Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Technology has turned against me

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



Monday, 23 April 2018

Sheer Awfulness

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

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

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

Friday, 20 April 2018

Sheer Joy

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 15 April 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naah.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

A Time to Plant by Kyle Kramer

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

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

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

Just as soon as I finish my book...

Friday, 30 March 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Sunday, 18 March 2018

I'm back!

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

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