Category Archives: Places & Experiences

Earth mama is getting wired

I eat granola I made myself with yogurt (I made myself). I make my own juice from berries I grew (myself), and the other day, I used up the last of my 2016 potatoes (with some of my frozen red peppers and herbs I dried and hung from my kitchen light fixtures), then went out and planted some more in my hand-cultivated beds, making room by pulling up some overwintered kale for this week’s salads.

As I casually mentioned today to the piano teacher after serving him some of my dried mint tea –rain water brewed–in the mug I threw and baked in a kiln I built, it was difficult to have to kill a rabbit I’d snared as a teen, but I’d got it done. The fact that I never ate them (Dad did, being raised in subsistence, partly), and that I then quit snaring, I regarded as an inconsistency, a weakness.

Did I mention I can sew, knit, and do macrame? Macrame is useful for hanging planters, and all you have to do to get a plant is pinch off and root a spider plant section, keeping it wet long enough. The more you stress a spider plant, the more likely it is to bud offspring, hopeful for a new life for its genes. This explains the declining birth rate in Western nations, and makes it likely that evolutionary favors the offspring of the resource-poor, stressed, and fundamentalists.

I can’t shoot a gun, though I have thought of taking lessons. Bow hunting would be better, as I think I could get away with bagging a few of the urban deer, if I kept quiet, and in theory, I could build my own hunting gear that way. I’m not into defending my property so much, or shooting migrants–they have as much right to survival as I do. I hope we can all work it out peacefully. They’re all the more likely to add some traditional skills back into our community, so hooked on tech. I bet a lot of them just want to pull out their seeds and plant a garden, just like me.

Sounds like the last, loud wail, death cry of the seed of culture I carried all this way. I am desperate, like the stressed spider plant, to pass on my memes. I have tried to root them,  but all my children are interested in careers in tech, because human services doesn’t pay. If I teach for my remaining few decades, I don’t know if anything will stick, and I am getting tired.

I watch Netflix now, relaxing into my (writing) chair after work, door closed on my family members, who want to watch something else. I log in, click, and let my mind drift, and consume. I thought I was strong, since I used to be little tempted to binge watch, or web surf, or download the usual apps (after reading the privacy policies). Nover even cared to master the art of the remote control, of which we have three. I thought I was an informed, enlightened user, selectively online for the information, the music and art, inspiration for my own creativity, and a little remote banking routine I started while overseas. I scoffed at those who scoffed at me for not upteching, (inconveniencing them in the process), thinking, someone has to be the remnant–I want to stay in the real world, be a producer, not just a consumer.



Posted by on April 29, 2017 in Places & Experiences, Technology


The manner of her departure

Small pods of cells, tested, were interpreted as being out of line. Blood tests revealed showed hints of future troubles. And she wondered why she had become so lax, no longer stepping out in the cool of the evening to catch the rising scent of mown grass and crushed moss, or at rosy dawn to hear the chorus of birds. Why not travel, finally, to Alaska by boat this summer. Not even to take pictures, or write about it, but just to be in every moment she had left. Probably a long time, really–there was nothing to say otherwise–only the usual matters that arise in one’s sixth decade of life. She had been fortunate it had taken so long. “Really? No medications? None at all?” the nurse had repeated, incredulous.

She saw also in her alum magazine that it was that time, that death in her generation was no longer a tragic anomolgy, but a trend. Some had perished by fire and flood, but most were merely managing in bodies shutting down, or experiencing runaway biochemical processes that could not be stopped, only alleviated. Each name read opened up a porthole in her memory out of which flooded images, words, songs, various times of day and feelings. Each one a thread leading out of the rend between life and death, at least for a time. Each one who knows another bears a few such threads. Are they strengthened by writing it all down, or is that meaningless except to the writer. No, I think not.


Posted by on April 24, 2017 in Places & Experiences


Longing for a tubal ligation

Finding myself escaping from my house a little too often, especially on the weekends and holidays, when all six of the family are parked there. Like a wolf pack at the point where there has to be a split of leadership, it feels like, and meanwhile there’s lots of noise and scuffling of claws, and the wood floor I refinished last summer is all scraped up. There are numerous “strong personalities” in the household, and in that popular personality type classification, there ain’t no golden retrievers around here (except during the welcome visits of my mother-in-law), nor much channeling of cheerful, fun-loving otter at times like those.

