Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Just read an excellent Op-Ed by David Brooks in the New York Times (It's Not About You). Brooks is writing about college commencement addresses. Graduating classes in colleges across North America are listening at this time of year to speeches delivered mostly by successful Baby Boomers, telling them how to succeed in life, and as Brooks says, these speeches pretty much sum up the whole baby boomer theology:
"Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture."
What Brooks says about that message just rings so true to me. He points out that for a 20/22-year-old the sequence is wrong, one doesn't form a sense of one's self and then go out and create a life around that self-image. For most people one's sense of oneself grows out of life experience not the other way around. There are a few folks who emerge from their education with a fully formed idea of what they want to do in life, but for most they emerge like prisoners from jail: just happy to be out and wondering what to do next.

There are all sorts of messages out there on how to be happy by living in the moment, meditating to find a peaceful centre to alleviate stress and find a solid happy core from which to operate in life. One is exhorted to stop worrying and planning and doing and just Be Here Now. Laudable, but I think misguided.

I think that Being Here Now is something that happens naturally as one ages, one gets to that point through life experience and aging anyway. I don't think it is something that one ought to pursue deliberately right from the get-go. Perhaps the business of young life is to be out there doing stuff and experiencing life, not blissing out. One lesson one learns from experience is that finding inner peace is not really something that can be taught, you have to get there from inner turmoil. Inner turmoil comes pretty naturally, usually from outer turmoil.

David Brooks appears to be saying something similar. You get to wisdom through experience, and experience is usually hard-won dealing with life's tasks and problems as they come up. How one copes with a crappy dead-end job and a mean stupid boss might just be a source of great wisdom later in life; the perfect job in the chosen field of one's dreams isn't necessarily the best outcome in life, nor the one where one makes the greatest contribution to one's community, family or society.

In addition he suggests that what our culture needs most now is not a whole lot of young people out there finding themselves, but losing themselves. That self-centredness is pretty much a core value that has run its course, maybe we need a little less of it. How to suppress one's self might be a greater life skill than how to express one's self.

Of course, most college grads are going to learn that anyway, life has a tendency to do that to a person. I think that self-fulfillment often comes up from behind, you don't get there by pursuing it directly.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The down side of to-do lists

As noted in my previous post, I started another to-do list last week. It is getting out of hand.

I have only managed to cross off a couple of items on the list, but have added close to a dozen more items to the list. The list is way longer than it was originally, and it is starting to resemble that amorphous black cloud I was talking about. And now I remember this about to-do lists, they get longer not shorter.

Every item I cross off invariably adds a couple more items to the list stemming from that one accomplished task, either that or it triggers a memory of some other item I previously forgot to put on the list. And eventually the list gets so long I have to abandon it.

Yesterday I got a call from a lady who is going to give me a tutorial in setting up my loom for weaving tea towels, we settled on dates and things I needed to do in preparation.

After I got off the phone I thought, This is one more thing for the to-do list.

And then I thought, Oh no! It's too long already!

I did not add it to the list. The beginning of the end.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Three things and a beer

Yesterday I got two things accomplished, well three actually.

1. Went to the new Market.

Our local farmer's market has its own building now, yesterday was the official opening. Up until yesterday the Market was held in a parking lot in the summer and at the university student union building (the old Sub) in the winter. On the one hand it is great they have their own digs now, and appropriately in an old apple storage warehouse. On the other hand it is dark and echo-ey. It was packed and the crowds and noise were quite overwhelming. Several regular vendors were notably not present, for a variety of reasons.

2. Assembled my new lawnmower.

Jeesh!! Took almost the whole afternoon! These days, everything comes in a box, unassembled. And to read the instructions you'd think every purchaser has a fully-equiped workshop to hand.

It was cold and rainy and I was trying to assemble the darn thing in an unlit shed with a collection of scrounged tools. Five different sizes of wrenches required!! I have the most mismatched collection of wrenches imaginable, it was painful just putting the required tool list together, never mind actually assembling the darn thing. Instructions called for securely blocking the chassis while working, I balanced it precariously on an assortment of firewood logs.

There were two sets of instructions, one for putting together all the bits and pieces and one for preparing the gas engine for use, each published independently of the other. Having once made a living writing instructions for a variety of machines, processes and procedures, I will restrain myself from huffing and puffing over the inadequacies of these two sets of instructions, but I am offended that after centuries of work on improving such things, abominable instructions are still the norm.

