Sunday, 31 January 2016

Serving Others

Congratulations to my niece on her LDS mission call to Pennsylvania! Kinda cool to think I'll have family sort of close to my neck of the woods. I'm proud of her for serving, for daring to throw her hat into the ring and going wherever she's told to go and serve the Lord for the next 18 months. At her own expense, no less, and suspending all other education and career plans while she's away. She's the third kid on her family to go.

We all benefit from serving others, but I find it especially neat when a teenager does it. It's easy to look at the kids slumped over their XBox controllers and overlook what a powerful contribution they can make in the world. They harbour an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm, and when it's harnessed and directed toward the good, they can accomplish things we adults cannot. Their innate vigour and zeal can carry them far, they don't recognize limits or restraints - or at least aren't cowed by them - and watching them expand into adulthood is a fascinating thing.

The high schools here expect students to put in forty hours of community service as a requirement of graduation (my son turned in 168, though I'm sure he's done more than that). Turning teenagers' focus outward to others and away from themselves is a beneficial exercise (one we adults should do too), and I hope it instills in them the desire to be helpful and to contribute to their communities the rest of their lives. We need them.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Cost of Food

I am hearing a lot lately about the cost of food going up. There was a whole spread in the newspaper about $8 cauliflower. Of all things. There are few veggies I'd spend that much money for, and cauliflower isn't one of them.

I am glad for the fact that I know how to grow my own food, and I'm glad for what yard space I have for a vegetable garden. I wish I had more land, and access to a supply of water and fuel. You know, just in case.

I know in the past the garden supply places I've gotten seeds from have run out of some of the varieties I wanted to plant, and I thought this year there might be a run on them in earnest. So I have placed my seed order early. I got them from Salt Spring Seeds and Baker Creek Seeds, my two favourite places. I sometimes wonder if the $60 spent on seeds and shipping is really balanced by the value of the food produced, but I think this year there won't be much question.

Almost to Friday

You know you're tired when you try to use your transit pass to get out of the stairwell at work...

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Vicarious Homesteading

Son Number Two is looking at joining an intentional community a few hours north of us. It's basically an eco-conscious group with shared values looking to acquire land together where they can live off-grid and raise their own food and leave a smaller footprint on the planet. He doesn't know yet if he's going to do it, but he's looking into it.

Of course my mind leaps automatically into action and I'm already planning and researching as if I were the one who was going to be chopping wood and hauling water. I discovered a really cool company where you can get anything from high-wheel cultivators and treadle sewing machines to hand-cranked washing machines and lamp oil. I've researched out the best wood-fired cook stoves and found the cheapest stove-top popcorn popper (I mean, that's an essential, right?).

I really think you can live as a rough homesteader in relative ease now, compared to our ancestors' challenges. So much is available to support you. I used to joke that as long as you had a copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, you could survive anywhere, because they teach you everything you need to know. But now you also have Youtube videos and tons of homesteading websites and books. The information is there, the supplies are it just takes the bravery of doing it, and the sweat and tears that will inevitably be required.

If I were twenty or thirty years old, I'd join up and be out there chopping wood with my son, in a heartbeat. I always wanted to do that -- to challenge myself, to see what I was made of, to be as self-reliant as I could, and to live lightly on the planet. I love the idea of being closer to the earth and the basic essentials. But as I get older I admit I'm a bit more reluctant to give up my running water and gas furnace. My eyes may not be able to read by lamplight anymore. Could I do it? Probably. But there's a definite hesitation now.

When I was expecting Son Number Two, we lived in a log cabin on fifty acres out near Guelph, Ontario. This wasn't one of those fancy log homes you see on TV. Two old ladies with axes had built it themselves. We had a well and a septic tank and a wood stove that needed constant feeding. We never did get the hang of banking it for the night and had to get up to feed it several times. It ate wood voraciously and it was difficult to light, and toward the end we grew desperate and resorted to using those wrapped fire-starter logs you get at 7-11. The temperature in the cabin was either too hot or too cold. The logs sucked any humidity out of the air and dried your skin, and the dust was amazing, and your hands were constantly chapped. And don't get me started about the spiders. I remember one day a knock came at the door, and there on the front step stood several men with rifles.

"Keep the kids in the house for a little while," they said. "We're hunting wolves on your land."

Well, enough said. The job and investment eventually fell through and we packed up and moved to Guelph before the baby was born. But I wonder if something of that experience...the smell of the wood smoke, the feel of rough pine, the sound of the wind in the trees, the taste of fresh well water, the loneliness of the countryside...affected Son Number Two in the womb. He's the only one of my children who has expressed a desire to be out in nature, to embrace the earth and find his role in it.

Whatever he decides to do about this community project is okay with me. Life is an adventure, and you don't know what you're capable of until you try it.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

When it comes to food...

...presentation is everything.


It looks more like my brother and I are playing a duet...

