Friday, August 4, 2017

Quitter! (Part 1)

Soda pop

So, about 300 days ago, I quit drinking pop.* 

Screen cap from my Quit for Health app.
I'd had a one-a-day habit for years. I started with Diet Coke in my teens (more like three-a-day back then), but after I drank way too much aspartame pulling an all-nighter in Uni, I switched to the full-on sugar version. Never a coffee-drinker, I settled into the habit of drinking one Coke (or an occasional Dr. Pepper) in the morning to get myself going.

Or, if I was trying not to drink pop first thing, or at all (both of which I attempted many times), it would be my fall back emotional safety net if things got bumpy in the middle of the day.

I resorted to it if I felt sad. Or angry. Or if I needed energy. Or if I needed to dig deep to find one last burst of cheerfulness to get me through the day.

I thought quitting was going to be a miserable experience. I thought I would become a total ogre and that everyone would hate me.

Quitting was hard, don't get me wrong. I probably looked at my quit app hourly (or more often than that!) for the first couple of weeks. And for a couple of months, I would say my mood was a little darker than usual, but not ogre-calibre. As the months have gone on, I feel like my more-or-less usual self without needing those bursts of sugar – which I used to think were an integral part of me, something I couldn't possibly live without.

This far into the Year of Quit, I don't really think about it anymore. I think I've transformed into a person who doesn't drink pop.

And just look at that screen cap up there to see the amount of sugar I have not consumed in 300 days – over 11 KILOGRAMS! That's more than 5 and a half of those bags of white sugar you buy at the grocery store. Terrifying. And I thought nothing of it for years and years.

It's kind of amazing. And it's probably the first time in my life that I am glad to think of myself as a quitter.

*In the interest of absolute accuracy and transparency, I have been 98.5% pop-free for the past 300 days. Which means I have had pop four times, once by accident and the other times when I was feeling unbearably cranky. Nobody's perfect, and 98.5% is close enough for me.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

July #Banjoy

A friend shared this on FB. I love the stripped down instrumentation of banjo and cello. And fab vocals!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Garden update

One of my Nana's ways of saying "How are you?" was to ask "How does your garden grow?" 

Of course, I rarely had a literal garden. Now, I wish Nana were able to see these photos and witness my development as a gardener. I am still pretty small potatoes, but rather proud of myself and happy with the way things are going. 

Of course, gardens are a fine metaphor for life (as my Nana well knew), and so, results are mixed. 

My tomatoes and beans are doing really well:

Tomatoes, marigolds and sweet williams (I don't have a flower garden, but love having some flowers scattered in with my veggies. The marigolds are there for their pest-deterring properties; the sweet williams are there because I love them.)

A flourish of beans (I have a hummingbird who comes around to whirr at the stained glass in my window. I hope it will soon discover my scarlet runner beans – much more satisfying)
Of course, some things haven't gone so well. The slugs decimated my bok choy. 

Bok choy boneyard
But that made room for the herbs that had been sitting in their little pots for 4 weeks (or more) since I brought them home from market...

Bok choy boneyard converted to herb garden
And the bok choy's sacrifice may have preserved the lives of the less-favoured-by-slugs arugula and kale. 

My peas were a flop and my brussell sprouts are completely static. I think they may be the leeks of 2017. (I didn't bother to plant leeks this year: although they did not die last year, they also did not grow). 

My potato patch is thriving and the potato bugs don't seem to have found us yet. 

Potatoes and some teeny, tiny beet plants
Last night, on my way home from a music show at the West Dublin Hall, I remembered that I had my headlamp in the car and so I finally took the time to stop and gather up a bit of seaweed to hill these beauties with.
Potatoes hilled with seaweed
I could stand to get a little more seaweed. I hope it won't take me another month to find an opportune moment. And I hope I don't remember at 11 pm again. Although it was kind of fun feeling clandestine on the dark beach, disturbing the sand flies was not pleasant.

Best of all is the daily-ness of the garden for me. Every morning, I have some mindful, undistracted garden time. I go out and hunt for slugs, I water if it's going to be sunny (and if I have any water in my rain barrel), I check on the progress of things, see if anything is ready to harvest and graze on a few greens.

