Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Essential Possessions

There was a poster on the subway this morning that said to list the possessions we consider most essential to our lives. It was an interesting question to pose, and I've been thinking about it off and on all day. I've come to the conclusion that most things I have are not essential, but there are some things I do find useful -- though I may not need that particular one. But there are some essentials that contribute to the kind of life I want to live. A few favourites I would hate to lose:
  • my Book of Mormon with all of my notes and comments in it
  • my wedding ring (second one. First one got stolen.)
  • my glasses (blind without them)
  • the good chef knife
  • various crochet hooks and knitting needles
  • my steam canner, dehydrator, and juicer for putting up garden produce
  • mason jars (ditto)
  • I have a good hoe and digger I prefer to use in the garden
  • paper and pens
  • probably my old journals and photos, though if I could digitalize them, that would do
  • I'd hate to lose my guitar and banjo, even though I am rarely able to play them anymore
  • the memory sticks containing my writing (which means I'd need a laptop)
  • the socks my late friend Tracey knitted
  • my homesteading books
  • my jars of homegrown beans and seeds
  • my recipes
And that's about it. That's what I would take if I were to move into a tiny house, for example, or if I had to pack a bag and head for the hills on short notice. I didn't include the dogs, because those are friends, not possessions. But basically that's what I value, and that's what I'd need to set up house. (Well, and little things like soap and toothbrushes, but you know what I mean.) The list still looks a bit long. The guitar and banjo are for sentimental reasons only, so they may have to go in a pinch.

I know my husband would grab his bagpipes and his family history research. Some important documents and a couple of favourite books. Maybe his pizza peel and rolling pin, and he loves his cast iron frying pan. And that's probably all he would take.

When it comes down to it, you need surprisingly little in life.

Monday, 30 January 2017

On to something optimistic

The seed catalogs are starting to arrive in the mail! Always a sign of spring approaching. The temperature has dropped to about -15 this week, but there's only a dusting of snow, I heard a chickadee yesterday, and it's possible to imagine summer again.

We are planning to travel a bit this year, so I have to think about what to plant that will be able to basically babysit itself while we're away. The kids will be here taking care of the dogs, but I don't want them to have to do intensive farming in my absence. If I'm wise I'll avoid things that have to be harvested daily, such as green beans, or things that will ripen in the weeks we're gone, such as zucchini. And yet I look at the planting suggestions for some horseshoe-shaped beds I want to try, and I can't help myself. I know I'll break down and start cramming in everything I love, the way I always end up doing every year.

I also like to try new things every year, and this time I think it might be okra. A relative of hibiscus, they have lovely flowers that look like flamenco dancers' skirts. If you dehydrate them, they lose that slimy feeling people object to, and you can snack on them with a little salt. Even if I donate the okra to the food bank and just grow them for their flowers, they're still a lovely idea.

I also want to splurge on some space-saving columnar apple trees to plant on the north side of the garden. Other than blueberries and strawberries, I don't have fruit growing in the garden, and I'd like to do a few more things along permaculture principles.

I was talking to my boss today about travel plans for the summer, and she suggested we time it so that we hit New Brunswick in September, when the colours are at their best. Which sounds reasonable. Except that's the time the harvest is coming along thick and fast. When I told her the reason for my reluctance, she gave me a weird look, and I felt just how odd I probably am, out of step with everyone around me. Doesn't everyone schedule their vacations around tomato-bottling season? Isn't everyone in sync with the temperature and weather and phases of the moon? So I just mumbled something about school being back on by September and left it at that. (Which is still a good argument against travelling then; my son wouldn't be able to let the dogs out if he's at college.)

I like that my rhythms and activities interplay with the earth's. I like watching the sky for signs of pending rain. I like feeling I'm not just interacting with nature but that I'm part of it.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

A Plea for Compassion

Facebook is on fire with political commentary right now, and for the most part I try to avoid it, but today I feel I need to say something. When Prime Minister Trudeau stated that Canada would welcome those fleeing terror and persecution, one of my fellow Canadians posted a rather nasty reply pointing out that "millions" of Canadians are starving already, implying that there isn't enough to go around so we should close our borders too. And I couldn't stay silent.

