards.

What was in the pile I didn't fit in? Three business cards for the same taxi company. A card for a taxi company that only serves Oakville (where I don't live). The card of a fellow author I met four years ago. The contact information for the lawyer we used when we bought this house fourteen years ago. An ancient coupon for a sandwich place I've never eaten at. A discount card for an Optical place I've never used. My identical insurance info written down on about four other cards. A slip of paper bearing a phone number with no indication to whom it belongs. Old receipts and stubs. And the contact info of my financial advisor, whom I see once a year, which can go into my address box instead of being carted around with me.

All this flotsam and jetsam of a life. We collect bits as we go along, like mud accumulating on our shoes, and until we stop and look, we don't realize how much we've collected. One clutch purse is not a huge beginning, but it's an indication of how much useless stuff I'm going to find tucked into corners and crannies elsewhere.  2016 is going to be my year for setting down burdens, letting go of stuff, cleaning out, and shrinking my life and my belongings down to a manageable size.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Katie the Dog

The subway system shut down for two hours the other day while workers tried to rescue a German Shepherd that had somehow gotten stuck on the tracks. They think she might have been hit by a train. Unfortunately they had to put her down in the end, the kindest thing, but for those two hours thousands of people drew to a halt, detoured, walked, and waited while a good portion of the transit system of this major city stopped.

The sheer fact that I haven't heard any complaints, the fact that everyone I talk to feels so sad for this dog, makes me love this city and its people even more. We haven't lost our compassion. I live in a lovely place.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Not used to anxiety

In the wake of the Paris shootings and other terrorist events, I've noticed an increased police presence on the subway during my daily commute. There have been three or four fire investigations on the subway, and the other morning I arrived at the station to find four more fire engines parked in front, lights spinning. The halls were filled with first responders, and I admit my first thought was, "What if this is just a decoy to distract the responders here while something bigger is happening elsewhere?"

I have always felt safe in Toronto. I've never felt threatened in any way, even if I'm alone in the city at night, even when cutting through a methadone lineup on my way to music lessons, even when lost on an unfamiliar bus. It just doesn't enter my radar to be nervous. It's a clean, secure, friendly city. So it's jarring to suddenly become aware of police presence, to realize my office is within a short walk to political and financial seats, to catch myself looking askance at my fellow passengers. I work just up the street from the U.S. Consulate, with its cement barricades. There are times I'm the only English speaker in my crowded train car (something I've always taken amusement from).

I don't like this new awareness or anxiety. I refuse to give in to it, when---for a while, I admit---I wanted to avoid the city and stay home. Life is what it is, and I am as likely to get hit by a bus during rush hour as I am by a bullet. All we can do is go through our daily lives, doing our best, being extra kind to each other, and making sure our hearts are in the right place.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Tiny Things

I recently read a book by Barney Bardsley in which she says she learned to "...appreciate the tiny details of life -- a fat bud coming into flower, the particular way a shaft of sunlight pierced the window...and [stopped] looking for the bigger picture. Big is just a sum of all these tiny parts."

If you want to have a joyful life, you find joy in all the tiny little moments, each little thing in life, because all of these add up to overall joy. The future is made up of a bunch of little nows.

So these are the joyful things I bumped into today:
  • the bliss of waking up and realizing it's Saturday and I've slept in an extra two hours
  • watching Brio all ecstatic over a new soccer ball
  • the buttery goodness of golden fudge melting on my tongue (yeah, okay, so the diet is on hiatus today)
  • the crunch of autumn leaves under foot
  • a crisp blue sky totally unusual for this time of year
  • watching a fascinating, huge pita oven/cooling machine at the new Adonis grocery store
  • my grandson's sweet, big smile when he sees me
  • going to the dentist and learning I have no cavities
  • coming home this evening to find everyone asleep and the house wonderfully quiet. I can stretch out on the couch with a novel and just soak in it.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Downsizing in multiple ways

They are shrinking our cubicles at work to make room for more people on our floor. It already feels like a giant game of whack-a-mole, popping my head up out of the maze from time to time. To get ready for this, I have been purging excess paper and boxing up files to be archived off site. Each time I drop a load of boxes off with Records Management, I feel thinner.

I like getting rid of stuff. I like creating space and blank spots. I've been pretty merciless at culling my book collection (gasp!), hauling stuff out of the garage and basement, and even dividing up my Christmas tree ornaments to pass on to my children. Really, if they're going to inherit stuff eventually anyway, why not give it to them now and watch them enjoy it?

I also dropped twenty-five pounds lately and got my hair cut pretty short. I threw out clothes I never wear, my husband sorted through plastic containers to discard the ones without lids (or discard the lids that had no containers -- how does this accumulate?), and I donated a bunch of yarn to a woman who makes things for charity. I'm even rethinking old goals and making a more realistic (i.e. less grandiose) plan for my life.

In 2016, I want to live smaller.

Saturday, 5 December 2015


When I was little, my friend had two tiny teacup poodles. I remember thinking they looked too small to be alive. They danced around like marionettes, and I was horribly afraid I would accidentally step on one or sit on one by accident and snap it.

My husband and I have always favoured big dogs -- shepherd/lab mixes, most often. Dogs you weren't ashamed to walk down the street. Dogs that looked like they meant it when they barked at strangers in the yard. Dogs you could throw your arms around and really hug.

However, these dogs also really shed. For the year after our last shepherd/lab died, we were amazed to find we hardly had to dust our house. But a dogless house isn't a happy one, so we eventually got another, and this time (we told ourselves) we would get one that didn't shed.

So we got the shih tzu, so small he could hardly get his mouth around the kibble. He was so little that when he went to take a drink, his oversized head outweighed the rest of his body, and his back legs would rise from the floor. A few times he ended up face-first in his water dish. The old fear resurfaced, and I learned to glide around the kitchen without lifting my feet, for fear of stepping on him.  He never shed a hair, and for seven years I hardly had to dust.

But sweet as he was, he was an indoor dog, fussy and delicate. Not a dog you could ramble along a river with. He had no interest in playing ball, and he didn't like to be touched very much. He preferred curling up on his blanket and ignoring humans completely. It was more like having a cat.

Enter Brio, the just-the-right-size dog. Not too big, so care is easy. Not too small, so I can hug and rough-and-tumble with him. He loves nothing more than chasing a ball or exploring a forest. Affectionate, devoted, and intelligent, he is the perfect dog. And he sheds like a snowstorm.

Ah well. The price you have to pay for friendship.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Gridlock and Commuting in the GTA

There was an article this morning by Luke Simcoe in the Metro about greenhouse gas emissions in Toronto, and how "extreme commuters" -- people travelling into Toronto from the suburbs to work -- are a major cause of emissions. He cites U of T professor Marianne Hatzopoulou, who says we need bold and drastic changes and far-reaching transit solutions to address the problem. The population is expanding outside the city, but jobs are growing in the downtown area, causing the commuting problem and leading to increased pollution. She suggests banning new residential development in areas without access to adequate transit.

Reading this, a number of thoughts came to my mind, the first being "Why not focus on creating new jobs in the suburbs so people don't have to commute in the first place?" I've been making the trek downtown for over 21 years now, and I would LOVE to find adequately-paying work in Mississauga. But the truth is there's just nothing comparable that would support my family the way my current downtown job does. I've applied for jobs closer to home, but they all pay almost half what Toronto pays. Give me comparable work close to home and I'd be more than happy to get off the roads.

My son has found that to find work, you have to go somewhere where housing prices are high. If you go to places where housing is affordable, there are no jobs, and you have to commute. Some jobs lend themselves to telecommuting, but many don't. I wish I could find work that did. I'd love to stay home and work in my fuzzy slippers all day!

My husband had the idea of insisting all vehicles except EMRs, delivery trucks, and taxis stay out of the downtown core. Increase the frequency of GO trains (and, I would add, extend GO trains further out away from Toronto). Increase parking availability at the GO stations. Then offer shuttles and taxis within Toronto itself that are linked to the same Presto card system as the buses and GO trains are. Link the systems between cities so that one fare covers all. This would help the lagging taxi industry at the same time as it takes vehicles off the road and reduces congestion. I could take the train in and take a taxi to my office for one combined fare. Right now, I take two buses to get to the subway, then pay the separate subway fare to get to my office. If I want to take the GO train, which would make the commute much quicker and more comfortable, it's a matter of one city bus, the train, and then the subway at the other end---three separate systems to pay for! I think merging the systems would be brilliant.