I loved that old Royal typewriter. You had to hit the keys hard and each letter sounded like a cap gun going off. The ding when you reached the end of the line. The ratchety sound of the carriage return. The smudgy red and black ribbon. The smell of new paper fresh from the package. The way the little hammers all got stuck together in a clump when I typed too fast. Great memories.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

First competition of the season

We were in Hamilton last night for the first piping and drumming competition of the PPBSO-Hamilton Branch for 2016. It's a small venue, a friendly group, and a good way for new competitors to get their feet wet. To me the most fun is watching the audience. You can look around the room and immediately tell who else in the audience is a piper. They can't listen to the music without their fingers twitching. The man sitting behind me was playing his beer bottle. At one point during the evening my husband reached over and took my knitting needle so he could "play along" on it.

It's fun to see the same young players coming up through the different grade levels each year. The ones who were small and nervous-looking a few years ago are now taller, confident, and improving each time I see them. There was one girl there last night that I remember from her first competition, when she came in wearing a cute little dress with a bow in her hair. Her feet barely touched the floor when she sat before the judge to play her practice chanter. Now there she was in full kilt and uniform and winning prizes with her pipes.

The playing ability has gone up in general since I first started piping 33 years ago. What was Grade Two then is now about Grade Four, because people just keep getting better and better and the bar keeps rising. It's exciting to think where these kids will be by the time they're adults. The future of piping is looking bright.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Blame My Feet

As I was waiting for a website to load, I got distracted by one of those stupid ads that appear on the right-hand side of the screen. This one claimed you could tell your personality by the shape and other characteristics of your feet. Oh, why not? As long as I'm here anyway...

I apparently have the feet of an artist or an athlete (the former, maybe. The latter, unlikely. The most energetic thing I do is bend over to empty the dishwasher). Anyway, apparently if I can separate my little toe and wiggle it by itself (which I'm surprised and so pleased to discover I can), it says "you need constant change in your life to be happy, hate routine and are very adventurous. You probably find that you get bored easily and if things start to fall into a routine you will most likely do something drastic to switch things up a little."

So that explains it. I thought it was a deeper psychological thing, but no, I guess when I stir up trouble and turn my life upside down, now I can blame my feet.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Collecting for the Refugees

My friend Ayse is from Turkey but now lives in Canada. She has been distressed by the stories of the Syrian refugees, those coming here and those flooding into her homeland. She wanted to do something to help, so she has turned her garage into a drop-off spot for people to make donations of household goods and furniture for her to take to the collection centre. Instead of waiting to be told what to do, she has acted on her own initiative. People are donating coats and boots (this is Canada, after all, and there's snow on the ground, with the biting cold just around the corner), but she wants to collect things for their homes---wherever they're ending up. The general public may not think to donate humdrum things like cleaning rags and pots and pans and brooms. I gathered up some bedding and crocheted shawls and hygiene items and children's games---and some winter boots---to take over. I was going to donate a couple of blankets too, but when I pulled them out I realized just how old and ratty and full of holes they were. (Why am I storing these things? Even refugees won't want them.)

I just finished reading Frances Moore LappĂ©'s book You Have the Power: Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear, and as I scoured the house for things to donate, what I read kept coming back to mind. I think we often have charitable thoughts but don't move on them. We think the challenge is too overwhelming, or we're too busy, or we're plain lazy, or we hesitate to act before we know every detail. We're uncertain what to do or how to do it, or we think our puny effort won't amount to much. We wonder if the recipient really wants or needs our help. We don't want to offend. We don't want to look stupid. But Ayse didn't let any of those things stop her; she took action where she could and how she could. I admire people who actually get up and act instead of just thinking about things.

I sometimes give things (subway tokens, gloves, scarf) to Gary, a homeless fellow who stands by my office. He's been there for years and always has a friendly greeting. He remembers I'm American and tells me Happy 4th of July on Independence Day.  I've heard people say not to give homeless people money because they may not really need it. I've heard them say not to give money because you don't know what they'll spend it on. (Okay, how wild can you really get with a dollar these days, anyway?) But I don't think about whether the person needs it or not or "deserves it" or not. I don't give because of who the homeless person is. I give because of who I am.

And besides, sometimes Gary's greeting is the only Good Morning I get that day.

While we're focusing on the refugees and the urgent care they need, we also need to remember the others in our community who need urgent care. There's snow on the ground and the temperature is falling. If you don't have any refugees to care for, look around and see if there are any homeless, any lonely, anyone needing a ride to the doctor or the store, anyone needing a smile and a Good Morning. It's a drop in the bucket, but the bucket will fill over time, and someday your drop may be the one thing needed to cause it to pour out.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

At lunch today...

My three-year-old granddaughter was talking nonstop at lunch today despite repeated requests from her mother to be quiet and eat. She didn't take a single bite because she was talking so much. Finally my daughter-in-law said, "If you say one more word, you're going to your room."

