Monday, 31 December 2018

New Year's Eve Again

Here we are again, another year under our belts. I went back to re-read what I wrote last December 31, and I really have nothing to add to it. Feeling grateful for my blessings and having gotten through another 12 months virtually unscathed. (I can't help it; I tend to think of life as an obstacle course, or running the gauntlet. If you can get through it with no blood on the floor, you win!)

The first week of January last year, there was a "bomb cyclone," and it was -37 here. This year, after another long, warm, mild autumn, we are still enjoying temperatures above freezing most days. There was an inch of powdery, dry snow yesterday that melted by afternoon. I still wear a sweatshirt instead of a coat to walk the dogs (and yeah, still a broken zipper on the coat). There's always that tentative hope that we'll just carry on through the entire winter like this, even though you know deep down the hope is futile and eventually we'll be swathed in eight layers and digging out of three feet of snow. But still, as long as the cold holds off, the hope lives on.

I wish everyone a safe, healthy, and peaceful new year.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Two Blogs

So I've decided to start a new project for 2019. Each week I'm going to try a different kind of cheese and blog about it. I'd welcome your suggestions for types to try and comments about your own experiences with cheese.  You can check it out at

Friday, 28 December 2018

Two Minds

It is the lovely, luscious week between Christmas and New Year's Day, and I am off work. Long, beautiful days of reading, eating, writing, watching drippy Hallmark movies, doing needlwork, and walking the dog. Napping when I want to nap. Accomplishing nothing more difficult than a jigsaw puzzle. With a tiny tiny bit of housework thrown in, just to keep me from being completely indolent. I could definitely get used to all this freedom.

Even while I'm soaking up the rest, though, there's that stupid little part of my brain that niggles and wriggles like a worm in the cake, that says "You have to go back to work in six days." "You have to go back to work in five days." "Now only four..." I tell the voice to shut up, but it's persistent. I don't know why I do this to myself.

The stupid thing is, I enjoy my job and I'm not really dreading going back. The people are nice, it feels good to be able to put food on the table (obviously, since I've been eating so much of it this week!), and I have a lot of free rein in my work. It's challenging and interesting and full of change and variety, yet not overwhelming.

I think it's the life-long problem I've always struggled with, of not being able to just be in the moment. Why can't I relax and just be now? Why do I always look forward? I know we gardeners tend to live in the future, because, after all, planting seeds is the ultimate in planning for the future. But other than potting up a bit of lettuce to go under the grow lights, I'm not gardening now. The yard is asleep under iron-hard earth, the tools are put away, and I can be in writer mode. I know if I look forward too much, I'll miss the wonderfulness going on in this moment, and I don't want to do that. Must learn to be here.

I look forward to the day I learn that lesson. :)

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Thirty-two Years and Counting

Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary (we had to tuck it into the Christmas break because of school). A lot has happened in 32 years, when I stop to think about it, and yet it also feels like no time at all. I lucked out in many ways when I agreed to marry He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. He's the world's best cook, for one thing. He keeps the house immaculate. He thinks of small things to delight me, simple stuff like bringing me home a treat after band practice, and he always puts his family first over himself. His meticulous bookkeeping has kept us afloat for decades, managing to stretch the pennies in some sort of loaves-and-fishes sleight of hand I don't understand but have come to rely on. I have confidence that he could handle any and every circumstance. He's tireless and broad-visioned and hard-working. He's smart and stubborn and loves to learn and explore. He has mentored many music students who have gone on to accomplish wonderful things. He can build furniture, quilt beautifully, speak Italian, and make pasta from scratch.

It was sheer luck I stumbled across the newspaper article that led me to the BYU Bagpipe Club where I met him. What would have become of my life if I hadn't seen that? Would I be in Canada right now? Would I have the three wonderful kids and two lovely grandchildren I now have? It's a bit staggering to think how much rode on that one small coincidence.

Happy anniversary, sweetie, and here's to 32 more.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Hallmark Christmas Movies

I'm trying to understand the strange attraction of schlocky Hallmark Christmas movies. They're all the same (they even recycle the same actors over and over, but in different combinations). There's always a snowball fight, a tree lighting or Christmas fair the whole town turns out to, ice skating, a sleigh ride, snow angels, a thwarted kiss, and a small argument or misunderstanding that's wrapped up within five minutes. None of these people work 9 to 5, ride subways, catch head colds, or live in dim and dreary apartments. No one bundles up to the eyeballs in scarves and balaclavas in spite of all this winter wonderland. They never show the hero scraping an inch of ice off his windshield. The houses are stunning, the views breathtaking, the townsfolk quirky and welcoming, the protagonists are always in their late thirties and fit as race horses, and the whole thing is so quaint and sweet your teeth ache. And who in their lives has actually gone to a town Christmas fair or a public tree lighting?

