Saturday, 31 December 2016

New Year's Eve Again

It doesn't seem all that long ago that I was writing down my goals for 2016, and here it is a year later and it's time to reflect and plan for 2017.

I get the sense that 2017 will be a year of high drama. Whether that's in the political world or my personal family or at work or between nations, I don't know...but I just get the feeling this will be a year for hunkering down and holding on tight. My aim for this year is to be the calm centre, focused and firm. To be in the now and not dwelling on the past or freaking out about the future.

To achieve that aim, I will continue to do yoga and meditation, build my faith, and I will also prepare in specific ways. This is the year to write my will and power of attorney, and to lay in the food storage. I get the funny feeling we're going to need it.

Meanwhile, I'm going to try to be peaceful and calm at the core and project it out into the world.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas with the Family

A peaceful, relaxed Christmas Day. All too sick to go to church this morning, so my husband, Son #3, and I had a short devotional at home. Watched a church video about the nativity and then read the account from Third Nephi of the Saviour's birth. Spent most of the day lying on the couch and reading. Picked up Son #1 and his family and brought them home for lunch (ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, vegetables, homemade grape juice, and Christmas pudding). Son #2 came too, but his partner was also ill and stayed home, so we packed up lunch to send home with him for her. Opened a few small presents and got a great laugh out of the hilarious comic cards Son #2 drew. Yacked and played and enjoyed the grandkids. Found it funny when the one-year-old imitated Grandma coughing into her elbow. Fun to watch my grown boys kidding around and hugging each other. And then they all left again and I'm back on the couch reading.

Lovely. A perfect day. And a whole week stretching before me for more of the same.

Friday, 23 December 2016

The High Price of Development

The city of Brantford apparently just annexed 6500 acres of prime agricultural land, which means it's going to be developed at some future point. Brantford just took the chance to get the increased revenue from property taxes, and some landowners just found out their property is worth a lot more.  And everyone stands to lose.

Why is it that our city planners and the people who make these decisions don't realize what they're doing? Where do they think their food is going to come from? As cities encroach further and further into Canadian farmland, apparently seeing it as an inexhaustible resource, they only push closer and closer to the Canadian Shield, where soil is poor and thin and the climate is colder. They are paving over and disturbing the resource that allows our continued existence. I am more than outraged; I am despairing. I am frightened. Do they just expect food to magically appear from nowhere? Don't they mind that we're becoming more and more reliant on foodstuffs shipped in from far away? What happens when those far-away places pave over their farm land?

I think every new development that is built should have a mandatory amount of land set aside within it to provide food for the people in that development. There should be a designated farmer for every few blocks of housing. Until we get it through our heads that farmland isn't there just to create a pleasant view, we're going to continue to imperil our food supply.

They argue that people need housing close to their places of employment. Believe me, commuting four hours a day isn't my dream either, and yes, I am aware I'm living in a suburb built on farmland forty-five years ago. People then were just as unenlightened as they are now, and if I'd been around then I would have protested the development of this area too. Surely we don't need to continue the stupidity of the past. We can come up with other solutions. What's wrong with the idea of moving some of the future business and employment out of the city? Instead of seeing how many houses we can fit on the head of a pin, why not spread out the concentration over a broader area, onto the Shield, so developments -- if they must happen -- don't endanger the land and water. Balance humans with the environment so we don't destroy it. We have the space here in Canada, but we're not using it wisely. It's too late for what destruction has already been done, but it isn't too late for the future. We need a broader vision, forward thinking. Some kind of solution. I don't know what it is, but I know it isn't this - continuing with more of the same narrow, destructive thinking.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

I'm a Great Aunt!

My sister's daughter had a baby yesterday (on my 30th anniversary -- how auspicious!). I wish I were there to hug her in person. What a great thing to be able to celebrate with your children these big, important moments. A new baby starts the world over again, fresh and new. And now my sister gets to feel that intense, life-changing love for a grandchild. It's like nothing else you can experience. Congratulations, Sarah and Jake!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Fighting on Facebook

I checked messages early this morning just to ensure I really do have an 8:30 meeting this morning and it wasn't cancelled due to the freezing rain. And I came across a hot debate going on on Facebook over, of all things, growing your own food. One person contended that we "moved past" all that growing your own food and saving your own seed "thing" and left it behind so we could have more art, music, education, and travel in our lives.

Well, okay, I acknowledge that medieval peasants didn't have a lot of free time to pursue the arts (though they did dance and sing sometimes). I can see the bit about having difficulty travelling because you have a crop in the field or chickens to feed...but there's such a thing as automated watering systems and neighbours who will swap chores with you. I fail to see how education would have to be sacrificed just because I want to grow cabbage. And it's not as if you spend 24/7 standing in the garden encouraging the brussels sprouts. You can take evenings and Sundays and---well, nine months of winter---for playing instruments or painting canvases.

This woman on Facebook also contended that people don't have time for "all that" these days. I work a 60-hour week but still manage to find time for the things I value. I think it all boils down to choices---Do you spend your time watching TV or wandering through malls or lunching with friends? Do you spend it reading or playing with an orchestra or attending school? Do you spend it knitting and drying beans and bottling beets? It just depends on what you value and what you enjoy. You make time for the things that matter to you. And I contend that if you don't make time for them, you don't really value them.

We all have the same gift of 24 hours in a day. Much of it has to be spent supporting ourselves somehow, whether that's through working in an office or building roads or babysitting children. A certain number of hours of it has to be spent sleeping. But the rest of it is ours to use as we choose. That third bit, whatever its size, is the part that really has the ability to reflect what we care about.

In my "down time" I like reading and writing and gardening and doing handicrafts. I like baking and walking outdoors. I watch my fair share of TV, though it's usually documentaries. I attend church. I interact with my family and pets. It all reflects what I value. If it doesn't, I need to make adjustments and cut out the superfluous. But you can't make the argument that you have no time for the things you value. You can only confess that you haven't chosen to spend your time on those things, or that you don't truly value them. It is a good exercise to stop occasionally and re-evaluate.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Great Canadian Understatement

I was hurrying along the sidewalk at lunch today, huddled in my coat, hat jammed down over my ears, my legs growing numb in the Arctic cold. The wind was sharp and went right through my heavy coat. It felt like a thin layer of ice was forming on my eyeballs. I wondered what the poor Syrian refugees thought of their new northern home, and frankly, I wondered why I had left the Utah desert to come here.

As I neared my office, I passed a man and woman walking in the opposite direction. As we passed, I heard the man say cheerfully, "Cooler today, eh?"

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Crafting a Life

I have completed weaving one tea towel and am halfway through with the second. I encountered a couple of problems along the way---an untied treadle, three broken warp threads---but these were dealt with without a lot of difficulty. However, as the work progressed and the completed part was wound down off the top onto the beam below, it allowed daylight to shine through it, and all the flaws and weak spots were illuminated. Harshly. It appears my beater (beam that holds the reed) must be a bit warped (no pun intended), probably from being in storage and unused for so long. It isn't compressing the threads together very evenly, and there are a couple of rows where the gap between threads is being stretched into...well, a very visible gap.

I tell myself this is my first project and of course there will be flaws. I tell myself I'm still learning. I tell myself not to weep because the work and money I've put into it thus far are now for naught. I tell myself no doubt if I make ten thousand tea towels, at least one will turn out perfectly. None of this is comforting. I cringe with embarrassment that my teacher will see these mistakes.

However, as I rode the bus yesterday, fuming to myself, an idea and a question occurred to me that I think are worth pursuing.

The universe has conspired to give me a loom. The universe is trying to teach me something. What is it? Well, patience for one thing; I've never been strong on patience. Focus is another. I have prayed a lot lately to be able to stay in the "now" instead of always thinking of the past or future. Well, there is nothing so Zen as concentrating on four hundred tiny threads I can barely see. When I am weaving, I am in the moment, completely oblivious to all else in my life except that. I achieve "flow." So the loom has the ability to help me with that. Hmm...I'm seeing a pattern here, and not just in the emerging cloth.

At the risk of sounding prideful, I also have to acknowledge that most things in life have come to me quite easily. I have grown accustomed to excelling at everything I do, without a ton of effort. I know myself to be an intelligent person who grasps new things quickly. I am not used to failing. To be honest, I am prideful. So this whole exercise is, perhaps, also designed to give me a much-needed lesson in humility.

They say that you can cast your needs out into the world and the world will bring you what you need. So...God has seen the things I need to work on and has dropped a loom into my lap in response. How else am I to learn these things? So now I feel a bit better about my flawed fabric. I will improve in persistence and patience, in humility and trust, and in focusing on the now. Regardless of the quality of the output, the very process I'm going through is teaching me what I need to know. In that regard, the loom is doing its job. I will keep weaving, and let it.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Ninth Day Check-In

It has only been nine days since I decided to kick the "real estate browsing" habit. I've been proud of myself for bypassing the real estate magazines at the subway and staying off the Internet. I don't even pause at the real estate page in the newspaper. But last night---I kid you not---I dreamed of sneaking onto the website and looking at old Victorian houses. A subconscious craving indeed!

Meanwhile, I've put my time to better use, crocheting and weaving up a storm. One and a half tea towels finished. And I'm about thirty pages into writing my next novel.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Encounter on a Bus

Yesterday I was waiting for my bus at the station and an older woman approached me to ask in halting English which bus she should take to get to South Common Mall. It's the same bus I take, so I told her to wait with me and I'd get her on the correct bus. The bus came, I sat down, and the woman sat down beside me.

