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.