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.