When we were in Cinque Terre in Italy, I was bemused to find that many of the hill towns make the residents park their vehicles at the top end of town, and the village itself is entirely pedestrian. If you want to own a car, fine, but you have to park out of town and walk to it. I like that idea for neighbourhoods in Toronto too. You can park in one place, and then you take a taxi home... If you made them affordable as well as convenient, I think it would be a great solution. I'd much rather sit back and let someone else drive, especially in bad weather.

If we are going to address greenhouse gases and the gridlock problem in Toronto, we have to start thinking bigger and more creatively. I'd love to hear what other ideas people come up with.

Turning into a Mushroom

In the summer, I bound in the door from work at 5:30 p.m. and there are still five hours to garden, cook dinner, walk the dog, bake cookies, read, run errands, or whatever else I feel like doing. But at this time of year, it's pitch black outside and the stars are out by the time I roll in at 5:30. And all I want to do is change directly into my pajamas, drink a mug of soup, and go to bed. It's funny how the light gives you the energy to do things, and when it's gone, the day's activities end. Electric lights don't make a bit of difference to my internal clock. The length of the day is still the same as ever, the number of hours hasn't changed, but no matter --- nothing will be accomplished on winter evenings.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

First Snow

There was a rime of snow on the ground this morning. Brio went charging out into it and scampered and ran in circles. Maple tiptoed out looking miffed and hurried back in, taking the steps in a great leap. The garden is only half covered in mulch---somehow I didn't have enough maple leaves this year, don't know why, unless the wind took them to other yards---but the snow covers the bare spots now. The ground is not yet iron, and I toy with planting just a little more garlic while I can. Before winter takes away the option. Before darkness is so thick at the end of the work day that I can't find my way out to the gate.

Snow always brings with it the thought of fireplaces and woolly Nordic sweaters and hot chocolate. When I was a teenager I babysat for a ski instructor's family and I'd stay in the lodge and play with the baby while everyone else went skiing. They paid me in ski lift passes, which I never once used. I grew up in the heart of the Wasatch Mountains and I've never been skiing. But from the room's window I enjoyed watching the tiny figures on the slopes tumble and slide down the white mountain, and one evening I got to go downstairs with the family to hear Peter Yarrow sing. He was a family friend, and when they introduced me to him he called me a little muffin. I didn't realize who he was until later, when I went home and looked him up. I met Mary too (also from Peter, Paul, and Mary) and got to sit in on a guitar jam session with her---and again I didn't realize who she was until much later. She just seemed like a nice, cheerful blonde lady. And Peter reminded me just a little of Groucho Marx.

There used to be a great sledding hill where Timpview High School stands now. I remember clinging to my dad's back as he sped along on the wooden sled with its metal runners (try to find one of those sleds now). I was never fond of going downhill fast, but he and my older brother and sister would always go back for another run. I would flail along in deep snow, with my socks bunching up in the toe of my boots and the rim of the boot rubbing my bare skin raw, little balls of snow sticking to my knitted mittens. But at the end of the endurance test there was Mom's hot chocolate to go home to, creamy swirls curling away from my spoon.

Snow hasn't been as kind as I've gotten older. The memories tend away from play. Slush in the street as I trudge to the bus. A white shield crusty with ice I break through with my boots while my dog pads along without leaving a paw print. Something to scrape off my car. Once it was so cold that when I went to scrape the car window, the glass exploded into miniscule fragments at the first touch. I've seen the streets so filled with compacted snow that people cross-country skied in downtown Toronto. Once I saw a man ice-skating to work down the middle of the road, carrying his briefcase. When conditions are that bad, you really should be home in front of the fire.

It isn't deep winter yet, by any means, but my bones can feel it coming.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Seasonal Affective Disorder Renamed

I once took part in a study at Sunnybrook Hospital of Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is a condition where the darkening of winter sends you spiraling to the point where you want to pull the covers over your head and howl, or to dive into a tub of Pralines & Cream never to emerge until spring. I lose interest in my hobbies, get grouchy, make irrational and impulsive decisions, and, along about February, I get semi-suicidal. We're not sure what causes this, but it helps to take Vitamin D, sit under grow lights, get involved in new activities, and---in my case---come home every day and hug a smiley baby.

I think there's something to be said for renaming the condition, though, to Seasonal Infective Disorder. This is the phenomenon whereby people's attitudes and perceptions of weather are affected by the people around them. Talk on the subway revolves around the cold, the wet, navigating the impossible ice. Everyone starts wearing black and hiding deep inside their hoods and not making eye contact. It's a defensive thing and quite natural when you live in Canada, where the temperature can plummet to -35 and stay there for weeks on end. My sons used to live in northern Manitoba, where it once got down to -69. I think it's easy to pick up the negativity and gloominess of the people around you and get sucked into talking about nothing but the weather. (Even in the warmth of summer, if someone complains about the rain or heat, we reply, "At least you don't have to shovel it!" thus spreading the gloom of winter even into our brighter days.)

However, I've also seen the up side of this contagious trend. I have a coworker, for example, who wears an electric orange winter coat that really stands out against everyone else's black. I can't help but smile when I see her glowing toward me down the street. It lightens my mood and reminds me there are more colours on earth than gray, and one day they will return. I have another coworker who is from Finland, and she loves snow and skiing. When everyone else groans, "It's snowing again!", she presses her face to the office window and chortles with glee, "It's snowing again!" Her optimism is catching, and I try to look at winter the way she does: a playground waiting for your footprints. Maybe I don't have to hole up for the winter like a hibernating raccoon. Maybe I can enjoy it. Novel concept.

I am going to try hard this winter to stay positive and not complain about the weather. This too shall pass. And I'll be glad I have a smiley baby in my life to hug and comfort me at the end of the day.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Getting back on track...sorta

Was good until 3 p.m., when a colleague at work was selling chocolate-covered almonds for her daughter's fundraiser. And I had to be supportive of the cause, right? I mean, it's her daughter...

So I took one for the team.

All right, I took several.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Comfort Foods

The last few months I've been watching what I eat, and I'm down twenty-five pounds. However, this past week has been fraught with emotion over several things, and the diet has slipped. Yesterday I drank an entire carton of eggnog and ate an Aero mint chocolate bar. Today it was cold tuna salad and coconut cookies. Must knock it off and get back on my good behavior. But it is interesting how we turn to certain comfort foods when stress overwhelms us.

Is it because food is so good at evoking memories, and we want to remember cosier, kinder times? I always associate sloppy joes with my grandma's house (my favourite place on the planet), and there's nothing like my mom's hot chocolate to make a person feel loved and snug. The scent of mint takes me right back to my grandpa's farm. Shwarma zips me back to Florence, where we ate a lovely plate of it. They say that smells trigger memories more than sights or sounds. I associate certain foods with certain events, certain people, certain feelings from the past.

When my daughter-in-law wants comfort she goes for her mom's macaroni and cheese. My sons turn toward caramel popcorn. This week my husband has been hunting down the sour cherry candies his dad used to eat.  If I'm down, I always crave creamy things like banana cream pie and rice pudding. (And eggnog. Ahem.) I don't know anyone who, when they are depressed or upset, says, "Man, I wish I had a big bowl of lettuce right now!"

The cravings will pass, the emotions will lighten in time, and I will be back on track. But for today there will be no self-recrimination. No sense of failure. Today I will just be gentle with myself. It's been a hard week.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Remembrance Day thoughts

This Remembrance Day is especially poignant for our family. On Sunday our good friend Tracey Firth passed away unexpectedly, and we are still a bit shaken by the suddenness of it. Years ago I played with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the first female piper in the history of the regiment. It was an unhappy experience and I left after only a year, but just as I was leaving, Tracey was going in, as the second female piper. And while I didn't know her at the time, I remember thinking "Poor girl!" and hoping she had a better experience than I did.

Some years later, she and my husband were both in the Halton Police Services Pipes and Drums together, and I got to know her better. When my husband became Pipe Major of St. Andrews Pipes and Drums, Tracey followed and became his Pipe Sergeant, and that's when I really got to know her. She was often in our home, sitting at the dining table with her practice chanter or playing with the dogs. On my birthday she took me to the Elora Gorge and to a tea house, we went antiquing, and she spent the whole day doing things to make me happy. No friend has ever done that for me before.