3. Made a to-do list.

I make these things when I am overwhelmed by how much there is to do, somehow putting it in writing makes it feel like I have some control over it. Unwritten if feels like an amorphous weighty black cloud hovering somewhere above and behind me; I know it's there but I can't really see the extent or urgency of it. Once written it looks sort of manageable. I blithely attach "By When" dates (knowing full well it will never happen, but hey, we can dream) and feel like I have A Plan.

The list goes in my List Book, a notebook dedicated to this activity alone. It contains to-do lists dating back several years and over several home locations. Kind of funny reading all the things I thought I would do, but a lot of it actually got done. The big things anyway.

Sell condo.
Build kayak.
Buy house.
Pack my stuff, over and over and over.
Fix the truck, again and again and again.

On my current list I thought that after I got the lawnmower assembled I would then bake some cookies. However, it turned out I didn't have one key ingredient for the chosen recipe and had no desire to pick another recipe, so I have left that to-do undone and added "Go Shopping" to the list. Maybe tomorrow.

As my reward for accomplishing two---maybe three---things, I went to a play in the evening, a local production of Oliver!

In spite of some of the characters in that story being familiar to me, I did not know the story itself. I have avoided all things Dickensian (with the possible exception of the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol) since my first encounter with David Copperfield in high school. Anyway, I quite enjoyed the production even though it was incredibly schmaltzy. It did nothing to convince me to rethink my attitude toward Dickens, but the players were good and community theatre is A Good Thing. They even managed to recruit some three-year-olds to participate in the production and they were quite hilarious.

After the show the entire cast quickly moves from the stage to the theatre lobby so they are there to greet the audience as we emerge from the theatre. It's quite nice to be able to see and talk to all the players, congratulate them while they wave at and greet the audience they could not see while performing.

My friend and I checked the time when we were outside in the parking lot, the night was still young, so we went to the pub for some music and beer. Thugs@Bay were playing, we got seats at the bar in view of the band and spent the remains of the evening listening, drinking and chatting with friends. There is no dance floor in this pub but some young folks were dancing in the narrow floor space between tables and booths, even one waitress danced around with beers and bills. We were so close to the band that between sets we chatted with them as well. They commented on the music scene in this town, how it was such a great place for a young band to get started, and how much musical talent there was in the area.

Next on the list is "Mow the lawn". If it warms up, maybe later today...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The sun appears, full-on summer has arrived

This post would enormously benefit from photos, alas, I have not taken any. It's been a bittersweet few days, on the one hand recovering emotionally from Sam's departure and on the other hand wallowing in the pleasure of sunshine after a month of rain. Please excuse the rambling nature of this post.


Within minutes of Sam's flight taking off to return him to the west coast, the sun broke through. The rest of the day and all of the next was sunny and blue-skied. Just about every lawn in the entire province got mowed in those two days. It was the background hum everywhere you went. Fields of yellow dandelions, orchards full of dandelions, all were mowed from brilliant yellow back to vibrant green. Actually I kind of miss the dandelions.

Well no I don't. I didn't mow my lawn and it is full of dandelions so I still have lots of yellow. I spent the last three days weeding, pruning and seeding but not mowing as my lawn is still soaking wet. Today was supposed to be rainy---stormy even---but I think someone must have slapped the Weatherman around a bit because all we got was one very light shower.

Two of my four garden frames are now planted. The other two have no soil in them yet so instead I have piled them high with all the weeds I pulled; I am hoping to kill them and use them in my compost. Or maybe as mulch. Anyway, a couple more sunny days should do them in and dry them out nicely.

I pruned several bushes and the lowest branches on a blue spruce so the lawn mower can get around them easier. Two shrubs are in flower right now, a forsythia and something I don't know the name of, I will wait until they have finished flowering before I prune them. Three lilacs got pruned and a bush that has no leaves yet so I have no idea what it is. I pulled up a tonne of very tall grass that has invaded the large garden area on the north side of the back yard, and deadheaded all the tulips that are finished blooming.

I wanted to prune the grape vine, but I am unsure what I can do with it. I look at the vineyards around here (this is great wine country) and it looks like they prune the vines back to almost nothing, but I just can't tell what is dead and what is alive on mine. So I will wait and see, maybe next year I'll get it right.

My neighbour has chives and lily-of-the-valley to give away, I'd like to ask her for a cutting or two of her periwinkle too. I've got some lawn patches I'd like to convert to periwinkle so I don't have to mow it (slopes, and the area under the pines). She told me that the previous owner of my place went a little nuts buying plants and sticking them in the ground.