In quite limited English she let me know she was here from Iran, in Canada six months, and just went downtown to an appointment at the hospital. She had six children, two of them still in Iran with her husband, and it was her grand-daughter's first birthday, so she went to Ikea to get a stuffed animal for her. I understood most of what she said and was proud of her bravery, coming to a country without knowing the language and tackling this new learning experience at the age of 67. She was quite a remarkable character.

Then she announced to me that she was Muslim, so I told her I was Mormon, and she beamed and said someone had given her a Book of Mormon in Farsi. She enjoys studying various religions. So we spent the rest of the bus ride yacking in pidgin English, with much pantomime, about the challenges of raising your children in your religion without a strong like-minded community to support it and comparing Muslim and Mormon dietary laws. The bus passed by our LDS church, so I pointed it out to her. And she asked that I write down for her the address and what time church started. I wrote it down on the back of one of my business cards, so she would have my contact information as well. And then she told me she would come to church and see me on Sunday.

Well! What an interesting and unexpected encounter! It would be fun to see her again and welcome her into the circle of women I know at church. As the bus was about to reach South Common Mall, she touched my arm, smiled, and said, "I friend you." As if "friend" was a verb.

And so it is.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Food Storage

We've had one half-hearted snowfall so far and a very mild beginning to winter. I took the garbage out in my bare feet the other day. I take my coat off on the bus because it's just too warm. We have definitely been given a break so far this winter. But today I got my first garden seed ad, and it just seemed a little too early to be thinking of it. I mean, I still have lettuce and kale in the ground from this year's garden! I can't start planning what to plant in the spring while I'm still eating from last year's crop.

Except I can. Ever since the ad arrived, I've been musing about what to grow next year... We're planning to be out of town quite a bit, so I have to plant things that won't need babysitting during the times I'm gone. Things that can be basically ignored until harvest. So I'll plant winter squash and cooking beans, carrots and potatoes, and the other early-to-ripen or late-to-ripen stuff, and I'll probably forego the tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and other things that demand attention mid-summer.

They're saying on the news today that the cost of food is going to skyrocket in the spring. In addition to planting the garden, I need to replenish the food storage we ate last year when my son's family was living with us. I get big #10 cans from the church cannery of oatmeal, flour, beans, sugar, powdered milk, dried apples, and dehydrated onions and carrots and potatoes. In the basement I already have home-bottled apples, grape juice, and tomatoes, though we're about out of peaches, and I didn't do any pears this year. There are jars of dried herbs. The freezer is full of vegetables from the garden, but we should probably stock up on meats. And of course there's the lovely bin of garlic fragrantly residing in the laundry room. Can't have too much garlic.

If I could just keep some laying hens...and turn the backyard pool into a tilapia pond...and plant a few more fruit trees and berry bushes... Well, I could basically provide everything we need except milk, olive oil, and salt. (Well, and chocolate!) And if I got an angora rabbit or two I could provide clothing as well.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Making a Start

Tea towels under way...

I am sure there are probably flaws, but I am still so ridiculously proud of myself. Like, five-year-old-running-home-from-kindergarten-with-a-construction-paper-and-doily-Valentine-for-Mom kind of proud.

Friday, 2 December 2016

The reed has been slain!

They call it sleying the reed...but I don't know if the past tense would be sleyed or slain... Slain feels more appropriate. Whichever it is, it's finished. A little tightening to do and it's ready to start weaving.

All in all it has been a productive day. Took the day off work and made my Christmas cookies and delivered them. I know it's early, but one less thing to do closer to the holiday. I did some Christmas shopping too, starched some tree ornaments I crocheted, worked on the loom, did the dishes, walked the dog, and finished reading A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley. Now I'm starting her book The Firebird and curling up with a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels (don't say anything). Tomorrow it's decorating the tree. I love long weekends!

Kicking the Habit

This time of year is a tricky one when it comes to self-indulgence. Eggnog starts to appear on the grocery store shelves, it seems every desk at work has a bowl of chocolates or candies on it, and the weather conspires to make you want to curl up with a blanket and hot chocolate with marshmallows. The dark mornings entice you to oversleep. The cold makes you want to skip your evening dog-walking, and salads just don't seem like the thing to eat in winter weather. Deals are to be had and it's tempting to spend more than your budget allows. Parties and social events lure you away from the work you should be doing and encourage you to overeat. In spite of the "thinking of others" focus of the holidays, there's a tendency to think about what you want as well. And all this just as the "grouchy and ready to hibernate" instinct starts to rev up. In short, it's not a good time to try to kick a bad habit.

However, when you identify something that isn't good for you and that is distracting you from better things or taking a toll on your relationships, it's time to address it, whatever the season. It doesn't hurt, as the year draws to a close, to take stock of things that need changing and figure out how to make the next year a better one. I don't like setting new year's resolutions, but I do think it important to isolate something you can continually work on to improve yourself or your situation. And I think it's important to only concentrate on one thing at a time, so that you don't overwhelm yourself.

I have undertaken this exercise recently and have decided that, for myself, my fascination with real estate and homesteading now borders on addiction. I prowl the MLS website. I pick up real estate magazines at the subway, even for commercial properties. I watch Tiny House and design and house-flipping shows far more than I should. I doodle house plans and garden plans and lists of vegetables I want to grow. I've crammed my head full of farming information I will never use. I drive my husband crazy pointing out ideal properties I could envision us homesteading on (just to have as a back-up place to retreat to for when the political system collapses, the food security fails, and the zombie hordes descend, you see). I read every book I can get ahold of on farming and green living and DIYing. I spend far too much time scrolling through lovely photos of homes and land on the Internet. I spend $50 a weekend on gas exploring the countryside, always with an acquisitive eye. And I'm admittedly neglecting other worthy activities while I do so. I actually went so far as to make an appointment with a real estate agent to go view twelve acres for Quebec. Just because it was a good deal. (I mean, a really good deal.) Only freezing rain kept me from going and doing something foolish.

The most destructive part about it is that it makes me discontented. It makes me focus on future and wants instead of here and now and the blessings I already have. It makes me resent my job that holds me here and my creaky body that can't dig over the garden I have, much less ten acres. It makes me think about my wants and needs over my family's wants and needs. It makes me ungrateful.'s time to stop. I've erased my account on I've swept off most of the photos on my desktop of graceful staircases and forested vistas (I even had photos on there of neat furnaces I've seen, for heaven's sake). I've vowed to take a long break from homesteading and house-flipping shows that just fill me with envy and unrealistic dreams. I've decided to read other things besides the apocalyptic. Instead I want to concentrate consciously on being grateful for what I already have. The now. To stand still where I am and go deeper. To use the property I do have to its fullest and appreciate it. I will spend my evenings with my loom and learn new things to fill my head---though admittedly I suppose spinning and weaving could be considered homesteading skills, but one doesn't need an actual homestead to do them.

I hadn't realized how embedded into my psyche homesteading is until I deleted that account and found myself wanting to weep. How pathetic is that? It's not as if I'm giving up on a dream that could have become a reality. It never has been a viable, realistic option. Only now I have to be honest and admit it. Face the fact that I will never plow ten acres with a giant draft horse, or raise piglets, or buy seed by the kilogram. It's a painful thing to realize you've spent your life preparing for something that just isn't going to happen. But I think once I fully accept that, it will free me up to welcome other opportunities the universe brings me. To appreciate the good things I already have. Learning to live in gratitude isn't a bad thing. Thinking of my husband and children's needs isn't either. I'm going to try to cultivate a better habit.

Right after I finish consoling myself with a litre of eggnog...

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

I Love Toronto

Riding the subway after work. Dark and cold outside. Everyone running late. Everyone just wanting to get home after a long day. And on every side, as I shuffled along with the crowd on the platform, I heard: "Thank you." "Oops, sorry." "Have a good evening." "See you." People offering other people seats on the train. I didn't hear a single cross word or see an impatient face. As I turned one corner, I came face to face with a young woman coming the other direction, and we did that little side-to-side dance, trying to get around each other but only succeeding in getting in each other's way. And both of us laughed and said sorry in automatic response.

I sat on the train and looked at all these faces around me -- every nationality and colour and age you could think of -- all sitting or standing quietly, reading, speaking in low voices, and just getting along. A microcosm of the world, showing that it is possible to be pleasant and civil with people who are not the same as you. Because really, we are all the same.

I like these people.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016


If that couple was planning to market the meat from their pigs, they'd also need to be able to guarantee the health of their animals. You can't do that if you don't know what they're eating, what diseases they're exposed to, if you've provided no vet care at all...They weren't even keeping breeding records. You can't help but shake your head.

Homesteading Thoughts

I watched a TV show last night about a couple who wanted to go off the grid and raise free-range pigs. So they just plopped themselves down in the woods somewhere and trucked in forty domestic pigs and turned them loose in the forest. And then wondered why the pigs tore up their garden and broke down their shed and fell victim to coyotes and birds of prey. Their chickens and piglets were killed regularly. Not only that, the people themselves didn't have an outhouse, so human and animal feces were throughout the camp, creating a pretty scary scenario.

