Sunday, April 23, 2017

Maudie and the Very Good Day


Last night I went to see the movie Maudie, a wonderful gem of a film. Went on the internet afterward to look up stuff about Maud and Everett Lewis; the film stayed pretty true to what is known about them. At least one person in my writing group is from that part of this province (Digby area) and he knew folks who knew the Lewises. He said Everett had a pretty bad reputation, the movie cleaned him up a bit. Not surprising really, they wanted a love story. He probably loved her as best he could but his own background was not particularly loving. Poor old Everett hoarded the money Maud earned, had it stuffed away in jars and cans all over the place. In the end he was murdered by burglars looking for that money (I'm not giving anything away, that is not in the movie).

The actors did an amazing job of it, and lots of tears were shed during the showing. A man in the audience said he bawled all the way through. We humans are wired funny, the story of a woman who felt and expressed joy through most of her life and we cry. I thought the scene of her catching the chicken to slaughter for Everett's supper was priceless, summed up so much of her and left us wondering what was in that damn big cauldron every time she dished out Everett's supper through the rest of the movie.


Yesterday was a good day for a couple of reasons, the movie being one of them. The other was a text message from my youngest son saying he'd been accepted into the University of Victoria Masters program in Philosophy. He posted it on Facebook later, I saw that after the movie. He was over the moon.

He applied around Christmas and has been waiting to hear since then. One of his best school buddies had already been accepted into the same program and was even awarded fellowship money to do it, but Sam had not heard a word. He was barely keeping his head above water, prone to depression at the best of times. He only applied to the one program because that was all he wanted to do, anything else would have been second best and he wasn't prepared to go there unless first best was out of the question. Besides, each application costs money that he doesn't have. Anyway, not only was he accepted but they are offering him money to do it, even more than they offered his friend.

Why they took so long to tell him is a mystery, when I asked him that question he provided several possibilities, or "...the universe is just chaotic and uncaring of my desire for things to make sense."

He graduated from the BA program just before Christmas, fulfilling his goal of getting his degree before he turned 40 by just a hair. He got a job delivering newspapers in the middle of the night, the guy that drives around dropping off bundles for "newspaper boys" (these days they are adults with cars) to deliver door to door. Since he's on the west coast, that's morning time for me so we occasionally exchange text messages then. He takes Hapi's brother Hiro with him, we once exchanged photos of each other driving around with our respective malamutes in the back seat.

I'm not posting those pics here because while the dogs are very photogenic the people are not.

Anyway he was happy with the job as an interim thing, it is part-time and enough money to live on and pay the bills. But the growing fear that this might be all he was ever going to get with a BA in Philosophy was gnawing on him. Not that an MA in Philosophy will get him much more, but it really is the only thing he wants to do, he loves philosophy.

He started out in a 2-year Social Work Technician program because he had this idea for helping other young men find their way in life. At the end of the two years he could apply to go on for a BSW, but he had to write an essay on why he wanted to be a social worker to get into that program and it really pissed him off. I remember being a bit puzzled by that but he really really did not want to write that essay. So he switched to Psychology instead. He told me that friends had said that there were more jobs in Psych than Social Work and that was why he was switching. Really?!?

Then I heard he was doing a minor in Philosophy. A few months before graduating he admitted that actually he was doing Philosophy as his major. That he took one course in Philosophy and it changed his life, he couldn't do anything else. He said the Social Work program pissed him off, he just couldn't continue with it so he switched to Psychology hoping that would be better, but the course in Philosophy hit the sweet spot.

So I tell this story to friends (especially the bit about his philosophy degree landing him a job as a newspaper boy) and they laugh and shake their heads. It is funny and what good is a degree in philosophy anyway, who hires philosophers? But I am proud of him, not only for accomplishing this educational landmark but also for the choices he has made.

There was a time when a university education really was a higher education, but now it is mostly vocational. People go to university because these days you can hardly find a job without a degree. Why the H-E-double-hockey-stick kids (or their parents) are expected to pay for something that only accomplishes what a high school education used to accomplish is the cynical question I ask. But Sam I think did the right thing. He started out picking a program that might get him a job because that is how you are supposed to think about a university education, but somewhere along the line he realized what university should be for. He financed it through a combination of extreme frugality, part-time work and a small inheritance from his father.

My other sons have also accomplished things in life that I am very proud of too.


The oldest boy has been married for almost 20 years now, a strong relationship and two fine sons. He went through a kind of midlife crisis recently, wondering what he was doing and what he had accomplished, if anything. But just before Christmas he had an experience that really changed his thinking and made him realize that he was on track to really make a contribution in life that he could be proud of. I am proud of him for having that insight and for all the hard work he put in to get where he is today.

The middle son had a realization quite a while ago that dreams aren't accomplished unless you make the first difficult steps to put yourself on that particular road. He did that, and now in his middle age he is pretty much right where he wants to be. For him it meant realistically assessing what stood in his way and researching how to get around it. He came up with a plan and he followed it truly, making adjustments as necessary when new facts entered the equation. He was very fortunate in meeting the right person to accompany him on that journey and he too has a successful loving marriage with a wonderful daughter and another child on the way.


But today is Sam's day to shine.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The raven and the eagle

I was walking this afternoon by the Gaspereau canal with Hapi. An eagle flew by with a raven fluttering around it. Often the crows and ravens harass the eagles and I thought that was what was happening. I could hear the eagle whistling and the raven cawing, even when they had flown out of sight behind the trees. I began to wonder if this was really harassment or something else. Somehow their whistles and caws sounded friendly, as if they were having a conversation back and forth. I imagine an unusual friendship between a raven and an eagle as they fly together down the valley.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Moving right along


Spring proceeds apace. Today it is snowing but it is just little flakes that melt when they hit the ground, no accumulation. Supposed to stop soon, then I will take Hapi for her walk and go for lunch with a neighbour. I think we are going to a Korean place, which he says his daughter turns up her nose at because where she lives there are lots of Korean places and many are way better than our one Korean place, but it's good enough for us country bumpkins.