My husband is an early riser and is already up when I arrive in the kitchen for breakfast and chores. He’s researching some Black Friday sales and keeping an eye on the football game. Ive never really adjusted to the t.v. dominating any part of my life, and even though I value good film and even enjoy an occasional light screen diversion, I feel so saturated by tubal excretions lately (it doesn’t take much) that any interest in adding any more, even quality content, has drained away. The sports networks in particular are thieving away our time and quiet, and I call it out to no avail. It’s not just the game for a few hours any more, but the pre-game features and post- game analysis that basically takes all day. I long for quiet especially now that I’m in the classroom several time a week.

My youngest son is waiting for me in the kitchen, hoping for some hot breakfast, and I help him make cheesy scrambled eggs. As I fix my yoghurt and granola, one of the other lions arrive. This is a person who never wakes up cheerful or even pleasantly groggy, and unless we all walk on eggshells (or have already prepared white flour waffles with whipped cream, bacon on the side) there will be roaring within minutes. It’s as if that’s her way to get energized–she seeks conflict, has from her first manifestations of personality. When she was little I clued in that she enjoyed a play fight–the push and shove made her laugh and even feel special–touch as love language. She owns the rough-and-tumble husky, which helps, as I often forget that words don’t mean the same thing. Lately I’m the most likely human recipient of the first blast of irritability, and I feel obliged to remind her once again that rudeness isn’t allowed and that she should go back to her room until she’s ready to be civil. My husband tells me not to take it personally. I don’t want to take it at all.

After trying to facilitate a nice, friendly or at least “do no harm” atmosphere at home, and to maintain some leadership of the domestic environs (not that I want it, but because I’m seen as the main housekeeper when it comes to messes and maintenance) so that the six users don’t leave the kitchen and living room trashed, I feel myself losing ground and slipping into sarcasm, a victim mentality, and decide to make my first retreat, a time to my bedroom. It’s quieter, and I have the calming view of the bare trees blowing in the wind outside the window that covers more than half the width of the wall, rain knocked off the patio canopy and juncos foraging in the garden. But I can still hear the roaring from there, despite the new solid wood doors we installed this year. Not fighting, per se, but the debate over whose preferences to go with as to the day’s activities–walk? movie? pizza? shopping? The daughters throw around personal insults which at other times they’ve told me are just a peculiar expression of love–the term “idiot” being most prevalent, and I count five such in the space of a minute, all from the mouth of the lion. I lean back against four pillows, hoping someone decides to go for a walk or even see a movie. I get in my zone, the buzzing of complaints in my head eases and a more proactive agenda starts to emerge. I can get outside and work on refinishing chairs if I go pick up some more sandpaper and nails. The rain has eased off and maybe I’ll be able to finish building the last raised bed, set up some rain buckets to water the beds of greens I want to plant in the greenhouse for winter salads.



On to Montreal to see Sister 1

June, 2015

I spotted my sister before she saw us–she was standing outside her rented car looking over where we had just come from. Wasn’t sure if it was really her, as it was dim, and she was just far enough away, and I hadn’t seen her since 2009. I called out and she turned and smiled in recognition as we started over. I guess I looked pretty much the same, plus signs of the years and darker hair. But my daughter she looked at in a kind of wonder. It had been seven years, my daughter had been ten at our last visit, and was now six inches taller that her aunt, a tall, slim beauty.

We loaded up the suitcases and headed out in Amber’s rented car before the attendants could ticket it.

She is seven years younger than I, and when we were growing up, that was a lot. She and my youngest sister were close to each other, but to me, both were little playmates or annoyances, depending. I played with them, might have changed a diaper or two, sewed dresses for them, but they were like a different generation, me in seventh grade at a different school by the time Amber started kindergarten. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, nor do I resent it now, they were the reason Mom had her hands so full in my upper elementary to teen years.

In later years, though she graduated from McGill in music and stayed in Montreal, and I finished up my education degree and moved out west, we reconnected at times, with visits at the homestead, and once in Montreal. There was the connection of evangelical Christian faith then, found separately and in different ways, as well as the experience of independence of adulthood, and reflecting on the setting in which we grew up. Whenever we met we had lots to talk about and have felt at ease doing so. Still, we don’t know each other well, with only a few days every few years to go on. I have drifted away from her beliefs in many ways, but the awkwardness of that is not as it was. On my side, mostly, I guess–she has never been pushy or judgmental, and is a loving, service-oriented sort of person, and generally fun to be with. And she laughs at my jokes.

The day before was Moving Day in Montreal, just after all leases end or are renewed by law, and her new flat was full of boxes, taped, labeled and stacked. The street outside held evidence of several moves, including a set of bedroom churches bagged and labelled “punaises,” which late I found means bedbugs.

We helped my sister get her basic kitchen equipped and flatten some boxes. Her belongings were basic, but we found what we needed, and fried up something or other for supper. We each got a room and hit the sack after talking late.

