Tuesday, 31 December 2019

It's been an interesting year!

I've been keeping this blog since 2011, and each new year's eve I tend to write about how the past year went and what the new year will hopefully hold. But let's be honest---this past year has seen some pretty horrific things on the world stage that I don't want to review, and half of the challenges I experience usually come from looking too far ahead into the future. So this year's End-of-Year post will be about the present.

I often forget to be grateful for what I have and take for granted so many of my blessings. I thought it would be a good idea to inventory some of them now, as the year winds to a close and a new one begins. I've spent today reading and watching Hallmark movies, making homemade bread and lentil soup, and dashing to the conveniently-located store for more milk. I'm thankful for good writers, artists, musicians, farmers, and people who are willing to work on new year's eve. I'm thankful for the easy access we have to an abundance of food in this country.

I took Brio for a walk and the air had just the right crisp coolness. I'm thankful to live in such a beautiful province in a community where I feel safe and welcomed. There are interesting things to see and do all around me. I'm thankful for opportunities to learn and explore. I'm grateful for friends at church who keep good track of me, for the gift of strong faith that sustains me, and for a Father who gives me what I need and is loving enough not to give me everything I want.

Tonight I'm sitting in a warm, dry, comfortable home.  My dog is curled snugly beside me, my husband is napping upstairs after a day of working hard, and my dishwasher is sloshing my dishes around so that I don't have to. The gas fireplace is sending out cozy heat. The wind is banging at the windows and it has been snowing most of the day, but it's at just the right temperature so that the snow sticks to the grass but not to the sidewalk, so I don't have to shovel. (Come on, how lucky is that?!) I'm blessed with a close-knit family, siblings who feel like best friends, and warm and wonderful parents. I'm grateful to have fun, loving children and two terrific grandchildren. I'm grateful for moments of contentment, for the gift of time and leisure, and for a family who lets me regularly disappear into my writing. I'm thankful for a husband who indulges my looms, spinning wheels, quilt frames, scroll frames, instruments, grow lights, plant trays, piles of books, hyperallergenic dog...well, you get the idea.

Much as I don't want this peaceful Christmas break to end, I have a good job to return to on Thursday, with a bus to take me there. I have food in the fridge, money in the bank, a roof over my head, clothes in my closet, and a stack of books waiting. All in all, I am feeling very blessed. As Lao Tzu says, he who knows he has enough is rich. And when you realize you lack nothing, the world is yours.

Best wishes to all for 2020. Let's hope we enter into it with (pardon the pun) clear vision and purpose.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

A lovely Christmas

All my children and grandchildren home for Christmas. Lots of food, laughter, coziness, and hugs. I love it when my boys are all together. It's like having a litter of puppies tumbling around.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Some interesting thoughts in "Peeking Through the Keyhole: The Evolution of North American Homes" by Friedman and Krawitz

I'm reading an interesting little book about how homes have evolved and changed over the decades to reflect changing demographics, values, societal norms, and consumerism. There are a couple of points the authors make that have jumped out at me so far, and that state the concepts better than I could. For example:

Our labour-saving devices in the home  didn't free women from housework, but allowed them to maintain their homes and work outside the home. "...women were able to take up work outside the home because machines allowed them to perform their housework and maintain a paying job. Appliances and gadgets allow us to achieve more in a given amount of time, but because we have heaped on ourselves a greater burden of work both inside and outside the home, we don't see any direct pay-off from this increased productivity in terms of extra free time."

So work ends up being just as time-consuming and tiring as ever; we're just churning out more. I've always wondered where all the time saved by these time-saving devices went! We actually spend more time now doing laundry than women did in the 1920s -- we have more clothing now, for one thing -- we just don't have red and raw hands now from washing it. I see the same thing in the office: it used to be we had to type out copies of a document for every recipient, perhaps with the use of carbon paper, so we were picky about who got a copy. Now we have copiers, scanners, email, and the cloud, and everyone gets copied on everything. So we're inundated with stuff we don't really need and didn't used to get.

The authors also talk about how our eating habits have changed, with an increase in prepared foods and "convenience" products. We have microwaves so we can make the food more quickly -- but we also eat more and more quick-prepared foods because we have microwaves (a vicious circle that really doesn't take nutrition or taste into account). They talk about how meals now consist of simple tasks like shopping, freezing, and microwaving. But then they wrote this: "Of course, people still buy basic food ingredients and make meals the old-fashioned way. (By "old-fashioned," we mean chop and dice, steam and broil, fry and bake, not hunt and gather, pluck and winnow, churn and knead.)"

Well! What an interesting way to look at it. Someone somewhere is still gathering and gardening and fishing and threshing, just on a grand scale and outside of our vision. It doesn't even cross our minds to do that part anymore. We call it providing food for our families when we just chop the salad and fry the burgers. Or -- increasingly -- just dump the pre-bagged salad into a bowl and pop a box from freezer to microwave. What a sad thing. One of the most satisfying things I've ever done in my life was to grow kamut in the backyard, harvest it, thresh it, grind it, and bake a loaf of bread with it. We may have made life more "convenient" now, but we've lost a great sense of connection and independence and pride in the process.

When we took our teen-aged son to Italy with us, I put him in charge of the camera to record our trip. He came home with pictures primarily of the food his dad cooked while we were there. That will be the chief memory he takes away from the two weeks we spent in Italy -- homemade food. The silly thing is, he gets homemade food daily all the time. But I guess it tasted better in Italy (and perhaps gave him a sense of being grounded and secure while in an unfamiliar environment).

Now I must go curl up and read some more of this fascinating book. But first I'll post a photo of the kamut I grew and the bread I made, because I am stupidly proud of it.

Friday, 13 December 2019

On the Subway

I saw a man yesterday on the subway as I was coming home. He had an Australian Sheepdog with him, and it was such a calm, placid dog I fell in love with it immediately. It stood quietly waiting for the train, and when they entered, it sat down at the man's feet and gazed peacefully around at everyone with a sort of benign smile on its face. Just looking at that dog made my breath grow deeper, my muscles relax, my face smile, my blood pressure drop. Every once in a while, I have a brief encounter with the world that feels like a moment of grace.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Another reason I love Canada

Getting off the bus at the subway station at 6:00 this morning, I saw a man lying on the ground in a corner of the station. He was probably homeless and most likely drunk, from what I could tell, but he was obviously going to freeze if he stayed there. And instantly three other people stopped with me, and two of us went to notify the subway agent, who told us he'd already contacted emergency services. And another agent came up to check in and confirm the man was still there, and anyway, it just felt like the whole station was gearing up and gathering round to help this man. No question, no judgment, no walking past and letting someone else deal with the problem. And it felt good to know that if I ever had a medical issue and needed help, people would stop to help me.

Then as I got onto the subway train, I saw two women give each other a hug goodbye as they headed off in opposite directions, and I thought, what a nice way to start your work day!

As I got off the bus, a fellow I know was walking along and we fell into step together. And he laughed about how cold it was, and how under-dressed and unprepared he was for the cold. And I had to laugh, because this man is from Russia.

I cut through the MARS building (medical research building) to get to my office, and found they've set up about ten fake pine trees in the lobby and throughout the building, all decked out in beautiful white lights. They're wintery and cozy and glowing and --while being non-denominational -- put me in a Christmasy mood.

My Jewish boss laboriously wrote out 152 personalized Christmas cards to give to all the staff in our department, and carefully chose non-Christmas holiday cards to give to those who are Muslim.

And now I'm sitting at my desk and looking forward to observing and recording other serendipitous happy moments that happen today.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Winter settles in like a blanket

For the second year in a row, the trees have not lost their leaves before heavy snow has fallen. It's a weird phenomenon, as if the trees missed their cue and have rushed onto the stage last-minute wearing their street clothes. Others I'm in contact with around the continent say the same thing is happening in their areas.

The freezing rain clings to the brown leaves, weighing down branches, looking incredibly beautiful. The leaves are slowly beginning to fall now, on top of the snow, which clogs the snow blower. The city snowplow has scooped up a great heap of sodden leaves and dumped it on my sidewalk. It will be a mess to clean up in the spring.

I find I can't get too worked up about it. I stand in the bay window in my living room and watch the snow drift past the street light like cottonwood seeds and can't seem to get up the energy to put on my boots and go contend with it. My tabletop loom has been standing, strung and ready, for a week, but I have no desire to weave. I have some buttons to sew on and a shirt to fix...and somehow it never seems to happen. I have put off cleaning the house for a week. I finished my book and found myself reluctant to go to the library, of all things---how can that be? And then yesterday it dawned on me.

Ah yes. It's winter now. And I can feel the old, familiar depression begin to sift down over my shoulders like the snow, smothering, obliterating. Ah yes, I remember this, and I can recognize it now. And---like every year---I'm surprised that I am surprised by it. Surely I should see it coming by now, but every year it sneaks up on me without my noticing at first.