Tracey was an intense person who gave of herself fully and threw herself wholeheartedly into everything she did. She was deeply committed to her work. She and I both started learning to knit at the same time, but while I'm still turning out square dishrags, she took off with it and could do socks and sweaters. She made beautiful quilts. She could pipe circles around me, and she especially enjoyed challenging herself to keep up with the fleet-fingered youth in the band. She didn't let herself slack off, but she was wonderfully good at making other people feel relaxed. I enjoyed sitting by the woodstove in her home and just crocheting and yacking or reading and just being comfy.

I have a small keychain she gave me that says "Sisters" on it, which I use as a Christmas tree ornament. That word sums up how I feel about her, and I count myself lucky for having gotten to have her in my life, even if it wasn't for long enough. I like to think her beloved Ghillie was first in line to greet her. Forget harps -- heaven will be filled with bagpipes.

Today the band plays to commemorate Remembrance Day for the Legion, and Tracey's file will be left empty. But our hearts will be full because of her.

Sunday, 8 November 2015


When we first got married, I would stand in the grocery store agonizing forever about what brand of toilet paper to buy. The cheap stuff gives you paper cuts. But it's just being flushed so I don't want to splurge on the expensive stuff. Dilemmas dilemmas! It was the same with a lot of decisions, whether big or small -- I felt like there was a right or wrong, and I was dreadfully afraid of choosing wrong. I've always had a perfectionistic streak, but I didn't realize how strong it was until I got married, left my parents' house, and suddenly had to stand on my own without a safety net.

I think I've gotten better over the years about the small choices. I've learned that sometimes there is no right or wrong to a decision, only preference. I don't die if I make a mistake, and usually one can undo a decision and choose again. Some things just don't matter.

However, some of the big decisions still defeat me. I find myself dithering and putting off taking any action for fear of messing up. But really, lack of action is itself an action and has consequences of its own. Part of the issue is that my decisions affect so many other people. I'm not free to just act for myself; I have all these other family members to take into consideration. My preferences and what would work for everyone don't always coincide.

The church teaches that we should make a decision and then pray about it to know if it is right. I admit sometimes I avoid asking the question, though, because I already know what the answer will be and I don't like it. If I get an answer I have to abide by it, and I may not be ready to do that. Am I the only one who does this? A wise person once told me that sometimes you know something is right and you submit to doing it, but it doesn't mean you are happy about it. I mean, Abraham may have known it was right to be obedient to the command to sacrifice Isaac, but that doesn't mean he was tranquil about it. I found that bit of wisdom comforting. A feeling of turmoil doesn't mean you are on the wrong track, necessarily. It might actually mean you are very close to making the right decision, and it's a matter of aligning your head with your heart. At least we haven't been left alone to try to muddle along by ourselves without guidance.

So this week's verse is 2 Nephi 32:5 --  For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

The 12 Days of Christmas at Our House

One baby screaming
Two dogs whining to go walking

Three sons playing Warhammer
Four weeks to finish the manuscript

Five o’clock alarm going off
Six kids in the house

Seven dinners to cook weekly
Eight loads of laundry

Nine piping students round the table
Ten tanks of gas a month

Eleven bosses needing attention
Twelve and time for bed.


This week's verse is Doctrine and Covenants 19:23 Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me.

Peace is an elusive thing these days. There's war in the world, frenzy at work, and chaos at home. I crave one tiny, green corner where I can put my head down and sit in absolute stillness.

I once took a theology class at the U of T where we students were each given a copy of a psalm and told to go into a private portion of the classroom and read it, in whatever manner we wished, for about fifteen minutes. Just read it over and over, or meditate over one phrase of it, aloud or in silence, sitting or standing, whatever we preferred. I found myself dovening, rocking gently back and forth in rhythm with the words, and over one phrase in particular about there being no peace in the world. The room was filled with hushed murmurs, and you could almost feel the collective power of thought going on around me. After fifteen minutes of pondering this psalm, I had quiet tears rolling down my cheeks, and the thought came to me that if we could get the whole world to stop and dwell on that particular psalm for just a few minutes, it would bring peace to the world. The earth is made up of individuals, and if each stopped to really soak up that thought, that would be the end of strife, at least for a moment.

I used to sort of think it a bit useless for people to tuck themselves away in monasteries isolated from the rest of society and spend their time in meditation and prayer. I mean, there is so much need in the world, and wouldn't their efforts be better spent manning soup kitchens and distributing medical care...? Well, that class changed my perspective. Yes, there is a need for some people to do those things. But there is also an equally important need for a part of the population to generate thoughts of positivity and peace and send them out into the universe. There is something powerful, almost tangible about it. If we could direct that kind of power into the world, it would change things. That contribution has just as important a place as any other kind of service. And ultimately, I think prayer probably has a longer-lasting impact on the individual soul than a bowl of soup. Though, it can be argued, you can't think of things of the heart when your stomach is empty.

Can the collective yearning of an entire community of people cause a shift in the world at large? Can it batter at the doors of heaven and provoke God to action? Can thoughts occurring on one side of the world affect things happening on the other side of it? (Well, I suppose [she says wryly] nowadays it would all be on Twitter and launched into the ether for the whole world to access it, anyway!) Maybe that is how the Second Coming will happen -- we'll all watch it on YouTube, with live coverage on CNN.

I have re-read the entire book of psalms and hunted and hunted for that particular phrase over the years since that class, but I've never found it. Either my professor made it up, or it was such a different translation that I don't recognize it among King James's phraseology. I wish I could find it again.

Monday, 26 October 2015

A Family Reunion of Sorts

On Saturday we went to the 65th birthday celebration of my husband's cousin-once-removed. It was a lovely setting at a lake, the food was good, and the turnout was great. But here's an interesting thing -- her father's side of the family, of no relation to us whatsoever, immediately felt like our own family. People we had never met before drew us in and made us feel welcome, greeted us like old acquaintances, and swapped family stories. By the end we were hugging and exchanging email addresses and pledging to help each other find photos and information on I genuinely liked these total strangers, and I hope I see them again.

Sometimes in life you meet people quite by accident and find yourself enriched by the experience. Your sense of connectedness expands. You catch glimpses of yourself as part of a larger network, a family of more global scope. I tend to be solitary by nature, but now and then it's nice to feel part of that larger community.

Happy birthday, Bev!

Friday, 23 October 2015

Harvest is in!

I spent nine and a half hours on Thursday putting my garden to bed for the winter. My terrific daughter-in-law helped with some of the fiddly parts (like stacking tomato cages without losing patience -- it's like trying to put tight pants on an octopus) and my wonderful husband stood at the sink with me for hours washing and peeling carrots so I could slice, blanche, and freeze them. So now the garden is empty, the freezer is full, the house smells of drying apples, the bottles on the shelves gleam like jewels, and there's a deep sense of satisfaction. Another year done, another harvest in, and we get to eat again this winter. Aren't we lucky!

This time of year always makes me feel blessed with abundance. And my body feels about ninety.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Niqab Debate in Canada

In all this idiotic talk about whether or not Muslim women should be allowed to wear the Niqab at citizenship swearing-in ceremonies, I haven't heard anyone ask this question: Since women are legally allowed to go topless in Toronto, would they be allowed to go topless to their swearing-in ceremony? So let me get this straight -- they can't cover their faces but they can bare their breasts?

Does anyone else see anything wrong with this?

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Look what my son can do

My 17-year-old works for a pizza place now. He took a picture of one of his creations. I think he's can rightly be proud of it!

"By their fruits ye shall know them..."

The fruits of our labour:

Why is it that I can get 38 jars out of 1.5 bushels of apples, but only 18 jars out of 1 bushel of peaches?

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Verse for this week

Doctrine & Covenants 90:15 "And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people."

I should have thought this through first...

My granddaughter's co-op nursery school is fundraising by holding a "trikeathon" and taking pledges. I took the pledge sheet to work with me, but I'm always shy about asking people outright for money. So I thought I'd up the ante a little by offering to avoid elevators and take the stairs for one day for every dollar that was donated. I guess my coworkers are a bit sadistic, because they gleefully donated $102. So now I can't use the elevators for 102 days. And my office is on the 5th floor. I was conflicted, welcoming the donations but feeling my knees already begin to protest. Ah well, it's in a good cause. Maybe I'll lose some weight for the holidays.