Items on my to-do list like "hill potatoes", "stake and tie tomatoes", "netting for beans" inject some more grounded and less stressful activities into my daily, peri-menopausal life. And happily, weeding is limited. Gardening in the forest, most of my weeds are ferns and baby trees. I don't have many of the typical, super-annoying garden weeds, at least not yet.

And almost always, there is this guy in the garden. On the hot days he sits under the ferns to keep cool, and deters the mice and squirrels. Now, if only I could teach him to hunt slugs...

My garden helper/familiar (the hugelkultur beds are great at deterring Sal from sleeping on top of the gardens themselves – too lumpy!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

My thoughts on #Canada150/#Resist150

———This post is long. Sorry, there was a lot I wanted to say. To help break it up, I'm including photos of the walk I took on Risser's Beach this morning, which I spent thinking about how I would write this post. Underpinning all of my thoughts here today is a passionate love of and appreciation for this land where I am so lucky to live. ——— 

I have a lot on my mind and in my heart today as Canada marks 150 years of confederation.

This morning, I went to the West Dublin Market for my usual Saturday ritual: gathering with friends and community members for brunch and hugs and talk and laughter. On the brunch board was written "Mi'kma'ki 13,000" rather than Canada 150. I saw some Expose 150 pamphlets (produced by Solidarity Halifax) in people's hands. And there were also folks in red-and-white Canada Day hats and t-shirts. The market was its usual lively, warm self with no apparent friction between people holding different perspectives on this day.

That's my sweet, sweet bubble. And I love it and am deeply grateful for it.

However, the political landscape in the rest of Canada is not feeling so bubbly. There is frustration, there is lip service, there is activism, there is backlash. Feelings are all over the place – anger, resentment, acceptance, paternalism, hope, defiance, love, hatred: to me the nation feels alive with feelings right now.

And I believe that it is good that this is so. It feels like there is a lot more on the table than there has been in the past. It feels like there are a lot of people (including me) who are more open to sharing and listening, being in exchange with other people's – and peoples' – experiences.

Looking back to Canada's last "big" birthday...

In contrast, I remember Canada's last "big" birthday, the 125. It was 1992. And I was right at the heart of constitutional Canada that summer, working as a tour guide at the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. I was 21. It was a plum gig – a decent-paying summer job – which I got by merit of a couple of things: my network of privilege (I was a student at the University of Toronto and learned about the job from someone I knew there) and regionalism (I was from Nova Scotia and suspect I was hired largely because I was a Nova Scotian candidate, and though my French was considerably weaker than it should have been, it must have been better than that of other NS applicants).

It was a difficult and weird summer for me. Brian Mulroney was in power, there was a referendum happening, and I spent most of the summer struggling desperately to bring my French up to an adequate level so I wouldn't get fired. Also, I was 21, pretty screwed up in general and plagued by typical young-adult pre-occupations like hoping to fall in love (or at least hook up), and acquiring a taste for beer.

I was also completely embedded in settler culture and entitlement. Ignorant AF. I had no idea that there were still residential schools operating (the last one closed four years later, in 1996). What little I knew of indigenous issues was incorrectly filed under "not my problem" "happened before I was born" "mostly happened in the US, not so much in Canada", etc. The narrative I learned growing up in Toronto in the 70s, that of a multi-cultural, affluent, urban, utopian Canada, was pretty much what I thought was happening for everyone across the country.

My young adulthood felt like that 1970s dream come to fruition for me: U of T gathered young adults from all over – foreign students and also recent immigrants, along with 1st, 2nd, 3rd through 8th and 9th generation settlers all swirled together in a big, mostly comfortable stew (or at least that's how it seemed so to me from my position of white privilege). But where were the people who had been living on this land for 15 and 20 and 100 generations? I do not remember meeting a single indigenous person at the University of Toronto.

And despite the parliamentary tour guide program's mandate to represent all regions of the country and the presence of people from different racialized groups in our cohort, there were no indigenous tour guides that summer. Or if there were members of our group with indigenous identities, I was not aware of it.

