Friday, 15 June 2018

The kindness of strangers

This week I needed to mow my lawn -- it is large and had gotten quite out of hand -- but the mower was defunct. So I was out in the yard for hours with a weed whacker, slowly making headway and roasting in the heat. And then suddenly two neighbours appeared (one I knew only slightly and the other I'd never even met). They brought with them a gas mower and a sit-down ride'em lawnmower. They proceeded to shoo me inside to get a cold drink and mowed my lawn for me in about ten minutes flat. When I thanked them, they merely shrugged and said, "That's what neighbours are for." We had a nice chat and feel like friends now. And I feel loved.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

June is busting out all over

It seems that overnight the world has exploded into colour. The peonies are out in all their frilled glory. Purple Siberian irises. Spirea and soapwort. Even the boring old beans are a light emerald as they unfurl and stretch toward the sun. Where once it was a dull grey-brown in my yard, it's now practically lush and tropical.

I have been gardening for decades now, but it never ceases to amaze me every spring. How does this pinpoint of a seed possibly produce a gigantic flowering plant? Or a tree, for that matter? How can I put one little bitty seed into the ground and harvest five pounds of green beans from it? It's miraculous.

I took Brio to the park to chase the ball around today, and in spite of the great weather, we had the whole field to ourselves. There's nothing so beautiful as my fuzzy golden pup streaking across the bright green expanse toward me, legs pumping, ears flying behind him, his amber eyes lit with joy. He played until he was so tired he was literally staggering, and finally he collapsed at my feet, stretched out on his side...with the ball still firmly in his mouth. Clearly he was saying "Just give me a sec -- I'll be right with you!"

Like Brio, I want to stretch my arms out to the sky and just run and run. Free of winter clothing! Free of snow and wind! Free of bitter cold! Free of...well, um, not free of the pounds I put on over the winter. Maybe not running, then, so much. Maybe a brisk march around the field. That'll do.

Very satisfactory!




Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Sorry I haven't written much lately...

Computer still fried so I have to go to the city library to use their computers until I can get mine fixed. So you won't hear from me very frequently for a while. The weather has turned from icy to sweltering in a matter of days. Last week it was too cold to harden off my seedlings, and this week it's too hot. They may end up having to live indoors this summer. For tomatoes and such that isn't a problem, but twenty-foot squash vines and giant cabbages may be a bit cramped in the dining room...


I always had this fantasy of pouring gravel a foot deep on my floors, setting out flagstone stepping stones, a water feature, some potted plants, and just having an indoor garden. Other than the fact that the floors couldn't hold the weight and the whole house would collapse, and vacuuming would be difficult... why not?


I also want a water slide going from my upstairs bedroom window down to the pool...

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Goats

My husband and I got to do a good deed the other day. We were zooming down the highway when I happened to glance over and saw 25-30 goats on the side of the road. They'd gotten out of their fence and were cheerfully grazing right by the busy highway. My husband did a U-turn (yes. On the highway) and left me on the side of the road to wave my arms around and keep the goats off the road while he went in search of the farmhouse. He was back a few moments later with the very grateful farmer. All the farmer had to do was whistle once, and the goats immediately marched back through the hole in the fence and into safer pastures.


Felt nice to do someone a good turn, and enjoyable to stand in the sunshine watching these lovely, interesting animals. I think if I were a farmer, goats would be high on my list of animals to care for.



Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Technology has turned against me

Well, in the past week a huge storm fried my computer, the air conditioning in the car died, the washer went on the fritz and flooded my basement, the TV refused to work for a while, and the door of the hotel where we stayed for a couple of nights wouldn't open. It's one of those weeks when it's safer to just stay in bed with a book and a flashlight.



Monday, 23 April 2018

Sheer Awfulness

Today at lunch I went out for a walk in the park to enjoy the amazing sunshine and 20-degree weather. It felt great to escape the desk for a while. People out jogging and enjoying not having to wear jackets. Flawless blue sky. Buds on the trees. When I got back to the office I heard that part of the subway was shut down because of an accident, but I didn't hear the details until I arrived home and found my husband watching the news.

While I was out enjoying the sunshine, nine people were killed when a van drove on the sidewalk and struck them. Sixteen others were injured. They were just out for a walk, same as I was. Nine people not going home to their families tonight. My first fear was that it was a terrorist attack, and that just doesn't happen here. Whether it turns out to be that or someone's personal mental illness, it's still terrifying.

