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...