My granddaughter considered this, cheeks puffed out as if she were about to explode, then looked her mother in the eye and shouted, "One!"

As she was marched to her room, I thought, "We're going to have our hands full with this one."

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Yoga for the Mobility-Challenged

My workplace is offering an onsite yoga class for those who have "creaky" bodies and mobility issues. It's all done either standing or in a chair, not on a floor mat, and it sounds like the perfect introduction. My son signed me up as a Christmas present and it starts today. I'll let you know how it goes!

Sunday, 3 January 2016

What a man I married!

Hubby down with a cold, but he still spent this afternoon making a delicious chicken curry with homemade pita and hummus, and now he has cranberry-nut biscotti in the oven...

I married well.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Looking through the seed catalogues

As the wind whips around the corner of the house and sifts the snow across the frozen ground, I snuggle into my blanket and...yeah, plan next year's garden already. We started some lettuce and tomato seeds indoors for our aquaponics tub and now the bug has hit me and all I can think of is fat red beets and the crunch of garden peas.

Here's a list of what I think I'll be planting next year:
  • Desi summer squash
  • Nimba zucchini or possibly Black Beauty zucchini
  • Aunt Molly's ground cherries
  • It's time to plant more Martha Washington asparagus -- my current bed is starting to get old
  • Bull's blood beets
  • Waltham broccoli
  • Koda cabbage (red)
  • Danvers half-long carrots
  • miniature white cucumbers (once you have these you never want to go back to boring English cukes again)
  • Diamond eggplant
  • Miner's lettuce -- I had no luck with this in the past but want to try it indoors this time
  • Dwarf Siberian kale
  • Collective Farm Woman melon (my favourite)
  • Alaska garden peas
  • Little Marvel garden peas
  • Swedish red peas
  • green onions
  • Spaghetti squash
  • About eight kinds of dry cooking beans (Adzuki, Borlotto Lingua Di Fuoco, Ireland Creek Annies, Beka Browns, First Nations, Black Turtle beans, white navy beans or coco bianco, and Orcas)
  • Mascotte green beans
  • Various kinds of lettuce and spinach, indoors and out
And of course I have the radishes, onions, sedum, purslane, oregano, peppermint, and cherry tomatoes that volunteer in the garden each year without having to be planted. And the rhubarb, blueberries, lavender, and edible lilies, which are permanent plants.

I don't think I'll plant onions, as we use them by the ten-pound sackful and may as well buy them, because I can't grow that many. I tend not to grow corn, either, because it uses a lot of space and nutrients for a small yield. And we buy plum tomatoes by the bushel from a local farmer, so I'll only grow the few beefsteak ones aquaponically for salads and snacking. I had no luck with cauliflower in the past and won't be trying that again. And I still have wheat and oats left from the first time I grew them.

Now I'm hungry...

Friday, 1 January 2016

Small is Beautiful

I am starting off the new year by reading Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher. It is one of those delicious books that packs so much into each sentence that you have to pause and put the book down and just think about it every few minutes. You can't gulp down big chunks of it at once, but have to stop and digest frequently. His basic premise is that the world's resources are finite and we can't keep spending capital as if it is income. Now this is not a revolutionary idea for us today, but at the time he wrote it in the 70s, not many people had woken up to this fact. And even though we all know this concept now and even accept it theoretically, we are still living as if the world and its resources are infinite.

The "have nots" are aspiring to live like the "haves." This would work if the current "haves" would say collectively, "We have enough" and call a halt to growth and acquisition. But he pointed out that no society is doing that. I do think nowadays there are individuals who are coming to their senses and saying "I have enough." You get those who move into tiny homes and try to extract themselves from the unbridled consumerism around them. But as a society, no. Schumacher points out that the very things that propel an expanding economy are greed and envy. They're built into the system and exploited; without them economy would grind to a halt. Schumacher contends that a man driven by greed loses wisdom and the ability to see things as they really are. And the rich will not ever find peace, because "their wealth depends on making inordinately large demands on limited world resources and thus puts them on an unavoidable collision course -- not primarily with the poor (who are weak and defenceless) but with other rich people."

I've heard a lot of people say that no doubt science will come up with a solution to our problems and something will come along to save the day. Schumacher says the only way this can happen is if science takes a very different approach than it has done in the past. Wisdom dictates that the solution to our problems must be based on permanence. "Permanence is incompatible with a predatory attitude which rejoices in the fact that 'what were luxuries for our fathers have become necessities for us.' The cultivation and expansion of needs is the antithesis of wisdom. It is also the antithesis of freedom and peace. Every increase of needs tends to increase one's dependence on outside forces...Only by a reduction of needs can one promote a genuine reduction in those tensions which are the ultimate causes of strife and war....Scientific or technological 'solutions' which poison the environment or degrade the social structure and man himself are of no benefit...Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful."

I'm only on page 35, and already my thoughts are spinning on a new level. I'm grateful for books that make me think and for people who are brave enough to write them.