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!