I've got crocuses and hyacinth in bloom, tulips up but not blooming. All the bulbs got moved twice in the last couple of years, the first time so one wall of my basement could be dug up and waterproofed, and the second time to move them back after the work was done. They seem to have survived nicely. I had transplanted them into my vegetable garden and some got left behind in the second move, so there are now flowers in amongst the garlic which is also emerging. I'll try to get the flower bulbs moved after they finish blooming.

Most of the male goldfinches that come to my bird feeder are now in their summer colours and swarming the feeder. Lots of activity. I have to double the amount of seed I put in the feeder at this time of year, and then as soon as the maple that it hangs from leafs out they stop coming. All the birds stop coming then and I take the feeder down until the fall. One squirrel tried to take advantage of the feeder but I tapped him on the back with a broom stick and he was so shocked he leaped ten feet down and six feet away from the tree. I haven't seen him since.

Hapi is no longer limping. I think when she realized that she wasn't going to get a walk until she stopped limping she decided to fake it. There was one day for sure that I saw her limp when she thought I wasn't looking, but as soon as I appeared with leash in hand she was jumping around like a puppy. Managed not to limp for the entire walk. Well, if she wants to fake it then I suppose she deserves it.

The dog that I have been dog sitting for (Hapi's admirer) on the other hand is not doing well. He now has two legs not working properly and both on the same side. I think this might not bode well for him. Fingers crossed though, he's a sweet dog. His owner has an appointment for him to get X-rayed next week if things do not improve.

I have been reading a book called Becoming a Writer, written by Dorothea Brande in 1934. She was ahead of her time I think, I've seen bestsellers published more recently that give the same advice as she did then. But she has one piece of advice I've never seen anywhere else. In her chapter on Writing on Schedule she gives two exercises. The first is to set a time of day and write for 15 minutes at that time every day. Doesn't matter what you write, the point is to create a habit not produce a handwritten gem. The second exercise is to get up early and write for 15 minutes then, also every day and in addition to scheduled writing time. OK, that sounds like common enough advice. But what makes it different is that she then says:

"If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy early as late."

Way to up the ante!

In other news, the American couple made an offer on a house not far from where I live and it was accepted, they take possession at the end of July. They are back in the USA now scurrying around I presume to get themselves moved.

Ah spring, things are stirring!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Limping along and happy returns

Twice this past week the hottest place in Canada has been right here. We're basking in it. It is definitely spring, we've had sun and warm weather for a week, flowers are up and grass is starting to turn green again. I wanted to do some planting today but a young woman digging in her garden down the street advised me not to, there's at least one more night of frost in the forecast.


Hapi has injured herself and is now confined to barracks. This has never happened to her before. On Tuesday I noticed she was limping slightly on our way home from the Reservoir Park (the picture above), I could only see it when she walked fast and I couldn't tell which leg she was favouring. The next day she seemed fine and we went to the ravine with a friend and her dog, there was still ice and snow in the woods there. Hapi ran around as if there was nothing wrong (perhaps showing off for the older male dog), but had a bit of difficulty jumping into the van for the trip home afterward. When we got home she was obviously in trouble, hesitating to jump down from the van and then obviously limping into the back yard. When I put her dinner out for her she was trying to figure out how to stand on three legs and eat at the same time. I thought she would have trouble getting down the basement steps that evening and might sleep on the main level instead, but she carefully manoeuvred down the steep steps to her basement bedroom. She hates sleeping upstairs!

So on Thursday as she hobbled back upstairs in the morning I decided she couldn't go walking again until the limp was gone. I massaged the leg she was favouring but could not see anything obvious and she didn't have any tender spots. She enjoyed the massage though. I found out in the process that her toes are webbed, I never knew that before! I guess it helps for walking on snow. So I don't know what the problem is or where, and I am reluctant to give her anything for pain because I don't want her running around making it worse. Just keep an eye on it I guess.

Two years ago an American couple who had moved here and gotten permanent resident status decided to move back to the USA. They had been here for a few years and had a lot of friends here, they are very nice people who make friends easily. But for a bunch of reasons they thought it made sense to go back. They still owned a house in the US and all their family was there. They sold their house here and moved back, but kept in touch and visited several times after they left the country. They're visiting now. House hunting. After two years they admit their mistake and are putting the US house up for sale. Going back "home" (well, at the time they thought it was) turned out as the old saying goes: you can't go back home again. They were used to the great social life and numerous friends they had here and going back just wasn't the same. No friends, no social life. Their family is scattered so it didn't really help that they were in the same country. Everyone who knows them here is delighted that they are coming back. They thought we would laugh at them. Well we are, but we are happy they are back too.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Refuge vows


It was my birthday a few days ago. I was not looking forward to it, if anything I was quite depressed about it. Funny how some birthdays mean nothing, some are happy events and some are dreadful. This was in the last category. My parents died in their 70s, neither saw their 79th birthday. I am now 10 years from that date with posterity, feeling my mortality in a big way. I know it's not rational, but it takes little excuse to get depressed. And it's not something one wants to talk about because everybody piles on with how silly you're being. Doesn't help, only makes it worse: not only am I depressed but I am also silly for being depressed.

Just so you know I am not depressed now, so I am not looking for advice.

A couple of days before my birthday I had a really bad dream. Trapped in a small fenced yard with someone shooting a gun at me. The bullets were really spots of grey-coloured liquid but I knew they were poison and the deadly effect would kick in very soon. Needless to say, I woke up breathless and stressed out. Went to the bathroom, got something to eat, had a drink of water and went back to bed trying not to think about it. Instead, I thought about all the things I'd ever failed at in life, all the things I had abandoned--you know--all the negative thoughts that come to you in the middle of the night when you're a little stressed out.

So one of those abandoned things was having taken buddhist refuge vows years ago and then promptly abandoned them. Supposedly lifelong vows, abandoned for something more interesting I guess. I tried to remember what they were. I spent a few minutes on that distraction and did manage to remember them. Thought about what they meant. It occurred to me that they weren't gone for good, I could always go back to them, if I so desired. That thought was actually comforting and shortly I was back to sleep again.