An experienced homesteader and his family came to help the people sort themselves out, but the couple resisted a lot of what they tried to do, insisting that "their values" wouldn't allow them to pen their animals. After a lot of argument, the experienced homesteaders at least got them to agree to pen their pregnant sows long enough to give birth, to give them some protection from predators and the aggressive boars.

It seems to me they would have had more success if they had approached the couple basing their argument on the couple's values. You want to show compassion to these animals? Well, turning a domestic animal loose in the woods without any sort of watch care and saying "Good luck" is not compassionate. You have a stewardship over these animals. It is your responsibility to see that they are safe and fed and given veterinary care. The people couldn't have argued with that. You also have a duty to care for your own health, so that you're able to care for your animals, and exposing yourself to disease and living in squalor is not the way to do it.

You are more likely to win someone over by appealing to their values (which were good but just not applied appropriately) than by argument or shaming or blaming. The couple's hearts were right, they were just unprepared and unskilled and not thinking very logically. You don't enter into such a stewardship without preparation. Sometimes values and beliefs aren't enough -- you have to know a little something too!

Friday, 25 November 2016

Progress on the loom

I am almost done stringing up my heddles and this weekend I will start sleying the reed, which sounds rather epic, as if I'm fighting dragons. I am finding this whole exercise is like a Zen meditation. Intense concentration, utter mindfulness, focus on tiny details while the mind lets go of every other thing and there remains before you only...the thread.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Another typical evening at the McKendry house

Last night I was upstairs dressing my loom (i.e. feeding 400+ tiny threads through tiny holes) with Brio collapsed contentedly at my feet. My husband was downstairs practising some new bagpipe tunes. My son was at Kendo, learning how to do Samurai sword fighting. And I wondered, "What do other families do in the evenings?"

Monday, 21 November 2016

Continual Education

You know how when you learn a new word suddenly you hear it everywhere? It has become like that for me with fabric. Now that I'm learning to weave, I see people's scarves or shawls on the subway in an entirely new light. I find myself trying to figure out what colour was used for the warp, how they managed to create certain patterns, and what type of fibre they chose. I want to reach out and finger people's sweaters and ask if I can turn their mufflers over so I can see the underside. (I don't of course. I recognize that would be too weird.) But it's as if a new world has opened up to me. I don't even view animals in the same way anymore, but start examining their fur or hair for spinning possibilities.

(If I were a cartoonist, I'd do up a comic that shows a frumpy woman holding a drop spindle and leading a sheep by a leash, standing lost in the doorway of a gym, and mumbling, "I think I misunderstood what you meant by 'spin class.'")

I am never happier than when I am learning something new. Whether it's taking a Hebrew class or going to a gardening workshop or even just reading a good new non-fiction book, I'm in my element when new thoughts are introduced. I like thinking of things in ways I haven't before. I can feel the creative juices start flowing, and a gleam of light enters an otherwise gray, routine day. I think that's why I like taking these Saturday drives my husband and I go on occasionally; I'm exploring new territory and seeing things and places I've never seen before.

Education doesn't have to be formal. Opportunities are all around us - books, documentaries, seminars, even good old in-depth conversations with people who know something we don't. We Latter-day Saints don't view "heaven" as sitting around on our clouds in white gowns; we see it as eternal progression, which means continual learning and growing and probably work. That idea appeals to me.

Though I'll probably go take harp lessons too, just in case.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Road Trip

We had been planning a quick weekend trip to Quebec to see a yurt for sale (long story), but with freezing rain and snow in the forecast, coming from the west, we decided to just do a day trip heading east. It didn't sound like the type of weather we wanted to get stuck in on a small sideroad in unfamiliar territory. We had no real plans about where to go, but figured we'd just see where we ended up. We drove through Peterborough to Burleigh Falls (photos below), which was lovely, and then up to Bancroft. There we had the best halibut fish and chips I've ever tasted, in a cute little shop run by a Nova Scotian, overlooking a pond. The white vinegar for the chips was served in a little plastic spray bottle, and we wondered whether the staff clearing the tables used it to also wash the windows while they were at it.

It was too cold to walk around much, and all the autumn colours were gone gray. So we turned around and came home again (with a little detour to replace the windshield wiper that went flying in the rain shower while we were on the highway - held it together with a twist tie until we could get to a city). About nine hours in the car, but it was a relaxing and beautiful drive. We live in such a pretty province!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

I'm Officially Warped

We're talking weaving, here. I used a friend's warping mill and wound my very first warp, and soon I will learn to put it on the loom itself and then we're in business. First project will be six tea towels in plain weave with some stripes, because that's about as ambitious as I can get right now. But my teacher promises me at some point I will be ready to weave tartans and even start doing tapestry. We are beyond excited!

Friday, 11 November 2016

A Day at the Royal Fair

Today I took the day off work and went to the Royal Agricultural Fair, which is just about paradise for someone like me. Goats and sheep, chickens and pigs, cows the size of small elephants, butter sculptures, giant pumpkins, agility dogs, glass-sided beehives, jam and honey competitions, acres of vendors and demonstrations and exhibits. Goat-butter caramel popcorn, bison burgers, maple taffy, fig-cheese spread, apple fritters (I was good and just ate my bagged lunch. But I took deep breaths around the apple fritter booth...). Soft-nosed llamas and alpacas, daintily nibbling food pellets from my palm. Geese with shredded-looking messy feathers that reminded me of Billy Idol on a bad-hair day.

I chatted with the woman at the rabbit display and got to run my fingers through the angora rabbit's fur. I'm totally enamoured with the idea of raising angora rabbits. They're the size of Brio, and you comb their hair to collect it to spin into super-soft yarn. I would balk at sheering a sheep, but I could comb a rabbit, no problem. Can you think of a more peaceful craft?

During the dog show we paused for a brief Remembrance Day observance, with bagpipes, and the coliseum fell silent, with even the dogs sitting obediently for Last Post. Something about watching slender rescue dogs leaping and sailing through the air over jumps and catching frisbees makes me teary-eyed, I'm not sure why. Just the sheer joy on their faces, I guess. It takes your breath away to see any being throw himself so wholeheartedly into having fun.

The best part of the day for me was, of course, watching the horses. Welsh ponies with a delicate, tip-toeing pace. One grey one especially seemed to glide along hardly skimming the ground, the smoothest trot you've ever seen. It looked more like floating. Little kids about eight years old nonchalantly leading their tall horses. One little kid hardly noticed when his horse nibbled his hat. How would it be to learn bravery at such a young age? Some of the girls had bows on their braids that rivaled the big flashy ribbons their horses won. Dappled greys and silky whites and deep chestnuts and one amazing sunrise sort of colour I can't even describe, darkening to black on the horse's legs as if it had wandered into a pool of ink. It had a neat, small head shaped almost like a Mustang's. One beautiful Palomino seemed to collect first place in every competition he entered, despite the fact that he was a nervous sort and kept rearing and bucking. The judge must have seen something wonderful in him that I couldn't.

My favourites were the massive Belgians and Percherons and Clydesdales that shook the ground as they walked past, like great dark moving mountains. As I watched them being led at a trot around the ring, the idea of dinosaurs and mammoths became more feasible to me. I watched those great black hooves come thudding down mere inches from their leaders' feet and prayed no catastrophe would happen. Bringing them to a halt was like stopping an avalanche.

As I sat watching in the bleachers, a Mennonite woman and her three children sat down next to me. She wore the white cap on her hair and she and her daughter both had long calico skirts on. I smiled but didn't make eye contact because I just assumed she wouldn't want contact with me, an outsider...but the woman turned to me with a bright smile and said, "Are you horse people?" I told her I had been when I was young, and she replied, "We're cow people." They were showing their Holsteins in the next building over. So we sat and chatted for about an hour while her baby fell asleep on her lap and the horses danced by. I loved her accent. I loved the smiles on her children's faces. I loved that the baby was wearing mini Levi jeans. And I loved that this fun agricultural event could bring together different cultures. It's one of the highlights of my year.

A photo of an angora rabbit I took off the Internet (credit to Betty Chu):

Monday, 7 November 2016

Gearing up for the election...

I am planning to stay up late tomorrow night to watch the results of the U.S. election. I have a fuzzy blanket ready (coincidentally printed with Obama's face). I'm going to buy bags of chocolate and forget the diet. Maybe some other comfort foods too, like grilled cheese sandwiches or lemon pie. And maybe I'll do a puzzle on the coffee table to distract myself while I watch TV, so I can pretend I'm not really that invested in the results...

I recently read a newspaper article about the cookbook Eat Your Feelings: Recipes for Self-Loathing, in which the journalist mused on what one should snack on during the Apocalypse. It's funny how we gravitate toward certain high-fat foods when we feel in need of comfort. There are some events in life where a righteous celery stick just won't do.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

By small means are great things brought to pass...

I can feel the slow descent of depression encroaching as the mornings get darker and the gardening winds up. It's like a heavy blanket being slowly drawn over my head. I start wanting to cry for no reason, and there are days I have to consciously remind myself to breathe. I have decided to take it by the horns and wrestle with it rather than succumb, which is my first inclination. Lying on the couch with a bowl of Malteasers is tempting, but not productive or healthy. So I've started finding small ways to jolt myself out of it.