But still I watch them, one or two a night, and record the ones I have to miss so I can watch them later when no one else is at home. I live with four males, and I feel I need to defend myself if I'm caught watching these things on TV. I can feel them lowering my IQ as I watch. But still I devour them like chocolate.

What is it about them that appeals so much? The simplicity? The warmth? The knowledge that life will always work out in a happy ending for these people no matter what? The amazing mountain vistas? (I found out a lot of them are filmed in British Columbia. Well, no wonder!) I curl up on the couch with the dog and a bowl of popcorn and listen to the ice pellets ping off the window and imagine myself into these glowing, golden scenes. And wonder if I could write one...

Friday, 7 December 2018

How to Build a Log Cabin

I was riding home on the bus and couldn't help overhearing the conversation between a young man and young woman seated beside me. She asked him if he was planning to move into his own place, and he replied that he was saving up to do so. But, he said, if he couldn't find a cheap enough place, he would take a sack of potatoes and an axe and go out into the woods and build himself a place. To which she replied he could go to the library and get a book on how to build a log cabin.

I came very close to jumping into their conversation but managed to restrain myself. I had just such a book myself at home, all about how to build a log cabin. The first sentence was something like "First cut down 80 trees and let them age for 12 years."

I don't know what the second sentence said. (I suppose I'll find out in 12 years.)

I have similar cookbooks, too. I remember one recipe that started with "First kill a rabbit." My personal favourites, though, are the ones that start with "First take a pound of butter and a dozen eggs..."

Wednesday, 21 November 2018


The manuscript has been sent to the publisher! And I made 4 dozen tarts and about 7 dozen cookies. More to come tomorrow. Whew! Going to go curl up with a mystery novel now and unwind.

Baking and Writing

I took three days off this week to focus on finishing the latest manuscript and to do my Christmas baking. And to mail the Christmas cards (for those of you in the States, yours might be late depending on how our postal strike goes...). Oh, and to finish the baby blanket I'm making for someone at work. And to start getting ready for...and I should.... Well, I may need more than three days, come to think of it!

I have a theory that if I didn't work full time, I wouldn't get a thing done at home. Because I know time is limited, I cram impossible amounts into each moment I have available, so I accomplish quite a lot. If I thought I had limitless time, I'd waste a lot of it, I suspect, lying on the couch with a book or wandering along the river with the dog... Then again, I don't really count that as wasting time. Rejuvenating yourself on a regular basis is important. It's just trying to find a balance between rejuvenation and complete indolence...

Friday, 9 November 2018

Settling in for winter

The bottled tomatoes and grape juice are on the shelf. The garden produce is blanched and frozen or dehydrated. The dry beans are in their mason jars. The patio furniture is secured in the shed, and the netting is over the pool cover to catch the last of the autumn leaves. The garlic is planted (well, doing the last of it today). I'm stocked up on cocoa, and I'm recording Hallmark Christmas movies on TV. Just need to bring in a stack of books and I'm set for the season!

My husband's grandmother used to do lots of Christmas baking, and before she died I spent a day with her in the kitchen, learning all the traditional family recipes. After her passing, I took over the Christmas baking, putting together boxes of goodies for every family. When that became too expensive, I started just providing the goodies at the Christmas dinner we hosted each year. But over time, people trickled off and stopped attending -- age, weather, distance all take their toll. So the tradition sort of stalled.

This year I've decided to go back to doing the goodie boxes again. I may not be able to deliver to every family, because we've become somewhat far-flung, but I look forward to doing what I can this year. Butter tarts, lemon tarts, chocolate no-bake cookies, shortbread, date snowballs, tablet... I've taken three days off work to do it, and it will likely take up two months' worth of grocery money. But somehow I just can't let the tradition die, or the recipes fade away. Tradition is such an integral part of holidays and families, and you really can't think hygge without thinking food.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Anticipation and Dopamine

I'm reading a book right now that says the anticipation of pleasure or something good raises your dopamine, and you can literally become addicted to that anticipation. Sometimes the anticipation gives you more pleasure than the actual object of your desire, which can't live up to your high expectations.

It's an interesting thought. I have spent so much time thinking about the future, the home I want to someday have, retirement to a farm, what my life will be like when/if I attain that goal... I have derived an awful lot of pleasure from daydreaming about "someday." I've renovated and furnished my future dream home in my imagination, down to the smallest detail. And I'm sure the pleasure I've gotten from thinking about it and planning for it is probably more than the pleasure I'll feel actually attaining it. In which case, my husband will argue, why do it at all? It's certainly cheaper to plan and daydream than to actually do. A lot less work, too! If I'm getting the same or more dopamine from just thinking about it, there's really no motivation to accomplish the thing itself.