A reminder that you have to suck up every tiny drop of joy from life that you can, while you can. Love your people with all your heart. Take time to enjoy the bird song and blue sky. Tomorrow isn't guaranteed.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Sheer Joy

The temperature finally got above freezing, and the snow melted and has nearly disappeared, just like that. Its departure has exposed some tentative tulip and hyacinth shoots, a lot of broken twigs from the trees, and MUD. Lots of mud. Brio especially likes sharing the mud all over the tile floors and painting with it on strangers' pant legs. He rolls in it and digs in it and tears around the yard with the scent of spring in his nostrils. He is in heaven.

Then again, Brio acts like he's in heaven most of the time. I took him for a longer-than-usual walk today in the rare sunshine, and the closer we got to the park, the more eager he got, straining at his leash, ears back, head down, as if pulling a dog sled. As soon as I let him off the leash he bounded off and found a stick for me to throw, running and fetching with absolute glee. He throws himself with utter joy into every activity. One of my favourite sights in the world is Brio streaking toward me over the grass with his ears blown back in the breeze.

He tried to carry the big stick home with him, like a prize, tripping over it and banging into things, until I finally had to tell him to put it down. And even then he was happy, dropping the beloved stick immediately and trotting on with tail wagging -- the perfect example of how to enjoy something and then let it go. He doesn't try to live in the past or fret about the future, he just IS. He has a lot he can teach me.

Now he's sprawled sleepily at my feet under the desk, boneless and content, the closest thing to a grin on his face that a dog can have. I'm with you, Brio. Nap time.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Freezing Rain, Arctic Winds, and a Monk with a Ferrari

Terrible weather outside that cancelled all my plans, so I spent most of yesterday curled on the couch reading The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma. I hate to admit I don't see why it has become such a cult classic. It's an entertaining allegory, I suppose, but it came across as an aggressive Infomercial. Every other sentence is a cliché, the supposed monk has an in-your-face ego, and he presents basic Buddhist principles as if he's just invented them himself. Sorry, I don't like giving bad reviews, but it just didn't live up to the hype. It was like listening to a Tony Robbins-style pep talk, or an evangelical preacher. I could feel my hair being blown backward.

Everything the book advises you to do is focused on the self. Your energy and vitality, your youth, your prosperity, your personal advancement. Then it winds up with a pitch to serve others in order to benefit yourself. Mixed in with all this was irritating phrases the editor should have nixed, such as "dimpled mischievousness." The monk was described as astonishingly youthful, but he spoke to the middle-aged narrator with "grandfatherly" compassion, all while regarding him as a brother. Bleh. My fingers kept itching to reach for a red pencil.

Editorial mishaps aside, I think one of the things that bothered me the most with this book was the hard-hitting focus on setting goals. I understand the need to have general direction to your life, or an idea of where you're going, and I am 100% on board with the principle of self development and improvement. But my approach to things is not to set defined goals broken down into incremental steps. My approach is to just be. If you want to be a more patient person, for example, you don't set a goal to become one in the future; you just start acting like one. Just start being patient, right now, this moment. Be the person you envision being. If you fail or mess up, you start over again. You keep starting over as many times as you need to, and no one is keeping count. But if you don't do it "in the now," you certainly won't reach that goal in the future, because the future is just a collection of all the "nows." Sometimes I think we plan ourselves to death and it keeps us from accomplishing anything.

I understand Robin Sharma's intention, and yes, some complicated things like saving for retirement or building a house need to broken down into specific goals to be accomplished in a certain progression. But the types of things he was talking about in the book were about improving character, and the minute detailed approach he recommended just sucked the joy out of the whole concept of self-growth. It belonged in a corporate strategic plan, not a Buddhist allegory.

Ah well. I apologize for my opinion if anyone reading this loved the book. And it's true that Robin Sharma will make buckets more money with his writing than I will with mine. I'm pleased for his success. It just wasn't what I was in the mood to read on a cozy, snowy day, but I always feel this sense of obligation to finish reading a book to the bitter end once I've started it. The author went to the effort to bake the thing, and the least I can do is choke it down.