Next day I was supposed to go up the mountain to dogsit overnight. I thought I would just spend the time hanging out with the dogs and reading, so I looked through my books for something I haven't read in a while and might like to read again. In honour of the abandoned vows I chose a book about Buddhism that I remembered having enjoyed the first time but couldn't for the life of me remember the content. It was Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist, by Stephen Batchelor. Turned out to be a very good choice. So good in fact that it snapped me right out of the depression within the first couple of chapters.

In the evening the dogs and I sat out on the deck in the dark. One of them had a bone, the other just watched and listened. I tried to listen too, I don't know what she was listening to because I couldn't hear it, just silence. I felt alive.

The next day was my birthday and I went to an art show with a couple of friends and then to a local restaurant for a burger; April is Burger Wars month so a lot of restaurants are featuring hamburgers in a competition and a portion of the cost is donated to a children's charity. I think. Then we went to a pub for chocolate cake and wine.

I've been avoiding my writing group because the depression has stopped me cold. But the morning after my birthday one of the writing group members texted me to say she'd be walking by my house to go to the meeting and she'd knock on my door. I texted I hadn't written anything and she replied she'd knock anyways, I could come and critique. So I scrambled out of my PJs and brushed my teeth and was ready at the door with my jacket when she knocked. The sun came out and it was the warmest day we've had since last fall, and Environment Canada says we were the warmest place in the whole country that day!

Finally, winter is over. Even if it snows again, it's over.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Party on


Went to a surprise birthday party for a neighbour. Classic kitchen party, nobody in the living room, everyone jammed into a tiny kitchen. The obligatory guitar. Young Justin used to play with his family, they got a great compliment from Stomping' Tom Connors at a music festival. Justin has been playing with the family since he was just small, he plays mostly Country and Gospel, lots of stuff you can sing along to.

The birthday girl is camera shy and it shows, she never smiles and so photos of her rarely look as good as she is. Here's her birthday cake:


It's a diabetic cake, made with artificial sweetener. Half the people at the party are diabetic, the scourge of Nova Scotia. Tina, the host of the party, went all out to put it on. She adores our birthday girl.

There was a funny boundary between the kitchen and living room, a floor colour change. Hapi was scared of it. So we leashed her up and led her back and forth across the boundary until she wasn't scared of it anymore. She didn't like the crowdedness of the kitchen but she knew that was where the food was and the best chances of begging for sandwiches. I had to be strict with the partiers, no sweets, and only half an egg sandwich. She does her best imitation of a starved and abused dog to hook her victims.

And in other news, it continues to snow. At one point there was melting and I saw tulips trying to come up in my garden, but then it snowed again and they disappeared from view. I think they are still there though.

I am learning to play bridge in a neighbouring town where they have a friendly bridge club that welcomes total novices. A four hour session once a week that leaves me mentally drained, but it's interesting and fun. There are two people there who are the resident experts, so when I have a problem I can ask one of them what I should do. This past week myself and another newbie played against one of those experts and another longtime player. We of course lost big time, but I have yet to learn bridge scoring (it looks complicated) so half the time I have no idea how I'm doing. My partner though kept asking what the score was so that's how I know we were losing majorly. At one point she apologized to me for how badly we were doing but honestly I wasn't concerned, I am more interested in learning the game than winning it. I like that it is a partnership game, that it is a kind of secret language for communication; not only do you want to communicate with your partner but you also want to decipher your opponents' communication with each other. And I am learning that there are dialects; depending on which dialect a pair is using they might be saying quite different things. It's interesting and a good distraction from the general depression I am otherwise struggling with. And the endless snow.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Snow

It is still snowing, I am so tired of it.

Saps the energy right out of me, no motivation to do anything.

Hapi likes it though.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Things I don't know


Don't know why but am feeling paralyzed. I have lots I could be doing but I'm not. Don't feel like going out or socializing, don't feel like doing anything. Except sit in front of the fire and read or scroll through Facebook, looking for interesting links. Feels like an addiction I can't break.


Saw "Paterson" yesterday, a film about a bus driver who writes poetry. His name is Paterson and he lives in Paterson, NJ. Strange movie. Kept waiting for something to happen, and the background music was kind of ominous so I kept expecting something bad to happen. All the way through the bus driver writes poetry in a little notebook he carries around with him. His poetry seemed so ordinary that after the film was over I was thinking, Damn, I could write that stuff! I'm not a poet, I've never thought I could write poetry, ever. Until last night. That's more about how ordinary his poems were than my ability to write poetry, which as far as I know is just as nonexistent as it ever was.


Saturday night I volunteer ushered at a performance of the Vienna Boys Choir. They break the choir up into small touring groups, so we only saw twenty-four (or five, not sure) boys. Their voices are like female soprano voices, but different. Can't say what was different, just was. I'm not musically literate. Mostly Austrian boys but also some from other countries around the world: Japan, Mexico, Germany, USA, and so forth. It was very enjoyable and the house was packed. We ushers were very busy.


After the performance three of us went out for drinks at a local pub (Joe's). One of the women is someone I don't really know that well but at one point I asked her a question, I think I asked her something about her childhood, or where she grew up or something like that, and she began to tell us about her life. She is francophone and has a lovely musical voice, but very quiet and we were in a noisy pub (full of students) so it was hard to hear. Anyway it was an interesting story and it made us all think about Life.


She told me that she was glad I had asked her out for a drink after the show because she liked me and wanted to know me better. I was enthralled with her story. It made me think about my own life in a different way. I think I am still digesting it. There's an art show going on in a nearby town and she has some paintings in it, I would like to go see them.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Thoughts on a Facebook link I read today


When something seems blatantly obvious to you and yet you know that there are people out there with the same access to knowledge as you but radically different opinions on the subject, it is sometimes mind-wrenching. How can people believe that? Don't they know [X]?? What kind of nutcases are they anyway? Or, maybe they're just Evil.

Years ago I had the experience of driving across the northern USA in a truck that had undiagnosed mechanical problems. Randomly, it wouldn't start. I'd camp somewhere and it wouldn't start in the morning. I'd stop for a rest break and it wouldn't start when I was ready to move on. But randomly, I never knew when it was going to happen. I had tried to get it diagnosed and fixed before I left on this trip but to no avail. As it turned out it was a relatively simple problem and cheap fix; something about the ignition computer? Whatever. I didn't know my 1991 truck even had a computer, but it did.