You never really know some people–ever mysterious and wonderfully so. But at least with family there can be a given that you’ll stay connected over the years and keep at it, however slowly. Maybe getting to know siblings is confused by projection of self, in addition to various kinds of growing-up baggage. So many similarities, just by the fact of having the same parents and, in our case, our shared physical environment. The same people lived nearby, mostly still do in some form. One of my best friends had a sister that was one of Amber’s. We went to the same schools and had some of the same teachers, and our neighbors never changed, just grew up along with us, and eventually inherited the family place. We know the tides, winds, slow springs, humid Julys and tingle of first frosty October mornings followed by warm afternoons. We know the creak of our mother’s knees and sound of feet hollowly stepping up thirteen stairs, the particular thump of each bedroom door, the smell of newly mown hay and the first spread of cow manure on the nearby fields.

My daughter was helpful on this journey, pointing out qualities I had overlooked, similarities and differences she saw, and sometimes critiquing my less than perfect ways of communicating (mostly with my mother, as we shall see). Concerning my Montreal sister, I agree with my daughter’s comment, after all our visits were over, that she is the least like all the other siblings, or like our parents. For some reason, we don’t really count my youngest brother in the group, because he’s always marched to a different drummer, and been responded to differently, as we also shall see..

Amber looks different, for one, with her auburn-brown hair and chocolate brown eyes, wide mouth, pale skin and light freckles. Though we were all brought up with music, she was the only one that went whole-heartedly into music study, majoring in piano performance. She was a Bach fiend, winning lots of prizes at our local adjudicated music festival and holding her own even among the big fish at Montreal. She was so intent–loved to practice, outgrew two piano teachers, started accompanying a church choir all before heading to college. Our old wooden farmhouse with the finished pine floors resounded each day with wonderful sounds until she left. Mom and Dad would have sent the piano to her, if it had been practical.

I was off doing my own thing in those years—studying education, moving out west, and then getting engaged. We did all major in doing our own thing, not resenting each other for not keeping in great touch, but enjoying the connections we had from time to time. Our brother married his sweetheart Heather in Ontario, bringing the family together there for the wedding in 1993, and we three sisters sang “Wherever you Go, I Will Go” at the ceremony, then watched them drift off into a lake on a houseboat honeymoon.

Amber takes a relaxed approach to life and music now. She enjoys her job working as a student advisor in the engineering department at McGill (where she once met Justin Trudeau, though she didn’t recognize him, and when he requested to see her colleague, asked if he had an appointment. “It’ll be okay, he said.). She got a promotion (a different time), then dropped back down to her former position, because she enjoyed the pace and interactions more. She no longer plays Bach, but once she found the Lord (in charismatic movement of the ’90s connected to the “Toronto Blessing” happenings), gave her music to God entirely for worship, on her own and for her church and its offspring in various parts of the world. Our mother was not amused, but felt she’d “grow out of it” and go back to classical. Never did, though. Just more of a secret internal reality working out in mysterious ways.

I was first up on Sunday and took a walk along the St. Lawrence River a few blocks south. There’s a few miles of park, with trails paralleling the banks. It’s a huge river, a major shipping route from the Atlantic up into the interior via the Great Lakes, but no ships were noticeable from this side. I saw a heron, red-winged blackbirds, one tiny toad, ducks, moths, and a few cyclists and joggers. I stopped by a shallow pond and wondered why it held only plants, until I noticed there was a plastic liner blocking the water from the soil. That nixed it for amphibians and probably most aquatic insects as a habitat.

We had buckwheat pancakes, eggs, and coffee for breakfast. Amber had decided to skip church–surely always a priority otherwise, to hang out with us. The day before she had mentioned it, and I said sure we’d come, but either she sensed that I was only slightly into it and maybe just being polite, of just wanting to attend out of curiosity about her life, she offered to spend the morning hanging out with us, to her credit, I think.

After a slow morning, with eggs and bagels, we hoisted our day packs and headed to the metro and zipped downtown for a hike up Mount Royal in the center of town.

Processed with VSCO with m3 preset

It was a warm day for walking, but with a blessed breeze again. After lunch at the Lola Rosa, up we strode, taking the long route that zigzagged up instead of the series of stairs. There were bikers, strollers, and stroller pushers. There was a boy annoyed at his parents for going the slow way, while he wanted to vauly up the steps joining the switchbacks. Half way up there’s a park that reminded me of a Seurat painting, but for the concrete border around the pond.