Oblivious. Unconcerned. Uninterested. I feel pretty certain that in those days, if I had been told of some common experiences of being indigenous in Canada, I would have been shocked – and disbelieving. I don't think I would have been able to wrap my head around the gap between the narrative I grew up with and the true lived experience of indigenous people who grew up here too, but on very different terms.

Closing the gap

I have learned a lot since 1992 (particularly in the last 10 years and most especially in the last 5 years, since the Idle No More movement was founded). I started to try to see the reality of things outside of my own assumptions and paradigms. I've learned some about the relationship between the state of Canada and the indigenous people who live here as well as the relationship between settlers and indigenous people and settler cultures and indigenous cultures. I have learned of poverty and inequality, cruelty, cultural imperialism, missing and murdered indigenous women, disproportionately high rates of incarceration of indigenous people, high rates of suicide, mental health concerns including substance abuse, sub-standard access to medical care and education as well as to safe, comfortable housing and clean water, a history of attempted and accomplished genocide (both cultural and literal) and a legacy of systemic racism that remains deeply entrenched today, a very convenient racism that seeks to legitimize the appropriation of land and many unfair, disrespectful and harmful "deals" involving resource extraction, pipelines, etc. And I have learned of resilience and courage and activism and environmentalism. Of forgiveness and generosity. Of healing. Of just and bitter anger. Of despair. Of hope.

#Canada150 / #resist150 

Even just in the last year I have experienced some powerful shifts. For instance, last year, I didn't even think twice about going to my local firehall's Canada Day Strawberry Shortcake social. This year, I am not going. Instead, I have dedicated this day to further educate myself by reading the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People and this report on our current state of reconciliation which includes 11 suggested actions toward reconciliation (ones aimed at everyday people rather than at governments and institutions, like most of the TRC's).

Although I do not feel like waving a Canadian flag today, I do feel glad and grateful that I am Canadian. I believe we are talking about indigenous rights in a new way and to a new extent in this country. I'm grateful for the actions that people are taking, large and small.

For instance:
  • I'm glad for the people who overwhelmingly responded to this course offered by the University of Cape Breton. 
  • I'm grateful to CBC Indigenous for this article which includes a link to a live broadcast that I watched yesterday that filled me with humility and hope. 
  • I am grateful to my neighbours and community members who organized a Have a Heart day event this past February which I was able to attend
  • I was glad to learn at that event that Nova Scotia's Department of Education is developing mandatory curriculum from indigenous perspectives for use in grades Primary-12. 
  • I was glad to have a reason to go to an elementary school spring concert this year and to see the kids singing songs in the Mi'kmaq language. 

I am grateful that we have come the distance we have in the last 40 years, since I was in grade 1, and there was zero indigenous content in my school curriculum; and in the last 25 years, since I was a clueless parliamentary tour guide with a very distorted sense of Canada's identity and of my entitlements here; and in the last 5-10 years as indigenous issues, history and challenges have been brought forward for discussion and reconciliation and amends.

We still have a long way to go. I know that in my own heart and mind, there is still much territory to cover and much to learn. In the larger political sphere, I witness the frustration with "Gesture Politics" and the endless expectation that indigenous people must wait, ever longer, for justice, for environmental sustainability, for respect. I feel and I hope, that the tide is turning and that relationships between indigenous people and Canada will look very different by the time we reach the 175th anniversary of Canada's confederation.

Each of us has the opportunity rise up and take part in this process to help ensure that Canada's birthdays keep getting better as we move forward.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Simply spring

Spring is often a bumpy ride in Nova Scotia. The weather can fluctuate wildly. In my thin-walled shelter, at 27°C and sunny, I shuck most of my clothes and sweat at my desk, while at 11°C and rainy, I sit here huddled by my small electric space heater and try to focus on work as well as I can. 

And some days, like today, I experience both of those extremes within a few hours of one another! 

Work seems to be the common thread through everything for me these days – whatever the weather. I have a lot of desk-work on the go, which is a blessing, since I am doing everything I can to gather up money to build a cabin here in the fall. 