Must ponder this some more. It would certainly be fewer calories to just anticipate the egg nog than to actually drink it. But does it provide the same joy? And if the body can be triggered into producing dopamine just by thinking about egg nog, can it also be triggered into gaining weight if I imagine drinking the egg nog? That would be a bummer.

On the other hand, maybe I can think myself thin... If I imagine myself jogging...

Sunday, 28 October 2018

First Snow

Yesterday's rain started turning slushy around mid-afternoon, and this morning there is a dusting of wet white on everything. Fortunately the garlic is planted, the lawn has been mown for the last time, the catalpa trees have been beheaded, I've bought a coat, and we're pretty much ready for winter. The change in weather has caught the trees off guard, though---the leaves haven't fallen yet, and I can picture them scurrying to their rooms, calling "Hang on a sec!" because their date has arrived at the house early and they haven't had a chance to change yet.

Winter is a mixed bag for me. I love the cozy feel of dark evenings and the furnace running and curling up on the couch with a fuzzy blanket and hot chocolate to watch soggy Hallmark Christmas movies. Then again, I hate slogging off to work bundled in layers in the dark and wet and cold. I don't like driving in snow and ice. But I love puttering with my little salad greens growing under grow-lights on the counter. I love the pinging sound of ice pellets hitting the window. I am not such a fan of them pinging off my face. I want to try dog sledding. I want to hibernate and not move until June. I want to attack the stack of Louise Penny mysteries I look forward to re-reading. I anticipate chili and beef stew and egg nog. I miss my garden already.

So you see the dilemma. It's a good thing the seasons shift so often here, because I'm never content with one for long. This year I want to try to settle in better, keep up with my yoga and meditation, and keep the depression away. Not get after myself for not accomplishing much. Be content with my knitting and needlepoint. Try not to daydream of summer and sunshine so much. It's only the contrast that saddens us, you know. If you don't want to feel the cold, just be cold. It's only wishing you were warm that makes you so aware of the cold.

Oh, and I need to finish that stupid manuscript I still haven't turned in. Wow, why is that always the last thing I think of on my to-do list?

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Juicing the Grapes

Two bushels of Concords turned into 37 litres of juice, which will make 74 litres when the water's added to the concentrate. Loveliness!  I love harvest time.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Legalizing Cannabis

Recreational marijuana becomes legal in Canada tomorrow. I am anxious and depressed, fearful for my family, and am already dreading encountering that skunk smell at every turn. It's bad enough having to deal with inconsiderate smokers at the bus stop or on the street. They seem to have no clue how their actions impact others. Now this to deal with. I have arranged to work at home for the next two days just to let the "dust settle" and not have to deal with it, because I know the pendulum is going to swing crazily the first little while until people realize it's not a great thing and find some sort of equilibrium. Yeah, I know all the arguments against prohibition and everything, and I know the government is hoping this will be a wonderful cash cow. But all I can see is the health risk, the vulnerability, the safety concerns, the shirking of responsibility, the idiocy. The loss of the potential of our youth.

Meanwhile, I'm seriously going to start looking for real estate far far into the northern bush, where I can live in a bubble away from humans. It's time.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Plummet in temperatures

Yesterday was sweltering at work, 27 celsius, and I wore a skirt with bare feet and sandals. As I came home, the air was fresh and cooling and autumn-feeling. Today it's gray and overcast and there's a cold breeze. And tomorrow they're saying it will be 8 celsius. Whew! That's a sudden shift. I'm suddenly aware of leaves on the ground, crisp under foot, and the urge to curl up in a blanket before a roaring fireplace.

Monday, 8 October 2018

For the past 14 years, I’ve kept a list of the books I’ve read. Upon skimming back over the list, I discovered you can actually write a whole story just using the titles of some of these books:

