Thursday 22 February 2024

A poem for the day


I have been reading a lot of Leslie Norris poetry lately, and it put me in the mood to try some myself. My humble offering for your reading pleasure:


I tap at my keyboard, notebook and mug at hand.

The dog drapes himself over my feet under the table,

deep in boneless sleep until I shift, or sniff, or click the laptop off.

Instantly, he’s on his feet, alert, attentive,

ready as any sheep dog responding to a whistle.

You understand sleep was a ruse.


His work is self-defined, an unbroken vigilance,

a militant agreement I don’t recall making.

He is dedicated to his job as much as I.

When I say he needn’t rise, he rolls his eyes, ignores me.

Of course I’m coming with you.

His work is to disdain coat or boots and accompany me

to the mailbox in the cold, to the park

to corral the ball I repeatedly let escape,

to the kitchen to clean up the food scraps I drop.

Careless woman! Without me, you’d lose everything.


Ferocious defender against buzzing flies, doorbells, mail carriers,

distant sirens, squirrels passing the window.

He presses between me and the threatening hickory nuts

I’m obviously holding at bay with a hammer.

I won’t let them get you.

When he senses I’m lonely, it’s his job to bring a toy,

put his warm, comforting head on my knee.

Once when I lay coughing on the couch,

he crawled onto my chest, staring intently into my eyes,

willing me to stillness.


His job also to chaperone me in the bathroom,

lying outside the shower with worried eyes,

in case danger lurks, ready to spring.

Why would you pull a curtain between us?

Don’t you know I must keep my eyes on you at all times?

At night he sleeps curled against the back of my knees,

fending off evil dreams.


-          Kristen McKendry

Tuesday 6 February 2024

Thoughts of spring and garden staples

I was out raking (in a sweatshirt, no less) and found a yellow dandelion in my backyard this week. The leaves are definitely coming out on the maple trees. This is freaky. Meanwhile, the Maritimes are getting over a metre of snow in one fell swoop.

I'm determined to stick to the plan and assume winter is yet to come and refrain from starting my seedlings indoors. There is a temptation to hope for a really long growing season this year, but I don't trust it. Though it is a good time to inventory my seeds and make a plan. I need lots of room for seedlings this year, because I'm going to start the sorghum indoors to try to give it a head start, since last year it barely ripened before frost. So I'll need about 100 tiny pots for that under the grow lights, not leaving much room for tomatoes, etc. I want to turn my entire dining room into a growing area...but that won't jive with, you know, dining, so I'll have to get creative.

I'm focusing on garden basics this year, feeding the soil, trying not to disturb the worms. I'm omitting the frippery such as mache and perpetual spinach and focusing on the bulky survival staples -- cabbage, sorghum, beans, onions, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, butternut squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes. I love rapini but it does better indoors, so that will go under the lights again once the seedlings go out. I'm also going to try a suggestion I saw on Youtube and plant late summer/early fall broccoli instead of spring, so that it comes to maturity when the weather is cooler. Maybe that will help it not to bolt. The trick these days is to figure out when first-frost and last-frost dates are...

I try a new thing each year, and this year it is Champagne Bubble cherry tomatoes, which are sweet and not acidic at all -- perfect for snacking.

If you're gardening this summer (and you absolutely should!), leave a comment about what you'll be planting!

Sunday 28 January 2024

Cardinals, Geese, and a Too-Early Spring

The maple trees are budding already. The hyacinths are starting to come up. Apparently they have seen goslings at Lake Ontario already, and lately I've been hearing cardinals whooping their mating calls. They're all about two months early, but it has been positively warm the last few days. In fact, other than a few days at -25, it's been unseasonably warm all winter so far. The plants and birds think spring has come. I'm worried that a real cold snap will come in February and kill the young, and it's heartbreaking knowing I can't tell them all, "Hold off! Wait! Winter is coming! It isn't over!" 

Or maybe it is over, in which case we got hardly any snow at all and farmers will be in some trouble this summer. I haven't taken my winter coat out of the closet yet, and I've only shoveled snow one day. Too weird. A bit frightening. Surely cold and snow will come eventually!

Thursday 18 January 2024


It's the 18th of January, and if you've seen the movie Deliverance, you'll know why I feel like playing my banjo today...

I started playing banjo when I was about thirteen, and in fact my first real job was as a banjo teacher at a music store when I was fifteen. I played in the Earl Scruggs style, five-string. I had one student who was so young, he couldn't reach the strings on his instrument. We had to tape a matchbox to the banjo to elevate his hand into position. It was a great job while it lasted, until the shop burned down one night, and they decided not to rebuild. Years later, I developed a Teach Yourself Banjo course so people could learn remotely at their own pace. Not that many people took advantage of it, but it was still a fun venture.

Banjo has cropped up often throughout my life. My niece married a fellow who plays clawhammer banjo, a style I don't know but would love to learn. One evening I got to perform at a jam session with the Utah Old Time Fiddlers and Country Music Association. I ran into two banjo players at a summer girls' camp who taught me a new version of Cripple Creek. My childhood neighbour up the street played too, and even lent me his banjo for a while until I could afford my own. Once I even met a girl walking through an airport carrying a banjo case, and when I told her I played too, it's like we became instant friends. It isn't a common instrument here in Canada, though it can often be found in Irish folk music. Still, it does seem to appear when I'm least expecting it.