Of course, to add to the inner conflict, today's activities don't lend themselves toward losing weight---I'm bottling apple pie filling today. Northern Spy apples are the best, big as softballs and just the right tartness. The temperature is dropping outside, they're predicting snow (so much for my Cape gooseberries, which didn't ripen in time again), and inside the golden kitchen will be filled with the scent of cinnamon. Another perfect weekend!

And then there will be Monday...and all those stairs...

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Congratulations to my Friend Michael

I met my friend Michael Hornsby about thirty years ago (my goodness, that sounds like a long time) when we were both studying in Wales. He's an Irish Jewish Englishman, a professor of Celtic languages, lives in Germany, and teaches Welsh in Poland. You can't get more interesting than that! He has had a book come out this month, Revitalizing Minority Languages, a study of new speakers of Breton, Yiddish, and Lemko -- and that mixture alone tells you something about the breadth of his knowledge and the scope of his expertise! From the summary of the book, it appears it discusses how learners who are not raised speaking a language purposefully acquire it, and how these efforts are affecting the survival and promotion of languages that may otherwise be in danger of dwindling. Michael is the perfect person to conduct this research, and it's a pertinent topic for Canadians. There are pockets of Gaelic and great swaths of French and a jillion other languages spoken here, with sometimes more speakers of the language in Canada than there are in the language's place of origin. The differences between a language as it is spoken in Canada and how it is spoken in other countries has always intrigued me. When a language is brought to a new place and isolated from its parent tongue, it becomes a new creature. Or rather, it evolves along different paths than its parent.

I moved to Canada in 1989, and at the time I had undertaken extensive French training, all through high school and university. I fancied myself fairly fluent in it, and after all, I could read Maeve Binchy novels in French -- what more proof did I need of my own ability? Well, I got a job when I arrived in Canada doing word processing for a pharmaceutical company, putting together a French newsletter with contributions from about forty French sales reps. The written stuff was okay, but when I had to speak to any of them on the phone, it was a disaster. They may as well have been speaking Hungarian, for all I could understand them. How could this be? I spoke French, didn't I? It wasn't just the speed, it was the odd vowels, the slang, the abrupt cutting off of syllables. I was humbled pretty quickly, let me tell you. The French I'd learned was Parisian (with a touch of Tahitian thrown in), but this Quebecois stuff was a different bird altogether.

When I met Michael all those years ago, I was attempting to learn Welsh generations after my family had ceased to speak it, and I have a keen interest in seeing that beautiful language survive and thrive. So the topic of his book appeals to me on that level. It's been decades since I studied linguistics, but after reading the reviews of this book, I can feel that little itch to get back into the field. There are so many interesting things to learn around us, and language is such a vital part of our identities. And here in Toronto I am living in the absolute best place to study languages.

Llongyfarchiadau, Michael! I can't wait to read your work.

Better Late than Never

So I just realized that it's Tuesday today and I have already failed in my goal to meditate on a different scripture each week. Last week's verse from 2 Nephi was posted on my fridge and I read it often and memorized it. And then this Saturday I got caught up in bottling grape juice and I forgot to choose another verse for this week. So I'll choose one now. Back to 2 Corinthians again, because it seems to suit things lately: Chapter 4, verse 8: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair."

Monday, 12 October 2015

2 Corinthians 1:24

I was sitting in Sunday School yesterday and stumbled across this sentence in the Bible: "...[we] are helpers of your joy..."

It was a lovely turn of phrase, and it resonated with me. That's what we are here on earth to do -- help each other be joyful. Promote happiness in the earth. We forget it, sometimes, and get caught up in running around being busy and making money and building a life. But ultimately that life is meant to be happy, and the best way to gain that happiness for ourselves is to lift and serve and care for others. A life turned inward can never attain the kind of joy that opening to others can bring.

As another scripture says, "Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy." If that is the goal we are aiming for, if that is what I want for my life, then each day's activity needs to reflect that and I need to watch for opportunities to do that. So I sit here (at 5 a.m.) reflecting on what I have planned for today, and I've decided that planting garlic does promote people's joy, so it's worth doing. I mean, really, what's more happiness-promoting than a plate of garlicky, pungent, aromatic carbonara thick with fresh parmesan? So yes, I can safely say today will take me down the path of happiness, and my family too.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

A Lovely Thanksgiving Weekend

Farmers' Market this morning. Bottling grape juice today, while the turkey cooks for tomorrow's family dinner. Beheading the catalpa trees and planting garlic on Monday. Spy apples ready to bottle too, but they'll have to wait until next weekend. The kitchen smells heavenly. The maple trees are a brilliant red. Celtic music playing. I couldn't ask for a better day.

Thursday, 8 October 2015


It is 3:30 on a Thursday morning. I don't have to head to work until 5:30. I was awakened by a whiny dog who needed to go out, and of course that woke up the other dog, and once you've wrapped up in a bathrobe and stood out in the cold under the frigid stars it's impossible to go back to sleep. So here I am, staring glassily at the keyboard and thinking I really ought to be working on my next manuscript, but I can't seem to put a coherent thought together. Go figure.

It's aggravating to have an hour all to myself, free and quiet, and not be able to use it productively. This is a gift out of the blue. I haven't had a quiet moment to write in weeks...but no. It's no good. Though I'm a morning person, it has its limits, and right now my brain is Jell-O.

I wonder why it is we feel we have to be productive and useful and accomplish something every moment of the day. I can't just sit and watch TV -- I have to knit while I'm doing it. I can't just have a conversation with someone on the couch -- I have to shell beans while we talk. If I sleep on the bus during my commute, I feel as if I've wasted time and need to apologize to...well, somebody! And yet I feel strongly that sometimes the most useful and nourishing times are those moments when you stare into space and seemingly do nothing. Creativity needs those moments. Your soul needs those moments. And I don't think as a society that we get enough of them. If we're not rushing around accomplishing things and multitasking, we're staring at our electronic gadgets and wiggling our thumbs. The buzz words are efficiency and productivity. If you are caught staring out a window at work, you are seen as a slacker. Our labour-saving devices have made us busier than ever. Even our children are overloaded with organized play and noisy input at every moment, and I bet most of them wouldn't know what to do if you gave them a sunhat, opened the back door, and said, "Come back by suppertime." We have become inept at self-entertainment and unstructured play. We've lost the knack of exploring -- nature, our world, our own imaginations.

I want to find a school that offers a program in becoming an inefficiency expert. I think that sounds like my sort of career. I could be a consultant, traveling across the country to help organizations make their staff slow down, cool off, relax, and stare into space a requisite five minutes every half hour. And you know, I bet if we all did that...productivity would go up.

Ah, there's the baby crying upstairs. So much for the peaceful hour. I guess I'm off the hook -- I couldn't possibly write with all the caterwauling. A perfect excuse to go lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling...with my eyes closed.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

What I gleaned from Conference

Two lovely days listening to LDS General Conference, and I've come away from it feeling calmer, more peaceful, more gentle and tolerant, and ready to be more patient with my grandchildren. I loved Elder Bednar's comment from Elder Hales, about how, if you can no longer do the things you used to be able to do, just do the things that matter most. How a decrease in stamina can help you prioritize things better. That gives me food for thought, and I intend to spend the next little while reviewing how I'm spending my energy and figuring out if what I've been focusing on really is the most important. I feel pulled in many directions at once, and it's good to stop and take stock for a bit.

Elder Holland's address to mothers was touching and overwhelming and made me feel simultaneously inadequate and energized, comforted and inspired. Have I been that unconditionally loving? Would I really give my life for my kids? Well yes, of course. But you never stop to really think of it that way, do you? I always find Elder Holland comforting.

The three new apostles that were called struck me as very prepared and strong and I'm excited to get to hear them some more. Elder Renlund is very soft-spoken and I warmed to him immediately. I was reflecting on how nervous I would be if I had to get up and speak with only a week's notice...and then I thought, "At least if I had a heart attack, I'd be surrounded by two good cardiologists!"