It's still Arctic outside and they've cancelled church this morning due to icy roads, so I have another chance to curl up with a book today. I'll select something completely different this time and see how it goes. Or I suppose I could actually get off the couch and try to accomplish something...

Naah.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

A Time to Plant by Kyle Kramer

I just read a nifty little book by Kyle Kramer and wanted to share it. It's the cozy sort of book you want to curl up with on a chilly evening with a blanket and hot chocolate. He's an intelligent and honest writer, exploring not just the ins and outs of starting a small organic farm but also delving into questions about his motivations, beliefs, and emotional struggles. He talks about the challenge of trying to stay in one place, to stay on the land he committed himself to. The fight against his own micro-managing nature. The regret he felt at focusing so much on providing a home for his family that he forgot to be home.

As I read it, I found myself nodding in agreement and writing down quotes in a notebook. I could relate to all of those things. I loved that he was willing to share so openly and to address personal religious issues without flinching. It made me want to cheer him on, to invite him to dinner and discuss all of this. And it made that little tendril of longing for a farm of my own raise its tedious head once again. I thought I'd squashed it pretty well. I've tried to be content with my modest garden, and I've acknowledged I'm not physically up to farming on a larger scale. I've tried to listen to the inner voice of reason. I want to be able to hop in the car and travel whenever I want to without having to find a sitter for a flock of chickens. I want to sleep in on weekends without goats waiting to be milked. I want to be able to stay indoors on cold, wet days. I've found joy in my writing and textile arts and want to focus on those. I know all of these things. Then why do I keep going back to that little voice that says You need a farm?

I attribute it to Grandpa and Mom, for passing on the bits of genetic material that root me so strongly to land. I credit reading The Good Earth at an impressionable age. I credit my sister, who has found joy on her own piece of land. I credit the land itself, with its insistent tug every spring. I blame the cute little pygmy goats on Kijiji... And I credit terrific writers like Kyle Kramer, whose experiences sound so challenging and yet enticing. I want to go prove myself on a piece of property. I want to be part of the turning of the seasons, the ebb and flow of weather, the creation and growth going on outdoors.

Just as soon as I finish my book...

Friday, 30 March 2018

The garlic is up -- It's officially spring!

Today I carefully pulled back the straw from the garlic bed and found lots of little 2-inch sprouts. Ta da! A simple act, and suddenly hope blossoms, spring returns, and I reconnect with the earth after months of huddling indoors. Further exploration showed signs of the kale reviving, the peonies returning, and little compact bullet-shaped hyacinth starting to bud. A freshness and excitement fills the (almost) mild air, and a sense of accomplishment swells within me. I've survived another winter!

This year I kept the grow lights on all winter and ate lettuce, spinach, beet greens, chard, green onions, string beans, and various herbs from my kitchen counter. Over the next couple of weeks I'll wean these off, compost the soil, and start anew with the seedlings for the summer garden. It's just in time -- the chest freezer is getting low, just a few packets of carrots, beans, and Swedish peas left from last year's garden. I do still have quite a lot of the dehydrated stuff left -- kale, chives, green onion, cabbage, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers. I didn't use as much as I anticipated. (Go figure. I mean, what family wouldn't love rehydrated kale for dinner? They'll thank me when the zombie apocalypse happens.)

I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling this year, what with book signings and things, so I've got to focus on planting things that don't require daily care. I'm sticking to root vegetables, squashes, cabbages, kale, dry cooking beans, and other things that can basically fend for themselves while I'm away. The exception is green beans -- you simply can't have a garden without them. I hate the styrofoam-y store-bought ones, so there's no question about planting beans, even though they have to be harvested daily. I will cross that bridge when I come to it. (You can get people to come watch your dogs for you. Why not beans?)

Every year I try growing something new, and this year it's little baseball-sized round zucchini. They look ideal for stuffing and fun to try. I'm also planning to expand the flower beds a bit, and I have two packets of lupines to try. I think they'll be pretty along the side of the garden, next to the swath of lavender. They'll attract pollinators, yes, but there's also the cold fact that, if I ever tried to sell this house, no prospective buyer is going to want a yard entirely of vegetables. Some colour is called for.