Yes, four million people in Canada are food insecure. (Which I'm attempting to help address, in hopefully more useful ways than posting on Facebook.) But 30 million aren't, and they're able and most likely willing to help those who are. There are resources and options for the poor to turn to. Even the homeless are entitled to health care. We don't have bombs falling on our streets. Yes, we have room for improvement. Of course we do. We're human. But even our poorest are better off than many around the world. (Just watch True Cost if you have doubts about that.) Knowing that women in Bangladesh are living on $10 a month doesn't make the poor here feel any better, I'm sure, but I offer it as a contrast to keep things in perspective. I have never seen a naked beggar in the streets of Toronto. I've never seen a woman purposely mutilate her child so that it could win more sympathy here. The homeless man I meet every day on my way to work is warmly dressed and sells newspapers to passers-by. His name is Gary and I stop to talk with him occasionally just to touch base and keep tabs on him. He has a shelter to go to at night and food available when he decides to take advantage of it.

I'm not saying we don't have problems here. There's a lot of work to be done. But going out to work in a food bank or clothing drive is more helpful than making snarky off-the-cuff comments on social media. If this gentleman isn't happy about the poor among us, what is he doing about it? The whole idea of living here is that if you need help, you can reach out for it, and if you can offer help, you extend it. That's how this is supposed to work.

I came to Canada 27 years ago, not as a refugee but as an immigrant. From the moment I showed up at the border in a snowstorm at midnight with a fussy baby in arms and not all the right paperwork, I have been shown nothing but kindness. (The border guard let me in, with a suggestion that I get the required medical done in the next few weeks.) I have encountered generous and genuinely friendly people. People who help you carry strollers up the stairs at the subway, who let you merge into heavy traffic in front of them, who help each other shovel snow without thinking about it. I have had so very few negative interactions with anyone, and usually that was due to simple misunderstandings. I've had many days where I seriously want to stand up in the subway, throw my arms wide, and announce to everyone: "Look at you all, sitting here so quietly and peacefully together! You are all from different backgrounds and cultures and religions, but you are sitting here together getting along and making this a pleasant place to live. Thank you!" Maybe someday I'll get up the courage to do it.

The remarks about Canada being diverse are true, at least in the Toronto area where I live. I am usually the only white female on the subway when I go to work, often the tallest person in a crowd, and I can (and have) counted about ten languages being spoken around me as I walk down the sidewalk. (My husband used to wear a kilt and yarmulke, for heaven's sake.) Church potlucks are great because you get anything from jerked goat and cod tongues to curry and dumplings. Last week I went to the public library at around 5:00, and there were four or five Muslim teenage boys quietly gathered in a corner with their prayer rugs, whispering through their prayers. Not attracting attention. Just quietly showing their devotion. And not an adult around to make them do it. The other library patrons quietly moved around them, giving them space and privacy to pray. I've seen Muslims drop right in the Tim Horton's parking lot (off to one side) with their portable rugs at prayer time, and no one bats an eyelash. (The first time I saw a man kneel on the parking lot median, my first impulse was to stop and ask if he needed assistance...and then I saw the rug and realized he hadn't dropped his keys or had a fall. It was kind of funny, actually.) The point being that you are allowed to be yourself here, and people give you room to do it.

Even though Canada isn't perfect, it has an attitude of caring and welcome and kindness, and our first impulse isn't to blockade ourselves in a bunker; it's to reach out with compassion. As long as our first impulse is to do that, we're on the right track. Can we help everyone? No. But we want to, and that is what makes me love it here.

Friday, 27 January 2017

How do you know when it's time to get out?

A friend is thinking of leaving a very unhappy and abusive marriage after about thirty years invested in it, but she keeps putting off the date, postponing the break, giving it one last shot. Repeatedly finding reasons to stay...until the daughter's wedding is past...until the son graduates from university...maybe in the spring...

A colleague daydreams about quitting her unfulfilling desk job and opening a flower shop. But there's never time or money or energy to do it. It's never the right time. So she stays in her desk and keeps dreaming. While another person I know of quit his job as a paediatrician and is now living in a yurt in Nunavut, making ceremonial masks. I guess something finally snapped!

What was the final straw that told some people to get out of Germany before WWII broke out? Why do some refugees flee Syria while others hold out so long in incredibly difficult circumstances? Why were the people on the last flight out of Saigon not the first ones to go? What factors prompt people to uproot their lives today instead of yesterday, or hold out until tomorrow?

How do you know when enough is enough and you've reached the tipping point where you simply have to get out? It's like that old story about the frog being slowly boiled; by the time he finally makes up his mind that he's uncomfortable and should do something about it...he's cooked.