It's dark in the mornings now. It's dark when I get home from work. The relentless putting on of layers of clothing and the taking off again. The endless drip of mucky boots on the tile floor. The thought of a salad for lunch losing its appeal, replaced by dreams of thick stew and buckets of hot chocolate. (There's no point in dieting in winter.) The reluctance to venture out to store or church or the office, or to even make a phone call. The battle with Brio, who really really wants to go for a walk and play Frisbee even if there's no light and it's icy under foot. And don't forget the wolfy-thing that's lurking out there somewhere who will think Brio is a bedtime snack.

I have compiled a list of things to do to keep myself occupied and off the couch in winter. Things like walking at the mall and taking a class and going to swim at the community centre. I will find something on that list to do...as soon as I can get up the energy to dig out the list.

I want to cocoon. I want to pull a blanket up around my ears and watch endless episodes of Longmire and home renovation shows. I want to live on a diet of homemade bread and vanilla pudding and caramel popcorn. I don't want to see or talk to anyone until April.

Maybe it's a good thing I have work dragging me out to the bus and subway every day. Maybe it's a good thing I am expected at church to direct the hymns. And I know it's good that I have Brio, who will insist I get off the couch and pay attention to him. We all need someone who will pull us kicking and screaming back into life.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Life is like homemade bread

Life is like homemade bread. It isn't meant to be nibbled at or preserved for the future in a glass case, or it becomes moldy and unusable. It's meant to be gobbled up in its entirety every day with gusto. And it's okay, because every new day there's more.

And if one day it runs out, that's okay too, because we won't be around to worry about it.

Then again, man cannot live by bread alone. There has to be pear butter too!

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Up Close and Personal

Five o'clock this morning, I was walking down to the bus in the semi-dark and heard clicking steps to my right. I turned my head and saw an animal trotting across the street right toward me. My first thought was that someone's dog had gotten loose...and then I saw the fur, the long tail, the height, the glint of silver and rust, and realized it was a coyote. He was much bigger than I'd expected, more the size and heaviness of a wolf. Not at all lean or rangy as one is led to believe. I would have thought him a wolf, in fact, except he was on his own, and I've heard there are coyotes in the neighbourhood.

Would he attack? You hear stories...Would my backpack provide any protection? It's a testament to how much the human brain is trained to be attracted to dog-shaped things that my first instinct was to call out, "Here, boy!" But I caught myself in time. I didn't break stride and kept walking briskly, trying not to look appetizing. But he kept going, crossing the sidewalk about ten feet behind me (by unspoken agreement, we didn't look at each other, on the well-known premise that without eye contact, you can't see me) and carried on trotting down the grassy slope behind a row of townhouses. Clearly he had other priorities this morning than pudgy me.

When I saw he had no interest in me, I paused to watch him swiftly disappear into the dark at the base of an apartment building. While you sleep, do you have any idea what's running by your window? A word to the wise: don't let your cat out at night.

Where does he spend the day, that we don't see him? Should I carry a stick tomorrow morning? What earthly good would that do against something that fast and muscular? I think---though it sounds odd to say it---it would be an honour to be eaten by something that amazing. I can think of worse ways to go.

I continued on to the bus, heart pounding, and an overwhelming feeling of awe and gratitude that I could have met (from a short distance!) such a beautiful creature. I suppose he didn't regard me as anything more than a blip on his radar, but he changed my whole morning.

p.s. When I got to the office, I looked up descriptions on line, and I think what I saw may have been a crossbreed of some sort. Way too big and heavy to be a pure coyote. The closest picture I could find to what I saw (swiped from Internet) was a coywolf.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Two-Year Needlepoint Project Finished!

I took the pattern from a stained glass pattern. It's 18 x 34". It was probably a bit ambitious for my first needlepoint project, but I really enjoyed doing it and love how it turned out.

What shall I do for the next one?

Friday, 15 November 2019

The Architecture of Happiness, by Alain de Botton

I am reading a fascinating book right now about how the spaces we surround ourselves with affect our spirits and how our values are reflected in architecture. The author asserts that we are attracted to architecture that reflects the characteristics or elements we don't have but want. People bored with routine and dullness and rigidity are drawn to the flamboyance of Rococo or Louis Quatorze; those seeking communion with the sublime are drawn to the upward-reaching Gothic, etc. You can tell what a person lacks by what they find beautiful or compelling.

I am drawn to Japanese and Scandinavian simplicity -- clean lines, smooth curves, uncluttered space, hushed colours, natural light and materials. Does that mean I'm lacking in calmness and serenity? Well, yes, probably. It's what I crave, so therefore I must not have it. You don't crave what you already have. So if I moved into such a space, would I become serene? Well, maybe at first. But sooner or later I'll have a bad day, clutter will start to creep in, laundry will go unfolded, a glass will be left on the counter, and papers will accumulate on the bare surfaces. Because I'm still me, you see.

What I need to do is clear the clutter of my mind, cultivate serenity here and now. Address the space and pace in which I currently live. Then maybe even my 1970s suburban side-split will start to take on those peaceful characteristics I want. I picture my current living room sparse as a monk's cell, with just some cushions to sit on...

No, I'd throw my back out trying to get up off them, and Brio would shed hair all over them, and the electronic vacuum would get hung up on them...

I need a house with no dog hair, no dust, no need for a vacuum...

But that would mean a house without people or pets, and that would be unbearable. So I guess my suburban side-split remains creatively chaotic and open and generous and undemanding.

Maybe its traits will rub off on me! Let's hope.

Friday, 8 November 2019

I used to be good at things...

I used to keep a detailed journal, faithfully, every day since I was age seven. Now I post infrequent blog posts and rarely get to writing down the important stuff. I forget it before I can get it on paper.

I used to bake homemade bread weekly and would never consider using prepared foods or ordering take-out. I used the best fresh ingredients and carefully plotted my menu plan every week to inform my grocery shopping. Now I dash home from work, whip out whatever's quickest, and am reduced to making pancakes on nights when there just isn't anything to cook. And I sometimes secretly sneak Kraft Dinner when no one else is at home (Gasp!) or have a strawberry milkshake for supper.

I used to sew my own clothing, my kids' t-shirts, quilts, tablecloths, curtains, etc. Now, if I can't possibly avoid having to get new clothes, I buy used clothing from Valu Village. If I absolutely can't find what I need there, I buy things from Walmart that inevitably pill up or fall apart the first time I wash them. I have boxes of fabric waiting in the basement, though!

I used to carefully plan all my gardening a season in advance. I had charts showing where to plant, what to plant, how to care for it, and a space for noting down the yield obtained. I kept the seed packets neatly labeled in a drawer so I could track what was successful and what wasn't, and I experimented with crop rotation and companion planting. I noted the phases of the moon and tracked weather patterns in a notebook. Now I fling whatever leftover seeds I have on hand into the soil, vaguely remembering where things were planted last year and some sort of injunction against planting certain things after tomatoes and potatoes. Things seem to flourish anyway, though sometimes I get weird hybrid combinations of squashes.

I used to be conscientious about visiting teaching and keeping tabs on the women I was responsible for and keeping close touch with friends. Now I shoot off occasional emails or wave at church and dream about moving far away to a deserted island where I am unreachable.

I used to be able to churn out a book a year. All it took was setting aside time to sit down in front of the laptop, and words would just magically flow. A clean-up revision or two and it was ready to send to the publisher. Now I stare at the blank laptop for half an hour and then check on Facebook messages, go walk the dog, read a while, forage for a snack...anything to put off writing. It's like all the words are building up behind a dam and trying to squeeze through a hole the size of a toothpaste tube.

I used to care about what people thought and tried to put my best foot forward. I wouldn't dream of wearing pajama pants to Home Depot or going out without combing my hair or brushing my teeth. Now I wear what's comfortable, never wear make-up on Saturdays, go barefoot as much as possible, and have a hard time trying to drum up any embarrassment or humiliation if I'm caught in a mistake. It's not that I don't care what people think. It's that people seem to have fallen off my radar in general.

I used to be able to memorize swathes of Shakespeare, lists of verb conjugations, and the telephone numbers of all my friends. Now I'm lucky if I can remember my own birthdate. I haven't read Shakespeare in years. I've forgotten all the languages I used to know except English, and even that is iffy on some days. I don't do nouns before noon. I want to get a t-shirt that says, "I used to be intelligent." I think I lost twenty IQ points with each kid.

I used to be a stickler when it came to kids' bedtimes, homework, music lessons, practicing, and room organization. I had job charts and reward systems and individual time with each child every day. I restricted video games and pushed healthy outdoor activity. Now my one remaining child at home comes and goes without my seeing him. I can't tell you the last time we played a game or ate together. (Maybe Thanksgiving.) I don't require him to do any daily household jobs, though he is happy to help if I ask. He spends all of his time (when not at school or work) playing video games. I still make his bed sometimes to keep his father from getting upset. But he's turned out to be a terrific, polite, intelligent, and capable young man. So maybe the hands-off approach worked in his case.

I don't know if all of this is an indication of a general decline, or laziness, or exhaustion, or maybe cognitive failure. Or maybe I'm just finally learning to relax and breathe a little. To allow myself some human frailty. To separate out the important from the not, the visible from the invisible. To be comfortable in my own pajama-pant-clad self.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Thirty Years in Canada

This weekend marks my thirtieth anniversary of coming to Canada. It took us four days to drive from Utah, leaving Nov 1 and arriving in Sault Ste Marie on -- I believe it must have been -- Nov 4. We crossed the border at midnight, in a snowstorm, with a 9-month-old baby and inadequate paperwork, but the border guard was very nice about it and we made it through.