I'm not planning to sell the house right away, of course; there are still children in it, after all. And there's the tiny little detail that I have 15 more years until retirement. But I still feel that springtime tug toward owning a small farm one day. Even while I know I don't have the health, stamina, or dedication required, I still find myself browsing the internet looking at chicks and incubators, rabbits for sale, plots of farmland, sales on steel-beam barns and apple cider presses and maple sap-collecting pails. Look, honey, there's a great deal on a manure spreader! Don't you think we ought to get one just in case...?

I don't think I'll ever win that argument. Though there are signs my husband may be starting to come around to the idea. The other day he told me about a couple of darling pygmy goats for sale on Kijiji...




Sunday, 18 March 2018

I'm back!

I just returned from a lovely week holed up with my book manuscript. No internet, no phone, just me at a desk with the dogs curled cozily on my feet and a blizzard out the window. I ate simple food when I was hungry and slept when I was tired and just listened to the silence...other than when the propane furnace came on, which sounded like a jet engine revving up. But such pristine silence in between times! When the creative juices ebbed, I would bundle up and go for a trudge along the river, walking out on the levee in the snow, or up and down the streets of the little village I was in, admiring the restored Victorian houses. It was so peaceful! I could live like that forever. I couldn't have pulled it off without my wonderful hubby, who shuttled me back and forth and kept the home fires burning while I was away. I'm not entirely sure the kids noticed I was gone, but Son #3 did say he missed the dogs...

And I'm pleased to report the manuscript is at 56,000 words, so only about 20,000 to go, which is pretty good progress, and I'm sure I can get the rest done by deadline. It was a difficult start, but we're in the homestretch now!

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Where I am

My apologies for not writing lately. I need to turn in a new book manuscript to the publisher this spring, and this book doesn't seem to be coming very easily. I'm focusing on that right now. In fact, I've taken next week off work to do nothing but write. It'll see the light of day eventually! Thanks,  K

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Ideas for New Winter Olympic Sports

While out shoveling snow this morning (again!) I came up with some ideas for new sports to add to the Winter Olympics.

  • Slip on the Ice Driveway Luge
  • Road Salt Bag Shotput
  • The Dog Refuses to Go Out So We'll Just Play Frisbee in the Living Room Discus Throw
  • Don't Get Your Wet Boots on My Clean Floor Standing Broadjump
  • Spilled Hot Chocolate in My Lap Curl
  • Shoveling Full Speed Until I Hit the Crack in the Sidewalk Head-over-Heels Flip
  • Can't Pile the Snow Any Higher Shovel Javelin
  • Broke My Kid's Sled Going Over a Jump Downhill Tumble
  • Sneaking Out to the Woodpile in My T-Shirt 50-Meter Dash
and my personal favourite:
  • Trying to Bend Over in 10 Layers of Clothing to Fish my Sock out of My Boot Flexibility Challenge
Think they'll take off?

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Fun with Gematria

I teach a weekly Sunday School class to a bunch of youth age 14 to 18. This week I wanted to jazz things up a bit to catch their interest, so I started the lesson off with a brief Hebrew lesson. And I gave them a couple of fun things to do with Gematria. Because Hebrew characters each have a numerical value, you can add up the letters in a word and get a numerical value for the word itself.

For example, the word for "water," mayim, adds up to a value of 18. So does the word chai, meaning "life." So water equals life. This is certainly true in a desert culture, but it also brings new meaning to John 4:10 when Christ says he would give living water.

As another example, the word for "serpent"(nun cheth shin) adds up to a value of 358. So does the word for "messiah" (mem shin yod cheth). So the serpent represents the messiah (think of the story when Moses lifts up the brazen serpent on the staff for the people to look to and live). And notice that in 3 Nephi when Christ appears to the people, he doesn't tell them he was crucified; he tells them he was "lifted up." It's a reference to the Moses serpent story, and he is declaring himself as the messiah.

However, in Genesis, when Satan tempts Eve, he is also represented as a serpent. So one serpent is fallen, and one is raised up. It makes sense to me, considering Satan wanted to be the messiah. At the great Council in heaven he volunteered to be the saviour of mankind, but on his own terms. And in the Adam and Eve story, we see Satan's still trying to pass himself off as a messiah. He calls himself the god of this world. And there's the serpent image.

This brings another observation to mind. Several times in the scriptures Christ talks about how oft he would gather his people as a chicken gathers her chicks beneath her wings, but they would not. And the letter mem represents a bird or hawk as well as the messiah. So you have both a bird and a serpent representing the messiah. It brings to mind the Mesoamerican feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl.