Also, living here entails work. For one thing, I have the added responsibilities of my garden: planting, weeding, watering. And since I don't have running water or a fridge, it is work to try to keep things clean – or at least sanitary enough to prevent food-borne illnesses. The ice packs from my little chest freezer need to be swapped in and out of the cooler on a regular basis; washing the dishes is a major production that involves boiling the kettle several times. 

I try to keep things as simple as I can – with one-pan meals made in my cast-iron frying pan, which can often be wiped clean without needing to be washed per se. To be honest, I often eat my meals right out of the frying pan, too. Saves on washing plates. 

And then, there are the nightly sweeps for ticks: more efficient and faster now that I've figured out that I can run my bug-zapper racquet through my bedding before I go to sleep. 

Admittedly, this life is not always comfortable. There are times when I desperately need to wash and it's too cold (or I'm feeling too lazy) to boil the kettle and sponge myself down. Or when my hair is beyond needing a lick and a promise and needs a good hearty scrub. Fortunately, I have friends and family who are always ready to offer showers – and also refuge on the coldest nights. 

It amuses me when I think of what my life was like 10 years ago – the air conditioning, the long soaks in the tub, the consumption of clothing, housewares, appliances, and on and on. I mean, I used to think nothing of buying things like a Cuisinart ice cream maker! 

My former life feels so wasteful and empty to me now. And silly. And meaningless. And thoughtless. Just a typical white middle-class kid doing what she thought she was supposed to do – and having what she felt entitled to have. 

While I admit that I am looking forward to having hot and cold running water again eventually, I am currently enjoying the spartan pleasures of this simple life. I am focused on the deep joy of being here. I love the days when I don't have to go anywhere else. There will be many of them this summer. My garden is starting to provide fresh food on a daily basis. My pantry is well-stocked. My guitar and my muse are both here. Ideas are flowing. Feelings are fluid and plentiful. Sleep is deep and long (except when the moon is full). The trees shelter me. Salinger graces me with his fluffy presence. I am safe. I am at home

Monday, May 22, 2017

Hugelkultur – Year 2

Last year's foray into gardening was a very successful one. Not that I got a huge amount of food from my small garden, but I enjoyed the process, learned things and impressed myself by staying active in the garden throughout the summer. 

This year, I am expanding. I've spent the last couple of mornings (early, before the blackflies wake up), completing the two hugelkultur beds that I started building last summer. 

The process feels like "mud pie architecture" to me: fitting together logs, branches, twigs and rotten wood, then stuffing leaves (and sometimes cardboard) into the cracks. 

Then comes the task of mixing up some soil. 

And then spreading the soil on top of the mounds. 

One of the two new mounds is the same style and shape as the one I built last year. Let's call it Hugel II.

The other one I'm calling Flattop. This one is more of a raised bed than a mound, with about 16 square feet of gardening space on the top and no soil spread down the side. I'm looking forward to seeing how it will perform.

Next, I plan to make a raised bed with "log cabin" sides to grow some potatoes and beets. Why buy lumber when I have so many logs lying around that will contain soil without costing me a dime? Besides, converting some of the strewn-about logs into gardening space tidies the place up a little bit...

And, just because all of the photos in this post are primarily brown, here is a picture of the beautiful bouquet I got at the West Dublin Market on Saturday as my "welcome home" present to myself.

Friday, May 19, 2017


I'm in the process of moving from my winter digs back the The Crooked Wood. So far, I've brought a couple of loads of stuff. Still lots more to go.

Today, Salinger and I have come to stay and I can feel that my heart has instantly relocated.

It's a powerful feeling, the feeling of being here. The automatic shift that takes place inside me – body, heart, mind and spirit – challenges me to describe it. It is in the unconscious lengthening of my breath, the unwinding of my muscles, the music of the tree frogs, the sweet pine smell of my house, the soft warm air, the loose clothing I'm wearing, the gentle glow of the single lamp by my computer, the darkness outside – and soon within.

An occasional car whooshes by up on the road, a trill stands out from the peeper chorus, I feel my body relax another notch.

I am safe here (from everything except blackfly bites).

This place is calm and peaceful and easy and right.