Back to the story. The upside of travelling with a mechanical problem is that you find out the kindness of strangers. Lots of people tried to help me. In Wisconsin I ended up spending a weekend camped on the front lawn of a family that really tried hard to help me. The fellow virtually dismantled my truck trying to locate the problem. At one point he thought he had fixed it and I left the next morning. I stopped at the next town for gas and the truck wouldn't start. I knew this guy had a tow truck, I phoned him and he and his wife came to bring me and my truck back to their place so he could figure out what wasn't working. On the trip back the three of us were crammed into the cab of the tow truck and they began to tell me about their religious beliefs. They belonged to a small but wealthy evangelistic Christian sect that among other things believed in The Rapture but not in Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Anyone who knows me knows that my beliefs are pretty much the polar opposite to theirs. So I sat there quietly listening, not wanting to bite the hand that was currently trying to help me out.

In listening, I got where they were coming from, I understood why they believed what they did and I even kind of agreed with them. Out of Darwin's theory comes Social Darwinism, the so-called Survival of the Fittest. Competition is all, and to hell with those who are not Fit enough to Survive. Not that most proponents of the theory of evolution believe that now, but it is an unfortunate extension of the original theory to human history. In Darwin's time it was entirely believable, some people, some races of people, are just not Fit enough to Survive and we do the Fitness of the Human Race as a whole a disservice by trying to help them. My benefactors obviously did not believe that at all, otherwise they would have just shrugged their shoulders at my misfortune. I ended up going to church with them on Sunday and learned some more. This was in the Bush era and they had a photo of President Bush in the lobby of their church. They also had photos of various young members of their congregation currently serving in Iraq lining the back of the church hall. After the service the pastor's wife introduced me to each one of them, clearly in pain about the possibility of losing them. Several people took me aside to whisper they wouldn't be voting Republican again, they were deeply disappointed in Bush. They had wanted an end to abortion and homosexuality and they got a war in Iraq instead.

It helps to understand where people with opposing opinions are coming from. Sometimes there is an element of truth in what they are saying, it helps to find something to agree on. We will never have peace and freedom until we do.

So all of that is just a preamble to something I read (on Facebook) today. Here is the link:

This Man Hiked the Entire Route of the XL Pipeline

In this article the man is being interviewed about what he experienced and learned in the course of his hike and he talks about the different attitudes toward fossil fuels and climate change that he encountered during his hike. The following paragraph about some climate change deniers really struck me:

"These are folks who see themselves as hardy, self-sufficient, small government individualists. If you believe in climate change, you’re giving in to the idea of government coming in to fix things, collective action to impose greenhouse gas limits, and reining in the evils of the free market with stricter regulation. This conflicts with so much of that heartland identity."

The link between individualism and climate change denial was made clear to me. Living in a country where we don't have such a strong belief in rugged individualism and we see the value in government-provided welfare and healthcare, it is nevertheless clear that there is a price for that. We have more regulation and less personal freedom, more personal taxes and less emphasis on self-reliance. And if we accept the belief that drastic climate change is human-caused and ultimately disastrous for humanity, then we also have to accept the belief that humanity as a whole has to do something about it. Self-reliance and rugged individualism is not going to accomplish that, like it or not we will have to resort to Big Government Regulation to enforce the kind of drastic change necessary. I get that that is a tough nut to swallow for people used to taking care of themselves and disliking infringement on personal freedoms.

There are over seven billion of us now, and growing. In spite of progress made in birth control and birth rate reductions this number will only increase in the foreseeable future. We live on a planet that is not really setup for those numbers and in the natural order of things there would be considerably fewer of us in a balanced natural ecology. North America is an enclave of relatively low human population living in a very large area. Granted, most of it is not suitable for human habitation, but still. Preserving that luxury by building walls around us might work in the short term but long term it is not a solution. Our future here is inextricably linked to the future of humanity everywhere on the planet. Due to the huge number of us that is going to mean more government-enforced regulation, not less. I totally get the sense of loss of freedom. In my own lifetime I remember greater freedoms a few decades ago than exist now. It is sad. I don't like it. We have to do it.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Little house in the woods


I am house-sitting/dog-sitting. Murph is a 13-year-old labradoodle who has a lot of difficulty standing and walking due to arthritis. But he really likes Hapi and that motivates him to stand up and walk. His owner tells me that in his heyday he'd be mounting her and she wouldn't like that, but getting up on his hind legs is a bit beyond him now so Hapi likes him.

When I first arrived I brought along a cooler of food, including some pork for Hapi's dinner. Then I went out to visit a neighbour, leaving the cooler in the house with Murph. Bad idea. He opened the cooler and ate all the pork. So I'm a little more careful about leaving food where he can get at it, the cooler is now in the car. Murph likes chewing bones but he doesn't eat them. After he's done chewing Hapi takes the bone and eats it. Murph is okay with that.

We went for two walks today, once up the road and once down the road. Murph does his best to keep up but he's an even slower walker than I am. Hapi leaves us both in the dust. On the walk down the road, Hapi crawled into a culvert under the road. She loves culverts and if they are big enough she crawls in. I'm scared she's somehow going to end up trapped under the road but so far it hasn't happened. Murph thought it was interesting but he wasn't about to follow her. We got to a stream and I went off the road to look at the stream, the dogs followed. Then Murph started barking, there was a woman walking down the stream towards us. I thought she looked familiar and sure enough it was someone I knew. Here I am in the middle of nowhere and a friend comes out of the woods towards me. She told me that there was a waterfall further up the stream out of sight from the road and it was a favourite place of hers to just go and sit. I'd have liked to go see but I didn't think Murph would make it so another time I guess.

We walked back to the house I was staying at. My friend said she thought it was a cute house, at least from the outside. I said it was cute inside too, I was quite enjoying staying there.

Tomorrow I go home. It's going to be cold and my car battery is old so I don't know if it will start. We'll see.