I also enjoyed hearing Devin Durrant, who used to be my seminary teacher back at Timpview. (And I liked how they had to hike the pulpit up so high for him. He is, like, seven foot two or something.) I have decided to take his advice and ponder a scripture a week. I may not be able to memorize them or remember where to find them, but it's a way to boost my thoughts to a different, daily level. If your brain is busy thinking good thoughts, it can't become cluttered with other, lesser things or so easily distracted from what's important. So this week's scripture, starting tomorrow, will be:

Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves - to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.  2 Nephi 10:23

Saturday, 3 October 2015

I survived today

Today I babysat the grandkids all day while their parents were busy elsewhere. I worried that it would be overwhelming, but it turned out to be okay. More than okay. Other than a couple of "Jack-Jack" moments, they were good as gold, and we even got a quick walk in to the library before the cold rain started. The trick to it is not to try to accomplish anything else -- just focus on the Grandma role and let everything else go. And we ended up making cookies together and making chili and putting together spaghetti sauce for dinner and I still managed to watch Conference in snatches and dabs. So all is good.

I find frustration is usually caused when I try to do something other than what is before me at that moment. If I just focus on the matter at hand and let the rest take a back seat, it's fine.

I don't know why I don't remember this simple lesson more often!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

I've learned something about carrots

Back in the spring, I dutifully thinned my carrots as one is supposed to, so that the remaining ones had room to grow. I tossed the toothpick-sized thinned carrots on the compost heap and ignored them. Now, months later, I went out to hack down some tall weeds that were sprouting from the compost heap, and I found several full-size, plump carrots just lying on the surface of the heap. My plucked thinnings had kept right on growing, above ground. They were a bit limp, but otherwise just like the carrots growing in the ground. Isn't that weird? I had heard, of course, that carrots remain alive after you pick them, but now I have proof of it. Gardening is so cool. I learn something every day.

Friday, 25 September 2015

For Whom the Eckhart Tolles

Reading A New Earth right now, and came across an interesting comment. Tolles talks about how trying to find yourself or enhance your identity through consumerism and things doesn't work. He says "Designer labels are primarily collective identities that you buy into. They are expensive and therefore 'exclusive.' If everybody could buy them, they would lose their psychological value and all you would be left with would be their material value, which likely amounts to a fraction of what you paid."

This is something I -- ahem -- buy into. I've never been able to see why certain names or logos on an item should increase the price, and in the end a designer pair of jeans is made of basically the same material in the same way as inexpensive ones. This is nothing new or earth-shattering...but then he goes on to talk about how we live in a world of conceptualization instead of a living reality. And it got me to thinking... Is my obsession with looking at real estate really just a form of consumerism? Am I trying to obtain, not a house, but a different identity? How do I think a new home to live in would change who I am? What in my life would be different? What about me would be different?

Well, the answer, of course, is nothing. I'd still be me, just living in a different setting. I picture the place I want to live, and really it's the lifestyle I want to have; I want to read, write, garden, and walk my dogs. A small and peaceful life, really. But the life I have now allows for all of those things. I read a lot, I write in snatches when I can, I walk my dogs every night, and I garden all summer. So...what would change?

I want to live somewhere quiet. I want lots of sunlight. I want a green place to walk my dogs. I don't want to be able to hear my neighbor blow his nose or smell what he's having for dinner. I want simplicity and cleanliness and no clutter. I want everything I own to be able to fit into a couple of suitcases. But really, if I'm honest with myself, it's time I want. Somehow, as I gaze at these cottages and cute turn-of-the-century houses, I imagine my life in them would somehow provide me with more time. I am not sure why I think that. It is illogical. The house would likely be further out of town and far away from things like grocery stores, so I would spend more time in the car. A house built in 1890 would likely take quite a bit of upkeep and care. I would still likely have to work, so that eats up the day, same as now (unless I could sell my current house for a fortune and find a new home for under ten grand...). So in light of all these cold, hard facts, why do I still persist in scrolling around the Internet looking at potential homes? I'm not seeking a change of setting. I'm seeking a more peaceful me.

The discouraging part is that, if I go, I'm taking me with me.

Another great review

Sharing this one because it warmed my heart, but I thank all of the bloggers on the "tour" who have provided reviews for my book. Even the one that was a bit harsh was useful and provided some great insight I can use in the manuscript I'm working on now. But all the others were lovely and generous and kind, and I'm happy to have made some other people happy.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015


The book reviews are starting to roll in for Heart's Journey. So far I'm pretty pleased, and I appreciate the kind words being written. Here are two of my favourites!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Why do I hate holding garage sales so much?

Am I alone in this? Spreading my tattered belongings out for the neighbours to inspect, having people quibble over a quarter, having to interact with people, and then hauling half of it to Value Village afterward anyway...I really don't like hosting garage sales. I'm going to earn, what? Fifty bucks? I'd rather forego that and donate everything to charity instead.

There's something shameful about it, though I can't put my finger on why? I mean, the concept is fine, isn't it? I have stuff I don't want, maybe you need it, we'll exchange or we'll barter... I've even purchased a fine guitar at a garage sale before. But somehow, spreading my old stuff out causes the faint taste of failure in my mouth. These are things I thought I wanted but now I don't. I change my mind a lot, you see. These are things I once spent good money on. This is my taste in reading material but it was so lousy I don't want to cherish these books and reread them. These are the clothes I used to fit into...

Then again, you could see it another way, I suppose. So many people have given me flowers that I have no room for all the glass vases. I have so much leisure time that I've read all of these books and hundreds besides. My life is so abundant my house is literally bursting at the seams and something must go. I'm teaching my children to recycle rather than throw away...

Nope. Still not buying it (no pun intended). It's all going into a donation box somewhere. And Saturday morning remains free.

Friday, 18 September 2015

I Sound My Resounding Yawp...

...and it falls on deaf ears. Pulling a teenage boy out of his bed at 5 a.m. is like extracting a bowling ball out of quicksand using nothing stronger than a Q-tip.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Living Vicariously...

Someone I know has been reading Heart's Journey and we got to talking about it. This led to a conversation on the broader topic of bravery and how I admire people who dare to imagine life could be different and set about changing it. I wonder, sometimes, if I rationalize not doing bold and brave things in my own life because I can get my characters to do them for me. Never finished a PhD? Get my heroine to do it. Want to renovate a huge property? Let my character do it. Want to throw over everything and go homestead in the wilderness?  Stayed tuned for a future book...

A writer lives multiple lives through her own characters, and maybe I am so wishy-washy and indecisive about the direction I want my own life to go because I am too busy living multiple stories already through my writing. When do I get to set down the pen and make a change for myself? As my friend put it, "It captures that moment when you dare to take your heart in your hands and walk through an invisible wall into a new life." That sounds both exciting and terrifying at the same time. Will have to think more on this.


A lovely weekend at a borrowed cabin with my husband. Beautiful area, pounding waves, lungs full of fresh air, simple food, and a perfect daybed on the porch where I could curl up with a book in the crimson glow of the sunset. You can't ask for more than that.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

My next book is out

Heart's Journey is available now at Seagull Bookstores, Deseret Book, and soon to be Amazon. It's an historical romance loosely based on the Cariboo Gold Rush of 1862 in British Columbia. Let me know if you want to set up a signing or a book club visit in your neighbourhood!

Monday, 7 September 2015

Death by Lima Bean

I can't imagine a more silly way to go than by eating raw lima beans. But apparently these little dears that I've planted all over my garden are full of cyanide and it has to be cooked out of them by boiling uncovered to let the gases out. How to know when it's all been dispersed? And do I really want to fill my kitchen with cyanide gas?

I can't bring myself to eat them. Unfortunately, I don't know if I can even put them in my compost raw. So I think we'll just tuck this little experiment away and mark it up to experience... But if I need to bump off a character in my next book, I'm thinking lima beans would be a handy resource...



Friday, 4 September 2015


It's sad that we as a society don't respond to something huge until it is brought down to a personal level. Until we can put a face on it and call it by an individual's name. We seem incapable of comprehending massive struggle, but we can relate -- and get riled up at last -- when shown how the struggle has impacted one particular person. In this case, one very small boy and his family, his grieving father. That we can relate to. That we can get outraged about. It's unfortunate that we couldn't act sooner, bigger, broader, so that the tragedy wasn't brought about in the first place. Saddest of all is that at some point the media will turn its focus on the next big world crisis and our fickle attention will be drawn elsewhere. It happens every time. Because there's always something else coming along.