Learning new things is always a good idea that usually perks me up, and the weaving will hopefully help with that. It will also provide some core-muscle exercise, which is otherwise a bit hard to come by in winter. I intend to go down to the community centre to swim and sit in the hot tub periodically. I will continue with my yoga and meditation. I splurged on two shampoos, one coconut-scented and the other tangy citrus, to give myself a little lift. And, ridiculously, I bought a new box of Kleenex for my cubicle at work that has a surprisingly lovely mountain vista printed on the side. I will enjoy looking at it.

As I shamefacedly showed my husband my feeble attempts to bring light and comfort to my winter this year, I expected him to scoff a bit. I mean, after all, he's a psychotherapist, and scented shampoo is not exactly cutting-edge science. But his reaction made me laugh: "If I can avoid having to buy acreage and move out into the bush because you can stare at a Kleenex box instead, I'm all for it!"

Friday, 4 November 2016

Sent my ballot in

Today, the 27th anniversary of my crossing the border into Canada, I sent off my ballot for the U.S. election. Seems a bit ironic. Also felt a bit like casting an itty-bitty seed into the vast Palouse. This is the first time I've felt physically ill while doing my civic duty... But still, it's good to have the opportunity to participate. The last time I tried to vote, they told me I didn't qualify to register. Don't know why. This time they registered me without a problem. Hmmm...

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Immigrating to Canada

Twenty-seven years ago today, I was driving across the U.S. with my husband and 9-month-old baby, on the way to Canada. We brought along a collapsible playpen our son was used to sleeping in, so he'd have a familiar bed when we stopped at hotels along the way. He was a champion traveler and made the four-day drive without a problem. We stopped at Mount Rushmore on the way. I was especially struck by the beauty of Michigan and the Great Lakes.

When we arrived at Sault Ste. Marie, it was midnight and snowing. We managed to find a hotel but it was dark and I didn't get a good look at the town until the next time I went through it about 26 years later. We had no jobs lined up but my in-laws were willing to have us stay in their basement for a month while we got on our feet.

I didn't know what to expect in my new home, and certainly didn't anticipate some of the challenges (for example, assuming I understood Canadian English as opposed to Utahn). But all in all it has been a wonderful journey, the people have been amazingly kind, the Ontario countryside is breathtaking, Toronto is vibrant and exciting, and we have done well here. And the ethnic food is fantastic! I miss my family in the States and I miss the mountains (still can't navigate well here without mountains to refer to), but I think we made the right choice coming here. If I could talk to my 22-year-old self as she crossed the border all those years ago, I'd tell her to relax and be happy. Not to worry. Not to let the homesickness get to her. She would put down roots, and it would all work out just fine.

Monday, 31 October 2016

When your son is a culinary student...

Other kids are throwing Halloween parties with ordered-in pizza and bags of candy. My eighteen-year-old made two batches of profiteroles with blueberry jam and flattened triangular ham and tomato sandwiches with the crusts cut off...with rosemary-infused butter.

I see my work here is done.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Figured out where all the ground cherries went

So the way ground cherries work is, when they are ripe they fall to the ground and you gather them up, sort of like hunting for eggs beneath a very large hen. I have been watching all summer as the berries have clustered in their little Japanese-lantern paper wrappings. It promised to be a bumper crop. But surprisingly, they didn't seem to be ripening. I only found a handful of them lying beneath the leaves. I've been checking all summer, and zilch. So I figured they were just slow to ripen this year.

Well, frost hit and the bush withered and blackened, so I ripped it all out with a sigh. Better luck next year. Yesterday I finished putting the garden to bed (other than the kale and lettuce). As part of the annual routine, I lifted and stacked the wooden walkways that wander throughout the vegetable garden, so that they wouldn't rot under the snow. And guess what I found under the walkways?

Ground cherry paper wrappers. Dozens and dozens of them. Along with a few peanut shells. So it turns out the ground cherries were ripening and falling all along, but the mice were grabbing them before I could find them. Who knew we had mice? And who knew they were so fond of ground cherries?

Next time I will not make assumptions when things don't seem to follow the proper pattern. Though frankly, I don't know what I'd do about mice. Even if I wanted to poison them, I wouldn't want Brio or Maple to come across a poisoned mouse that has wandered away into the yard to die, because they're fluff-brained enough to consider it a snack. And somehow it doesn't seem right to kill a critter that's living in its natural habitat. I mean, I'm the one encroaching on its territory, not the other way round.

Besides, I can sympathize with their love of ground cherries. How can I get upset with them for a trait I share myself?

I fear I'm a lousy gardener. Between sympathy for mice and love of rabbits, I'm doomed to eating whatever paltry leftovers they leave me.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

One good thing coming out of the U.S. election...

If nothing else, all the kerfuffle in the media about the election in the States has reminded me of something: the sheer fact that people are allowed to have opinions and to hold debates and to vote for the candidate of their choice is an amazing, wonderful thing. People are allowed to speak up and argue and talk about what they believe is right. They're given a vote. We may not agree with our neighbour's choice, but we can celebrate together the freedom that allows it. We shouldn't lose sight of that one vital point.

Winter Arrives

Two days ago I was picking cherry tomatoes and ground cherries in my garden and hoping my last couple of zucchini would get a little bigger. Today it is snowing. I wore a sweatshirt to work this morning because it was just a bit chilly. Now the Arctic has descended and it's going to be a cold trip home. The sky has turned a sullen, lead grey, and I suspect that will be it for sunshine for a while. Time to get out the woolly sweaters and make a big pot of chili. They're predicting a long, hard winter this year, and from the way today looks, I believe them.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Narrow Miss

This morning I was crossing the street (in the crosswalk, with the lights) at 5:00, so it was still dark. The light was about to turn yellow, so my first impulse was to break into a jog, but for some reason after a step or two, I just stopped short in the middle of the street, can't tell you why...and a white car zipped by and missed me by a couple of feet. He was trying to make the light too, I'm sure, making a lefthand turn, and likely didn't see me at all. I know I didn't see him until he was right there. Another step or two forward and I'd have been mush. Glad I didn't break into a jog when I was about to. Glad my guardian angels were more alert than both of us were this morning.

Spent the commute this morning feeling grateful, and thinking about all the loose ends I'd leave behind if I were to die right now, and all the people who would need notifying, and what about the lesson I have to teach Sunday, and the garden still to harvest for the Salvation Army, and the rewrites of my next manuscript still half done, and...well, let's face it. I just don't have time to die right now!

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Revisiting old friends

Every now and then, I like to dig out old favourite books and reread them. My husband doesn't understand this -- to him, you read a book once, or watch a movie once, and then you're done and never do it again. On to other things. For this reason he doesn't understand why there are certain books I purchase and keep, instead of just getting them from the library. But to me, if the book spoke to me, I want to revisit it now and then. If I found a person I liked, wouldn't I want to speak to them occasionally? Well then, it's like that with me and particular books.

Right now I'm indulging in The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley. I've read it probably four times, and I'll likely read it again periodically. It's escapist, I know, but especially on dark winter days, what better thing to do than escape? I also frequent the Martha Grimes mysteries, Laurie King, Robin and Rosamunde Pilcher, Alan Bradley, Louise Penny, and Charles Todd. Occasionally I throw in some Desi Kennedy gardening books, Barney Bardsley, or any of the multitudinous self-sufficiency and homesteading books I own. You know the ones -- they teach you how to build everything from an outhouse to a hammered dulcimer and how to do anything from making maple syrup to delivering a calf. If I'm ever stranded in the woods with nothing but a pocket knife, I'll be fine so long as I have those books with me.

My husband bought me a Kindle, but even if I'm reading a favourite author on the thing, it just doesn't feel the same. It's like meeting an old friend and finding them decked out in a tinfoil suit. Same person but odd presentation, and after a few polite words one might awkwardly excuse oneself from the conversation and plead urgent business elsewhere. I think with books, the clothes make the man, and there's nothing quite like the familiar, comfortable feel of the actual paper cover in your hand. There are old books I keep just because I like the feel of them against my palm.

The greatest thing about rereading these favourite books is that my memory is so poor, I honestly don't recall how the mystery turns out. It's like reading them for the first time, so I get to enjoy them afresh again and again.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A spending spree at Camilla Valley Farm

Today I took the day off work and hubby and I drove to Orangeville to the only weaving supply shop I know of. Beautiful autumn leaves, valleys of flaming maple trees, perfect sunshine, and just the right temperature for a drive.

Camilla Valley is a beautiful place, and all the colour practically punches you in the face when you walk into the shop. Shelf after shelf of cones of thread in such vibrant hues, every colour imaginable. It was like Aladdin's cave. Jewel-bright golds and blues and greens and reds. Bins and bins of handspun wool. Looms and drop spindles and warping boards and mills and packets of knitting needles and hand-held carders and rows of instruction books... well, it was a lovely place to visit, and the wooden counter with its antique till made me feel as if I'd stepped back in time. As if I were being initiated into something special and ancient and important. The shop is situated in a snug gray building on the beautiful farm, the most perfect spot, and I couldn't help thinking this woman has established for herself a beautiful way to earn a living. I wanted to plunk myself down and stay forever.

A hundred and twenty-something dollars later (who needs groceries, anyway?), I walked out with a bagload of thread and Texsolv heddles, armed and ready for the next stage of the adventure. All the way home, hubby and I talked about the ancient art of weaving and how the technology seems so overly complicated and fussy and daunting, and hubby came up with innovative ideas for simplifying it. Though I suppose there's something to be said for keeping the art alive in its original form (Texsolv regardless).