Banjo has been the brunt of a few jokes in its history, and people don't always seem to take it seriously. It's actually a pretty complicated and beautiful instrument, and it's not just for Muppet frogs to play while sitting on a log in a swamp. Though it isn't something you'll hear often in a concert hall or accompanying an orchestra, you can play Paganini on it. You can use violin mutes on it to get a soft, chiming sound from it. Or, yeah, you can hammer out some bluegrass on it, set people's feet to stomping. I've always loved bluegrass, and I can't hear it without jumping up and clogging.

Yes, I clog. Or at least, I did until arthritis took over my knees.

What's your superpower?

Saturday 13 January 2024

Yarn Stash Score

I was talking with my weaving instructor, and she said she had some fibres to share with me. A fellow weaver had retired from weaving and gave away her stash, and it wasn't stuff she was going to use. Would I like it? For sure! Buying weaving supplies is pricey. So I went over to pick it up, expecting a small bag of thread.

I came home with five BIG boxes of all kinds of thread and yarn -- stuff for knitting, crocheting, embroidery, and needlepoint as well as weaving. Bulky yarns that will work in peg loom rugs. Two shopping bags of scrubby yarns and craft cotton for making kitchen cloths. Two BIG cones of light yarn the size of basketballs (my instructor says she ended up with 17 of these!). Such generosity! It felt like Christmas. I went through it and selected some fuzzy yarns and baby yarns that I likely won't use, which I can pass on to a fellow knitter who makes stuff for charity. There's a cone of purple yarn my granddaughter will love. I also collected a bag of cotton-silk blend that I'll give to a friend who makes more exotic stuff than I do. I may find more that I can share as I dig through the hoard.

There are some especially beautiful weaving cottons in heathery colours that I look forward to using. Some look good for making tapestries, and I can already see seascapes and Scottish hills in my mind. So many ideas rattling in my head now! I fear other responsibilities are going to languish in neglect for a while...

I feel bad that someone obviously bought all this with the intention of certain projects and never got to them, but hopefully I can honour it and put it to good use. I think the first thing I do is make scarves and hats for the homeless, as winter has finally come to Ontario.

Tuesday 9 January 2024

Another manuscript

It was a gray and rainy day and no chance to walk to the lake. Laundry is done. Varnish is still drying on the bannisters so I can't sand them yet. I'm out of weaving cotton. Left my guitar and banjo at home. Nothing good on Netflix. So as a last resort, I finally buckled down and spent the evening polishing off a manuscript and sending it off to my editor. This one is my first attempt at full-length non-fiction, so not sure how it will go, but that's all I'm going to say about it for now! Superstition still runs high at times like this, and I don't want to jinx anything...I'm a jangle of nerves.

I still have two fiction manuscripts (well, more than two, but two main ones) that I'm going to work on next. 

But not tonight. The big question for now make peanut butter cookies and snarf them all in a frenzy of stress-eating, or to drink a sedate herbal tea and go to bed early? What would J.K. Rowling do?

Thursday 4 January 2024

I don't make New Year's resolutions

I am not a big fan of goal-setting. It seems to me if there's something you want to improve, you just start doing it. If you fall short, you start again, right now. If there's a trait you want to develop, you just "be" that. No setting goals about what you want to be in the future -- just be, now. And no one is keeping track of how many times you fail or start again. 

Having said that, I do choose a theme each year and let it influence or guide my thoughts, focus, and activities during the year. For example, one year was focused on "health," one year was "family history," and last year was "emergency preparedness."

We've just come out of a long and rather grueling (and financially draining) church renovation, which isn't quite done yet, but we're at a pausing point. The family has undergone some changes and challenges. We're feeling a bit battered. So this year's theme is Recovery. Or maybe Quiet. Or maybe Ice Cream -- I'm still deciding.

To start this year's theme off, at any rate, I am spending two weeks at the church, the first with my husband and the second week alone, practising "Quiet." When the furnace isn't running, it's a silent place. It's surrounded by empty farm fields. Cars going past are rare, and the thick walls protect me from the sound, muffling anything outside. I can hear my own thoughts here. I can write and read and sleep and not go anywhere or see anyone if I choose not to. Once in a while I take a walk to the local lake, rarely encountering another person. The ideal setting for being quiet.

I'm also participating in a pre-recorded online yoga and meditation class, which helps lead me toward stillness. I've gotten out of the habit of sitting still, and this next period of time will be centering for me. Maybe I'll get some more writing done. Maybe I'll crochet, which is something I find meditative and soothing. Maybe I'll just watch Korean dramas on Netflix. There's no self-judgment this week, that's the agreement I've made with myself.

We foresee someday opening up the church to others who are also seeking retreat and silence. Running meditation sessions and other workshops, to share a little of the peace and stillness and healing that I hope this place will come to embody.

Meanwhile, I'll have to make sure hubby has stocked the freezer with ice cream before he goes, just in case that ends up being the theme... Just to keep all bases covered, you know.