He'd plant them and forget about them. So the place is full of stuff that has never really been taken care of, and some stuff is planted in odd places. Like the line of tulips in the grassy strip between our two driveways. It makes mowing difficult. And the plum tree on the north side of the house between two big pines, it gets hardly any sun.

There are hosta, solomon's seal, forget-me-nots, lilies and irises coming up. There's one, possibly two, peonies. Some strange flowers by the deck that I have never seen before. When they first came up I thought they were grasses, I almost pulled them out but there was something just a little odd about them.

I am watching the cedar out front closely, it does not look healthy. It was just a little bush when I lived here before, now it is tree-sized but not particularly healthy. Maybe it needs fertilizer? I don't know what its problem is. It'd be a shame to lose it, the birds like it. On stormy winter days it gives them shelter from the wind.

The horse chestnut in the back is about to flower and I believe there's a dogwood in the front. In the field beyond my yard are two trees that might be maples, but they have not leafed out yet. Which is good, I still have a view of the Minas Basin and Cape Blomidon which will disappear when the two trees are fully greened up.

While I was away kayaking last week a friend picked up a lawn mower for me that was on sale. It is still in the box so I have to assemble it before I can mow. I am planning to do that Sunday or Monday. Also get more horse manure for the two empty garden frames. And supposedly I can take possession of my own plot on the Acadia Community Farm this Sunday, although I am not holding my breath on that. Everything has been delayed by all the rain.

I haven't decided yet what I will plant at the Farm plot, but I have a lot of seed packets to try. Squash for sure, probably beans, maybe brussels sprouts. Potatoes? I want to start a herb garden but not sure yet where. I also have some asparagus and strawberries to plant, I think they will go into the big garden on the north side but first I have to take out all the grass and weeds there. I am about one-third done with that.

Thursday was such a gorgeous day! Everybody around here was in such a good mood, the first full day without any rain. It was even hot! I think we all could hardly believe our good luck, it was starting to look like the rain had moved in for good. In between weeding and seeding and pruning I also got two loads of laundry out on the line, I believe this is the first time in a month I've been able to get even one load out there.

Today I put up screens on the windows to keep the black fly out, and I am grateful that the maple in front of my west window has leafed out because it blocks the sun there. It is now hot enough to actually prefer not to get sun coming in the windows. I don't remember there being black fly in town when I lived here before, but they are certainly here now.

Can't work in the garden without a bugshirt and bugpants, but I have to take frequent breaks because it is so hot. I also have to wear rain boots because the lawn is so wet. When I was planting one of my garden frames I could hear the water running under the grass!

There is so much birdsong now too. I never used to like starlings but they are quite musical here. And of course the robins. Yesterday I heard a red winged blackbird in the field behind my back yard, that was great to hear. I love them. I don't see much of the cardinals these days but I do hear them a lot.

I watched a pair of blue jays getting it on in my maple a few days ago. They are cute together. One of them goes into the birdfeeder and gets seeds which he (she?) puts in the other one's beak. Ah, spring.

The Weatherman is still forecasting rain for the next week or so, this may only be a brief respite, we shall see. It sure has been nice though.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sam brings on the rain

It is Noah's ark time just about across the country now. Flooding in Manitoba and Quebec, rain everywhere. Here folks complain they will go crazy if it rains again tomorrow, which of course it does. Shades of the west coast!!! Thanks to major flooding along the Mississippi, Red and Assiniboine rivers a friend of mine says we can look forward to skyrocketing food, building material and insurance costs this summer.

I finally mowed my lawn on Saturday, I kept waiting for a dry day to do it and consulting the weather forecast for the best dry day available. But the weatherman kept moving the dry day out: first it was Thursday, then Saturday, then the following Wednesday, then the next Saturday. So I gave up and mowed in the wet. Got most of the lawn done except for one corner where I would have lost the borrowed mower in the deep water. The rest of the lawn looks quite ugly now, with deep muddy furrows where the mower wheels sank in. But it was either that or wait till the grass was well beyond knee high.

The plum tree outside my bedroom window is in blossom.

Sam is here till Wednesday. He sleeps till noon and presumably is up well past midnight; I wouldn't know, I collapse well before that. This visit is slower-paced than with Josh and Kim since Sam has less interest in sightseeing. We did go to the Harbour and to the town reservoir, but beyond that, not a lot of driving around.