My generous new weaving friend Carole is going to help me wind the warp, which takes a couple of hours and sounds as involved as flying a 747. But it isn't something that can be learned from a book or Youtube video; it really is best to get the knowledge from another person, passed down hands-on.

At some point I am going to write a poem about the interweaving of threads, the interweaving of the lives of these generous women who have taken me under their wing to help me learn this craft, the intertwining of experience and kindness, and how it all magically works together to create something beautiful. I can feel the poem growing within me, a thread here and there, waiting to emerge fully formed. During the tangle of the process it's sometimes hard to see the big picture, but someday when I'm above the difficult part and looking down at the topside of the cloth, I'll see how the pattern all works out.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

A great day

Cool crisp air today with more summer than fall in the air. Took the roses from the pots flanking the front door and planted them in the side yard. Trimmed the sedum to the ground. Relocated a bush that was struggling for light. Emptied all the flower pots and stored them in the shed. Picked dry beans. Cut down the peonies. Wound up the hoses and sprinklers. Stashed my fake chickens in the shed. Hubby dug out three dead bushes from the Zen garden (this summer's heat wave took out a few things). Scooped poop. Pulled out the remains of the cabbages and cauliflower. Put blankets over the tomatoes and ground cherries to protect them from tonight's frost. Ran to Canadian Tire and Home Depot. Got the island for Son #3's basement kitchen (white with a butcher-block top). Took the dogs on a long walk to return a library book and discovered a new path home. Hubby threw together three dinners, two to freeze and one for tonight. Finished reading my book (The Undertaker's Daughter by Kate Mayfield - quite good). Took Son #3 to work. Answered a bunch of emails and sent thank-yous to the bloggers who reviewed my book this week. Prowled on for a while to indulge my real estate ad addiction. Started the next book, The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, which I've read before but it was so long ago I can't recall it; I only know in my notebook I wrote down that it was good. Now settling down to crochet for a while before dinner, and will likely watch TV tonight and crochet some more.

A perfect day. A productive day. How I wish I could do this kind of thing every day instead of huddling in my soulless, airless cubicle wiggling my fingers for a living.

Monday, 10 October 2016

A Wee Surprise for Son Number Three

Son Number Three (who is in chef school) has gone to spend the day at Son Number One's house (a decadent few hours of Magic cards, Warhammer, video games, and apparently homemade French onion soup). While he's away, my husband has blitzed his basement bedroom, cleared a corner, and installed a fridge and cupboard and a really cool oven, to give Son #3 his own kitchenette. The oven is one we have had tucked away in storage for years and Son Number Three hasn't seen it in action. It's an old double oven from a restaurant, and the oven doors rotate upward instead of opening downward like usual doors. The four burners are in a pull-out drawer that you can slide in and out to keep hot burners away from small children. Super unique. At some point we'll also install a movable island---likely from Ikea---which Son can take with him when he gets his own place someday.

The plan is to get him a nice futon couch and redo things in adult colours (he likes black, white, and red). Voila -- the gloomy basement will become a snazzy bachelor pad.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Canadian Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, a bit earlier than in the States because, well, our growing season tends to be shorter and the harvest is earlier. Though I'm not so sure that's true anymore. We're walking around in t-shirts up here, and they're building snowmen in Wyoming. But in any case, it's the holiday, and the whole family is coming to dinner. Hubby has been roasting the turkey early so that the oven is free to do the sweet potatoes, etc. Two orange-lemon meringue pies wait in the fridge. There's homemade grape juice to be brought up from the basement, and green and purple beans from the garden.

It's an appropriate time to stop and reflect on the abundance we enjoy and count our blessings. Top of my list is my faith and the Atonement. My husband and parents. My cool kids. My cuddly and faithful dogs. The country I live in. The peace we enjoy here. The teachers I've had. The ability to read. People who write so I can read. The beauty of nature, and the mystery of putting seeds into the ground and having food pop up. And tomorrow I'll be particularly grateful for the joy of having to squeeze in more chairs around the dining table, with people to fill them.

Autumn has always been my favourite time of year, with the cooler temperatures, the salmons and crimsons of the maple trees, the smell of wood stoves in the air as I walk the dogs. The cozy evenings, the hushed sound of a world blanketed in snow. The laden storage shelves. The taste of pumpkin pie and eggnog.

It is glorious enough to make up for the winter that follows.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Putting the Garden to Bed for the Winter

In between rainshowers I've been dashing outside to behead the catalpa trees, trim back the bushes, gather in the dry beans, pull out dead squash vines, cut cabbages, and check for late-ripening tomatoes. I've cut down the asparagus ferns for a second crop. I've started bringing in the lettuce seed heads and ground cherries. It's bittersweet, knowing this is the ending, even while relishing the thought of not having to weed for a few months.

A neighbour is putting in a new patio in back, and the contractor dumped a bunch of beautiful red bricks on the boulevard to haul away to the dump. With hardly any persuasion at all, he kindly drove a load over to our yard and dumped the bricks near my garden, where I have now built a nice little patio spot to hold a table and chair, so I can write in the garden. It was an area that got too much shade and not enough water anyway, so wasn't any good for growing vegetables. Free bricks are a pleasure to build with, especially these, which are old, solid, heavy, real bricks and not the crumbling modern ones you usually see.

I'd like to clear out the area around the composters and put landscape fabric and gravel down, to keep the thistles and wild strawberries at bay. And then it will be time to stack the wooden walkways and tomato cages under cover, clean and sharpen the tools and rotary lawnmower, take down the curtains of the gazebo, scrape autumn leaves as a mulch over the whole garden, and retreat to the house for the winter. Where bottles of apple pie filling and Roma tomatoes wait to entertain me for the next six months. :)

Monday, 3 October 2016

General Conference came at just the right moment

I know every time someone watches LDS General Conference, they say "Those talks were written just for me!" But this time they really were written just for me. Two days of lovely listening, and every word seemed to be just what I needed to hear. As I start to feel the annual slump into wintertime blahs, it was great to hear encouraging messages about finding joy no matter what our circumstances are, and to be reminded of how blessed I am. I'm going to print out some of my favourite talks and carry them with me in my backpack, so I can remind myself of the messages throughout the winter as I slog back and forth to work in the dark.

That's the hardest part of winter -- not the harsh cold or the snow or the freezing rain or even the boring routine. It's the dark when I get up. The gray cast of the days. The dark when I go home. I hardly ever get to see my own yard because it's pitch black by the time I roll home at 5:00. It's good to stop and remember that there is still light and peace in my life.

If any of you reading this missed any of the talks, please go to and watch or read the General Conference sessions. Whether you're Mormon or not, you will find comfort and encouragement in them.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Lessons (not) Learned

You would think getting skunked right in the face would slow Brio down, or at least humble him a little. Nope. He is charging right back out there, and as he burrows into the bushes, searching, you just know he is thinking, "That little stinker! I'm gonna find him and teach him a lesson!"

Saturday, 1 October 2016


Well, the inevitable has finally happened. Brio the Intrepid got too friendly with a skunk last night in the back yard and got it right in the face. My first clue was when I opened the back door to let the dogs in...and the aroma hit me...and then I saw Brio rolling in the grass, trying to wipe his face. Maple wisely had stayed out of it. But oooh boy, Brio!

I hollered for help and my husband and I gave him a good scrub, first with professional dog shampoo and then with a mix of Palmolive and vinegar. So now the house smells like skunk and vinegar. And the incense my husband lit. And wet dog.

You may not want to visit our house for a few days...

Friday, 30 September 2016

Books are a Girl's Best Friend

My granddaughter has started kindergarten and is finding it a bit too easy. She's sort of bored, actually. I was telling my daughter-in-law that it will be easier once Kiddo can read -- then she can entertain and challenge herself outside of school. For the rest of her life, she'll be able to teach herself and explore, without having to wait for a teacher to take her there. Once you can read, you're never bored again. I can't wait to introduce her to my old favourites... A Hundred Dresses, A Little Princess, Charlotte's Web, Bread and Jam for Frances, Chicken Soup with Rice, My Father's Dragon, Blueberries for Sal... All my old friends I grew up with.

I remember the thrill of the Bookmobile coming around to our block in the summer. It would park in the church parking lot, and my brother and I would run to meet it. I still remember the hollow thump of our feet in the back of the truck, the smell of the books, the joy of checking out a new Hardy Boys mystery (we would practice inking each other's fingers and study our fingerprints with a magnifying glass, talking knowledgeably about ulnar loops, and we'd try to track various animals -- practising to be detectives, you know). It was like Aladdin's Cave on wheels, full of adventure and excitement.

Sometimes we'd get to go to the old Provo City Library, where my red plastic card would admit me to the children's section. I envied my mother's pink card that let her wander into any area of the library. We'd check out old Charlie Chaplin movies to play on our ancient projector, too...Ah, the days before Blockbuster and Netflix!