Park, Mount Royal

At the top is a large, airy hall of stone with a central room that could be used for balls, symphonies, and large weddings or funerals, surrounded by a few shops. Outside on the plaza a colorfully painted piano had been set up for public use, and some people were gathered around as someone plinked away. The main city was visible from the edge of the summit, with the Fleuve St-Laurent (the river) in the background.

view of Montreal

After walking down Amber showed us the underground mall network, miles of tiles, artificially lit stores that must be a haven from the cold come winter. Caught the metro back, watched “Ant Man,” and slept among the boxes. The next day we bused out to the airport for our flight to Halifax.


Posted by on August 6, 2016 in Places & Experiences


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Mother-daughter travel

Mother and Daughter have just returned from a pleasant walk to get supper at McDonald’s (chicken wrap for Mom and fries to share) and immediately after that, Tim Horton’s (Caesar salad for vegetarian Daughter, who discovered that Tim’s Caesars include bacon). Mother suggested Daughter record a video or audio of the counter guy, who would call each customer forward with a “I can help who’s next, b’y.” Daughter received her order from an island matron who handed over her salad with a “Here you are, my darlin’.”

It was clear on the walk back to the B&B, the chilly north Atlantic wind and cloud banks having  finally receded after several days of blow. Now it is night, and Mother and Daughter recline against the pillows on their respective beds in the B&B. It’s last night in Newfoundland, time to access wifi for the first time in several days. Daughter is catching up on Youtube videos, Mother is writing a blog post. Daughter’s quiet, breathy laughter drifts across the room to Mother.

Mother: “S, it’s okay to laugh out loud, you know.”

Daughter: “Don’t tell me how to laugh.”

Mother (lightheartedly): “I’m not, but I’m going to now.”

Daughter: “You just sucked all the happiness out of the room.”

Mother (laughing) “S, you’re good for me.”

Daughter: “I’m good for everyone.”

Not a hard word, hardly, between my daughter and I, on this whole trip. I am so proud of her, that she has turned out such a quality person. Every one of my family members was blessed by her quiet, kind presence. Just the fact that she could be out of what many young people consider “civilization” and could actually enjoy herself, is impressive. Mom & Dad, who live so far away from us and have only seen these four of ours every few years, will be talking of the sweet moments with her that they enjoyed. Lunches in and out with Mom, walks along the trail and through the village, the dip in the frigid water that my eighty year old father and she took  in the cove, reading all together by the wood stove, exploring gift shops, museum, dock and beach.

It would not have been as good without her, that’s sure. I feel like I’ve come bearing gifts.



Ontario Part II

My daughter and I have been away from home just over two weeks now. She’s a wonderful traveling companion, and a credit to her people, as they say. Just came from my parents’ little house in Crow’s Head near Twillingate on the north side of Newfoundland, where we spent a few days. Before that we stayed with my youngest sister and bro-in-law in Halifax, Nova Scotia, before that my other younger sister in Montreal. We’re taking a small breather at a B&B in Gander, NL before flying out to Winnipeg early tomorrow morning.

My brother and sister-in-law said goodbye to us in Kingston, Ontario, seeing us off by train for the almost three hour ride to Montreal. Just enough time for a good visit it was. Heather gave us a driving tour around town and took us out to lunch, all the while making my eighteen-year-old daughter feel thoroughly at ease and appreciated. Heather is tall and beautiful at fifty, and has that personality we in our family refer to as “mercy,” where her motivation for all she does is rooted in a desire to make others feel cared for. Every little touch to make us feel at home in their place was there–soft towels, toiletries obviously for using, half a dozen soft pillows each, both quiet time and companionship, attentive and interesting conversation, genuine words of affirmation.


My brother is also a good host, but in a different way, his own way. He kept us active–took us out to see his goats and chickens, with eggs in incubation, and to the pond to look for water snakes. No snakes, but we did come upon thousands of tiny toads, so many that we had to walk farther away from the water’s edge to avoid stepping on them. So tiny and perfect, hopping like small crickets toward the water in waves as we passed.IMG_5610 (1)

We went with him on a hike at Dunder Rock with his dog Jack, hoping to see a corn snake, a large one having bee seen by several others in the area. Matt shook his head to see others’  dogs off leash, which would effectively prevent such a sighting. Most owners never even realize what their dogs are bothering or killing up ahead, he said, just want them to be free and happy. But they kill snakes, among other things.


We stood and felt the height and cool breezes, watched resident turkey vultures and took some photos. After working up a sweat on the way down we eased down a rocky bank into the lake, delicious cool water but not too cold. Then back home for another array of salads and whole grain bread and cheese. We talked a little about teaching, but only slantwise and reverently, of the attachment one feels with students, the fulfillment of helping them understand, appreciate and care for this wonderful world.