The kids in the class found it interesting, anyway, and seemed to pay extra attention to the rest of the lesson. I'm not great at Hebrew or Gematria, but I know just enough to realize how many rich treasures enfolded in the scriptures I am missing!

(Gematria references taken from Joe Sampson in Written by the Finger of God.)

Friday, 2 February 2018

Indoor Gardening

So I got tired of looking at snow outside and pining for my garden. I now have 66 small pots on my counter under the grow light: lettuce, spinach, onions, beets, peppers, swiss chard, green beans, and rosemary and cilantro. Most will be eaten as small salad greens, but the beets, peppers, beans, and onions I'll let get to full size. I often grow green beans in my dining room -- they don't need insects to pollinate them -- and have fresh beans all winter.  There's just something wonderfully calming about the smell of damp earth, the sight of tiny sprouts pushing up against all odds and cheerfully just doing their thing. Not to mention the fact that I eat healthier when vegetables are there at my fingertips. Like my seedlings, I want to lie under the glow of the grow lights and pretend it's summer.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Teddy Bear on the Subway

The other day as I was coming home, I saw a young man standing on the subway platform with a giant stuffed bear. It had a red ribbon around its neck, and I assume it was a Valentine's gift for his girlfriend. There's something endearing about a six-foot-something, hulking young man out in public, hugging with both arms a giant teddy bear nearly as big as himself.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Where I've been

Sorry I haven't written lately. Time has flown without my even registering it. First it was heavy snowfall, requiring several shovelings a day. Then it was getting a manuscript ready for submission to the publisher. And then it was teaching my grand-daughter basic knitting. And then my husband's cousin moved in to start college. And then... Well, yeah, then I read a bunch of books and watched entirely too much "Escape to the Country" and "Hinterland" on TV...and time got away from me.

The funny thing is, one of the books I've been lost in is about mindfulness...

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Starting the Year off with a Bang - Some thoughts on climate change and bomb cyclones

The last couple of weeks have been bitterly cold, but yesterday we hit new records. It was -37 where I live, the coldest it has been since the 1950s. Eastern Canada and the U.S. are getting pummelled by a winter storm that has torn off roofs, knocked out power, and caused storm surge that has flooded towns. It's called a bomb cyclone, which is a good description for it. The dogs haven't had a good walk in two weeks -- whenever I try to take them out, they go ten feet, start balancing on two paws, and give me aggrieved looks until I pick them up and cart them back inside. I'm reduced to playing ball in the front hall with Brio.

I've been noticing changes in the summer weather for a while now -- we can grow kiwi here now, and kudzu is starting to invade, and opossums have crept up from the south. We get more intense rainstorms and heat waves, and last year I hardly had to water the garden at all. But now there are differences in the winter weather too. It used to be that we'd herald the appearance of the first robin as a sign of spring coming, and it was always around March 1st. But now the robins don't even leave in the winter; they stay here. We usually only get snow worth shoveling two or three times. The zipper broke on my only winter coat about four years ago and I haven't bothered to replace it because we really didn't need coats all that much.

However, this year we've gotten a lot of snow, and now this deep freeze that gives you an ice cream headache and makes your eyes prickle as they try to freeze over. They say that extreme cold is also a sign of global warming -- someone needs to tighten up the terminology, there -- but whatever you call it, the semantics are the same and it's still tough to live with. I keep a big basket at work just to hold all my cast-offs when I arrive -- longjohns, extra socks, hoodie, coat, two pair of gloves, two scarves. Everyone waddles around looking like overstuffed penguins, with only their eyes showing. You know, there's a new bill in Quebec about Muslim women who wear the niqab having to show their faces to get government services, but personally I think the niqab makes a lot of sense right now! We all look the same, whether it's religious wear or winter wear. Do I have to unwind my two scarves and show my face if I go to Quebec? Would a man?

Anyway, I can't complain about the extreme weather, because it didn't even hit us until late December, whereas often we have snow by Halloween. It was a wonderful, long, warm autumn, and now spring can only be a few months down the road. Even in this deep freeze -- or more likely, because of it -- the sky is a beautiful blue and the sun is bright. I need to install a small greenhouse or sunroom so I can soak up the rays without getting frostbite.

And hey, it's almost time to start getting the seed catalogues out.