For the past couple of decades I've fine tuned my homesteading skills and practised growing vegetables and grains and collected information up to my eyeballs on farming and survival. (There's a quote that says when you look at someone's bookshelves you don't see who they are, you see who they want to be. Very true.) But when do I say it's time to drop everything and head for the hills? How bad does it have to get in the city before I dash for the country? Or will I talk myself into tolerating just one more day...and then one more...until it's time to go into a nursing home? And what do I do if my spouse has a different tolerance level than I do? ("Sorry, dear, I'm heading into the bush. Feel free to join me when you get to that point yourself...")

For several years I've thought about renouncing my U.S. citizenship (partly just because I don't intend to live there again and it would be easier not to have dual citizenship, paperwork-wise). But now with every ethical and ideological part of me being challenged with what I see starting to happen south of the border, do I finally renounce? It sounds so...final, especially when you consider that presidential terms are only four years. I don't want to be too hasty or act for the wrong reason in the passion of the moment. I want to show more hope than that. So I will hang onto my citizenship, all the while wondering if it's the right decision... (Well, and it's $2400 a person to renounce, which admittedly is a deterrent when you have a family of five!) There's always that little question in the back of my brain that asks whether I could do more good by keeping it instead of renouncing it.

It's an interesting phenomenon to consider further. I don't think there's a single answer -- obviously the breaking point is different for everyone. Each person has their own tolerance level for discomfort and their own private dreams for a better way of living. As a writer, I want to crawl inside each person's head and find out what makes them tick, what makes them make the choices they do, Maybe if I understood other people's motivations better, I might understand my own better too. Then maybe I'd know whether to keep dog-paddling or to hop out of the pot.

Bad timing...

Never start a low-carb diet the same semester your son has a baking class. Yesterday alone he made cornbread, raspberry muffins, and banana bread. And brought home his homework. And it would just be rude of me not to help him with his homework, you know?


You know you didn't get enough sleep when you start the dishwasher before going to bed, and the dishes are still steaming hot when you get up!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

My sister said it well

With all the anger and argument flying around social media right now, my younger sister posted a simple note saying she refused to believe the only choices are to either agree with someone or hate them. She reserves the right to love people she disagrees with. Well said! And you can disagree with the people you love, and still love them, and they need to allow you the right to think for yourself if they love you. When all is said and done, we're still family, friends, and neighbours, and it would be a shame to ruin those relationships because of politics (which could shift again in another four years, and then again in another four years...).

We can differ in our views of how things should go, but we can't lose sight of the fact that we're all rushing through space together on this tiny speck of a planet, and we need to find a way to get along and share this speck peacefully. And, as my mother would say, if you can't share nicely, then no one gets it.

Thursday, 19 January 2017


Well, this is it, the final few hours before life as we know it ends tomorrow... It sort of feels like that, anyway. I kind of feel like taking tomorrow off work and staying in bed under the covers. It won't help, but I'd feel better if I did. Kind of like curling up with a hot water bottle and chicken soup when you're feeling lousy. Because I'm feeling lousy right now. And I bet a lot of other people are too. I wouldn't blame the Obamas at all if they just slopped around in their pajamas and didn't go anywhere tomorrow.

About 600 Canadians are on their way on buses to march on the White House, ostensibly to champion women, but probably also to just protest Trump. And much as I dislike him myself, I don't feel good about people from one country protesting the outcome of another country's democratic process. a) It's not their business, and b) the natural result of democracy is that sometimes you pick a winner and sometimes you pick a lemon. But the process is the point. We're lucky to have a voice and a choice, and although you may be unhappy with the outcome, you still have to respect the process. So I'm not joining the march or wearing a pink hat or any of the other things that are going on, even though some may say that means I don't support the cause of women. I still believe in treating women kindly and respectfully. I believe in treating all people that way. Including, I suppose, the incoming President. If you start picking and choosing who to treat nicely or who to treat differently, you diminish yourself.

The best sermon I ever heard was given by a twenty-something young man who had struggled with addiction, mental illness, and homelessness. He stood up in church and said simply that we needed to love everyone and treat them kindly and not pull away from them just because they may be a little bit dirty, or a little bit drunk, or a little bit sad. I'd never really thought about the way I viewed homeless people before, but after that brief but powerful talk I have looked at homeless people---all people---differently. I watch for that boy's face in their faces. They are all my siblings. They are all me. And even though it gives me the shivers to think it, so is Donald Trump. So I need to try to be kind and hopeful and compassionate to all the people around me who are also feeling lousy about tomorrow.