I have lived in lots of houses and cities in my life, but the move to Canada was the best move I’ve ever made. I miss my family back home and the Rocky Mountains, but I am very content to be living here in this welcoming and peaceful place. Driving through the autumn maples, looking out over vistas of farm fields and the vast stretch of the Great Lakes, I want to weep with the beauty of it. The rolling land, the granite boulders, the birch and white pines stir my soul. Even in the most domesticated landscape, there is still a touch of wildness, a promise of places unexplored, the great unknown and unknowable.
Some favourite photos of places in Canada, swiped off the Internet (various real estate ads, in fact!):

Sunday, 27 October 2019

The Garden About to be Put to Bed

Yesterday I dug the last of the carrots and beets, gathered in the last of the dry beans, and tore out the tomato plants. Stacked the tomato cages (which were useless, by the way. The tomatoes grew so thick and fast they bent the cages and tipped them all over. Ah well, lessons learned). There are only a few onions and some kale left. Then it will be time to top the beds with mulch, pull up the wooden walkways and stack them, and it will be done for another winter.

I love to garden. I love getting messy and smelling the damp soil and fiddling with living plants. I love putting up food at harvest. But I also love wrapping it all up and putting it away, knowing that I have six months of rest ahead of me (well, other than shoveling snow, of course!). There are all kinds of things you can do to extend the growing season, with poly tunnels and whatnot, but really, I'm content to let it all die down in its usual season. We've both worked hard all summer and it's time to rest, myself and the soil.

And to put trays of lettuce and spinach under the grow lights in the kitchen...

Yeah, a gardener can never let go of plants completely.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Thoughts on a stash of yarn

A member of the local weavers' guild passed away recently, and her family is making her yarn stash available to those who want to buy it at a discount. I thought about it and managed to talk myself out of it---I have so much yarn tucked away in bins in the crawlspace already. Really, I shouldn't buy more unless it's for a specific project.

It got me to thinking, though, of all the "stashed" stuff I have that my family will have to clear out when I'm gone. Will any of it mean anything to anyone but me? The old sepia photographs I found of plump women at the beach in about 1940 (not relatives). The mismatched crocheted angels and bells and snowflakes that won't fit on my Christmas tree. The notes I took at the Provincial Archives while researching the McKendry family tree. The stack of antique postcards from Germany. The drawers of recipes enthusiastically copied but rarely tried. The dried-out paints left from that glass-painting hobby. A Dremel and all its parts that I haven't used in a decade. Doodled floorplans and clippings from design magazines. Bottles of self-saved vegetable seeds. Bent spades and dull secateurs. The scrawling drivel of the journal I kept when I was seven.

Is this what my whole life has come down to? Is this what I have to show for it? Well no, obviously there's more to it than that. I have five wonderful direct descendants if nothing else. And a stack of books I've written that I'm proud of. And the journals from my later years have more valuable substance to them. But still...

Some sorting out to do. Some consolidating and discarding to carry out. I always think of myself as a minimalist, generally...and then I remember the crawlspace. Still some work to be done!

Monday, 14 October 2019

Autumn finally comes to Ontario

Last week there were kids in swimsuits playing in the splash pad at the community centre. So NOT normal for Ontario in October! But finally today there's a brisk cold breeze and the maple trees down the street are turning crimson. My tomato plants are still blooming, and there's even a new bloom on the lavender. But there's finally a fall tinge to the air, and I can start anticipating hot chocolate and curling by the fireplace with a book and blanket.

I went for a two-hour stroll along the lake today, just enjoying the breeze and blue sky and sunshine. Need to soak up all I can before the weather goes gray. Lots of people were out (good to see so many like-minded people who couldn't resist this wonderful fall day), but if I kept my eyes on the lovely water and sweeping willows and gracefully dipping swans, I could almost pretend I was by myself. That the beautiful park was my yard that I could walk in and sit in and enjoy but not have to maintain. Really, you don't have to own things, so long as you can enjoy the use of them.

That said, I've been eyeing two beautiful rolling acres on Highway 6 and fantasizing about a little vegetable market garden... Then I remind myself that a) I have a job in downtown Toronto, and b) I don't have the money, and c) one of my favourite passions in life is walking, and it's difficult to do that if you live on a highway with no pedestrian sidewalks. So at least for now, I'll just be content with growing my little boxes of veggies and walking along Lake Ontario. At least until the weather breaks and it's time to retreat indoors for seven months.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

General Conference

A lovely day spent watching the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' General Conference and Women's Broadcast from Salt Lake City. Inspiring messages, and I came away feeling valued, understood, and stronger, like I can tackle anything. And I'm impressed with how musical members of the Church are. Seriously, the Tabernacle Choir is good, but the other (amateur) choirs that sang today, including one made up of girls age 8-11, I enjoyed just as much.

My great-grandmother used to call spiritual experiences her "blood transfusions," because she came away from them strengthened and refreshed. That is just how I would describe today. One of my favourite things ever is to sit and do my needlepoint and listen to prophets and apostles. Timely topics, powerful messages, and an infusion of happiness. I recommend it to anyone!

Friday, 27 September 2019

Toronto Climate Strike

Today I took part in the Toronto Climate Strike (though I took a half a vacation day to go, so I don't suppose it meets the criteria of a strike). We met at Queen's Park for an hour and a half of speeches we couldn't hear very well, though I liked the native drumming and singing. The march itself was very late in starting, and after standing for so long I started getting antsy. And noticed some people were just heading off to march anyway, without waiting for the "Go." I hesitated, and then I saw a placard one person was carrying that said, "Actions not Words," and that was enough to set me off walking.

I have to say, it was a moving experience (no pun intended!). Halfway through the walk, I stopped at the corner of Bay and Dundas and just watched the stream of people going by. I felt like a witness to something amazing. Toronto is truly a microcosm of the world. People of all races and nationalities, all religions and orientations, all ages from babes in arms to white-haired grandparents. A Jewish group blowing the shofar. A collection of "uprooted" people -- refugees to this country. Trans people marching with collared priests and a Tibetan woman in traditional dress, a Sufi mystic, Sikhs, First Nations...everyone was represented. People brought babies, dogs, even a goat. Protest signs in multiple languages.

I was flowing along quite happily, and then I saw a shirtless man walking barefoot down Bay Street, and I suddenly realized I was crying. It's Toronto. It's almost October. He shouldn't be able to do that! Why is it 30 degrees Celsius and I'm thinking I need sunscreen and everyone around me was in shorts and sleeveless shirts? Climate change doubters, I rest my case. This isn't normal!

The signs and slogans I found fascinating in their fervency and variety. They ranged from clever to simple:

  • Leo DiCaprio's girlfriends deserve a future too
  • Hugs for Bugs
  • I'm skipping my lesson so I can teach you one
  • Why study when I won't have a future anyway?
  • Keep it in the Ground
  • Planet over Profit
  • What good is your money on a dead planet?
  • The wrong Amazon is burning
  • I'm marching for my grandkids
  • I'm with Greta
  • Start Acting like a Child
  • A picture of a windmill that said "Renewable Energy: I'm a big fan!"
  • Policy Change, not Climate Change
  • Run Forest Run!
  • Architects for the Planet
  • Act now! Need Advice? Ask a scientist!
  • Make Canada cold again
  • Make the planet Greta again
  • This planet is hotter than Young Leo
  • The oceans are rising and so are we
  • I can't believe I still have to protest this [word I try not to use]
  • I stand for what I stand on
  • Existence requires resistance
  • A tiny sign that said "Save paper."
  • And a chalkboard that said something like "This sign causes no waste!"
But my favourite sign said, "It's so important, even introverts are marching!" I told the woman holding the sign that I had found my people, and she replied, "We're here. We're just invisible."

As we walked, people chanted football-rally type of slogans, though "Climate Justice Now!" seemed a bit vague to me. Then again, I guess it's not so catchy to march to "Lower the voting age to 16" or "Responsible forest management" or "Conspicuous consumption has no place on a finite planet."

I watched this stream of passionate humanity -- green hair, globe-painted faces -- and felt the tears on my cheeks. I haven't stopped to think why. Touching to see such conviction? Love for this crazy, messy, exuberant city? Pride for Canadians who left work and school to participate? Or just sorrow for this achingly beautiful, abused, patient, generous, injured planet? I echo Enoch's cry: "When will the earth rest?" We owe it such a deep apology. The earth trembles. I'm surprised it hasn't shaken us off like fleas long before this.

Climate change is the only issue. If we had social and racial justice, equitable economics, fair distribution of resources, safety, tolerance, and peace, we could more easily address it. But without a planet to stand on, even those weighty matters...won't matter.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

How About Them Apples?!

Purchased from Warner's Farm in Vineland, Ontario. Spy apples are the best for pies. They're just the right tartness and firmness, and they're so big I had to slice them into 64ths. Warners supply most of my fruit every fall -- I highly recommend them! I put up jars of pie filling yesterday and put the leftover slices into a betty. Yum!