Julie   (Marshall)
Bold Spirit   (Hunt)
The Outside Man   (Patterson)
The Love Talker   (Peters)
Listening Woman   (Hillerman)
Persuasion   (Austen)
The Sinner   (Gerritsen)
With Child   (King)
The Shunning   (Lewis)
Matilda’s Wedding   (Neels)
A Painted House   (Grisham)
Its Colours They are Fine   (Spence)
Playing House   (Pearson)
I am a Mother   (Johnson)
Cradle to Cradle   (McDonough & Braungart)
All Through the Night   (Clark)
Housekeeping   (Robinson)
Family – The Ties that Bind and Gag  (Bombeck)
At Wit’s End   (Bombeck)
It’s All Too Much   (Walsh)
Season of Storms   (Kearsley)
The Divide   (Evans)
The Judas Kiss   (Holt)
Everything is Illuminated   (Foer)
Enough Already!   (Walsh)
Before I Say Goodbye   (Clark)
The Silent Lady   (Cookson)
Breakup   (Stabenow)
Leaving Home   (Keillor)
The Empty House   (Pilcher)
Running West   (Houston)
Far and Away   (Massie)
A Land More Kind Than Home   (Wolfe)
High Lonesome   (L’Amour)
The Rescue   (Sparks)
Good News for a Change   (Suzuki & Dressel)
I’ll Never Marry a Farmer   (Hole)
Courting Kate   (Rich)
A Sudden Change of Heart   (Bradford)
Where the Heart Leads   (Evans MacCloud)
Farmer Takes a Wife   (Gould)
Replacing Dad   (Mickle)
A Family in the Making   (Froemke)
No Greater Love   (Mother Teresa)
The New Farm   (Preston)
A Life in the Country   (Hutchison)
Fresh Air   (Allen)
Tending the Earth   (Johnson)
The Perfect Summer   (Rice)
The Winds of Change   (Grimes)
A Turn for the Bad   (Connolly)
The Last Good Day   (Bowen)
The Homecoming   (Michaels)
Prodigal Summer   (Kingsolver)
The Party is Over   (Heinberg)
We are Still Married   (Keillor)
You Belong to Me   (Clark)
Not Buying It   (Levine)
Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman   (Buchan)
If I’d Killed Him when I Met Him   (McCrumb)
Unless   (Shields)
A Risk Worth Taking   (Pilcher)
The Things We Do for Love   (Hannah)
On a Hill Far Away   (Snyder)
Still of the Night   (McKinney)
With These Hands   (L’Amour)
Girl Waits with Gun   (Stewart)
A Cold Day for Murder   (Stabenow)
Dead in the Water   (Stabenow)
Buried in a Bog   (Connolly)
A Rule Against Murder   (Penny)
Dark Age Ahead   (Jacobs)
Traveling Light   (Lucado)
Alice in Exile   (Read)
Lost in the Barrens  (Mowat)
Roughing it in the Bush   (Moodie)
Seeking Peace   (Pipher)
High Latitudes   (Mowat)
Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name   (Vida)
Secrets from the Past   (Bradford)
Sleuth   (Bowen)
Mr. Monk on Patrol   (Goldberg)
The Art of Detection   (King)
In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner   (George)
Footsteps in the Snow   (Dear Canada Series)
Prisoners of the North   (Berton)
No Shred of Evidence   (Todd)
Woman Without a Past   (Whitney)
Gallows Thief   (Cornwell)
Leaving Time   (Picoult)
The Convent   (Karnezis)
And Then There Were Nuns   (Christmas)
Seeking Sanctuary   (Fyfield)
The Kindness of Strangers   (Kittle)
The Help   (Stockett)
Nature’s Second Chance   (Apfelbaum)
Remembering the Bones   (Itani)
Private Demons   (Phenix)
The Confession   (Todd)
The Infinite Atonement   (Callister)
Hearing the Voice of the Lord   (Lund)
Believing Christ   (Robinson)
Raising Hope   (Willard)
Grace Works   (Millet)
Benediction   (Haruf)
Weep No More, My Lady   (Clark)
The Lost Art of Gratitude   (McCall Smith)
Longing for Home   (Eden)
The Long Way Home   (Pilcher)
Starting Over   (Pilcher)
The New Good Life   (Robbins)
Peace Like a River   (Enger)
Sweeter than all the World   (Wiebe)
Owls Well that Ends Well   (Andrews)

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Last Wander of the Season

My husband and I go on frequent drives through the countryside, from the minute the roads are passable in spring until the snow starts to fly in fall. We explore quaint villages and check out intriguing place names on the map. We explore waterfalls and walk on distant lake shores and just get to know our amazingly beautiful province a little better.

This weekend we made our---likely---last excursion north. Temperatures have dropped to about 8 celsius, Alberta has had snow already, and it's likely we'll just ramble closer to home now until spring. So this week we went up to Hanover to pick up some band supplies from Ben Bhraggie and stayed overnight in the area. The colours are out---deep red against a clear blue sky, the unearthly tint of a misty sunrise coming through orange and yellow trees. Just heavenly.

There's something so cozy about autumn. The smokey scent of wood stoves rising in the morning. The hollow clinking sound of dwindling rivers flowing over rocks. Crispy leaves underfoot. Children shouting to each other through the still air on their way to school. Snuggling down in my blanket and gloating that I don't have to go to school too. The visible breath of horses. And my favourite foods come on at autumn time--pumpkin pie, egg nog, butternut squash ravioli, hot chocolate...all the creamy, smooth goodness. Comfort foods.

Oooh. Wow, going to cut this short and go make pumpkin cookies, I think!