On Canada Day Matt took us into Seeley’s Bay, the local village, where we caught, or rather joined by mistake, the tail end of the parade, walked around town, Matt recognized by various locals young and old and exhibiting his characteristic plain charm. In the ice cream and souvenir store he plunked down beside the owner for a chat, and soon came around to the question of whether she needed more stock of his handmade bat houses. His summer work includes humanely extricating bat colonies from attics and outbuildings and providing new quarters. Mostly these are small boxes of barn boards, erected on poles or building exteriors, but last year he built the miniature house, a bat mansion, mentioned in a recent post. We checked stand found some evidence of bat visitation–the crumbly droppings made of insect exoskeletons excreted by local brown bats.

The last evening we played Blokus, which brought out the playful teasing that Heather and Matt enjoy, him being always competitive, which tends to make everyone else, even Heather, want to gang up on him. Later Heather and I talked about that competitiveness, where it came from and its positive and negative sides. Came up again when talking to my brother-in-law on our visit to Halifax too. Matt loves to win when there’s a game on, and excel when it’s time to get to work. As well as being a well-loved teacher (Heather tells of numerous parents and students who take biology just to be in his class, and students who hate science coming out wanting to pursue it in college), he’s skilled in construction, woodworking, gardening, riding, athletics, art, and music. He’s pretty much self-taught. Indeed, Heather and I agreed, he doesn’t like to be taught or acknowledge others to be more expert than himself unless absolutely necessary. This is a quality that shows itself in various members of my family. Yes, this is really about me. So much easier to be bothered by my flaws when they are reflected by others. So this family tour is not only a way to reconnect, but to understand and improve myself. My daughter gives lots of good insight there, too, and has a fresh perspective that’s enough removed from the generational hangups to enable me to be more open.

Heather drive us to the rain station on her way to her vet clinic the next morning for the ride to Montreal.



Dog and cat politics

Before my brother drove us into his driveway, he warmed us that his fox terrier, Edie, could get so tense about new people in the house, that she would suddenly attack the big, old lab, clamping with her jaws that it was hard to pry her off. Said that once she had done so much damage, the lab had to have dozens of stitches. So we were all nervous that we would not cause that much of a stir. And a little worried for myself and my daughter about all those teeth in that alligator gar-shaped mouth.

We pulled in, unloaded our luggage, and my brother went ahead to the house, saying he’d “release the hounds.” Out they poured: Jack the quick, low-running border collie, who licked and adored, jumping up lightly to get more skin; Nellie, the lumbering, white retriever with big, watery eyes, thick tail swinging back and forth, and little Edie, short, pointed tail up and waving rapidly and tightly–a good sign, and circling. It was a go, so far so good.

Over the next few days there were more signs of harmony: Edie would follow my daughter and me around, wagging and watching our faces, very alert, as if asking, “Everything good? Need anything else? Okay, okay.” Up and down the 45 degree sloped wooden stairs, checking at our bedroom doors, accompanying us, along with Jack, down the lane for a walk. My sister-in-law said these were all good signs, that a rare quick acceptance had been given and that she showed no signs of her prior psychosis. I wondered if our having some of the same DNA as my brother could have something to do with it.

Jack was always there, too, and if either of us sat, he would lay his head, and sometimes a paw, on our knee, gaze into our faces and offer as many kisses as we would tolerate. When we started up a trail by the side of the house, we found one of his stuffed toys, and he made clear signs he wanted to play fetch, which he did joyously down the trail and then again in the pool, leaping with abandon and always asking for a redo.

Then the cats, in succession, made their various communications. Not including Mouse, who was recovering in a spacious pen from surgery for a car accident, each made contact. Steve and Lola, right away. Steve, an old, gray cat with a hoarse, melodies meow that tended to forget he had been fed and was continually asking for more. Lola, a pretty yellow and cream big-eyed girl who vocalized constantly until petted. Mud, the back male outdoor cat, came in after a day or two to check us out and became affectionate. Of Stella, the orange and white tabby, we only caught glimpses until the second to last day, when she cam ever to me quickly as I sat on a bench outside, gave me a quick sniff, and ran away. Then on the final evening, as I was reading on my bed, there she was, up on the bed, purring and rubbing.

These animals are an important part of my brother and sister-in-law’s household. That they have been unable to have children is one reason, I suppose. Plus all but Nellie have a story of rescue and recovery, and as a result have become even more cherished, since no one else apparently wanted them. My sister-in-law, a vet, had a hand in the care and cure of each, and both she and my brother, in their different ways, have a soft spot for underdogs (and cats). All the animals have bonded with one another also, and with the exception of moments of high tension for Edie, get along very well.




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Posted by on July 1, 2016 in Places & Experiences


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