Sunday, 15 September 2019


Yesterday my Bishop, his wife, my Ministering Sister, and Sons 2 and 3 spent a chunk of their day helping my husband and I load all the cut brush and yard waste into a dump truck to have hauled away. It would have taken us hours if they hadn't come to help. What could have been a terrible chore became a fun event, followed by ice cream. Even the man driving the truck went from groaning at the size of the pile and muttering about having to increase his fee to laughing and joking, when he saw all the helping hands. Not only helping, but cheerful. In what other church would you find your Bishop giving up his one free day to help dig out stumps? If nothing else, Mormons know how to work.

I now have a clear yard, no stumps, half the hedge to have to manage, and lots of space to think about landscaping. Not sure what we'll do in the new empty places, but it needs to be something low maintenance.

Feeling a bit rickety today and spent much of the afternoon on the couch, doing needlepoint and just being kind to myself. Hopefully my body will forgive me by tomorrow!

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Politics, Canadian Style

Yesterday they announced that the campaign is officially underway for our federal election. Campaigning began in earnest today. And we go to the polls on October 21. Whiz bang and we're done in five weeks. That's the way to do it!

My husband says that's because they're running on their track records, not their promises.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Joy in the Simple Things

My good friend Sheri (look, I didn't say my old friend Sheri) whom I've known since kindergarten came to visit me for a day while her husband was in town for work. Sheri is one of those delightful people you can just be yourself with and not have to entertain or put your best face on for. We spent the day walking to the library to return a book, going to Michael's to buy yarn, going to Dollarama for "Canadian" treats for her to take home to the family (Wunderbars are lovely), and going to Walmart, where she got McIntosh toffees and some sweaters for her grandsons. We ate chicken shwarma for lunch, and then we took Brio to the park to play ball.

These are all simple activities, but when you do them with someone you enjoy and have known forever, they turn into special events. The simple things in life become sacred when they're done with love.

I must remember that the next time I'm hosing out the recycling bin...

Sunday, 1 September 2019

And How I Spent the Next Saturday...

Twenty-one jars of peaches takes just as long to process as sixty-one jars of tomatoes. Who knew? But at least they're done, and now sit golden and glowing like jewels on my shelf. And for the first time I made peach butter (like apple butter only peaches) and it is fabulous! I had an inch in a jar leftover that wouldn't fit in the 4 pints, and I thought, "I need to run buy some bread so I can try this." And I dipped a spoon into the little bit to taste it...and decided not to waste time going for bread. I just ate the thing straight from the jar. My, that was yummy!

While I was slaving at the kitchen sink, my poor husband was out chopping out part of our hedge. Now understand, I don't usually like the idea of eliminating greenery. I'm all about plants. But this hedge has been the bane of our existence for eighteen years. When we first moved in, it ran all the way around both the front and the back yards. It hadn't been properly pruned in many years and was leggy and out of control, and parts of it were about nine feet tall and five feet thick. We did some hard pruning at the beginning and got it down to a manageable size. And then when we put in the backyard fence we chopped some of it out and cut some of it to three feet high.

But even that reasonable height still meant an awful lot of pruning, and we've literally worn out three industrial electric trimmers. We bought another, but both of us find it too heavy to manage, and we've finally reached the stage where we're willing to admit defeat. We looked into a professional service to come trim it for us, but they want about $800 and they'd have to come three times a summer. Whew!

So we took the bull by the horns and my husband has chopped out about 150 feet of it (don't worry, there's still plenty left along two other sides of the yard). We've hired our burly sons to come dig out the roots for us. So after I finished seven hours of peaches, I went out to help haul the cut brush into a huge pile in the backyard until we can get someone with a truck or bin to haul it away for us. I imagine every rabbit in the neighbourhood perking up and shouting gleefully, "They're building us a condo!" We'll have to get it moved out before they move in.

We have had interesting reactions from people in the neighbourhood. Who knew how many people were aware of or emotionally attached to our hedge? Who knew how many others feel they have a stake or say in our landscaping? As my husband was out wrestling the thing into submission, every person walking or driving by had comments. Some acknowledged that forty years of one hedge is enough and it was time for something new. Some felt we were being reasonable when my husband explained it was either get the thing under control or sell the house. Some empathized with the whole getting-older-and-slower thing. And some felt it was too drastic and were horrified. To which I felt like responding, "Fine! We'll keep it. What time shall we expect you over to trim it for us?"

I still have plenty of hedge left for the birds and other critters to populate, never fear, and now I have a blank slate and must decide what to put in the hedge's place. It's surprising how much space it took up. The yard feels huge now. What to do? A tidy border of hostas or something to delineate boundaries? Cover it with gravel and not try to enclose it at all? How about I put up a 150-foot bench on which my neighbours can sit and contemplate the universe?

My body hates me this morning, but we got a lot done yesterday, I have to say. No one can say we don't know how to work. But I am looking forward to spending Labour Day NOT labouring. Definitely time to curl up with a good book and not move for a while.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

How I Spent my Saturday

Tomato season is upon us! Three and a half bushels put up yesterday (61 litres stewed, and 11 1/2 pints of salsa). This year I got experimental hybrid seeds from the University of Florida and grew paste (Roma), beefsteak, and cherry tomatoes. They grew remarkably well, produced fruit by the bucket, and they all taste absolutely wonderful. Sweet, juicy, firm, and practically flawless. Apparently these particular varieties are meant to be especially high in nutrition as well. Best ones I've ever grown, and a fantastic yield.

Next week are peaches and crabapples, to be shortly followed bv pears, Spy apples, and concord grapes.

Friday, 16 August 2019


My little Shih-Tzu Maple is over fourteen years old now. He is mostly blind and almost entirely deaf. He's lost most of his teeth. He has arthritis in his back and walks a bit drunkenly. His lovely autumn-leaf colouring is going gray. He no longer jumps onto the couch or goes for long walks or takes any interest in toys. And over the past while he has had a series of small strokes, which lay him flat for a bit but don't appear to have any lasting effects. The vet has agreed that this fall it would be a mercy to put him down, before the cold increases his pain.

I know all this. I remind myself of this. And yet, there are still times when he's peppy and laughs with his mouth open and his tongue hanging out. He wags his tail when he realizes I'm near. He tries to scamper, though he can only go a couple of feet. There are times he finds a sunny spot on the grass and just rolls and squirms on his back, then collapses into a relaxed heap, reveling in the heat. I see him stand with his stubby nose pointed into the wind, feeling the breeze and picking up scents. He'll stand like that for an hour. He's happy. In spite of limitations, in spite of difficulty eating, in spite of bashing his face into fence posts and walls, he's content.

Dogs are so Zen. They don't waste time fretting that reality is not what they want it to be. They don't rail against fate or complain when things change. He's rolling with whatever comes his way and, against all odds, seems to find joy in his life. How can I put him down while he's still able to feel joy?

Then again, he has been a faithful, good dog and companion to my kids for many years. He's sweet-tempered and peaceful. How can I prolong his pain? Surely he doesn't deserve that. If his nature is to feel joy right up until the last breath, it's not as if I can wait until the joy stops before ending his life.

It's such a conundrum, trying to play God. I can see his physical limitations but I can also see his heart. I wish he could tell me what to do.

Of course, he is telling me what to do. Be at peace with what comes. Adapt. Love. Stretch out in the sun. Be joyful.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Fergus Scottish Festival

I'm home again, and attended the Fergus Scottish Festival today. Beautiful weather, great music, good food, and a lovely country drive to get there. There are times I miss piping with the band, and other times I feel content to let it go. Such as when I contemplate trying to deal with 8 yards of wool in a port-o-potty. But even if I'm no longer part of the band, they still make me feel welcome when I hang out with them. A great bunch of people.

My grand-daughter competed in highland dance for the first time today and I was very proud of her. She has amazing poise and stage presence for a seven-year-old, and I'm impressed she can even remember the intricate steps of the sword dance at her age.

I also attended a Gaelic language introductory workshop taught by Gillebride MacMillan and enjoyed it (attended last year too, but I picked up a lot more this time around). All in all, a fun day.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Singing to Skunks

It was still dark when I walked down to the bus this morning on my way to my last day of work before vacation. That's the pre-dawn moment when skunks tend to come out, so I've learned to keep my eyes open for them. Sure enough, this morning there was a cute little one foraging under the trees at the side of the road, a darker shadow among the shadows.

As I went past, I found myself singing quietly just to let it know I was there, so I didn't startle it. Startled skunks are never a good thing. Somehow the tune that came out of my mouth was "Singing in the Rain," with the words changed to, roughly, "I'm singing to the skunk, just singing to the skunk, to let you know I'm here and not to come over here. 'Cause neither of us wants to meet, as I walk down the street, I'm singing, just singing to the skunk..."

I don't know why that particular song came to mind or why I thought of singing in the first place... I don't know if the skunk was a Nacio Herb Brown aficionado, or if it even understood English. One can't assume. This is Canada, after all...

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Off to the Exotic Land of Idaho!

You won't hear from me for a while. I'm leaving soon for a family reunion in the States, for ten days of overeating and staying up too late talking and apparently floating down a river on inner-tubes.