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

A series of storms continues to pummel the Ottawa region here in Ontario. Someone I know in Quebec lost her greenhouse and is currently hunkering down in a berm house. (Three sides of it are underground, and the wind is still shaking it!). She reports that she has decided to move because she just can't take the extreme weather anymore, making her officially the first climate change migrant I'm acquainted with.

Here in Mississauga, the weather was cool and autumny with an occasional shower of rain and some wind, but nothing remotely worrisome. In fact, the air had a deliciousness about it, a cool scent, a clear light that made everything seem sharp-edged and brilliant. Something undefinable that reminded me of autumns of my childhood. Walking along College Street in Toronto on my way to the subway, I was suddenly seized with nostalgia for aspens changing to yellow, the cool air flowing down mountain canyons bringing the scent of damp rock. After-school daylight spent rollerskating on the back deck with Janice Gill. Roasting marshmallows over the backyard fire pit. Watching the sunset turn Mount Timpanogos salmon and crimson. Sitting under the pear tree in the front yard with my guitar until dusk grew so thick I couldn't see the strings anymore. The smooth surface of my desk that sounded hollow when I put pencil to paper. The joy of buying back-to-school zippered binders with section tabs and built-in pencil cases. Walking home from grade school in my winter coat and kicking the horse chestnuts fallen from the Andersons' tree. The fat lines on the off-white paper waiting for my careful cursive. Mom's pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting, made with pumpkins from the garden. The magic of waking up to find frost on the window and crunchy leaves on the ground.

Certain scents or a certain quality of the air can send us spinning back forty years in the blink of an eye. I had such a great childhood, and so many of my happy memories are linked to autumn. For a brief moment today I wished so intensely to be that child again, to do it all over again and appreciate it more this time. To walk in my parents' door and smell that pumpkin cake baking.

Well, I'm not sure how I started out this post with tornadoes and ended up with cream cheese frosting...

Sunday, 23 September 2018

The end of summer

Summer went out with a bang here in Canada. We got the tail end of Hurricane Florence -- not nearly what people in the Carolinas have had to deal with, but tornado, microburst, winds up to about 130kms an hour... Several homes and businesses destroyed, power outages, some people injured, but no fatalities. Someone I know of lost her greenhouse and all the plants inside it that she needed for her market garden business. But it could have been much worse.

Where we live, I shuffled home from work in a stiff wet wind, and my husband had to fish a chair out of the pool, but that was all we got in my area! Feeling very lucky.

As I heard of the extreme weather the market gardener has had to deal with in Quebec (15-ft snow drifts, temperatures ranging from -53C to 49C in a year), I am more and more amazed by the tenacity and determination of the early settlers in this region. They came to Ontario (Upper Canada, then) and took on thick forests with axes and managed to turn vast swaths of them into wonderful farmland. I can't imagine what it took to do that. I whine when I have to face weeding a 30x20' garden.

My hypothetical hat goes off to all those who have a dream, pick up their tools, and forge ahead against all odds. And my gratitude especially goes out to the farmers who produce the food I eat every day, because I know what work went into it.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Fallow Fields

Sorry I sort of disappeared for awhile, there. Life got crazy busy. We have two new boarders living with us now, and the piping season wrapped up, and harvest season is upon us and...well, I won't bore you with all of it. Suffice it to say it's been a bit exhausting. But when I take time to lie around with a book and say no to things, I feel guilty. What is it in me that can't sit on the couch and listen to a neighbour mow his lawn without feeling I need to jump up and mow mine too (even though I just mowed it two days ago)?

I got an email from my sister that I found very comforting, though. She reminded me that fields need to lie fallow now and then to remain productive. They can't keep producing at high intensity without a resting period. She's right, of course. I know this, but it helps to be reminded now and then.

Winter is coming and life will slow down, and I look forward to long dark evenings by the fireplace. I have read a lot about how to extend the growing season in your garden, but I think it's wiser not to. The earth and I both need the sleep.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

The Kindness of Strangers

This week I found myself in a tight spot without a lot of options and my husband away. I won't go into detail because I don't want to embarrass the person who came to my rescue; I'll just say that someone I barely knew donated about an hour of his time to help me out and provided the tools I needed for the fix...He even provided bug spray so I wasn't eaten alive while dealing with things!  He left his tools with me overnight in case I needed them later, and he checked back in with me the next morning to ensure all was well. I felt watched over. And I've made a new friend. Tender mercies all over the place.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

My computer died a while ago, and a 15-year-old whiz kid we know rebuilt it for us. He did a great job except for one weird quirk the computer now has that it didn't before---You have to shut down, not log off, or the next time you try to use it, it won't let you enter your password. That means if we're going to be away from it for a while or if we're switching users, we have to shut down every time.