At Edgemont Elementary we had a wonderful librarian named Mrs. Condie, and she would read us Where the Red Fern Grows and The Great Brain in the perfect reading voice while we sat mesmerized on the carpet at her feet. My 5th Grade teacher Mr. Madsen read us Little Britches when we had free time in class. My favourite times at school were when we got to have read-a-thons in the gym. We'd lie on the floor with any free-reading book we wanted for the afternoon, and we could bring red licorice or Sugar Babies to eat while we read. Boy, those days are long gone now too. Try proposing an afternoon of sprawling on the floor with sugar at a grade school now! But it just added to my love of reading.

I love the feel of books in my hand. That kitchy furniture that looks like it's made out of books makes me happy. I love those podium things that hold special, heavy ancient books in museums and churches. I inhale that musty paper scent in old book shops as if it's the most expensive of perfumes. I love the very idea of glass-doored bookshelves and those sliding wall-mounted ladders reaching up to the high shelves. I can't help but judge people by their bookshelves. I collect pictures of reading nooks and window seats made for reading in. I know the advantages of e-readers, but they just don't feel like books, you know? Some of the cozy joy of it is lost when you try to curl up with a Kindle. It just isn't the same.

Once you can read, you can learn anything, because everything is in a book somewhere.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016


I had great plans today. I was going to come home after work and go weed and water the food bank garden. And I started out well, really I did. I went and harvested a bunch of tomatoes, peppers, okra, and kale and delivered it to the food bank. And then decided the rain last night watered things well enough that I didn't need to do it again. And then thought of the Maggie Smith movie I'd rented from the library, and remembered my husband was at band practice so tonight would be a good night to curl up with a chick flick... And so Maggie Smith it was. And the weeding didn't happen. My apologies. But between Maggie Smith or purslane...really, what would you have chosen?

I often get sidetracked by things when I fully intend to do something else. I go to dust the bookshelves and spy the little book by Dan Holst Soelberg and simply have to stop and read it. (My favourite stanza is "Paloma is plummeting fast through the sky. She cannot recall when this started or why.") Or I go to do the dishes and start thinking about the jar of chopped pecans in the cupboard and next thing you know, I'm making butterscotch bars (and dirtying more dishes). I go out to work in the back yard and end up sitting in the far corner eating wild strawberries. I fully intend to walk the dog but somehow end up sitting with my feet in the pool instead. And I sat down at this computer just now to email someone and totally forgot and wandered onto my blog instead...and just now remembered.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

One just out of the chute, another on the way!

My next book, The Governess, comes out in October. There are all the usual labour pains - having to ratchet myself up from writer to seller, sending out notices, organizing signings and book club appearances. But even while I'm in the midst of all that, I just got word that my next manuscript has been accepted, and will come out in November 2017. It's like getting pregnant before I'm finishing birthing this one. I'm happy, but I'm also already gearing up for the series of rewrites and editing sessions to come. And there will be struggles, because the Nov 2017 one is more of a drama, and I want to get it exactly right. Working title for now: Sing Your Way Home.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

If there are Cardinal Numbers, are there Venal ones?

I have always had a love/hate relationship with numbers. In grade school they would give us a page full of times tables and we would race to fill it out within a certain period of time. I liked the feeling of filling in the tidy little boxes and discovering patterns. I liked the pat on the head I got when I did it quickly and correctly. Around 4th Grade, I got put in an “advanced” class for math, meaning I left the main group and went into a little side room for instruction, and then endured the sneers and teasing of my classmates when I emerged. I got the message pretty early on that it wasn’t good to stand out, and smart kids were considered teacher’s pets. Part of me liked being petted, but there were also times I purposely played dumb to fit in better.

My dad the math professor would give us kids playful math problems and number games as we grew up, I suppose hoping to instill a love for numbers in our hearts. He would be positively gleeful as he showed us clever tricks that "proved" 1 equaled 2, or gave us probability and logic problems. Some of us kids caught his enthusiasm and some of us didn’t. I didn’t. (Though I have kept for thirty years the scrap of paper on which he wrote the 1=2 problem.)
When I was about 16, I transcribed the 1840s journal of my 3rd-great grandfather. In it, he paced out the length of the ship on which he sailed from England to the U.S. and faithfully recorded the measurements in his journal. I think I know where Dad gets his love of numbers.

In high school, math got serious. And difficult. I would stare at the page and the numbers would stare back up at me mutely, refusing to reveal their secrets. My father laboured long and patiently with me every night to help me understand my homework. He made me do the work, but he took the time to explain to me the things my teachers just couldn’t seem to present logically. When I protested that I would never need to know any of this (and I haven’t), he would remind me that I wasn’t learning math; I was learning how to learn. I was practising discipline. I am grateful for those sessions because they got me through, but I remember automatically starting to cry every time we sat down to work. It was an instantaneous response. I don’t know if I’ve ever properly thanked my dad for dragging me kicking and screaming through those tedious hours, but the good grades got me the scholarship that let me get into university, where I could pursue my true passion: languages. (And he’d be the first to point out that math, a system of patterns, is a language in itself.)

Now I work as an administrative coordinator, and part of my job is keeping statistics. And I have flip-flopped again. I’m back to filling out tidy little boxes in Excel, playing with word problems, and looking for patterns. I can see how the math applies to daily life and makes sense of what otherwise would look like chaos. So I’m back to liking it again.

Son Number Three has a flair for math, and it is paying off for him in college. It’s one less thing he has to struggle with in his program. It gives him a boost of confidence. He knows he’s capable of learning. Maybe the genes have jumped a generation. Thanks, Dad.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

A Magical Moment in the Forest

Yesterday I walked Brio down to the library to drop off a book, and then without really thinking about it, we just kept walking. I knew vaguely that there was a nature trail somewhere by the University of Toronto down the street, but I wasn't sure how to get to it or where it went. But we found a path leading to it and off we went. It's called the Sawmill Creek trail, I think. And I had no idea such a hidden gem was so near my house!

A well-maintained path led through a mixed forest along a lively little stream, and even though I could hear the distant hum of cars on the road, it felt as if we were quite far removed from the city. Tunnels of green, filtered sunlight, a damp cool breeze... it was just perfect. Here and there were bridges over side tributaries, and in one place there was a nice boardwalk constructed over marshy ground, making a satisfying hollow sound as we marched over it.

At one point they had laid down a Trex walkway, solid and easy to walk on but in a startling orangey colour that didn't match the natural surroundings. Brio lowered his head, and as we walked along he got closer and closer to me until he was pressed against my leg, and then he dropped behind me and got even slower. Clearly didn't like this foreign stuff he was walking on. Not sure why. As soon as we left it and stepped back onto the dirt path, his head went up and he bounced back out in front, happy again. Note to self: don't use Trex in my yard.

And then, as we rounded a corner, I happened to glance to my left and there was a doe standing, watching me in stillness, with her fawn a little ways behind her. She must have been about ten or twelve feet from me. She held still, a gentle brown statue, but the fawn lowered its head and ate nonchalantly. They don't expect predators here. I strode on past without making eye contact and kept a good hold on Brio's leash, but he didn't even notice her. When we'd passed her, I glanced back and she was calmly standing...and then a few feet later I looked again and the deer had blended into the surrounding trees and I could no longer see them, though they hadn't moved.

Such an unexpected treat! And so lovely to know I can walk there whenever I want to, a soft hidden retreat from the city.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Reviving the Salon

It used to be that well-connected people in places like Paris and New York would open their homes to literary and artistic guests, hosting social gatherings and dinners and discussions. They called it a "salon" and it was meant to both entertain and educate, giving artists a chance to rub elbows and share knowledge as well as amusement. The practice was big in France post-Renaissance, and it continued into the 20th century but seems to have died out in the 1940s. I guess World Wars dampened the enthusiasm for such things, or stole away many of the creative generation of that time. Women joined the work force in greater numbers, the commute to distant factories ate up our time, and dinner became a bowl of Kraft Mac and Cheese eaten in front of the TV.

I like the idea of having people to dinner, just to sit around the table eating and chatting and sharing insights with inspiring people. I like to think about who I'd invite. Who I'd like to learn from. Alexander McCall Smith for certain, and Robin Pilcher (both of whom I actually have invited to dinner next time they're in this area). Susanna Kearsley. Alan Bradley. Louise Penny. (All of them are locals, come to think of it. It could happen.) I'm not really a follower of actors and entertainment, but I wouldn't mind meeting someone like Michael Caine or Maggie Smith. Or Betty White, just for tips on longevity (I personally suspect it's having spent life laughing. Look at Bob Hope and George Burns, who lived to a good old age). Carol Burnett. Bill Nighy. And I'd enjoy an intense discussion with Rick Mercer. Then there are the non-artistic in the classic sense, but just people who have crafted an interesting life--- Joel Salatin, for example, or Simcha Jacobovici.

And why limit it to live people, as long as I'm dreaming? Imagine this: a dinner table with softly glowing candles, a chamber orchestra playing in the background (magically fitting in my 10 x 10' dining room). Homemade pasta and crunchy garlic bread. Napoleon flirts harmlessly with Charlotte Bronte, while Marie Antoinette goes for the piece of cake with the most frosting. Victor Hugo commiserates with Hemingway, Tolstoy ignores them both, and Genghis Khan tries to pick a fight with Gandhi over whether to pronounce the Hs in their names. Dorothy Parker pokes at her garden salad and scribbles on the tablecloth with a pencil, while Sigmund Freud quietly pockets the silverware. Mozart hums along to the music, and Noah slips food scraps to Brio under the table. Paul Bunyan has to eat outside on the patio because he's too large for the room. Heathcliff stalks the grounds in deep conversation with Melrose Plant. I'd get my husband to do the cooking, because he's better at it, and afterward we'd all tour the garden to pick blueberries to scatter on our ice cream (I said this was a dream, right? I picked -- count'em -- four blueberries from my garden this year).