Sam reconnected with an old elementary school friend (we moved away when he was in grade 3) who gave him a midnight walking tour of the town. The last time those boys saw each other was 18 years ago when they were both teenagers, it was kind of cute seeing them reconnect, they were both a little shy and wondering if they still had anything in common. But of course they did.

I will miss him when he leaves.

Friday, May 13, 2011

12 hours to stop Uganda’s anti-gay bill!

May 13 - From Avaaz.org:

Great news -- the bill has has been shelved! Together, we've won a major fight for equality and justice. Over 1.6 million of us signed the petition opposing the anti-gay bill, tens of thousands of us called our heads of state, and we helped make the attack on gay rights in Uganda a major international news story -- and it worked.

Today, under intense global pressure, the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament blocked the anti-gay bill from coming to a vote in the emergency session. Now Parliament has closed and the bill has been wiped from the books. It's not necessarily gone for good, but to be considered again, it would have to be reintroduced as a new bill and go through the whole Parliamentary process -- which took 18 months last time.

May 11 - From Avaaz.org:

We have 12 hours to save thousands of gay Ugandans from possible execution. On Wednesday, Parliament could pass a law that imposes the death penalty for homosexuality. An international outcry shelved this bill last year — if we can ramp up the pressure again and keep the gay death penalty law from reaching a vote this week, it will die when Parliament closes in 12 hours.

Click below to sign the petition:


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Don't complain, camp in the rain

I've been away on a great kayak camping trip in the rain the past 5 days, with 3 women friends in a wilderness area of this small province. We camped at water-access-only word-of-mouth-locations in the Milford Lakes area and had a great, if rather soggy, time. We each were responsible for 3 meals and the food was great. We brought along books for whiling away the time when it was too wet and windy to do anything else, and shared a crossword puzzle book for entertainment.

On Mother's Day my iPhone rang a couple of times with calls from farflung offspring, it was so bizarre to hear a phone ring in the wilderness!!

The black fly were out in hordes, but this is the very beginning of their season and they're young, they don't quite know the ropes yet. So they hang around your face and hands in buzzing clouds, but they seemed to bite almost by accident. We of course had bug shirts and bug dope for protection nevertheless. At night our tents were filled with the little buggers, but they seemed not to be aware of us, more concerned with finding a way out than finding a free meal.

But the paddling was sublime...


Another hiatus

Tonight I go to the airport to pick up my youngest son who is visiting for a week, so I may or may not find time to post more about the kayak trip.


I heard about this on CBC Radio yesterday, Jian Ghomeshi hosted a pretty heated debate between two feminists about the value of the Slutwalk phenomenon.

The first Slutwalk was held in Toronto on Sunday, April 3, as a response to a cop advising some women that to avoid sexual assault they should not dress like sluts. So a group of friends decided they had had it up to here with that kind of talk and ended up organizing a 3,000-strong protest march (more info here). Wow.

The debate is, some feminists feel that it can't be done, you can't rehabilitate the word "slut". It demeans and shames women, particularly young women. But some others feel, yes you can. It's been done for "queer", why not for "slut"? A young woman should not be shamed for wanting strut her stuff, what is so awful about that?

You know, I agree. They're right.

Sometimes, as a woman of a certain age, I am rather shocked by how some young women and girls dress. I could never do that. And sometimes I have that cop's thought, they are asking for trouble dressing like that.

But on the other hand I am fed up to here with a world and a society that thinks how you dress is a reflection of your character, and if your character doesn't measure up then you deserve whatever ill treatment someone else chooses to dish out. It's OK to assault a woman because she looks like a whore.

My god! It is not even OK if she is a whore! And just because she dresses in a way that makes some guy think of whores, is no excuse for anything. First of all, it is that guy who makes himself think that way, not the woman or her clothes. Second of all, even if he makes himself think that way still does not give him any excuse to think he can jump her without her consent. Even a whore. She does it for money, a guy has to pay for that, he can't just take it.

A woman has the right to dress however nicely or badly as she wants. You can disapprove, you can criticize, you can be shocked and appalled, you can even bar her entrance into your home or dress-code space. But you can't assault her. And as long as there are people who think that you can connect the dots between lust or disgust and assault then we have a big problem.

The language we use shapes our thinking. When we use words like "slut" or "whore" we conjure up certain images and we respond viscerally. Our visceral responses are our own responsibility, no one else's. We can change the meaning of words, we can change how we respond to those words. Language is alive, we can change it, we do not have to be prisoners to words.

So when they say they want to take back the word "slut", I agree with them. It's time.