Can I go stop the fighting in Syria by myself? No. Can I do anything significant for the refugees fleeing across Turkey, Greece, Europe? Not really. But I can speak kindly to my family. I can befriend my neighbours. I can watch out for the elderly I meet on the subway. I can help the struggling young mother at the grocery store. I can teach my children to treat others kindly and with tolerance. I can write to my politicians. I can read and learn about world events and increase awareness. I can pray. And in the face of such overwhelming things, the only words I seem to be able to pray right now are O Come O Come Emmanuel.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

I'm renaming my grandson

Have you seen the movie The Incredibles? Do you remember the bit toward the end that shows the baby Jack-Jack exploding into a raging ball of flame?

That's my grandson.

You have never seen a temper more full of fury than this kid has. I watched him last night while his parents were at band practice. For the first five minutes he was golden, jolly, happy, smiley. His whole body lights up when he grins. Then he started getting hungry and acting tired, so I fixed him a bottle. But he has this thing about lying down -- he won't do it. He wants to be up and about and involved in whatever is going on, even if nothing is going on. If you give even the slightest hint that you are trying to get him to sleep, his suspicions are aroused and he explodes. He squinches himself into a ball of absolute anger, scrunches up his fists and face, and lets out the most amazing scream...which is endless. Half an hour later, I'm at my wit's end, frantic to find what will pacify him. Nothing. He's inconsolable. The scream goes on and on like a bandsaw in my brain. And it's for no apparent cause that I can figure out. I start chanting in desperation. Oh my word, I'm flunking grandmotherhood. The neighbours will think I'm peeling his skin off and call the police. There is no way this noise is coming from such a tiny body. How does he do this?

In desperation, I took him outside -- and it was like turning off a switch. Dead silence. He hiccuped into absolute stillness, as if nothing had ever happened, as if he had never melted down into a demon child for the past half an hour. He became an instant ball of passive putty.

So we stood and stared calmly at the water fountain for a while, and then we sat in a lawn chair and gazed at the trees for a while, and then I gave him his bottle and he fell asleep for four hours.

Grandson, whatever animator designed Jack-Jack had you in mind. But one thing is certain -- when it comes to being outdoors, you and I are just alike.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Seen (Scene) on the Street

A man walks down the sidewalk in front of my house, holding a dog leash in each hand: on one side, a mighty Great Dane the size of a pony. On the other, a Yorkie the size of a gerbil. His and hers? Yin and Yang? Trying to balance out the universe? Secretly prefers the Yorkie but doesn't want the other men in the neighbourhood to think he's wimpy? It puts me in mind of the race horses that have a companion animal - a goat or a cat - to keep them company. Or maybe the Great Dane considers the Yorkie an animated squeak toy.

Another lady has a golden puppy who has gone in circles around a slender tree and wrapped his leash in a tangle. Instead of simply unwinding the leash, the woman is walking round and round the tree after him.

People. Ya gotta love 'em.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Natural-born Tree Huggers

The other day I saw a little girl at the park, perhaps three years old. She was running delightedly from tree to tree and throwing her arms around each one in a big hug. I thought this was sweet. And then today I saw another child in downtown Toronto, about five years old, leaning against a tree on the street with his arms wrapped around the trunk as he waited for his mother.

Do children have a natural affinity for trees? Do they recognize them for the benevolent and precious friends they are? Why do we, as adults, lose that wonderful spark within us and grow too self-conscious to throw our arms around trees?

Saturday, 29 August 2015


Bottling peaches this morning with my friend Heather. She graciously came to help and to learn at the same time. To thank her for helping, I told her I'd send four jars home with her. I keep a notebook in which I write down what I paid for fruit each year, who I bought it from, and how many jars it made, to keep tabs on what I'm spending and producing. Well, when I went to write the results in the notebook this year, I found that my bushel of peaches (purchased for the same price as last year and from the same farmer) made exactly four jars more this year than last. Exactly the amount I'd told Heather I'd give her.

Little blessings sneaking into my life here and there, easy to miss if you aren't looking.  :)

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Mike Holmes and Home Free

I wouldn't ordinarily say watching TV is a life-changing experience, or even a life-enhancing one. But last night I watched an episode of "Home Free," and I've been thinking about it all night.

The show has been running for a few weeks, but last night was the first time I'd tuned in. The basic premise is that a bunch of couples spend each week renovating houses for needy families while hoping to win a house for themselves at the end. All of them are in urgent need of a home themselves, but they spend their time and effort helping others who are equally or less fortunate. Every so often, one couple is sent home (like so many other reality/competitive shows). What makes this one unique, though, is that every contestant gets a house in the end; they just don't know it. They think there will be only one winner: the couple left standing at the end. They don't know that the "losing" couple sent home each week is given the house they just spent their week renovating.

On last night's show, Mike Holmes asked the "losing" couple if they would like to meet the deserving family for whom the house was built, and they said yes. Even though they were disappointed that they had been eliminated from the contest, they were happy to think they had provided a home for someone else. I watched the shock and amazement in their faces when Mike told them this beautiful house they'd worked on was actually for them (and it really was perfect for them), and I got goose bumps. The disbelief, the joy, the astonishment that they would be given such a gift...and then their dawning realization that all the other couples (with whom they'd formed friendships over the past weeks) would also be getting houses. The woman broke down and cried -- not at the thought that she was getting a house, but that the other couple would be getting one too. She wailed into her husband's chest, "Ben and Kasey will get a home for their children!"

I looked around the living room, and I wasn't the only member of my family who was damp-eyed. And it occurred to me that Mike Holmes had picked out an appropriate house for each couple who would be on the show ahead of time, planned whom he would eliminate from the show in which week, and masterminded an incredible charitable act. This show doesn't flash a lot of product names or give air time to manufacturers. It doesn't have a lot of fanfare and hype, and it's all quietly done, not with a megaphone à la Ty Pennington. Mike stands in the living room of this lovely new house and simply says "It's for you." One man being kind to others. The quiet impact of that was amazing.

Cheers for Mike Holmes, and cheers for these couples who are willing to reach out to needy families and their fellow competitors. The world needs more of this.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Bottling Tomatoes and Redesigning Houses

Yesterday I put up two bushels of tomatoes, made two batches of gherkin pickles, and froze a quantity of green beans, peas, and bell peppers. Somehow the list doesn't seem very long, but I was at it for twelve hours. The back is feeling it today. Someday I want to design a kitchen where the sink juts out a little, so you can sit at it on a high stool with your knees under it. That would make canning much easier!

While I'm at it, I'd create a secondary canning kitchen altogether, out of the family's way, with a heavy-duty stove that can handle high heat for twelve hours at a time. Even with a special canning element, the burner gets discoloured and it's a pain cleaning up the mess that magically forms...I guess it's the sugar or vinegar in the steam that makes everything so terrible to clean up.

And hey, while I'm revamping the house anyway, I'd form all the rooms into a square with a big atrium in the centre, with windows or moveable walls on every side so I could open everything up and get a good cross-breeze going.

And I'd create a main-floor store room with temperature and light control, lined with shelves the perfect size for four hundred mason jars, barrels of flour and sugar, and #10 cans of dry goods. And a climate-controlled place for apples, potatoes, and pumpkins. And a cistern for water storage tapped right into the house.

A girl can dream, can't she?

Friday, 14 August 2015

Weird Weather

When I was in Utah, my dad told me that the weather had been about a month "early" all summer. June felt like July, July felt like August, and in August autumn was already creeping up. They got a major rain storm too, while I was there, which is really weird for a desert in August.

When I got home, I found maple leaves already starting to turn, the vegetables in the garden winding down, and the temperature fairly chill.  The lawn is dormant and doesn't need mowing. My cucumbers never did make a showing and now I doubt they will. (Too bad. I was looking forward to trying Crystal Apple white cucumbers this year.) The tomatoes are plump and the cherry tomatoes are ready to eat. Some of the dry beans are ready to harvest (my favourite part of gardening), and the peas and beans have gone to seed. I think that's the shortest growing season we've had.

Tomorrow I will spend the day bottling whatever is ready at the farmers' market. Every year I bottle tomatoes, peaches, pears, apples, pickles, and grape juice. I will buy peppers in bulk to freeze because mine never do well in the garden. The herbs and beans will be dried and stored away. The green beans, peas, squash, and pumpkins will be frozen. And then it's done.