Same place as shown in previous blog post.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Steal Away Home


I think we got all of our February snow in one week, since then it's been melting and evaporating (lots of fog). In that one week we got almost as much snow as we did in February of the Dreadful Winter of 2015. It sure felt like it! But a lot of it is gone now, and there are no big storms forecast for the near future. I bought new skis and snowshoes last week but I may not get to try them out until next winter.

Since the week of blizzards I've only been able to shovel for a few minutes at a time before I start getting chest tightness, but no other strenuous activity affects me that way. I have a theory about that. I think I have a hiatal hernia and the twisting motion of shovelling just corkscrews my stomach up through my diaphragm causing the hernia to get worse. So right now I am concentrating on deep breathing from the abdomen to strengthen my diaphragm and a form of self-massage to help push my stomach back down where it belongs in order to relieve the hiatal hernia.

A couple of days ago I went to an author reading associated with Black History Month here. The book was Steal Away Home and the author Karolyn Smardz Frost. It was so much better than I expected! Quite an amazing experience in fact!

First of all, the author was introduced by Lynn Jones, a prominent black Nova Scotian activist, an amazing person herself. I'd never heard of her before (I am woefully ignorant of such things), but she radiated joyful wisdom and loving attention, her critical message couched in gentle but direct terms. She started by saying that in her culture it was appropriate to ask permission of the Elders present before speaking, so she was going to do that first thing. She said you are an Elder if you think you are and then asked permission to speak. She got a firm and loud "Yes!" Then she spoke about how her people followed an arduous journey seeking freedom, and that in coming to what would soon become Canada they brought a huge contribution to Canadian life that deserved honour and recognition. She believed that Karolyn Smardz Frost's book gave honour and recognition to that contribution and deserved to be widely distributed and read. She then lead us in singing the traditional spiritual "Steal Away Home" for which the book was titled.

Karolyn (I'm going to refer to her by her first name because it's simpler) then told us about the subject of her book, Cecelia Reynolds. She did a little bit of reading but mostly she told us the story. Clearly she loved her subject and was very excited to tell us about Cecelia. Her love and excitement was contagious, I don't think anyone left that event unaffected.

Cecelia was a 15 year old slave who left Kentucky to journey to Toronto in search of freedom. She was aided in her journey by a very sophisticated system known as the Underground Railroad. Like many former slaves who successfully journeyed to freedom she then spent a good deal of her life aiding others to make the same journey. Karolyn is an archaeologist who was involved in the excavation of the first Underground Railroad station in Canada, in downtown Toronto. It was the home of one of the men who helped Cecelia and who she eventually married. He was heavily involved in helping other slaves on their journeys to freedom. At one point he even travelled to Australia to participate in the 1852 gold rush there to make money to pay for the release of slaves in the United States.

There were several things I was struck by that evening. One was Lynn Jones' reference to her people as freedom seekers. They weren't escaping, they weren't runaway slaves, they were freedom seekers: heroes. A twist in one's way of thinking about what was happening there. Another was the sophistication of the Underground Railroad. I rather had the impression that this was somehow the work of idealistic do-gooder whites but it wasn't. It was a widespread movement of both free and enslaved African people who worked behind the scenes to help any freedom seekers find their way. While slave owners permitted some slaves to learn to read, allowing them to learn to write was strictly forbidden for fear that slaves would use that knowledge to escape.

The first thing Cecelia did after attaining her own freedom was to learn to write (she could already read). She used that skill to write to her former owner to negotiate the release of her mother and brother. There was an extensive written exchange between them, a few of those letters still survive and are probably the only letters extant between an owner and a former slave. In any case the letters were couched in affectionate terms but the owner insisted on an exorbitant price for the release of Cecelia's remaining family (her father had been literally "sold down the river" as retaliation for her escape).

I also learned a lot about black history both in Canada and in the United States. It's not the same as what is taught in schools, or at least what was taught when I was in school. The evening was definitely an eye opener. History is in the eye of the beholder, depending on who is telling it the story can be quite different.



Saturday, February 18, 2017

Blizzard fatigue

Sorry, no photos today. For some reason I have an aversion to photographing huge accumulations of snow. I have a mountain in my front yard that blocks the view, if we get some nice sunny weather I am going sledding on it.

It's been a long exhausting week, three blizzards in 6 days, one of which set snowfall records in some places. People who were here for White Juan in February 2004 say it doesn't top that, but I think the three blizzards (starting Thursday night, Sunday night and Wednesday night) in 6 days probably does. Environment Canada says there is 77cm of snow on the ground now in Kentville, but they got less snow during the big storm (36cm) than Wolfville (54cm), so I think we probably have more on the ground now. My snowplough guy came 4 times to clear my driveway, he ran out of space on my property to shove the snow so then he started piling it across the street in front of another house he ploughs for. Somewhere under the 250cm of hard packed snow is a sidewalk, don't think that will be getting cleared anytime soon! No one uses the sidewalk on my street in wintertime anyway, too steep and slippery. There's not a lot of car traffic so people just walk in the road, people living on busier nearby streets come to my street to walk down the hill on the road because their sidewalks are just as bad but the car traffic heavier.

In addition to heavy snowfall there have been high winds, these blizzards are called Nor'easters and they don't mess around. They are storms that come up the east coast and then hit a cold front north of us and curl around and wallop us from behind with high winds and heavy snow, ice pellets or rain, depending on location. Halifax and the South Shore usually get snow followed by rain, turning that city into a disaster of snow drifts, ice and thick slush. In Cape Breton they get les suetes: really strong southeast winds.

In the winter of 2015, two years ago, we had an unrelenting series of Nor'easters that left us in the same spot we are in now and delayed spring by over a month. There was still snow on the ground in May which is unusual, it's usually all gone by early April. It started in February and didn't quit until mid-April, the snow kept accumulating because there were never any thaws to melt it. So now we are looking at these storms and all the snow piled everywhere and wondering if we're in for another winter like that. But the good news is that we have a week of relatively warm weather ahead of us, even the possibility of rain showers. It will put a bit of a dint in the accumulation but even better it is a good sign that this winter won't be a repeat of 2015 when there was no thawing at all.