It got me thinking about shutting down -- 5 a.m., unable to do much because everyone else in the house is sleeping, but unable to go back to bed myself -- and I found myself making leaps from one topic to another and somehow tying them together. (As one's brain is apt to do when it's sleep deprived.) I once took a personality test that said I was a sociable introvert. I enjoy interacting with people and have a fun time when I'm with them, and then I have to go lie down and isolate myself for a couple of days to recover. It certainly explains why I find teaching great but exhausting, why I avoid small chat with people, why I barricade myself behind a book in the staff lunch room. It explains why eight hours at work alone with my computer doesn't drain me as much as three hours of church does.

Does my computer have the same personality? Can it take only so much interaction and then it needs to block us out for a while to recover?

It certainly helped me to take that test and realize I'm normal, categorizable, valid. I'm not the only one who is like this. And I find I can be kinder toward myself because of it. I understand now my need to lie down with a book partway through the day, and I can gently allow it for a while without judgment, before shooing myself off the couch to dive in once more.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Tallying the Garden

I've seen the first sign of changing colours in the trees and there's a wrapping-up sort of feeling to the air. The weather has been so wild and weird this summer that I hardly know what to expect from the garden anymore. The cool-weather things like lettuce and kale hardly did anything this year, compared to the bags and bags we got last year. The asparagus and rhubarb were great as always. The tomatoes seem happy, the peppers and cucumbers have never done so well, and the green onions are two feet tall. The broccoli was disappointing but gave a valiant effort. The green beans have been amazing and abundant. The dry beans are starting to dry in their pods now, rattling and papery and satisfying to pop open. But the cabbages are the size of softballs, the radishes and beets hardly surfaced, the carrots didn't even bother germinating, we got about five pathetic zucchini in total, and the spaghetti squash produced only one tiny squash that the rabbits promptly ate. Now it's suddenly putting out vines fifteen feet long, though, that have leaped from the bed, climbed the asparagus fern, and sprinted for the hedge.

Every year I plan and dream and sometimes I'm satisfied and other times I'm disappointed. But no matter how strange the weather or uncooperative the vegetables, every February still finds me drooling over seed catalogues and planning for the next garden. Gardeners never give up. They just work themselves into the ground.

Gardening is all about looking forward, never being in the now. No wonder zen meditation is so difficult for me! The very definition of planting a seed is to live in the future.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Bottling Tomatoes

It's act-like-a-squirrel time again, and I'm putting up food for the winter. I'm not doing as much this year, because most of the kidlets have flown the nest, but I still get the same satisfied thrill watching the empty jars disappear, replaced by glowing jewel-toned jars on the shelf. There's something deeply fulfilling about knowing you have worked hard and provided for your family for another season.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Kayaking the Saugeen River

A lovely couple of days spent along the Saugeen River. My first kayaking trip was 8.5 kms and just perfect for my first experience. Smooth water other than a few boulders to avoid, beautiful weather, fun cousins to do it with, and just a wonderful time. I'm just sorry it's taken me 51 years to try it! I had no idea what I've been missing.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

And then there were none

The rabbits were growing well and it looked like mama was taking good care of them in their newly-constructed nest. But after about 4 days, we went outside to find the ferny covering raked aside and no sign of the bunnies. No sign of violence, either, though, and no idea where they've gone or what happened. A raccoon? Mama moved them elsewhere? I don't know. It's a bit disturbing, thinking of some mayhem happening in our yard under cover of night while we were sleeping...

I can only do so much, I know, and then nature does her thing and I can't control the outcome. And no doubt there will be another new nest somewhere in the yard eventually. But still feeling sad and disappointed.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

We're down to two

Well, I think mama rabbit must have come in the night, because two of the babies are alert and look contented in their "nest." But one of them disappeared, and we spent a long time looking for him before finally finding him, dead, halfway across the yard in the old nest the rabbits used and abandoned in the spring. It's as if mama rabbit tried to relocate him back to the old nest. But maybe she was too rough with him, or he was too exposed, and he didn't survive. I don't know why she didn't move all three. Puzzling and sad.

Waiting until light this morning so I can go check on the remaining two, to see if she came to feed them in the night. I am not entirely sure how to tell they're getting enough nourishment, and I'm afraid I may leave it too late to intervene if I need to. How do you tell if a rabbit baby is just sleeping or getting weak and lethargic? They're not active enough yet to really be able to tell.

So much intense concentration on these tiny ounces of fuzz! But really, all life is precious, and the beauty of nature always makes me feel deeply alive and connected. These aren't just bunnies. They're my brothers. Or sisters. Hard to tell which, really...I don't feel we've gotten well enough acquainted yet to ask...