I love to travel, and I especially like travelling alone, without having to worry very much about suitcases and timetables. I enjoy watching people and guessing where they're going and why. Airports are full of stories. I like the feeling of striding through the wide hallways, free and contented. I always pack light, just a carry-on. So long as I have my glasses, book, and passport, I'm good.

The selection of a book to take with me is always cause for intense consideration. It has to be engaging enough to keep my attention and distract me through layovers and flight delays. I have a Kindle, but I've never been very fond of it. After staring at a screen all day at work, I just can't cozy up to another screen at bedtime-reading time. I prefer the feel and smell and convenience of paperbacks. So unless I want to haul several books with me, I have to find one long enough to last the trip. That's trickier than it sounds, when I tend to plow through a book every day or two.

I just finished Louise Penny's Gamache series, and now I'm on to A Year in Provence (again!), but it will be done by tonight. What shall I pick next? Am I in the mood for another mystery? Something non-fiction for a while? I should go through my homesteading books and find something encouraging to buoy me up through the impending harvest season.

Books aside, there's so much more to commend itself about travelling. You learn so much and meet people, explore new places, and sometimes you get to flex some linguistic skills. But beyond that, there's that delicious freedom that comes when the plane lifts off the ground and the tiny town below you falls away and you realize you can't weed the garden or do the dishes now. It's all behind you, and now you have nothing you have to think about or do for the next few hours but sit and read nd look out the window. It's a wonderful feeling.

I know people who have to travel a lot for work and find it tiring, but I'm still at the point in life where it's thrilling. What's around the next corner? What will I find when I arrive? What story will I stumble across? And if I'm very lucky, I won't just read on the trip, I'll come home having written.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

This is why dogs are so good for the soul

Usually I'm up at 4 a.m. to go to work, but some days I can work at home and get to sleep in until 6:00. So my schedule is a bit unpredictable, especially for a dog who doesn't understand how a weekend differs from a weekday. Now and then Brio the Wunderdog will wake me with a soft little sound that, I kid you not, sounds like "Yoohoo!" But some mornings I'm up first and wake him when I come downstairs.

No matter how early---even in the middle of the night---when I disturb his sleep, he instantly bounces up, wagging his whole body and entwining himself around my legs like a hug, as if he hasn't seen me in decades and can't contain his joy. No grumbling that I've woken him at some unearthly hour. No whining when I put the light on. No "Do you never sleep, woman?" when I take him out in pitch black and frigid cold. No, it's only happy happy happy to see me again. Delighted to be with me, no matter the hour. And he has developed a little yawning sound that echoes exactly the intonation of my quiet "Good morning!" I swear he's trying to talk, to say Good Morning back. Reaching out to me across species.

Is that good for the heart or what?

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Strawberry Season

Went strawberry picking at Downey's Farm yesterday. It was beautiful sunny weather, and it felt so good to get out into the fields and countryside under the blue sky. The berries were big and red and mainly flawless, very juicy from all the rain we've been getting, though pleasantly tart and not overly sweet. In other words, perfect.

I'm always fascinated by the people who go berry picking. The majority are immigrants from eastern Europe or Asia, with few locals interspersed, and so many languages are spoken all around you as you work. I have observed that pickers tend to fall into one of four categories:

  • The yuppie couple from the city who bring their toddler into the fields for the "farm experience." They slather on the sunscreen and bug repellent and spend ten minutes singing Old McDonald Had a Farm, encouraging their child to pick berries into a purple wicker Easter basket (and the child will have none of it but insists loudly that it's time to go home). They finally leave with two cups of berries, feeling very content with their foray into being organic and close to the earth. They will go home, wash and eat the berries, and no doubt blog about their experience. (Ahem...) And then forget about picking fruit until next June, if then.
  • The tourist who arrives by bus with a hundred others, one-pint white container in hand and a camera around their neck. They pick one berry, move ten feet down the row, pick another berry, pause for a selfie, walk ten feet and eat a berry, and then all gather excitedly back at the end of the row to take photos of their friends holding strawberries. I had a conversation with one of these yesterday. He wasn't sure what the "wood chip things" were that he was walking on. I explained that it was straw, and that's why they call these strawberries. The straw keeps the weeds down, the moisture up, and the mud from splashing the berries when it rains. He was quite interested. And took a picture.
  • The flock of elderly women who arrive in a chattering group, cheerfully pick about seven quarts of berries, leave in a happy crowd, and go home to make jam for the church bazaar. These are women who have fond memories of working on farms as children, know the dying arts of home food preservation, and believe in the restorative value of a circle of friends. They're the ones who remember when the subdivision down the road was an apple orchard, know the farmer by name, can compare this year's crop with that of the last decade, and can probably drive the tractor themselves if given the chance. And they'd secretly love to have the chance.
  • The serious pickers. These arrive grimly, with buckets and buckets. When they get to their allotted row, they don't look around or glance at the beauty around them or speak to anyone else. They put their heads down and methodically pick, like machines grooming the plants, gathering pound after pound of fruit. They haul it all back to their cars, juice stains on their hands and knees, leaving nothing behind but the most unripe berries. You get the sense they are stocking up their nuclear fallout shelter, or else taking these berries to sell in the marketplace.
My husband and I fall somewhere between the latter two groups. We take the work seriously, knowing time is short and waste is prohibited. We're aware of the plants' needs and not just our own, so we are careful to clean off all suitable berries and leave only the ones that are too early or too late. We hauled 48 pounds of fruit out of the field in about an hour, destined for the freezer. But my husband took time to joke with fellow pickers and tease the teenage daughter of the farmer that her destiny was fixed. I'm sure she really wanted to be a commercial pilot or a lawyer, but no, her family owns the acreage and the mantle will fall on her shoulders to carry it on. And such a magnificent acreage it is, too. I'm less chatty, and I didn't look up much, but that was more due to the fact that if I straightened upright, I'd likely throw my back out and not be able to bend again. I'm not quite as limber as I used to be.

All around a beautiful day. Beautiful food, my house smells of strawberries, and I'm surrounded by abundance. It doesn't get much better than that.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

So that happened...

It was one of those days yesterday. First a gas leak in the basement, so Son #3 and I spent a little while sitting in the driveway playing Crazy Eights and waiting for the gas company to come. Windows and doors open. Then the man who came to fix it noticed a few other problems with the way our tankless water heater was installed (like, ten years ago). So a second guy came and fixed that. ($1400). Then the hedge clippers died mid-trim (would be $200 to get another comparable one, so reverted to using the old falling-apart-and-not-very-safe ones). And then the outdoor extension cord that I use for everything vital decided to spit out its prongs and die. ($50.) Then my husband called to say the car had died and he was stranded...CAA...Alternator... ($700). It was a rough day! My husband finally finished the hedge about supper time and declared he was beat and we were going to order pizza. No way! That would be another $50! So I made pasta with bottled tomatoes and we curled up with Netflix to lick our wounds.

Whee! Isn't home ownership fun!

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

My World Comes to a Shrieking Halt -- There's a new Louise Penny book out!

I have spent the last couple of weeks re-reading the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. The first time I read them, I got the books out of order. This time I'm being careful to get them in order, and they make more sense this time around. How can I describe them? They make me feel as if I'm coming home to a place I've never been but that I find achingly attractive.  I feel as if I could hop in the car and drive to the Eastern Townships and find Three Pines. I want to make friends with her characters, to poke around Olivier's antiques and watch Clara paint and sit on the bench on the green and eat a croissant. I find myself brushing up on my French in preparation to go.

Louise Penny has a brilliant talent for digging into people's motivations and understanding the chaos of emotions people experience but try not to own up to. She notices their wrinkles and warts and -- sometimes -- horns. But even while pointing out their flaws, she looks with love. Struggling, weak, conflicted humans are still quiet heroes, and even murderers are treated with compassion. In Gamache himself she juxtaposes gentleness and strength, joy and sorrow. It's because of their weaknesses that her people are endearing.

Don't be fooled. Her series isn't just an entertaining read. Immersing yourself in her world is like plunging into a warm, refreshing pool and paddling in the soothing water and soaking in the sunshine, and then stubbing your toe against something unidentified and prickly at the bottom. Not enough to chase you out of the pool, but enough to disturb you, make you pause and question and reflect. Charm and coziness to draw you in, and then a sharp stab of glittering insight like a shard of glass wakes you up from your comfortable lull, and you realize you're being taught something important under the veneer of fiction. You recognize truth and realize her writing isn't fiction at all.

And now -- frajus day! -- she has a new book coming out. Forget work, forget the laundry, forget to cook dinner, forget to eat at all. I have the promise of a delicious evening under a blanket, absorbing and pondering and glorying that I've found this stunning author.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

A Flock of Seagulls, Glass Tiger, and Corey Hart

Last night my husband and I went to a great concert at Ontario Place. We had seats right in the middle and just outside the roofline, so we got a little rain but not bad. We huddled in our sweatshirts under a spread-out rain cape and had a lovely time. A Flock of Seagulls opened, followed by Glass Tiger (which was fantastic), and then Corey Hart. It was a fun evening, surrounded by thousands of people all bobbing and dancing in unison and holding up their cell phone lights like lighters. Women in their sixties screaming giddily like teenagers when Corey Hart went into the audience to shake hands with fans. People going practically hysterical when he brought out surprise guest Jim Cuddy.  I find it interesting and endearing how humans all seem to head-bob the same way to a good beat. We think we're unique, but really we're all the same. A lot like the flock of little birds in the trees behind us who spent the evening dashing around after mosquitoes.