Before the last blizzard I started getting chest tightness and dizziness while shovelling. I managed to get things more or less tidied up before quitting, but after the third storm the chest tightness and dizziness returned when I tried to dig out my car, so I stopped. A few friends that I told this too freaked out and told me to go to Emerge immediately. I resisted. Someone accused me of being in denial. I was sure that was not it, if anything I'm more of a hypochondriac than a denier. I recalled my last time going to Emerge for what appeared to be a heart problem and how it turned out to be for nothing, plus I ended up with complications due to a botched angiogram (nicked my femoral artery). Yesterday I remembered that I had blogged about that whole episode (scattered through February and March 2010 if you want to look it up yourself) so I went back and read the relevant posts. Among other things I read the final diagnosis for that episode and realized that it was the same thing this time. I looked it up on the internet just to be sure and it is. Something called LPR or "silent reflux," a form of acid reflux without the classic heartburn sensations that mimics a heart attack almost exactly. Among the warning signs is coughing and hoarseness, which I have had lately but considered minor and irrelevant. So it turns out that there is a good reason to keep a blog: medical records!

My snow plough guy has 4 kids under 7, they all came down with stomach flu at once. Then he and his wife got it and his mother-in-law too because they were staying with her while their house was being renovated. And on top of that he was busy around the clock with ploughing snow for a week. He's almost a zombie now. I didn't know how I was going to get my car dug out with the chest issue but he brought along a neighbour to dig out my car. I have students living next door to me, one of them had offered last year to do anything I wanted by way of help and I would have asked him to do it except I didn't know his phone number and there was no path into his house that didn't involve floundering through 100cm drifts. He reminded me of his promise when I met him on the street yesterday, almost offended that I hadn't called him. I must get his phone number.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Snow, and a little bit of ice time


In the midst of a blizzard right now, completely snowed in. I can see the road (just barely), and I think it is drivable (just barely), but the snow in the driveway is well over a foot deep and it's supposed to keep coming down for another 24 hours or so with high winds the whole time. Hapi is sleeping outside, it's quiet and just the right temperature for her.

I've been skating and skiing this past week, although I think the ice rink is obliterated now. A big snow storm on Friday, one today (Monday), and another one due on Thursday; the ice rink snow shovelers are not going to have an easy time of it. Too bad, fun while it lasted though. The photo above was taken by another woman (Sue) skating at the time, that's me slightly behind a third woman (Sarah).

The skiing is another story. I went out with a friend yesterday and the conditions were perfect but my skis were not. Even with a special coating to slow them down, they are too fast and out of control for me. I even went to the store where I bought them and they tested them and determined that they are the wrong skis for me. I tried several pairs that they had in stock that looked like they might work for me (shorter and wider) but they weren't perfect and the guy (Frank) advised me to come back when their Ski Tech Bill was in to test further. Frank was on his last day before taking 3 months parental leave and was very excited about the prospect of 3 months with his two little ones (premature 3-month-old and a 13-month-old: what a handful!). He and his wife got 2 years parental leave (2 one-years back-to-back); she's taking the lion's share but he gets a few months.

Anyway, while waiting to see the Ski Tech Bill I went out one more time with the old skis and while it was better than the first time when there was not much snow on the ground, it was still pretty out of control. I fell several times again. My friend Patti tried to help me up the second time and it was quite funny. I was already quite tired (we'd been out the night before celebrating our boss's birthday) and it was on a slope and the snow was soft and deep so I was trying to get up from a position where my head was lower than my feet. It would have been easier if I could have gotten the skis off but I had no leverage to release the bindings. Not to mention also being tangled in a low bush.

It certainly didn't help that we were laughing so hard at the ridiculousness of the situation.

The last time I fell was right by the road as we were returning to my car. Patti was skiing down the ditch by the side of the road and I went to follow her but slipped and fell. I did manage to get the skis off this time but the snow in the ditch was over two feet deep and I immediately sank in over my knees. I was almost literally trying to swim out of that ditch onto the shoulder of the road. I had parked at a church across the road and several people came out of the church to watch me.

Great, an audience!

The day before I took Hapi to the Kentville ravine, a popular dog walking spot. It's an old-growth hemlock forest with a brook running through it. Often inaccessible in the winter because the only trail in is on a steep slope and gets pretty icy after a few people and their dogs have used it. But after a fresh snow it's good.

This is looking down from the entrance trail into the ravine.

This gives an idea of the tree size in the ravine, Hapi for scale. Snowshoers had been through an hour or so before me so the trail was packed down enough to walk on without snowshoes.

Sometimes she just stops to listen to the silence.

I just looked out the window again, can't see the road anymore. Complete whiteout. The province is closed until further notice.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Winter sports I have survived


One of my sons gave me a year's subscription to the New Yorker for Christmas, the first issue arrived this week. I'm not sure I want to be reading about what is happening south of the border this coming year but hopefully there will be lots of other stuff to read in the magazine.

Came in from X-country skiing quite exhausted. I'm a terrible skier with unsuitable skis (too fast), but stupidly determined to master them. Sorry, no photos. Too busy trying not to fall (fell three times) and then struggling to get back up again. And of course I was out with a very good skier who had to keep doubling back to see what had happened to me. It was definitely a workout for me but not so much for her.

On the other hand I went skating on a pond yesterday, that was great. Haven't skated in a few years and I'm only marginally better at it than I am at skiing, but it was good. Hapi went with me, she kept pace with me trotting along in the snow beside the ice until it got boring and she went off into the woods to look for more interesting things.


Somebody cleared an oval skating path and a hockey rink inside the oval. I think this must be the first time anyone has done that, I've never seen anyone skating on this pond, although people tell me it has been done before.

Parts of the ice were very smooth, others a little bumpy. The hockey rink was freshly cleared and I tried skating on it, but the ice made these horrible noises like it was about to break up and I did not feel safe in the middle of the pond. I was told that it was perfectly safe, the noise was just the ice freezing after being exposed to the cold air after the insulating snow was removed.