Sunday, 29 July 2018

We're back to rabbits again

This blog seems to keep returning to the theme of rabbits. A rabbit's nest is how this blog started about five years ago, and we've come full circle again. We removed the leaf-catcher net from our pool this spring but just rolled it up under the maple tree and never got around to shaking it out and properly folding it until today. And it wasn't until we'd dragged it out to the boulevard so we had room to work with it that we discovered a rabbit had kindled in it. Three little plump babies rolled out (plus one that had been deceased for some time). Oh no!

It was too late to restore them to where they'd been, and they're only about ten days old, not old enough to fend for themselves. I gently scooped them into a pouch made with my shirt---so smooth and sleek and beautiful--and scooped out a shallow hole under the maple tree near where they'd been. I lined it with leaves, clover, and whatever of mama's fur I could gather. I placed the babies in it and gave them a light covering of asparagus fern to give them shelter but hopefully not so much that mama can't find them. It's up to mother nature to take care of things now, I've done the best I can for them, but I still feel horrible about it.

For a while they snuggled down together and seemed content to wait it out, but when I checked on them at dusk, one of them had wandered off to explore. I think his eyes are open, but he's shaky and not able to hop yet. He has a spot of white on his head just like Brio's. He seems to have more spunk than the other two. I put him back in the nest and he snuggled down again. Now there's nothing to be done but wait to see if mama comes back. And pray the neighbour's cat doesn't discover them.

If she doesn't come back, my husband will have to figure out what to do next, because I'll be at work. I suppose it seems silly to worry over three rabbits when there's certainly no shortage of rabbits around here. And I'm a gardener, after all. But I really hope they'll be okay.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Childhood Songs

This morning I woke up humming True Blue Bill, a song I learned in First Grade. No idea why. It got me thinking about all the fun songs I sang as a kid: The Little Red Schoolhouse, Bill Grogan's Goat, Pecos Bill, Davy Crockett, Sing Your Way Home, the Handcart Song, I'm Gettin' Nothing for Christmas, All I Want for Christmas, The Hat I Got For Christmas is Too Big (I see a theme, here)...

I'll have to sit down and make a proper list and teach them to my grandchildren.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Sick Day

I caught a bad cold and sore throat on the weekend, so I've been down for the count for a few days. I thought I'd spend the unexpected gift of time reading and working on needlepoint, but I was just too bleh to do anything yesterday, though today I managed to work at home and also got the garlic cleaned and ready to store. Tomorrow it's back to the office.

One thing that always happens when I get sick is I lose my voice. Not just hoarse. Totally gone. So I've been whispering for about three days. The funny thing I've noticed is that when this happens, everyone around me gets quieter too. Because I'm whispering, people automatically reply in a whisper. It's amusing but also quite instructive. I wish I'd figured this out when my kids were young. We would have had a much calmer, quieter household!

Had the house to myself this evening so watched the original Karate Kid (yup. and without my sons forcing it on me, either!) and sucking down hot lemon and honey. Meanwhile my garden is languishing, the floor needs mopping, I should be writing... Usually I can keep moving fast enough that germs can't catch me, but when they do finally get me, there's no point in fighting it. I think sometimes our resistance to something makes it all the worse. Another instructive point to remember!

True to his nature, Brio can tell I'm not well and has been Velcroed to my side for two days. Every time I shift position, he leaps to his feet to see what I'm doing or where I'm going. Whenever I sit, he plops his head into my lap or on my foot. It's like having a fuzzy, four-legged hot water bottle permanently attached. There's nothing quite so comforting as placing my hand on his soft, smooth head. That's love, right there.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Artists on the River

Well, Artists on the River ended up being Artists in the Curling Rink, because after weeks of drought it decided to rain. Buckets of it. A deluge. So that made the farmers happy, but I think many would-be visitors were deterred by the weather...or couldn't find our new location...because not a lot of people came through. A decent number, I suppose, for the size of the village, but I was hoping for more. Ah well, I sold some books, met some cool people, and had a good time. Some really talented people in the area, I'll have to say. Silversmiths, painters, potters, weavers, wood workers, and stained glass makers. And I met a musician who can play some mean Spanish guitar. He handed me his Deering banjo at one point and we had a fun impromptu jam session.

I can't tell you how many women looked at my crocheted Christmas ornaments and said "Oh, my mom/grandma used to make those!" Which by the end of the day had me feeling as old as their mothers/grandmothers. I'm glad I've kept some of the old traditions alive. I wish more of the younger women would pick up the torch.

I met one woman who makes beautiful wood furniture. There was a harvest table there that I could easily envision as an island in my kitchen. Maybe someday. It made me happy to see a woman doing these things. We all know about equality and women's capability yada yada, but it was great to see someone taking it to heart and putting it into action. She followed her unconventional bliss, and she's found what makes her happy. And she's very good at it.