At one point the sound system died and Corey Hart was plunged into silence. And -- typical sweet Canadians -- the audience merely started singing (mostly "Go Raptors!") to fill in the gap for him until his microphone came back on a few minutes later. And Corey said simply, "Sorry about that" and went right back into his program. It takes a lot to upset a Canadian.

It reminded me of the time the singer doing the American anthem at a ball game lost the power to the microphone too, and the Canadian audience simply finished singing the anthem for them. Polite, kind, no fuss.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Gardening at a Whole New Level

The garden has been elevated, quite literally, and I'm done except for planting the twelve new asparagus crowns. The beds are in, the plants are planted, and the summer can now officially begin.

I think I will enjoy not having to bend so much. Or weed so much. Or fend off rabbits to the usual extent. I can see the benefits of the beds already. But I sincerely hope I never have to do that big of a project again. When these boards rot and it's time to start over, I will quietly sell the house and move away. My body will never forgive me for what I put it through this week.

At the same time my body is protesting, I do admit a tiny sense of self-satisfaction. I am Boadicea, Joan of Arc -- conquering against all odds! I am warrior woman -- no task can intimidate me! I speak and mountains are moved! (With a little help from a shovel and two buckets.) My husband says he has never met a more stubborn woman. That's not always a good thing, but this week it is a trait that came in handy.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

My husband says I'm God

So my husband and I (poor, long-suffering man!) moved the mountain of soil yesterday, all by ourselves, with one shovel and four buckets, and finished before noon. The wheelbarrow tire developed a leak so was of no use to us. But the sun held out, no rain came, and neither one of us threw our backs out. Even had time to do some weeding, take the pool cover off, and I mowed our yard and the neighbour's. And still had time last night to watch an Australian crime show and eat ice cream. A successful day! But I under-estimated the amount of soil we'd need (I now have eight raised beds to fill!), so I've ordered another 5 cubic yards to be delivered on Tuesday. Which is probably now an over-estimation. Oh well, there's always somewhere to put dirt.

As we laboured together, I cracked that my husband would never need to pay for a gym membership, being married to me. Think of the money he'd save! (Nevermind the $435 spent on soil.) And my husband said solemnly that he thinks I'm God. God gives us challenges to strengthen us and help us grow. And I do indeed challenge him... Tee hee. Thirty-two years of marriage, of me keeping him hopping and guessing and on his toes, and he's still in the trenches with me (literally), scooping dirt. Gotta be love.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Digging Out

The floor loom has sold to a really nice girl I met on Facebook and then in person at the highland games. She's a farmer/forager/craftsperson/earth goddess type who will give the loom a loving home and put it to good use, so I'm content.

The soil arrives on Saturday, and before then I need to move a miniature mountain of compost into the raised beds. I've been chipping away at it, but it has rained nearly constantly since I got back from Utah, which has slowed things down considerably. The compost heap never ceases to amaze me -- how all that muck and waste and cast-offs can become crumbly, sweet earth full of worms. It's like discovering gold in your garbage bin.

We purposely built an extra-wide gate into the fence so that trucks could bring soil straight into the backyard...but then found out that no delivery men are willing to drive over the boulevard to get to the gate. So it means schlepping three cubic yards of earth by bucket and wheelbarrow. I fear Saturday will be a very muddy day, but it's all got to be moved quickly because I can't leave a hill of soil on the boulevard overnight. Even if I can get it all scooped into the backyard and piled in a heap on Saturday, I can then take a bit more time to get it into the beds.

If I had the time and inclination to ponder it, I'd see all this as a metaphor of digging out from the winter's depression, digging out of my inward-looking self, moving out from under bad habits or unhelpful thought patterns, turning over a new leaf, new spring beginnings... but no. It's a literal ton of earth, and it's all mine to move. I may get a little sporadic help from family or volunteers, but in the end, it's going to come down to me, slogging for hours...days... And you know what?

I love it.

I can't wait to dig in, to get my hands into rich soil, even if it's soggy. To smell that indefinable scent of wetness and spring and good things growing. To feel it clump on my boots and work itself into my skin. To pile it into the raised beds and bring out my tender little seedlings (which aren't so little anymore -- I planted them way too early!) and get going on my garden for the season. Now that's a metaphor that rings true for me -- I'm always yearning for the next season of life to begin, instead of being content with where I am. But spring does that to me -- an inner straining to get on with life, to move forward. To grow.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Zipping Along

Wow, it's been a month already since I last posted. My apologies! Life seems to have escaped me lately.

I just got back from a great trip to Utah and Idaho for two family weddings, which were lovely. My sister-in-law Carrie (two of whose kids were getting married) had everything so amazingly organized that it all went smoothly. She remained so calm and serene through it all! Maybe she was like a duck, perfectly still on the surface but legs paddling madly below water---but if so, I couldn't tell. I told my mom I wanted to be like Carrie when I grew up. My sister chimed in,"I'll never be that grown up!" Anyway, it was a heavenly week filled with family, food, fun, and my beautiful, much-missed mountains. And sunshine! Utah is about a month ahead of Toronto in weather.

This past month has also involved turning in a manuscript to the publisher (who rejected it...another post for another day), teaching a gardening workshop, and planting seeds to start under my grow lights. My wonderful husband kindly built me four big raised beds for the garden, so now I need to order soil and get it all in place before planting out at the end of the month. The tomatoes are already about eight inches tall and craning toward the light with great promise. And my lemon is almost ripe.

I have decided I need to concentrate my energy better on the things that are really important to me. My neighbour's husband died recently and I'm going to try to pitch in to help her with her yard in addition to caring for my own. I want to spend more time with my grandkids this summer. And I really need to focus more on my ministering responsibilities at church. Life is short and I need to ensure I'm not neglecting the important stuff. With all that in mind, I have decided---reluctantly---that I need to sell my big floor loom. I don't have space for it, and it's a sort of expensive hobby that takes up a lot of time. Anyone want a 45" countermarche, rather unusual loom? Going cheap.

Other than all that, life continues apace. There is a hint of spring in the air and my spirits are lifted, anticipating warmth and greenery. I am waking up along with the crabapple blossoms.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Starting Seeds

There's the hint of spring in the air. The hyacinths are an inch tall, just poking their noses out of the ground, and the snow has melted off to reveal surprisingly green onions still left from last year's garden. If you don't harvest all your onions and leave some in the ground over winter, they'll go to seed the second year. Sometimes I collect the seeds, and sometimes I let them fall wherever they like, and I get baby onions springing up all over the garden. Who says things have to grow in tidy rows? I do the same with cherry tomatoes, radishes, and garden huckleberries, letting some fall, and I always get vigorous volunteer plants the next spring that produce as well as the ones I nurture tenderly and transplant out. Why go through the work of starting seeds and planting out if the garden will do the job for you?

Having said that, one of my favourite things is to start seeds in the early spring. There's something about the scent of damp soil, the finickiness of planting in tiny pots, that energizes me. The trays of seedlings sitting happily under the grow lights make me feel proudly maternal. After a winter of drooling over seed catalogues, I make my selection (or dig out the seeds I harvested and saved from last year) and get down to...pardon the pun...plotting. How many pots can I fit on my counter? How many extras should I plant just in case some don't survive the rabbits? How many tomatoes can we really eat? How much should I grow extra for the kids or to give to my ministering sisters at church?

This year I'm planning to build some raised beds and level off a sloped part of the yard to make room for more garden. I'm going to limit myself this year, though, and instead of planting a little each of forty varieties, I'm concentrating on only tomatoes, squash, lettuce, green beans, and cucumbers. (That doesn't, of course, include the perennials such as asparagus and rhubarb.) I ordered three new varieties of tomato from the University of Florida that are supposed to be disease-resistant and good producers. I'm also growing cherry tomatoes and Red Pear cherry tomatoes, making 21 plants in all. (That's nothing. One year I planted 55 Roma tomato plants and still ended up buying in some bushels. We eat a LOT of tomatoes.)

I'm also doing Armenian cucumbers, Ronde de Nice squash, spaghetti squash, and zucchini. LOTS of zucchini. Like, 18 plants. I know, I know, you probably think I've lost my mind. But now that we're cutting down on carbs, we eat zucchini almost every day, sometimes for two meals a day, and it freezes well. And I inevitably lose a few plants each year to rabbits, and the last few years it's been so hot the plants mainly produce only male flowers so I only get a couple of squash per plant anyway. I will fill in any gaps in the garden with green beans, my favourite vegetable, which can be frozen too. I'm still eating last year's harvest, which should last right up until the new crop begins to produce.

After watching Love Your Garden with Alan Titchmarch, I'm also contemplating putting in a pond. Just a little one, with a few bog plants, to attract frogs to the garden. And putting up bat boxes. And maybe some bee boards for wild bees to nest in. If I can't move to the country, I will make the country come to me.