Falling on ice is harder than falling on snow, but somehow more manageable (I didn't fall). At least I don't have to deal with big sticks attached to my feet. We were only out on the ice for less than an hour, when I got home and was taking off the clothes and emptying the pockets I realized I had lost my driver's licence. It was in the same pocket as my cell phone, and I took the cell out several times to take photos. One of those times the licence must have fallen out. So I had to go back to the pond and look for the licence. A little white card somewhere in the snow. Amazingly I did find it without too much effort! I backtracked to the places I had stopped to take photos and it was at the second spot I checked, just sitting there on top of the snow.


Got the warp on the loom and started weaving. I don't know if you can see the pattern in this picture, but it is called Goose Eyes. I also cut up the previous warp (see this post for a photo) into three pieces (three tea towels), and pinned the hems ready for sewing. Any day now I'll finish them...

Sunday, January 29, 2017

All dressed up and ready to go


The warp is on the loom. All dressed up and ready to go!

There were a few issues--missing warp threads, misplaced warp threads, tangling--but they are hopefully resolved. The remaining issue is that the warp is wider than the loom (30" on 27" loom). I am hoping that 10% shrinkage (the rule of thumb for such things) will take care of that. We shall see.

Right now I am just very pleased that it is on the loom.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Trying to find balance


Busy week socially, so did not make much progress on the loom. Still sleying the reed although with a bit of luck I may finish that tonight. Only 30 threads to go.

I had my needlework group, my book club, my walking group and the writing group all meeting this week, plus a visit to the massage therapist, a book reading by Lisa Moore and a trip out to Waterville to get kindling for the woodstove.

In the needlework group I took a piece of knitting that I have been working on forever, or at least since 2001. That's almost forever. I had not been at the group for quite some time so there was some catching up to do with old knitter friends. One person asked about the weaving and then it turned out that one of the newer members of the group is a retired professional weaver who offered to help me wind the warp on my loom. Winding the warp can be done singlehandedly but is better done with another person, so that offer is fabulous. Hope she's not holding her breath for me to call because I'm nowhere near ready for that step.

In the book club we discussed Room, a novel about a fairly awful situation that does not dwell on the unpleasant details and is in fact quite uplifting. Some members did not want to read the book because they knew the topic and couldn't bear to have to read about it, and then were pleasantly surprised that the book itself just wasn't that awful. A sensitive and insightful look at how one adjusts to "normal life" after having lived a very abnormal life for an extended period of time. Our next book is History's People by Margaret MacMillan which I have already started reading. The second chapter is called Hubris and is about leaders who are so convinced of their own rightness that they cannot brook any compromise or opposition. I've just started that chapter and I have to say the individuals described remind me of no one so much as Donald Trump. The book was written well before the last American presidential election campaign so I'm pretty sure the author did not have that intention, but it is interesting.

The walking group went to the KenWo golf course and we did a circuit that avoided the worst of the ice. Hapi loved it. Someone else brought their dog, a little dog that she kept on leash at first but eventually let loose and he charged after Hapi. He seemed to enjoy following the much bigger dog around.

The massage therapist seems to be doing me some good, at least for several days after the appointment the pain was much reduced. I'll be going back in a few days.

A whole bunch of us from the needlework, book club and walking groups met at the book reading and decided to go out for a drink afterward, it was quite fun. I haven't been out with a group of people for drinks in a very long time.

With all the socializing I just didn't have much time for weaving or writing, so those things are stalled for the moment. It is hard to find the right balance of socializing and getting stuff done that requires a certain amount of solitude. I did meet with the writing group but I didn't read anything. It is just about as interesting to listen to other people's stories. It's like having a bunch of soap operas on the go, I want to hear the next installment.

The trip to pick up kindling also involved walking Hapi in a new location. We were following the rail trail which is long and straight and boring, but there was a side trail onto a large farm. Basically the roads that the farmer uses to get around to his various fields, all posted with signs: Private Property, Stay On Trail. So I turned northward in hopes that this farm extended to the river and the trail would take us there. It actually extended across the river but I only went as far as the bridge and then looped back to the rail trail. It was a cloudy day, not quite foggy but with low clouds that obscured the view so I actually got disoriented by the twisting of the farm roads. I ended up back on the rail trail but headed the wrong direction before I figured out my mistake. On the way back to the car we passed several industrial sites--scrap yards, storage yards, truck depots, the rear sides of woodworking and other establishments. Hapi left the trail to explore those places. Industrial wasteland is more interesting to her than a narrow straight trail from point A to B. I'd catch glimpses of her between the trees loping along looking like a wolf. She got back to the car before I did and was waiting for me.


I didn't get much sleep last night because Hapi decided to sleep on my bed and she takes up a lot of space. If I try to kick her off she waits until I have fallen asleep and then jumps back on, waking me up in the process. I tried to sleep in another room but couldn't do it, I woke up after a few hours and just couldn't get back to sleep until I moved back to the other bed. She could easily sleep in her doghouse outdoors because her fur coat is so thick, but then she would think I was punishing her for something. The older she gets the more she wants to just be with me. The first couple of years that I had her she never came indoors and aside from walking and feeding her it didn't really feel like I had a dog, just a canine presence in the backyard.

Today I am simmering the carcass of a Christmas turkey that a neighbour gave me. She was going to throw it out so I asked for it. It's not nearly done yet but smells wonderful. There was quite a lot of meat left on the carcass so I will probably eat some of that tonight, maybe make a couple of turkey sandwiches and then throw the rest back into the broth after I've removed the bones.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Wolf Moon


We had a blizzard with lots of snow. I went snowshoeing.


Then we had a thaw and it all melted. I went walking.


This latest full moon was called the Wolf Moon. Full moons always bring higher high tides, this afternoon I was out on the dike along the Cornwallis River with my dog and took some photos of the high tide.


This was higher upriver than I usually go, it is strange to see the river almost overflowing its banks due to a high tide.


I was there for the turning of the tide, shortly after I photographed the high water I could see it visibly ebbing and the current of the river became quite strong again.


My latest weaving project is still progressing slowly. I have threaded the heddles and have started sleying the reed. That is going only marginally faster than threading the heddles.