I still might take the day off, though.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

A Peaceful Evening

Came home from work a bit late tonight, so it was already dark. Hubby at band practice. Son #3 in bed after a tough day at culinary school (made 80 pizzas and 36 panini in six hours and didn't get to eat any of it). So I went upstairs and wove for a while (I'm on towel #6!) while listening to Elton John. Then read for a while (52 Loaves by William Alexander -- great fun). I will crochet for a bit next, then do the dishes and be in bed by 9:00. Perfect evening.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Out and About after a Week of Cabin Fever

Finally got  taste of winter weather the last few days. It has been too icy and windy to walk the dogs much this week, especially since it's so dark when I get home from work. The Arctic gale got up to 100 kms the other night and I thought it would peel the stucco right off the house. They've had to do with a quick run in the back yard all week. But today's the weekend and I'm home in the daylight, and even though it's below freezing today, it was still good walking weather. I left Maple home because he's just too sensitive to cold, poor old thing, but Brio and I bundled up and headed out.

I had a book to drop off at the library, so we decided to walk that direction, through the woods. Brio was in heaven, bounding along with his ears blown back. Whenever he sees a distant squirrel, he drops into "stalking" mode, low to the ground, head down, eyes like lasers boring into his prey. As soon as I notice it I say "Leave it" and he immediately returns to his normal trot, head up, a big grin, as if to say "I didn't really mean it." Until he sees another squirrel. Really, what would he do if he ever caught one? It would probably terrify him. But he likes to play Big Game Hunter.

I pretend while I'm walking along too, that I'm out in the Boreal forest far from the city, that there aren't townhouses just at the edge of the woods, that I can't hear cars on the road. That I'm a pioneer out in unsettled territory, just me and my dog, and it's 1870 and there's no such thing as subways and computers and alarm clocks. It's refreshing, the air is bracing, and I'm winded but exhilarated by the time we drop the book off and turn for home. And now the wind is in my face and my hip joints are starting to hurt and Brio starts towing me along like he's the lead dog on the sled team. The salt is probably stinging his paws and I can no longer feel my ears. We get home and shed all our outer layers in the doorway.

And then as my legs and ears start to thaw they start to burn and itch as if I've been rolling in stinging nettle. Brio curls into a contented ball on the couch to lick the salt off his feet. I huddle in a blanket and think about getting a mint tea but it sounds like too much effort. Mighty Game Hunters, home from Safari.

We're such wimps.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Feeling Guilty

I am watching all the posts from my cousins in Idaho of all the snow and sleet and flooding. They've really been hammered by the weather this year. Snow days, buried cars, and fields under water.

Yesterday I took my coat off on the walk home because it was too hot. I wear sandals and bare legs to church. I have used my snowblower just once this year, and the shovels maybe twice. And this week I saw a robin. (Either they haven't left yet or they're back -- I don't know which!). I still have kale in my garden. This is supposed to be Canada, the frozen north. But it feels like the Bahamas compared to Idaho.

This global warming thing just might work in our favour!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs

I'm reading one of the new books I got for Christmas, Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs. For those of you who aren't familiar with who Jane Jacobs was, she was a specialist in urban studies and has been called "guru, philosopher, thinker, elder...radical" by the National Post. I've read some of her other books about city planning and the collapse of civilizations. Dark Age Ahead is one of those books you can't put down, but you have to pause every couple of sentences and just breathe and think about all the information she packed into each segment. She chooses words carefully and concisely and manages to convey huge thoughts in a simple line.

For example, this phrase brought me to this keyboard just now to try to capture all the thoughts it suddenly produced in my head: "...circumstances may have allowed cultural destruction to drift to a point where the jolts of correction appear more menacing than downward drift."

All kinds of examples of this come to mind. Sometimes it's easier to carry on with a mistake or follow a path you know isn't good for you than it is to repent or do what it takes to change direction. You let it go on for too long and then any possibility of correction becomes too huge and difficult to contemplate. As a society, for example, we know that oil is a finite resource and isn't good for the environment and is on a collision course...eventually. A day we think is way in the future. But to stop using oil is unthinkable because we've gotten so used to it in the last hundred years that we can't imagine how life was before it. The idea of what massive changes would have to happen to get us off of fossil fuels sounds too radical and uncomfortable. We would have to sacrifice and change. That sounds like too much. So we stick to our fossil fuel path even while knowing it leads to ruin.