There's a feeling of triumph, this time of year, at having survived another winter. I love the anticipation of gardening, the feeling of planning to feed my family. When the tiny sprouts are starting to rise under the lights, I survey them with great satisfaction...and try not to think about how my back will feel planting them out in May.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Tentative steps toward summer

My word, I can't believe how long it's been since I last wrote. My apologies. I feel like I've spent the winter curled up in a ball on the couch, and only now am I starting to emerge timidly into the light, like a mushroom, blinking in the unfamiliar sight of the sun coming up over the rooftops.

Today was glorious, though, and I was drawn out into the afternoon in spite of a wickedly strong wind and chilling temperatures. The sunshine was amazing, the sky was so blue and filled with puffy clouds like wads of quilt batt, and it was impossible not to whistle up Brio and stride out. We hit the path that leads through the woods to the library, Brio's ears flying back in the breeze. He waddles a bit now -- looks like a caramel-coloured sheep, plump from too little walking this winter. Me too, truth be told. Hopefully some of the excess weight will drop off as we increase our activity, energy levels rising with the sap.

The trees are still bare, of course, though the crabapples have just the faintest promise of hazy pink buds starting to form. Walking through the woods at this time of year is odd, really -- during summer you can't see a thing past five feet into the thicket, but in winter you can see right through the bare trunks, the scoured floor of the forest, to civilization beyond. In the summer you aren't aware there are houses around the edges, but in winter you're looking right into people's backyards.

There's no sign of trilliums yet, but in a few weeks they'll be thick and white on the ground. That will be followed by a gauzy veil of palest green as the buds begin to unfurl, the lamb's quarters will shoot up, and the houses will disappear again for a few months, like Brigadoon.

With no foliage on the deciduous trees, you're also suddenly aware of the tall white pines scattered sparsely through the forest. They stand out green and wind-swept like a Group of Seven painting, and the wind rushing through them sounds like the ocean. Sometimes in early morning, when I'm taking the dogs out and it's still pitch black outside, I hear that rushing sound and it seems more like an out-of-control semi truck roaring down on me, and I find myself jumping up the steps and darting back inside as if the truck's fender is on my heels. A silly impression, really, but that sound does tend to scare me just a little. Or "thrill" might be a better word. It makes my nerves jump and suddenly I'm very much awake and alive. A real ocean gives me the same sudden awareness. A feeling of being very small in an immense world.

Walking today, behind the waddling, tongue-hanging-out-with-joy Brio, I could feel the pores in my skin opening up to soak in the sun. The air flung itself against my face, and I was filled with a feeling almost of going back to my childhood. I don't know why it struck me that way, exactly. Maybe the freshness of the air reminded me of being up the canyon. The roar of the wind sounded like a cascading river. Maybe it was just the freedom of it, the clean, refreshing purity of it. The joy of wearing tennis shoes after months of clompy boots. The knowledge that at that precise moment, there was nowhere I needed to go, nothing I had to do, no one I had to be. It was just me, walking in sunshine. Glorious!

Brio, contentedly gaining weight on the couch.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The Home Show and Canada Blooms

My husband and I spent Saturday afternoon wandering the Home Show and Canada Blooms in Toronto. We haven't done that sort of thing for a while now, and it was great fun though--admittedly--slightly claustrophobic. Lots of displays, everything from rain gutter systems to cured meats to hot tubs to fake grass to massage chairs. We walked through the full-size pine forests and tiny Ikebana displays, ate a potato pancake with sour cream, and talked to knowledgeable people about waterproofing the basement. I enjoyed the mosaics made from seeds and grasses and dried beans (my husband snickered, "That's like what the kids used to do in kindergarten with macaroni"). And we saw the Enbridge truck for which Son #1 did the graphic design, and the Mohawk College garden design that Son #2 helped to install. Definitely beyond macaroni!

I especially liked the sunroom displays. I could easily see living in one. I asked my husband to describe his ideal home, and he immediately said a big square box with an entire glass wall at one end, and the kitchen facing the glass so you can look out while you're cooking. Sounds perfect to me.

That led us to a discussion of dwellings in general. We walked past a lot of displays for granite countertops and over-the-top architecture, and my husband pointed out that on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, our society seems to keep wanting to reinvent the housing part and never moves on to higher things. We keep getting stuck at the lowest levels. It isn't enough for us to put a roof over our heads and say that that need for shelter has been met, so we can move on to other needs. We keep revisiting it, painting, tweaking, up-scaling, remodeling, lusting after double vanities and engineered hardwood, and we're never satisfied. It's to the point where you don't even recognize the home as your dwelling, a simple shelter to keep you safe and warm. Now it's a Home System, with so many features and details and high-end finishes it's become almost suffocating. We spend our time maintaining and paying for our shelter and don't know when to say enough is enough.

So...I'm getting ready to say enough is enough. How much do I really need? Can I let go of all this stuff and free myself up? Become more nomadic? More nimble? I'm going to leave everything behind one day, anyway; why not leave it a little earlier and hit the road in an RV? Or find that crumbling stone hut on a mountain top in the Piedmont. I'm rethinking a lot about what "shelter" really means.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Reinventing Yourself

One of the dangers of bad winter weather is that you can easily get sucked into living like a slug, immobile on the couch, watching back to back episodes of TV shows. I admit I've done my fair share of that during this long, gray winter.

My favourite indulgence this winter has been the BBC's Escape to the Country and Escape to the Continent. My word, the beautiful places there are in this world! The intriguing houses people have built! I've seen everything from huge barn conversions to dinky low-ceilinged stone cottages to actual French chateaux and even an ancient castle gatehouse. We've toured caves of ripening cheese and interesting woolen mills and river long boats and boulangeries that make me want to lick my TV screen.

The thing I find most fascinating, though, is the pervading theme all of these prospective buyers talk about-- they want a slower-paced life. They want more time with their families, shorter work hours, more opportunity to go outdoors, more time for their hobbies. They want to re-focus their lives on what's important to them.

Why do they have to move to Cyprus or Liguria to do that?

I mean, don't get me wrong, I'd love to up sticks and live in a Maltese farmhouse or a mountain-top lookout in Abruzzo too. But why do these people think that they have to go to such extremes in order to change their routines or emphasize their family life? Maybe they live in such an expensive area that they have to work long hours to sustain it. Maybe their current lifestyle cannot reflect their values because of external circumstances. Or they simply don't have the space to develop their interests. In that case, sure, I'd encourage them to downsize or change neighbourhoods or whatever it takes so they can lessen their work hours or gain a garden, etc. It makes sense to move, then.

But sometimes I get the sense that these prospective buyers on the shows could change what they do without moving, but they somehow think that starting over in a new place will change who they are. They talk about taking up new pastimes they have never done before, taking up golf or cycling or gardening or other interests they've never tried, and that for some reason they've never done living where they are (even though there's nothing stopping them from doing it in situ). So instead of trying them, they want to move the whole kit and kaboodle to a new place, thinking that they will somehow magically become different people if they do.

I think if you are a certain personality type, you will not magically change that type overnight by relocating. If you didn't make time for reading or walking or playing with your kids before the move, you won't do it after the move. If you didn't value a quiet evening at home before, you won't later either. You can slow down where you are. It's a matter of making some (sometimes difficult) choices.

I've been through the usual young-parent mode of dashing between soccer, piano, rugby, gymnastics, swimming, archery, dance, cub scouts, karate, and band practice. I've done the on-the-bus-by-5:00a.m. to get my kids to seminary. The drop-offs at friends' houses. The dentist and doctor appointments. Just thinking about it all makes me exhausted, and I wonder how I survived it. How do people do it who have more than three kids? When your kids grow up and go, you automatically slow your pace a little, but I personally don't think you have to wait until your kids are gone to slow down. We got to the point where we realized things were too crazy, and we limited the kids to one sport and one musical instrument each. I cut out some of my interesting-but-not-vital activities. I started auditing classes instead of taking them for university credit. I started saying no to things that weren't crucial to someone's well-being. I can safely say my life is pretty calm now, I have time to read and sew and garden and learn new things. I've let go of some of the trivialities.

I think what I'm saying is, you don't have to relocate to find a better way to live according to your values. And relocating won't suddenly change your values. No matter where you live or what your current circumstances are, you are still free to figure out what is important to you and emphasize it in your life.

Now, having said that, if someone wanted to offer me a hilltop home in the Piedmont, I wouldn't say no...

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Falling Apart

Injured my shoulder so can't turn my head. Sleet falling outside. Phone is dead and Rogers can't get to the box outside to fix it, because it's under four feet of ice. Spent yesterday with a pick-axe trying to locate box, to no avail (shoulder was injured prior to that -- not related). My car is out of town and I couldn't find a ride to church this morning. And to top it off, I woke up with pink eye.

Definitely a day to stay on the couch with a fuzzy blanket and my Farley Mowat book.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Rejoining the World

Hi. Emerging from a wintery stupor and realized I haven't posted for the past month. It seems all I can do these days is slog to work and back, and then I spend the rest of the evening on the couch watching endless episodes of Escape to the Continent and knitting. Just don't have the energy to do anything else. This winter hasn't been very long, really, but it has been intense. The constant snow and freezing rain and -25 temperatures just zap the energy and ambition right out of me.