Wow, that means winter coming after that. I usually don't think ahead to winter this early in the year. I must concentrate on the harvest right now and push away dread of the coming dark. If I think about it now, I'll only suffer twice, and I'll miss the joy of the abundance I have right now.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jog

No time to write yet, but just posting a quick note to let y'all know I'm home again from the family reunion in Utah/Idaho. It was awesome and I have the best family on the planet. Kayaks, moose, about 35 dozen cookies, songs, and long walks with my sisters. The absolute best!  More later.  - K

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Hot Weather

It has been hot this week. I mean hot. Shoes melting into the concrete kind of hot. I dump buckets of water into the potted flowers beside the front door, and still they dry up and die. I haven't walked the dogs more than a block all week, and as soon as we get home they stretch panting on the cool tile floor and roll their eyes at me.

Saturday I leave for Utah, where no doubt it's even hotter, but everyone consoles me with "But it's a dry heat." Which means I may not have to worry about the hardwood floors buckling from humidity, but I'll sunburn within minutes.

Not that long ago, it was -30, and my friend posted on Facebook something to the effect of, "First one to complain about the heat this summer gets punched in the eye." So I won't complain. I'll dart out into the garden to gather limp peas and bolting basil and I'll soak up every bit of summer I can. I know in three months we'll have snow again.

Monday, 27 July 2015

It doesn't get very profound around here

A Haiku for the day...

Cool breeze from the lake,
sour cream bean dip with corn chips,
and a book. Pure bliss!

Friday, 24 July 2015

We're at the Foraging Stage

The garden is slowly beginning to produce, a trickle of vegetables that will grow to a torrent within a few weeks. A handful of green beans here, a couple of pea pods there, the occasional zucchini. I rummage among the leaves and come in with handfuls for dinner. There is nothing more satisfying.

Overheard on the Bus

The other day I was riding the bus home from work, and two physically challenged young boys got on the bus accompanied by a woman. They were all three chatting in the seats in front of me, so I couldn't help overhearing their conversation.

One of the boys was recounting how people tend to speak down to him, as if he's a little boy, when he's seated in a wheelchair, and pointed out in his deepening voice, "I'm fifteen." But sometimes people act as if he isn't old enough to speak for himself or capable of making decisions just because of his physical condition. Once he was pulled aside by security at the airport and questioned about whether his parents, with whom he was travelling, treated him well, and whether he was travelling with them by choice. "I was, like, we're going on vacation!" While I understand security's motives and applaud their being proactive, I could also understand this young man's desire to be treated like anyone else.

Then the other boy told of a time when he was seated on a stage, listening to various speeches. A blind woman came on stage and sat down on his lap, thinking she was sitting on a chair. And the sweet kid didn't move or say anything because he thought it would be too awkward and would embarrass her. And no one else on stage or in the audience noticed she was sitting on him. Of course the longer he didn't say anything, the more awkward it would have been to speak up. So he sat for half an hour with this woman on his lap, through an entire speech, and then she finally got up and left, completely oblivious to what had happened. As he told the story, he was laughing so hard his eyes were watering, and so were his companions'.

We are all aware of the challenges those with physical difficulties face when it comes to staircases and too-high kiosk windows. I've had people ask me for help reaching items on top shelves in grocery stores, and I've driven a blind friend to church. But I somehow hadn't stopped to think about the other challenges they face -- the unseen ones, the verbal ones, the attitudinal ones. Being thought to be somehow lesser or incomplete or incapable. Being mistaken for furniture.

I can't help but wonder if that blind woman, at some point during the speech, realized she was sitting on his lap instead of a chair. Maybe she didn't know what to do, thought how awkward and embarrassing it would be to say or do anything, and so did nothing. Her mistake can be forgiven, of course, and he found it hilarious himself. But I'm more appalled by the people around him who didn't notice his dilemma.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Blast from my Childhood

I suddenly had an uncontrollable hankering for the scones of my childhood -- the deep-fried dough ones, not the tea biscuit ones - that they used to serve us for lunch at Edgemont Elementary, with honey butter in tiny paper cups. I went online and found them, and they're even called Utah Scones. So of course I had to make them immediately. It brought back fond memories of Mr. Conk unfolding the tables and benches out of the walls of the lunchroom, the hair-netted lunch ladies, the satisfying click of the hole-punch punching my orange lunch ticket.

My sons stood at my elbow at the stove and ate the scones as fast as I could produce them out of the oil. They tried different combinations -- honey and butter, cinnamon and sugar and honey, maple syrup and powdered sugar. And demanded to know why I hadn't made these for them before. I've been holding out on them. Their childhoods were not complete and they were now questioning the entire way they were brought up, sconeless. Son Number One apologized for whatever it was he did as a child that kept me from making these for him before.

Son Number Two is a spiritual seeker, and Son Number One turned to him and said, "You've found it, what you've been searching for all your life. You can stop looking for the ultimate heavenly experience. It's scones. Who knew?" And Son Number Two announced he could now die fulfilled and happy.

It's nice when something I cook finally turns out right!

Friday, 17 July 2015

Job Postings This Morning

I was scouting out some job postings this morning, just out of curiosity. Some of the fun ones I came across:
  • hog wrangler
  • weekend milker
  • senior cheese maker
  • funnel cake expert
  • games operator (for fairs and carnivals)
  • bus route designer
  • frozen dessert technician
Do people do these for a living? How do you get into these kinds of things? Imagine travelling around Ontario all summer working in a food truck that specializes in funnel cakes, corn dogs, and poutine. Or becoming an expert on delivering piglets. Or inventing new frozen desserts. Where do I sign up?

Monday, 13 July 2015

Garlic Harvest

I've brought in my garlic from the garden and spread it out on paper to cure before I store it. The heads are firm and plump and fill the house with a delicious tang. It's one of my favourite things to harvest.

There's a garlic farm for sale east of Toronto, and I envision myself surrounded with that lovely smell all of my life. Tempting, very tempting!

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Opening Ceremony of the Pan Am Games

Cirque du Soleil has pulled it off again! A spectacular show last night, with so much colour and motion going on that you worried you'd miss something. The featured Native dancer put so much passion and energy into his performance, it was electrifying. I remember seeing someone do that Eagle hoop dance when I was very young, in grade school, and I have been fascinated with it since.

For some reason, when everyone came on stage in their various native costumes, I was moved to tears. All these different people, all these nationalities represented, all dancing together to the same common beat -- it really hit me. We can rise above any differences between us and just celebrate together as brothers and sisters. Toronto is home to people of so many backgrounds, and yet for the most part we all get along and respect each other really well. I'm proud of you, Toronto, and glad to live in such an environment.

There's something really neat about hordes of ordinary citizens getting together to admire and support the athletes who have trained and worked so hard and accomplished great physical feats. Maybe it's because I'm getting older and more anxious, but as I watched the parade of athletes I found myself worrying one of them would twist an ankle or something during the opening ceremony...but then I realized, as I watched them, that they were completely confident and at ease in their own bodies, graceful and sure in their movements. They weren't likely to get injured from something as simple as walking and waving in a distracted crowd (which would be fraught with danger for someone klutzy like me) because they've trained all their lives and trust their bodies. As I sat eating strawberry cheesecake muffins on the couch and watched, I completely admired the discipline it took these people to be so healthy! And was glad for the fact that we are all different, I in my pudginess and they in their lithe grace. I was glad that we are each free to choose our own paths and pursue our own interests.

The most endearing moment of the whole show was toward the end, when my son's friend's mom carried the torch as part of the 1984 Olympic team...and got lost. It took two or three tries to find the woman she was supposed to hand the torch off to. I found it sweet, and representative of the whole idea of Olympic sport -- try, try again, and again, until you find a way to succeed. She couldn't have planned it better.

Humans are playful and determined and fierce, and pretty cool all in all. The next few weeks will bring crowded commutes and probably too many late nights watching the various events on TV. I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Family Reunion in Utah

My family is making plans and preparations for a reunion this August, and I can hardly wait. The last time we were together was at my brother's wedding, which seems ages ago. I miss the warmth and closeness, peace and absolute joy of that event, and I'm excited to fly down. I'm going by myself because no one else in my house can make it, which I'm sorry about, though I admit I love the freedom of flying alone. There's something delicious about lounging around an airport with no one to keep track of and nothing to worry about but my carry-on. If my flight is delayed, it's not as dire as if I were juggling toddlers with diapers and baby bottles. I enjoy airports, full of stories and adventures and mysteries I like to puzzle out while I'm people-watching.