We make political choices...or let them be made for us...and before long we find ourselves in a spot we hadn't meant to reach. We aren't quite sure how we got there. But changing it, backing up, moving in a new direction all sound too difficult, or perhaps we can't even see how we could get out of it. Or we're so used to it we don't see a need to change anything, or even realize anything is wrong. Or we figure the fallout will be so far in the future that either a) we won't be around to have to deal with it, or b) some benevolent flip of fate will swoop down to rescue the situation, or c) humans have always figured out how to survive so no doubt someone will come up with a saving idea eventually. So no worries. Or maybe even d) we think the world has gotten so bad that we don't deserve to be saved and we'll get what's coming to us, which is the sort of thinking a drug user or gambler may reach when he hits rock bottom and sees no hope.

I've heard devout Christians expound essentially the same concept---that the world is destined to become evil and then will be rescued---partially (and they assume they'll be part of that portion)---by the Second Coming, which will correct all wrongs and punish the guilty. They make it sound as if this nicely relieves us of any responsibility because it's all in God's hands. I've even heard some who sound like they're looking forward to watching the destruction of society because it's a Sign of the Times...except they're reveling in the destruction of people. Good or bad, these are your neighbours, folks. Your friends and family. Maybe you. I believe in a Second Coming, but I don't think it relieves us of any responsibility toward our society. If anything, it increases the urgency of acting compassionately and wisely toward people and the earth.

These arguments don't work. Sometimes the fallout is swift. And the pendulum doesn't swing back. And no one comes up with a new technology or philosophy to save you. And things collapse. Not just the Roman civilization, or Mesopotamia. But little cultures and civilizations and pockets of the world are lost too. Individual lives collapse. And sometimes the world just shrugs us off like a dog shaking off fleas and starts over.

And if you do decide correction must be undertaken, which way are you to jump? Ditch everything and retreat to a bunker in the bush? Just change over your lightbulbs and get a hybrid car? Demand a re-election? Write to your member of parliament? Take up subsistence farming? Organize a protest? Boycott Nestle and Monsanto? What can we really do and how many of us have to do it to be effective? And more importantly -- is it too late to stop the tide?

Such vast thoughts all knocking around in my head this morning! And I'm only on page 22!

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

It's back to work we go...

I went back to work on Monday. And now it's only Tuesday. And I'm already pawing through my new 2017 calendar to see when my next vacation day is. Funny how quickly we get used to sleeping in, lying around, flopping around in our comfy clothes. Seeing the daylight. Wandering in our own yards. Breathing at a leisurely pace.Taking the time to bake. You know, all the little things we don't get to do once we're back at work. I ride the bus in the dark, work in an airless cubicle (even the manager calls it her sensory deprivation tank), and come home in the dark. It's hard to stay motivated and cheerful, when all you want to do is curl up in fetal position under your desk and rock back and forth. Or start tunneling out with a spoon.

Once a year I have to sit down with my main boss (I have ten) for my performance evaluation. I always do well, but I seem to go blank when they get to those questions at the end: "What ambitions do you have?" Well, none, really. I have no interest in climbing any corporate ladders. The only climbing I want to do is Mount Timpanogos, and only then if I have a canteen and a picnic basket. "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Honestly? Barefoot on a beach, far away from you.

Except you can't say such things. So you spew the usual claptrap about goals and initiatives and strategic directions and aligning your personal endeavours with the dashboard blah de blah blah and you get your pat on the head and your annual raise and that sinking feeling in your soul that you're going to one day die at your cramped little desk and they'll file you away under "Redundant" and some other bright young thing fresh out of school will take your place and you have no way to warn her. Run, bright thing! Go do something else. Something you love. Something that will feed your heart and your brain. Something that will matter to the world, matter to you.

There. It's all out now. I feel better. It's not that bad, really. It pays well and the people are super nice and kind, and it's a good organization to work for. It just isn't outdoors. Or creative. Or heartwarming. But it serves its purpose and it's supposedly teaching me endurance and patience. Only 16 years to go! And Family Day off in February.

Going to bed now, so I can get up at 4:15 and grope my way out to the bus in the dark.