I watch these TV shows about people looking for new homes in Italy and Spain and Portugal, and I think they're onto something. I could easily be persuaded to spend next winter in Malta, for example. I could use a winter without freezing rain.

Then again, winter means hot chocolate and chili and fuzzy blankets and apple betty and coziness in general, so I can't complain. All too soon I suppose we'll be plugging in the floor fans and complaining that it's 45 degrees (celsius) and the garden will wither and we'll wish for winter again. Humans are a discontented species on the whole.

So I'll potter around with my lettuce and kale growing on the kitchen counter, and I'll take my vitamin D and sit under grow lights and try to reconcile myself to the gray doldrums. I'm also going to start learning Maltese...

Saturday, 9 February 2019


I spent over twelve hours today hunched over my computer, banging out rewrites for the publisher. I just emerged, red-eyed and hungry, and checked on line to see what's been happening in the world while I've been immersed. And I see 200+ km/hr winds in Quebec ripping communication towers in half, a huge storm hitting all of the UK, fires burning in New Zealand... Whew! I think I'll go back into my story to hang out for a while longer.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Cheese Blog

Just a reminder to check out my new weekly blog, My Year of Cheese, in which I will profile a new cheese every weekend for 2019.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Dangerous TV

I have long been hooked on Britain's "Escape to the Country," a show where friendly real estate agents take buyers to look at three properties to choose from -- all of them always set in absolutely stunning countryside locations. They're usually in quaint villages, and might range from 15th-century barn conversions to Tudor homes striped like zebras or stone cottages with low-beamed ceilings. Once in a while you'll get something more modern. Sometimes vast tracts of land and sometimes easily-managed little gardens or courtyards. Often they have holiday-let potential. Once they even took us to a home that was a land-lease...from the Duchy of Cornwall. Imagine having Prince Charles as your landlord!

But the other day I discovered another show, with the same estate agents, called "Escape to the Continent." They take British buyers to places like Brittany, Portugal, Italy, and Cyprus to look at properties for sale there. It's the same luscious, fantasy-inducing show but on steroids. I've recorded four episodes and I'm going to sit down tonight with a plate of pasta and completely indulge myself.

These shows are dangerous because they inevitably get me thinking things like "How soon can I retire?" and "Well, the kids could always come visit us, couldn't they?" and "How many more years until the dogs die?" Well, maybe not the latter. But imagine the freedom to pick anywhere you wanted to go and just moving there! Of course, now with Brexit, it may be the end of that show, I don't know. Certainly people will have to rethink just picking up and moving to Europe. But it gets me pondering...How much like France would Quebec City be? And I bet parts of Newfoundland are like Norway. And Nova Scotia could pass as Scotland any day.... Maybe moving "abroad" is possible without even leaving this country.

It's been -38 here much of the week, and Cyprus or Portugal sound pretty nice right now... I have to remind myself summer will come again. I mustn't do anything rash just because winter has me down...

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Polar Vortex

The temperature has slid down to about -30 in this area the last couple of days. The snow has a grainy consistency, like tiny ice pellets, and is light to lift. Which is good, because there's a lot of it.

After spending 29 years in Canada, I have learned how to tell the temperature pretty accurately just by how I feel. Pained cheeks but eyeballs okay means about -15 C. Nostrils stick together when you inhale means -20 C. Eyeballs prickling means -30 C. We're to the eyeball stage.

Made peanut butter cookies and lemon poppyseed cake yesterday. Reorganized and culled my CD collection. Read for a while (Mugged by a Moose). Did some needlepoint. Shoveled snow. Shoveled my neighbour's snow. Met a new neighbour. Got my Sunday School lesson ready. And about then my husband woke up so we had a nice time watching a Swedish series together on Netflix...

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

I Came From Away to Watch Come From Away

Just returned from five fabulous days in New York City with a good friend. I knew the trip was going to be delightful when the flight attendant on the way there introduced herself as Malaria. It only got better from there. We stayed at the Towneplace Suites at Times Square (Marriott) in the Theater District -- a place I highly recommend. I love staying in hotels, from the achingly white bedding to the white smooth tablet of soap like a Mah Jong tile. This particular hotel had fantastic breakfasts and friendly staff. I've decided all I need to get by in life can fit in my carry-on gym bag. And if the airline loses that, all I really need is in my purse. The feeling of travelling so light is so freeing!

We packed a lot into those five days and saw just about everything we had hoped to see despite the government shutdown -- the New York City Public Library (and went back to the hotel to watch an apocalyptic movie that took place there), The Met (after reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, of course), the Empire State Building, Times Square, the Staten Island ferry and Statue of Liberty, the M&M store, FAO Schwarz, Grand Central Station, Rockefeller Centre complete with ice skaters, the Nintendo store, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and a host of other things.  We went past Radio City, the Chrysler Building, Tiffany's (and went back to the hotel to watch Breakfast at Tiffany's), Wall Street, and Bryant Park and saw the Brooklyn Bridge. We rode the subway, which was surprisingly clean and easy to ride. We saw the graves of Alexander Hamilton, Robert Fulton, and James Lawrence at Trinity Church.

And the food! My first impression is that New York City smells good. Everywhere there is barbecue and sausages and just wonderful fragrances coming from the street vendor carts. We ate a delicious warm kale and brown rice salad at Cafe Metro, Junior's blueberry cheesecake, a salty pretzel from a street cart, and a great cheeseburger and fries at Shake Shack. And I had the best crisp thin-crust broccoli/black olive/red onion/green peppers pizza, and chicken/red peppers/ricotta/onion/parmesan stromboli as well, at the Pizza Cafe at 747 8th Avenue. And decided I need to move to New York just so I can eat there every day. Sunday we went to church (beautiful organ, stimulating discussion in Relief Society) and then walked through Central Park. The weather cooperated, and I couldn't have asked for a better time.

After pounding the streets most of the day, we returned to the hotel to watch the above movies along with some others with New York themes or settings. And read a couple of books. And ate bean burritos and drank Silk soy milk. And watched HGTV and fell asleep to the melodious harmony of car horns that is the night music of New York.

Three highlights stand out in my mind, though, from the trip. One was the 9/11 Memorial, which was a solemn and impactful place to visit. The water disappearing into the dark "bottomless" holes really affected me, the names row after row of the dead, the soaring height of the new building showing how tall the two towers had been... It was just a lot to take in, and I felt I was walking on hallowed ground, somehow.

The second thing that stays with me is the long walk we took on the Highline, an old raised railway berm that wanders from about 34th street to 15th street. In the summer it must be beautiful, though at this time of year it was brown and chilly. The condos along that park are amazing and the architecture was stunning. My friend and I imagined which one we would select to live in. Manhattan is remarkably walkable.

The third thing was the Broadway show we saw -- Come From Away. What a wonderful way to end our trip! The foot-stomping music, the high-energy performance, the incredible voices, the humour, the Newfoundland speech, the clever use of only a handful of actors to play so many parts---it was just fantastic all around. We sat in the same aisle as other Canadians, and I just basked in the whole evening. Want to listen to the soundtrack again, as it moved so fast I'm sure I missed some things. Canadians are such likable folk! I think it added something to the show to watch it in New York City, where I'm sure many of the people sitting around me in the audience were personally impacted by 9/11.

All in all, a marvelous five days! And a wonderful friend to travel with. Thanks, Sheri!

Friday, 11 January 2019

Off to the Big City

I am away for a few days on a trip to see a friend, so I won't be posting for about a week. I've put up my blog posting on My Year of Cheese a couple of days early. I've watered the plants. I'm packed and ready. It's 6 a.m. and the flight doesn't leave until 6 p.m., and in my mind I'm already on it.

I know most people dislike airports. The hassle, the line-ups, the stress of it all. Well, true, it's a bit nerve wracking. But once I'm sitting in the departure lounge, looking out the big windows at the itty-bitty plane that's going to be carrying me off into the clouds, I'm blissfully happy. There's a feeling of adventure, of "Finally! I'm on my way!" The place is stuffed with possibilities. What would happen if I got on that plane instead of this one? What different lives are criss-crossing all around me? I like to watch other passengers and the way they deal with stress and boredom. I like to guess where they're from and why they're travelling and who will be waiting for them at the other end. I like imagining who they are talking to on their cell phones at 4 a.m., just to say "I'm at the airport." Surely anyone who knows them well enough to be woken by a 4 a.m. phone call already knows they're travelling.

There are so many places I want to see before I die. Iceland. Norway. More of Italy. Ireland. Northern Scotland and Wales. Australia would be amazing. Costa Rica. British Columbia and the Yukon. Cape Breton. The list goes on, but I think the highest priority is - of all places - Washington State, because I want to see my sister's farm. Hopefully next summer.

Maybe I like to travel so much because it's so wrapped up in stories, and I am, after all, a writer. Each person in the airport has a plot line they're following, and somehow on this particular day, they've all interwoven in this one space, for however brief a connection. It reminds me how we're all just little threads in a vast tapestry.

See you in a week!