Who would you invite? Whose brain do you want to examine? Whose life do you have questions about? Who would you find fascinating? And when you host your next salon, can I come?

Tuesday, 13 September 2016


My favourite time of year is here. The leaves are starting to turn, the air is starting to cool, the stars seem brighter and sharper at night, and the garden is beginning to wind down. I've picked the last squash and am hoping the Collective Farm Woman melon ripens before frost. (Yes, melon. Just one this year. Previous years I've gotten a dozen or more, but I think the heat really sucked away their will to live this summer.) The beans are hovering on the edge of dry, the pea vines have been cut down, and every day I check for fallen ground cherries in their paper wrappers beneath the vines, as if I were feeling for eggs beneath a hen. I feel like apologizing to the lush plants for peeking.

The farmers' market only has a few weeks left. I went on Saturday and just wandered the aisles, admiring the piles of golden beets, the abundance of butternut squash, the buckets of herbs and rows of containers of wild blueberries. I commented to the girl behind the table that someone must be insane by now, picking all those tiny blueberries. She replied solemnly, "I think there's a hotline for blueberry depression."

I bought bags of stuff just because it looked so good -- cauliflower the size of a basketball, dark green zucchini, mouth-watering red peppers, plump crimini mushrooms, and a half-dozen pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins (from the Mennonite table. Best baking in the world.). The teenage boy I bought my gigantic unruly lettuce from had a hard time getting it into its plastic bag. My remark "It's like trying to get a girl in a frilly dress into a sleeping bag," got a smile.

The cooler temperatures bring out the energy that's been flagging all summer. Suddenly I feel like doing things -- climbing mountains, wandering along rivers, writing poetry. I took the dogs out for their walk last night and you'd have thought they hadn't been out in months. They towed me along as if we were in the Iditarod, Brio's ears streaming back and a wild grin on his face. Yeesssss! I took my sewing out to the picnic table in the backyard to enjoy the cool evening. All I could hear was lawnmowers and my neighbour on the phone, but I pretended the droning was the splash of the waterfall at last week's Zen retreat and it was very peaceful.

I am determined to avoid my usual winter blahs this year. I'll throw myself into learning to weave, practise my yoga, try to be more consistent with meditating. I'll find some new and exciting writing project to focus on. I'll spend time with my grandchildren. I'll eat the bottles of fruit I've carefully prepared all summer. And sometime around late January, I'll pull out the seed catalogues with their glossy, enticing photos.

Life is good.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Beauty and the Beets

Yesterday's project was harvesting all the beets, steaming and peeling them, and then pickling them. I grew Goldens and Bull's Blood, and they gleam like jewels on the shelves. There's nothing quite like that cozy feeling of putting up food for the winter.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

How to Cook a Yeti

Hubby and I went on a low-carb diet a while ago and lost 25 pounds each, but some of it has slowly crept back in the last few months. After the three days at the meditation retreat eating nothing but carbs in multiple forms, we decided it was probably time to go low-carb again for a while. I cooked up a spaghetti squash, and on the way home today I was thinking about the spaghetti sauce I could put over it. Sauce and squash. Sauce squash. It sounded disturbingly close to eating Sasquatch.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Monk with the Steel-Toed Boots

Just returned from a three-day meditation retreat at the Zen Forest in Tweed, Ontario. Hard to explain how amazing it was. Beautiful location, super-kind people, and three days of peacefulness. And three days of the half-lotus position, which has pretty much crippled me. The last day was done in total silence (we were supposed to be silent the whole time but we were a bit naughty. I mean, if one sees a beaver swimming along or hears a loon, one has to comment on it, right?). Anyway, it was a very interesting long weekend.

The Zen Forest is run by a Vietnamese abbott, who came there to homestead 21 years ago. He also happens to be an engineer. For six years he lived on his own without running water or electricity, and he has slowly built up this amazing temple and retreat centre. He's built a beautiful central building, multiple huts for guests, and he's excavated a big lake and built walkways and bridges and terraced landscaping. He's sculpted a massive reclining Buddha out of cement to lie peacefully against the hillside across the lake. Quite wonderful. Everywhere you could see evidence of further projects...backhoes parked under the trees, crates of yet-to-be-unpacked statues and stone lanterns, an electric sawmill beside a stack of cedar logs. Fascinating to wander around. All of it has been accomplished through donations, because he has no money himself. (And we were paying less than $16 a day to cover food and lodging, so he wasn't making any money from that. If anything, we cost him.) You stumble across treasures out in the woods, evidence of even more creativity and industry. Abandoned chicken coops. Pillars for a gate that wasn't installed. Sheds of tools. Plastic chairs just sitting out in the woods, waiting for someone to discover and sit in them. The monk himself has the most wonderful, gentle smile that made you love him immediately. He strode around in his saffron-coloured robes with a matching ski hat and steel-toed boots, a beneficent and quiet presence working in the background.

The Buddhist nun who cooked for us was a jolly, smiling, shaven-headed woman who turned out great quantities of delicious food for the 15 of us---flavourful soups, salads, stir-fry, terrific spring rolls, and tofu and rice made in a myriad of ways that I'd never thought possible. Five or six different carbs every meal, really. You haven't experienced anything quite like her cauliflower and noodles in broth for breakfast. We all fell in love with her and wanted to take her home. She confided to me that she loves winter, and when it snows, she goes out in the yard and rolls in it...when there's no one watching. As I was sitting later, supposed to be working on my koan, a fully-formed Haiku popped into my head.

Nun rolling in snow
smiling face like the Buddha
No neighbours to see.

You can see my mind was doing its own thing, not cooperative at all. Except sometimes. Sometimes the usual chatter in my head would still, and the sound of the waterfall would wash away words, and the soft sunlight filtering into the sitting platform would bathe my brain, and the cool breeze would brush my arms, and for one perfect instant there would be total peace.

Going again someday. I'm hooked. Except this time I'll do some Working Meditation too, and help with the weeding. The acreage is expansive and volunteers are needed. In fact, if I'd stayed another few days, I think I may never have left. I could easily picture myself moving into one of the little shacks and spending the rest of my days gardening and moving stone and slurping rice noodles.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Toronto Air Show a Bonus

I went for a walk at Queen's Park at lunch today to enjoy the (finally) cool temperature and lovely sunshine. I like walking there, even though it's usually crawling with people. The big, fat-trunked trees are so old their bark has started to bag around their ankles like socks that have lost their elastic. The flower beds are thick and lush and alive with the sound of water splashing. The paths are full of people walking their dogs, jogging, or wandering around with selfie sticks (why is it tourists in a new place aim their cameras toward themselves? They know what they look like! Aren't they supposed to be more interested in the new surroundings? Are they trying to prove to people back home that they really came?)

As I was moseying along, there was a roar like the end of the world and a jet shrieked by not far above us. Followed by three yellow smaller planes flying in formation. Followed by what I think was a Harrier (the June Bug of aircraft). And I realized this weekend is the air show. They must have been doing a noon show, or else practising for tomorrow. It lent a surreal aspect to the afternoon, this peaceful park, the ancient trees, and the scream of modern technology over all.

I have a secret passion for speed, for sleek planes and cars. I remember one year taking my young boys to the air show, and a Stealth Bomber zipped past before we even saw it approaching, and then it was just a speck in the distance before the sound caught up with us. It was a dark phantom shaped like a manta ray and then gone before we even knew what had happened. Fascinating!

The Latest Love of My Life

This is what I found for sale on the Internet.
What would I do with the place? Restaurant? Family home? Music school? Artist studio? Itching to get my fingers on this pipe organ!

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Governess out soon!

Here's what the cover will look like. It will be in stores sometime in September or early October. I'd encourage you to ask your local library to order some copies, if you don't mind. Every little bit of exposure is welcome. I'm also putting together my 2017 schedule of book signings, so please let me know if you want to organize something in your area. Thanks!

Saturday, 27 August 2016


Son #1 is getting married today. Family are gathering from across the continent. Kilts are cleaned and brogues are polished. Cupcakes are ordered. Pipes are tuned. Grandson is being dropped off with me to mind today, while Granddaughter goes with Mom to get dressed up for the ceremony. A joyous occasion, and I'm proud of my son and the commitment he is publicly making. I look back on his life and see so many instances of gentleness, kindness, and love, and I watch all these experiences now lead him to this day. Love you, my son.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Simple Sells

Have you noticed how it's the simple things that endure the test of time? I was thinking --- I don't know why -- about how the simplest toys have been the most popular. Lincoln logs. Catch-the-cup-on-the-stick. Slinky. Silly Putty (I loved how you could press it on the Sunday comics, which were in colour, and peel it off and see the comic on the Putty). Pound the peg through the board, turn it over, and pound it again the other direction. Remember clackers? The idea was you had two glass balls suspended from a small ring, and you held the ring and moved your hand up and down and the two balls would bang together. There were tricks you could do with them. (Think about that. Glass balls. Banging together with a loud whacking sound. It's not hard to see why they eventually pulled the little time bombs off the market, but in the meantime they were fun.) Tiddlywinks. Pick-Up Stix. Toss-Across (basically Tic-Tac-Toe played with tossed bean bags). Twister. Marbles. Jacks. Jump Rope. And how hard was it to invent the Pet Rock?