I am working on my fantasy story again, I wrote a chapter for my last writing group meeting and started a following chapter but quickly bogged down. My main character is confused about what to do next and apparently so am I. However I got some encouragement and suggestions from the group which I will work on.

One of our members started this morning's session by telling us what happened to him last week. He read his story to us and then he says he remembered nothing after that until he was standing outside looking for his car. He said he was confused about where he was, what he was doing, even what day it was. He managed to get home and told his wife about it, she was concerned. Then he phoned one of our writing group and asked her if he had been behaving oddly, because he had no memory at all of how our meeting went after his turn reading out loud. She encouraged him to call his doctor which he did, and the doctor thought he had had a mini-stroke. He has decided to do nothing about it; aside from the memory loss he doesn't feel anything else happened to him. His doctor thinks the mini-stroke may have been triggered by stress due to the nature of the material he was reading to us.

I don't remember anything odd about his behaviour or appearance last week. I was sitting beside him and I noticed nothing. I know we spoke briefly to each other but I can't actually say whether it was before or after he read his piece. It is disconcerting to think that he was having a significant health event only a few feet away from me and I noticed nothing.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Another year

I have been thinking about making changes in 2017. I think that my best chance at success is to not be too drastic.

Two things I want to address are sugar and TV. In the evening I watch more TV than I would like, and while I am watching I snack, often on sugary stuff. I never used to have a sweet tooth, but it seems to have grown over the past few years. I think that sitting around watching TV is conducive to mindless snacking. So my goal is to reduce the TV time and the sugar consumption.

So far I have to say that cutting out sugar is at least as hard as, if not harder than, quitting smoking. I tell myself one day at a time, and, I don't have to eliminate it just cut it back. I think that finding something else to do in the evening than watch TV is going to be key. If I am busy I don't snack. I thought I would try not watching TV every other night, but judging by tonight I think that is going to be harder than I imagined.

On another topic, I had a helluva time with the warp on my loom. It got quite tangled and took a long time to untangle. At which point I realized I was missing half a dozen threads. I think I have it fixed but it is still a long way from finished and I won't really know if my fix worked until I get it all on the loom. Slow progress.

I took a break from my writing group (and writing) over the holiday season but went back last night and this morning. Which meant I had to write something. I decided on another Bedtime Story, which worked out pretty well. So far I have three Bedtime Stories, although one is divided into three parts (three nights), so I suppose I have five Bedtime Stories. Sort of. I am aiming for ten. I started rereading The Wheel of Time and was kind of surprised at the similarities between that and my own fantasy story, a little dismaying. You think you have totally made something up out of thin air and it turns out you didn't.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Watershed

Hapi on the earthen dam of the Wolfville watershed lake

I often take Hapi to the Wolfville Reservoir, which is really only an emergency reservoir now as Wolfville gets its water from drilled wells near the dykes. When I lived here in the '70s and '80s there was no public access because it really was the town water reservoir. But the real source of water was the Wolfville Reservoir up on Gaspereau Mountain, which was piped down the mountain, across the Gaspereau Valley and the Wolfville Ridge to the town. I don't know if it fed the in-town reservoir or went somewhere else, but the pipe is no longer maintained and the old reservoir on Gaspereau Mountain became the Nature Conservancy, or Wolfville Watershed.

The photo above is the Old Wolfville Reservoir at the heart of the Conservancy/Watershed, which Hapi and I visited yesterday. We followed a couple of trails along the lake and into the woods. It was a cold clear day and there were quite a lot of other people (and dogs) there too. The trails were quite icy. I met three people and their two dogs on one trail, they asked if the trail circled around the lake and I told them that it did not. I've been on this trail several times, initially in hopes that it did circle around the lake but now I know that it does not. So they said that in that case they would head back to the lake and follow the Havey Trail. I'd never heard of that trail so I asked them where it was and they gave me directions. We didn't go, but I made a note of it for another time.

On the trail

At one point I lost Hapi and had to backtrack to find her. She'd found a frozen rabbit carcass and was busy scarfing it down, ignoring my insistent calls to Come. She did not eat her supper last night and this morning her tummy is growling loudly, I do believe it is the rabbit.

On the way home I deeked into the grocery store one last time in 2016 and met a couple, Peter and Anne, that I hadn't seen in a while. We chatted about various things including weaving (turns out Peter is a weaver which I didn't know before) and various aging issues. They had moved from their farm into town and I asked them how that was working out. They found living in town a big adjustment but the town they moved to was a good choice. Anne invited me to drop in any time, "the tea kettle is always on."

I have survived Christmas and New Years for another year. I was invited to two parties for New Years Eve, one of them was a group of single women and the other a large group of Gaspereau neighbours. I did not have the emotional stamina for a large party of mostly couples so had my heart set on the other party, but unfortunately the host came down with a fever and had to cancel. So I didn't go to any parties. I did go for an hour up the street to a neighbour's place and we shared glasses of The Captain (Captain Morgan rum, her favourite). Edna urged me to drink more and was appalled that I put more coke than rum in the glass, but her son admonished her to stop bullying me and let me set my own limits. He's a teetotaller. He had a late Christmas present for Hapi, a squeaky tennis ball, but it was way past Hapi's bedtime and she was only marginally interested.

I went to bed before midnight and there must have been fireworks because when I woke up at 3.00am she was camped outside my bedroom door (she usually sleeps in the basement) and had peed in the kitchen. I invited her onto my bed, she would never come in or get up on the furniture without being invited. But she did get up on the bed and hung out there for maybe half an hour. Then I guess her courage returned and she spent the rest of the night outside in her doghouse.

Hapi recovering her courage

I have started dressing the loom for another project, I will post photos another time. Basically a warp for two small rugs in a goose eye pattern with a warp in two colours, a dark blue grading into a dark red from one side to the other. It is experimental in several ways: the warp colours, the sett which is tighter than it should be in hopes of making a stiffer rug, and the width which is actually wider than the loom itself but I think will shrink down to the allowable width (27") hopefully before it winds around the cloth roller at the front of the loom. Since the warp is long enough for two rugs, I may vary the basic goose eye pattern for the second one to something else, we'll see.