I sincerely enjoy each person in my family, too. My siblings and I have always gotten along great, my sisters-in-law feel like sisters in fact, and my nieces and nephews are remarkable, intelligent, fun, and talented people I like to hang out with. I've never understood people who fight with their family members. I don't remember doing that even as children. We'd cheerfully give our lives for each other, without question, we encourage each other through difficult times, we rejoice with each other when things go well, and we have a great time just laughing and talking around the table. I'm fully aware how truly blessed I am.

Living in a foreign country, far from relatives, can be lonely, and sometimes I forget the rhythm and flow of belonging to a family group. I need periodic doses -- infusions -- of that coziness, that spirit.

Less than a month away now!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

One Amazing Husband

I came home from a long day at work last night, braced to have to mow the lawn before today's predicted rain. And found that my wonderful husband had already mowed the lawn for me. And trimmed the hedge. And weeded the Japanese garden. And bagged up all the garbage to put out this morning. All of these things are usually my job, since we fell into the pattern long ago of me doing the outdoor stuff and him doing the indoor stuff. But he had done it all. And he had made spaghetti and meatballs, with a separate kind of meatballs for me since I don't eat beef or pork. With freshly grated parmesan. And had done the dishes.

I gotta say, I love having him off work!

Sunday, 5 July 2015


I just watched The Way, a movie with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. I won't give any spoilers, but this is a film worth watching. People set out on pilgrimages for different reasons, and often by the time they complete the journey, their reasons have changed. I found it moving and sweet and it made me really fall in love with the characters.

I have considered doing the Camino myself, and there's a pilgrimage in Japan to 80 Buddhist temples that also intrigues me. I've thought about following in my ancestors' footsteps from Illinois to Utah. And I've considered walking where Terry Fox walked, in his honour. I don't know if I'll ever do any of these pilgrimages. There are days I can hardly walk my dog to the park. But the longer I put it off, the less likely I'll be to complete it. I'm not getting any younger or healthier. My reasons for wanting to go vary...honouring ancestors, proving to myself I can do something difficult, seeing what I'm made of, seeking single-minded dedication and intensity of experience, a way to develop humility, seeking grace, doing something notable before slipping into old age, getting close to history...or, to be honest, a way to justify taking two months off work and just spending time with my husband. All valid reasons. I don't know if they're good enough to carry me the whole way. It will need some more thought. But it's definitely something worth thinking about.

We need time to think intensely, to ponder the bigger questions, to take inventory of our souls. To watch the tides and figure out the rhythms of our own lives. We need quiet contemplation, time to commune with nature and God...and then we need to be up and doing. It seems to me a pilgrimage is all of those things.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Lavender Season

Did you know there's an association in Ontario for lavender growers? And you can buy tickets to go into the fields of a lavender farm? There are honey tastings and wine tastings. Lunches featuring lavender-flavoured foods. Massage therapy with essential oils. All on a lavender farm near you. I even know of one where you can rent the farm for a wedding--I imagine it's a perfect romantic spot, surrounded by fields of pale, delicate purple.

It's an industry I haven't really thought of before as a, well, industry. But I suppose there is a fairly large market for it, because lavender can be used for all sorts of things, from soaps and candles and perfume to puddings and soups and gum. Now that I've heard of lavender honey, I don't think I can rest until I've tried some.

I have a swath of lavender, three different kinds, growing in my garden. I planted it in a big patch so that I can go stand in it and pretend I'm in Provence. I gathered a handful the other day and made cookies with the buds and flowers (yum!). Happy bees. Happy me.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Thoughts as We Approach our 30-Year Class Reunion

Oh. My. Word. I. Am. Old. Those are my first thoughts when I get the email. Thirty years since we left Timpview High School. And then, as I scroll through the short bios and photographs of my peers, I revise that to "Hey! We're holding up pretty well!" I recognize most of the faces and all of the names. The smiles are the same even if the hair and figures have altered. We all have similar stories -- kids, grandkids, travel, work, illnesses, ups and downs -- with a few variations on the theme, but on the whole, it feels like we're still the same group we were thirty years ago.

I grew up in a smallish town, and a lot of the kids in my high school I'd known since we were in kindergarten. We went to school and church together, and a lot of us went on to university together. An astonishing number of us married fellow classmates. It was heartwarming to read what they'd written -- the humour, the updates, the losses, the testimonies -- and even though I know most people roll their eyes when it comes to class reunions, I can honestly say I'm interested in how they all turned out, where they all ended up, and whether life has been kind to them. Some of them ended up predictably, following the passions and interests they had at a young age. Some of them surprised me (how many of them now live in China?).

I doubt most of them even remember me, as I was the shy and awkward geek hiding behind the book in the lunch room. The one with the denim overalls and the two braids, like something that rolled out of a Kansas cornfield. (What can I say? It's an uncomfortable age. At least I avoided the Farah Fawcett hair.) Class of '85, you're a great bunch, and it's been a privilege to know you!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Audio book coming out in the fall

My book that's coming out this fall, Heart's Journey, is also going to be released as an audio book. I found this out after it had already gone to print and it was too late to change it. My unfortunate narrator is going to find himself faced with some Cree and Blackfoot words to tackle. I'm sure he'll do fine. I mean, what can go wrong with words like I'taamikskanaotonni and Sooyaisiihtsi?

Sunday, 28 June 2015

A lovely drive yesterday - Grand Bend to Kincardine

Explored an area of Ontario I'd never been to before. Lovely drive along Lake Huron, and a walk along the shore. Beautiful houses, beautiful fields, beautiful day. And a pig.



Friday, 26 June 2015

What else the garden is doing

The Asparagus from Outer Space

Look at what was in my garden. I swear I just harvested everything yesterday. It must be all the rain.

I sautéed it in lemon-infused olive oil with onions and peppers and stirred it into Orzo with some fresh basil for supper. Yum!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

My First Introduction to Jodi Picoult: Leaving Time

I am not what you'd call a big consumer, and most of the time I completely ignore advertising. But there was a poster on the subway promoting Jodi Picoult's latest book, Leaving Time, and it sounded interesting. I'd heard her name before but hadn't read any of her books. So when I stumbled across the book at the library, I checked it out without even reading the blurb on the cover.

Wow. I had no idea what I was getting into. I won't give any spoilers, but it was a powerful story, well written, and I totally didn't see the ending coming. A bit of foul language in it, but it suited the character, and Ms Picoult drew me into the plot to the point where I forgot I was reading and felt I was there. I will definitely read more of her work. It isn't often an author can pull me in like that. Usually I'm too busy picking apart the writing or distracted by the inconsistencies to really immerse myself in the story, but this time was different. I'm glad to have discovered a new author, especially one who has written 20+ books, so I won't have to wait around hoping for the next one to come out all the time. And she mentioned Mormons or Salt Lake City at least four times during the book, just casually dropped into the narrative, which I found curious and intriguing.

I will tell you one of the themes of the book was how elephants grieve. I think the images she painted will haunt me for a long time. The most poignant thing, though, was in the afterword, where she noted that 38,000 African elephants are slaughtered every year, and at that rate they will entirely vanish from the continent within 20 years. And I am horrified. My first thought was, "I have to call my sister the biologist." And my second thought was "My grandchildren won't get to see these magnificent animals." And my next thought was "We as a race have so much to answer for." The pain we have caused, the life we have taken, the suffering animals have endured at our hands. I want to apologize to nature for what we've ruined. The things we have done to the innocents. And I want to cry out with Enoch, "When will the earth rest?"

I only had a few pages left of the book when my bus arrived at my stop, so I got off the bus and sat right down in the sweltering bus shelter and finished it then and there. And wanted to weep all the walk home. When a book can do that to you, you know you have found a profound truth and a talented writer.

Book available

For those who are interested, I have compiled my Blog posts from 2012-2014 in two volumes, now available on In case you want to catch up on past posts without all the annoying scrolling...  Thanks!  - K

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Brio Doesn't Like Thunder

We had a terrific storm here last night, with thunder like cannons going off most of the night and rain hitting the roof so hard I feared for the solar panels. Brio, usually intrepid and enthusiastic, who throws himself into every action with gleeful abandon, was not happy. He whined at the foot of the stairs until we let him come into bed with us, and then he spent the night turning restlessly, pressing his face into my back, and groaning. Poor little puppy. Poor little mommy, who got zero sleep until the storm abated right before the alarm was set to go off. As I dragged myself off to catch the bus this morning, Brio sacked out on the couch to spend his morning sleeping. I admit to a small twinge of resentment.