So what's the next simple, easy-to-manufacture thing, and how can I make some money on it?

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Hello across the Globe

There is a handy doodad on this blog that lets me see what countries my readers are from. This week the map has exploded and some countries are lit up that aren't usually -- Australia, China, a few countries in Africa and Europe... (Hi Michael in Germany)...and I'm curious to know who these people are, reading across the planet. I'd love to get a comment from each of you letting me know where you are and how you stumbled across this blog!

Isn't it fun how small the world feels when with a touch of a keyboard we can talk to people thousands of miles away? I remember when fax machines first came out, I thought it was like something from Willy Wonka's factory, sending things great distances through the phone line, and I was disappointed to learn I couldn't fax myself to Ireland. Why doesn't someone invent teleporting already?

My son once looked up everyone on the Internet with his same name, and they formed a club of Ryan McKendrys. I don't know if they are planning any events or get-togethers, but the sheer fact that they could is amazing. There are a few rare moments when my Luddite self appreciates technology.

Sunday, 21 August 2016


When I let the dogs out this morning, the sky was a sickly yellow and there was a feeling of expectancy in the air. Sure enough, shortly after that it started raining, a sudden downpour that sounded like gravel being thrown against the windows.

We have had a very hot, dry summer, and it is wonderfully refreshing to think of all that water soaking into the dust. My gardens will be yawning and stretching to take it all in. There is something wonderfully snug about curling up with a novel on the couch in the lamplight while the rain comes down and does my work for me.

The other night Brio the intrepid was uncharacteristically anxious. After I went to bed, he kept following my husband around and pushing himself underneath his legs whenever he sat down. Then he slunk around the lower hallway for a while, head down as if in guilt. He wouldn't settle, and when my husband came upstairs and told me about it, we decided to let Brio come up to bed with us, something we ordinarily discourage. But I've learned to listen to dogs.

Instead of curling against the backs of my knees as he likes to do, Brio pushed himself against my head. Hubby and I started speculating that perhaps I was going to die and Brio knew it. I expressed my desires for a graveside service only, my ashes in the biscotti jar I've kept for that purpose in the curio cabinet. He could make a bonfire of the memory sticks containing my writing. My niece Clare gets Grandma Jean's set of china. But even as we giggled, there was a tinge of worry...I've known dogs to be right before. See last line of previous paragraph.

But in the middle of the night, an unexpected thunderstorm broke, sending wave after wave of thunder rattling the house and zapping the dark with brilliant flashes of lightning. At every crash, Brio jumped and whimpered. So that was what he'd been sensing! My dog was a scaredy cat.

As soon as the storm abated, Brio settled and slept, and he was his normal bouncy self the next morning. And for this morning's rainfall, which doesn't include thunder, he's perfectly oblivious. He's snoring as usual under the desk as I write.

I will continue to listen to dogs. And be grateful for the rain.

Saturday, 20 August 2016


Put up three bushels of tomatoes today. It was a 16 hour marathon but it feels great to look at these 66 gleaming jars on the counter. All I need is flour, eggs, and olive oil and I can keep us in pasta for the year.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Or I could do this...

Instead of fundraising for donkeys, I could buy this and turn it into a terrific Bed and Breakfast...

Sigh. Just not enough lifetimes to do everything I want to do! How does one choose?

Monday, 15 August 2016

Musings on Donkey Milk

I was watching a TV show about Italy and they featured a farm and donkey refuge that sells donkey milk. Apparently it's closer to human milk than any other mammal's, and babies that are allergic to formula can often drink donkey milk instead. They showed how affectionate and easily maintained the animals are. In one shot, a woman was rubbing a donkey's head and it had its eyes closed and a beatific smile on its face, like a contented dog. The milk sells for 14 Euros a litre, and each donkey gives half a litre or so twice a day. Times that by 40 donkeys, and I don't know how much profit they're making, but it was intriguing, anyway.

My first thought was "Why haven't I heard of this before?" Followed by "What an interesting way to make a living!" Followed by "I want to go there." And then, uneasily, "What do they do with the baby donkeys?" Hmm... They didn't say. But all in all, it was a really uplifting story. And then my final thought was, "Why am I watching other people on TV have adventures instead of going out and having them myself?" This is the only life I get. What am I doing with mine? Yes, I'm learning interesting things...but I'm doing it sitting in my own living room. I want to be out there.

And then, surprisingly, my husband handed me a job posting he found on the Internet for a communications manager for the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada, in Guelph. Okay, so is the universe telling me something again? The job calls for fund raising, which is outside my comfort zone, though the rest sounds up my alley. It isn't what I had dreamt of doing, really... but who knows? Maybe the universe is onto something.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Diversity in Toronto

Thursday I went to a Tai Chi parade in Toronto. There were two gorgeous, long Chinese dragon puppets dancing along in the parade to the drums. Asian ladies were handing out free fans and flags. A Scottish pipe band played that included a Dutch-Malaysian piper, a half-Mexican piper, a Georgian (Russian) drummer, and an Italian-speaking Pipe Major. And then someone spoke to the crowd about Tai Chi entirely in German. Gotta love it!

Friday, 12 August 2016

Of Mankind and Meteors

It's 3:00 a.m. I'm in my fuzzy koala bear-motif bathrobe and bare feet, sitting on the back patio on a lawn chair. It's pitch black outside other than one street lamp on the other side of the fence. I'm cupping my hand around my eyes to block out the lamp, peering up at the sky. I'm hoping the clouds will part long enough for me to see stars, much less the meteor shower the newspapers have been promising us. And I'm thinking if I were in Timiskaming or up at Whole Village, I could probably see the night sky. My former boss is at his cottage in Penetanguishene, where I bet there's a whole skyful of stars shining over the water. Is it too late to jump in the car and head north?

At last there's a break in the cloud cover and I see a scattering of pinpoints of light. The clouds are moving so fast it makes me feel as if it's the stars zooming across the blackness, except they never move in relation to me. For an instant I glimpse the vastness of the turning heavens above me. And I feel suddenly very small.

I can't help but think about the news I see on TV or in the papers every day -- acts of terrorism, cities bombed, political posturing, shootings, poverty, famine, obsession with the economy -- and all at once mankind seems ludicrous. We are squabbling over a speck of dust hurtling through the universe. We are not even a blip on the screen, we are so infinitesimal. We're not piloting this planet we're riding. The laws of gravity and forces of nature are in charge of our course and we have no say at all in any of it. What makes us so pompous and self-centered? Why are we wasting our brief flash of life arguing with the others on our speck? We should just be enjoying the ride together and marveling at the sky.

I was about to go back inside, feeling rather sad and hopeless about the human condition...when I saw a meteor. A bright, long blaze swooping across a quarter of the sky to the west. And then the clouds covered everything over again and that was the end of the show. I went inside to get ready for work, to walk down to the bus station and start my daily slog...but my little corner of the speck seems different to me now.

Have you ever felt that change is coming but you don't know what it is? That's where I'm at right now.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Mormon Mom Blogs

I was astonished this morning to open my Metro newspaper on the subway and see the headline "Mormon mommies have the best blogs." It's not often you see Mormons in the paper here, and it's even more rare to have the article be something complimentary. Apparently our commitment to family, creativity, and general wholesomeness appeals to readers, LDS and non-LDS alike.

The article also pointed out that most Mormon bloggers try not to get too preachy and don't want to bombard their readers with their faith, and I have to say I do that myself. The purpose of my blog is to exercise my writing while hopefully entertaining a few people and stretching our thinking from time to time. I can't disconnect from who I am, of course, and my faith will inherently influence what I write, but evangelism isn't the purpose of the exercise. But there was one quote in the article that bugged me. Patrick Mason, the Howard W. Hunter chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California, is quoted as saying, "Mormons want nothing more than to be liked and respected and mainstream...They want to be just like everyone else but they want to be better at it."

If that were true, why bother becoming a Mormon in the first place? The point is not to be like the rest of the world. We aren't mainstream, and that's the whole idea. We haven't exactly withdrawn from the world, but we are trying to live differently, act and think differently, and we avoid the things of the world that can drag us down or distract us from our faith and our purpose. Our religion should set us apart from those around us, or what's the use of it? Our past shows we aren't afraid of being not liked and not respected if that's the result of living according to our beliefs. The world seems to be more tolerant of diversity now and it's been a long time since we were tarred and feathered and driven out of the country. But if it came down to it, I think any truly converted Mormon would be willing to go through pogroms and persecution again if necessary. (And I suppose in some countries that is still going on to some extent.) So I'm not sure why Patrick Mason would say such a thing, unless maybe he was misquoted.

I suppose there's also the danger in our blogs that we could be perceived as the DIY church, or the Church of the Happy-Looking Children, and the theology could become secondary or even buried. There needs to be a balance in there somewhere. There's a theological reason behind the self-reliance and the smiling children. Our religion informs everything about us, from our clothing styles and diet to the way we think and speak and how we spend our time and money. It influences our hopes and ambitions and where we stand and what paths we take in life. If our beliefs don't change us and make us different, we aren't living according to them very well.