I also met someone from the local county museum, who was interested in me teaching a workshop on writing family histories, which would be great to do.

All in all a fun day, and I'll do it again next year.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Going off grid for a bit...

I'm heading north today for a book signing and arts/crafts sale, and the place I'm going doesn't have internet (yes, there are still such places in the universe). And I don't have so much as a phone, either, so I'll be cut off for a few days. Sounds so restful! Try to carry on without me.

I'll be accompanied by my good friend whom I've known since we were five and had chicken pox together. She flew up from Utah just for this event, bless her heart. We'll have a few days of yacking, over-eating, not getting enough sleep, some beach walking, and hopefully some sales.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Susanna Kearsley and Bagpipes -- It doesn't get better than that!

On Saturday I'm going to the Kincardine Highland Games, and if you've never gone you should go if for no other reason than to check out this cute little town. It's on the shores of Lake Huron, a vast, beautiful body of water that can easily substitute for an ocean in a pinch. I love spending the day listening to top-class pipe bands, watching the heavy-event athletes (these people are seriously strong. Their biceps are bigger than my thighs), and eating fish and chips. I'm hoping it will be cooler by the lake, too, because this heat wave is unrelenting.

Partway through the morning, however, I'm sneaking out for a couple of hours to run to Port Elgin Library to attend a book reading/signing with Susanna Kearsley. She is one of my favourite authors, and she has a new book out (yay!) and I might get a chance to talk to her (yay again!). I loved all of her books, but The Rose Garden and The Shadowy Horses are probably my favourites. I don't get tired of re-reading them frequently.

All in all, it will be a great weekend.

Saturday, 30 June 2018


Today it's 45 degrees celsius with the humidex. Had to mow the lawn, because I really couldn't put it off any more, and I know with temperatures like this there will be a thunderstorm following soon, and then it will be too wet to mow. So out I went, and worked in the yard for 2 1/2 hours. I don't think I've ever felt more filthy and yicky after doing yard work. The dust just clings to your skin in humidity like this, until I looked like I'd been rolling in it. Now I'm showered, cool, and on the couch and refusing to go out the rest of the day.

Not that the dogs want walking anyway. I let Brio and Maple into the backyard, and they were back at the door pawing to get in within about forty seconds. Definitely a day for stretching out on their bellies on the tile floor indoors.

I do love a good thunderstorm, though, I have to say. First the trees start to dance, and the sky boils up with gray clouds, and then there's a sickly yellow cast to the light, and then boom! Because it's so flat here, you can see the lightening for miles. I used to love it when it stormed in Utah, when I was growing up. The thunder would get caught in the canyon and just ricochet around, magnified, like a volley of cannons. That ozone smell as the dust begins to grow damp is one of my favourite smells.

And I have a new Cathy Kelly novel to read, and a wind-up lantern in case the power goes off. And Monday I have off work because of Canada Day. Woohoo! Bring on the rain.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

I love rainy days

People who know me know that I am never still. I have so many things I love to do, and since I work all week and have a long commute, all my interests have to be packed into evenings and weekends. This time of year it's primarily the garden, which is slowly ramping itself up and beginning to produce. On top of the onions, garlic, asparagus, and rhubarb, however, are the weeds. The straw mulch I used last fall looked clean to me, but apparently it had grass seed in it, because the grass crop is abundant this year, and it takes most waking moments to get on top of it. I figured this weekend would be spent on hands and knees, picking grass out of the beets and lettuce while the sun baked the back of my neck and bees dodged around my ears.

However, it's raining today, and the ground is like cake batter. Going out in the garden would only compact the soil, and pulling weeds would only uproot surrounding seedlings. So today will be an indoor day, where a host of possible activities await me. What shall I choose? Working on my needlepoint tapestry? Reading The New Farm by Brent Preston? Baking lavender cookies? Starching the Christmas ornaments I'm taking to the arts and crafts sale next month? Framing the cross-stitch gift I just finished? Putting a back on the half-finished baby quilt? Working on the manuscript I'm supposed to have turned in to my publisher? Or (heavens forbid) doing some housework? Naah. Mopping can wait. A snug, rainy day is too precious to waste. I think I'll spend today listening to Celtic music while dressing the new tabletop loom, so my husband can get started on his weaving project.

There's no chance I will ever be bored in life. So many interesting things to learn and do!

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Bursting with the generosity of others...quite literally

Somehow I seem to attract free stuff lately...first a giant floor loom, then two spinning wheels, and now another giant vertical tapestry loom. I'm going to need a bigger house. I wonder if my husband would mind giving up the living room... Thank goodness he's so patient! My hobbies are taking over my life...

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


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...


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...