Thursday, March 30, 2006

Of music festival and bird reports

Just back from the music festival (deep sigh of relief here). On the drive back, Mom saw a bluebird. We saw a crow too, and a goose standing on the ice covering a small slough, with neck stretched high as if to say "I own this pond." Mom thought he was saying, "Funny - it was here last year..." She saw a duck the other day, too.

The kids did well with their solos, although James was so displeased at getting a lower mark than his sister, he wants to pick out next year's solo TODAY. I told him that sounds good - it might give me enough time to learn to play the accompaniment.

I was musing a while ago about my deadline-treadmill life, and wondering how to change it. It occurred to me that I could approach things like music differently. Instead of the pattern I learned in school, where you enter a music festival class and then prepare the piece to play, I could play music I like, practise it until I like the sound of it, and then find a place to play it. If that place happens to be a music festival, or the church, so much the better. Instead of the commitment spurring the practise, the practise would lead to the commitment.

Now if I could just work my way out from under some of my existing commitments, I could begin to practise something new.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Pure silliness

The longer my to-do list, the greater the likelihood that I will do something else.

I noticed a blog with pictures of silly signs today, and it reminded me of an intersection with a silly name. I had never seen it, and I couldn't remember exactly what the name was, but thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I found it.

Remember Forget!

The preliminary performers' line-up is posted on the festival page at the Ananda Arthouse website.

Not Flat, Not Bald

Are y'all giggling at my struggles to portray my hometown as a lovely place? Well, I won't listen till you come and see for yourselves. I suggest June 24th - catch our town fair, see the Herman-Stewart clan and friends marching in the parade as the Arcola Community Band, and enjoy the wildflowers blooming in the hills. There's camping right in town, or at Kenosee (in Moose Mountain Park). The Chaparral Inn is a pleasant little motel. And there's bus service from Regina, as long as you're willing to stay over the weekend.

View of Main Street as you come into town.

North to the hills. Forgive me for cozying up to a bush for a more appealing picture.

Now, tell me what you think. Is my part of Saskatchewan really flat and bald? Or just a little brown right now?

Lake Arcola, last year and this

That's what the slough in the midst of Arcola looked like last spring. There was talk of deepening it to create a permanent lake, with new housing developments along the shores.

Here's the same slough area, from the same vantage point (okay, the other side of the pavement) this spring.

I kept waiting for the lake to appear. I think at one point there was a little blue line curving away down the centre, where the small drainage ditch runs.

Gotta get those rain barrels set up.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Moose Mountains in pictures

Another disappointing website - Moose Mountain Provincial Park has a collection of pictures, but they don't really show the Moose Mountains as I know and love them. Looks like I have a summer project to document the beauty of this area.

In the Virtual Saskatchewan article about Moose Mountain Park, there is one photo that comes close to showing the backwoods that I wandered in my summers as a youngster (the one captioned "Summer memories for generations").

Arcola in pictures

Madcap Mum says the Town of Arcola website makes our townsite look barren - and she's right. I thought I should set the record straight, but it's not the most auspicious time of year for taking flattering pictures of our landscape. So I skimmed through my collection of pictures and selected a few that will have to do for now.

First, some links to previous posts that include scenes from around town:
March 1st in Arcola
Winter Botany #4
I Bought Too Soon: LED Lighting Update
The Refrigerator Saga
It's Getting Dark Early

And from nearby:
Navigable waters (view from inside a culvert south-southwest of town)
To see the wind (out at the highway just north of town)

I am surprised to discover that I haven't posted a single picture of, or from, the hills. Time to fix that. Here is a view from the 604 just south of the airstrip, looking north-northwest towards Arcola and the hills beyond.

And here is a part of the farm where I grew up. Spoiled, wasn't I?

This is almost straight north of Arcola, about five miles out of town. Arcola is just outside the left edge of the picture, on the plains that you see in the distance.

Now back to the town itself - here's a summer scene from our backyard.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Ketchup Candy

I woke up this morning with thoughts of auction sales and canning jars and the likely budget battle over whether we need a pressure cooker.

Then, disappointed by the morning blog fare, I went browsing back through old comments at Eleutheros' place, and found this praise for dehydrated food:
A bushel of tomatoes fits into two quart mason jars and the taste is much more like fresh tomatoes than canned or frozen. The children call them 'ketchup candy'.
Since we live in one of the sunniest parts of the world, I Googled "solar dehydrator." I learned that dehydrated food is much more nutritious than canned, and found everything from simple small dehydrators made from cardboard boxes, plastic film, and tape, to elaborate manufactured models.

Path to Freedom has a collection of links about food dehydration, including plans for several different types and sizes of dehydrators.

This solar chimney dehydrator looks promising. It's not much different from the small cardboard box model, except that it has a tall cabinet behind the collector panel, with vents strategically placed to draw the air through all the trays of food. I'm thinking I might try the small cardboard box model first just to get a feel for the process.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Cross on the Horizon

Laura Herman
St. Andrew’s United Church
Arcola, SK
March 26, 2006

Here we are on a Lenten journey, a journey to the cross.

You might not like to think of it that way. You might prefer to think of it as a journey to Easter. After all, Easter comes after Lent. Why not just say it’s a journey to Easter?

The short answer is that we can’t have Easter without the cross.

Now for the long answer.

When we say that Lent is a journey to the cross, we have to face the fact that this is no easy journey. This is a journey to a place we’d rather not have to go. When that cross looms up in our Scriptures, we may start to shrink back and grumble, “God, why did you bring us here? Why lead us out to this place where someone has to die?”

We may also start to have some doubts about this God. Is this a loving God? If this is a loving God, then why this dark and lonely place of death? Have we been tricked?

If we start to doubt and question God this way, we’re certainly not the first people to do so. When the Israelites followed God’s chosen leader, Moses, out of Egypt, they found themselves wandering in a desert, eating bad food. They wandered cheerfully enough for the first little while, but it wasn’t long before they started having doubts. Pretty soon they had decided that the whole journey was a plot to kill them.

They were wrong. The desert was just a desert, and the bad food was just bad food.

When poisonous snakes came among them, the Israelites were convinced that it was a punishment for their complaints about the desert and the food.

They were wrong again. Those snakes were just snakes. Moses lifted up a bronze image of one of those snakes on a pole, and suddenly, instead of being the poison, the snake was the cure. We still see that image of a snake on a pole today, in symbols of the medical profession.

The core of modern medicine is science, and science is about knowing. Perhaps the greatest achievement of modern medicine has been the knowledge of disease-causing organisms. With that knowledge, people everywhere have been able to replace fearful chanting and sacrifice with thorough cooking and soap. Once people knew what was causing their illness, they could do what was necessary to live.

How did the snake become the cure for the Israelites? It was held up on a pole where everyone could look at it and see that it was just a snake. It was not a punishment from God, any more than the desert was a plot by God to kill them. The desert was just a desert, and the snake was just a snake. Once they understood that, they could see that God did not intend for them to die. God intended for them to live.

That knowledge was powerful. There are certain cultures where you can put a hex on someone, and it will kill them, just by making them believe that they are going to die. The Israelites, complaining in the desert, believed that they were going to die. But if they were going to survive the desert, the food, and the snakes, the Israelites had to believe that they were going to live. They had to believe that they were meant to live.

When I read the text from Numbers this week, I took it at face value. The Lord sent the snakes; that’s what the text said. I didn’t question that. It’s not that I believe that every snake that crosses my path these days is an omen, or that every bad thing that happens to me is a punishment. I just didn’t think about it.

Then I read a commentary that suggested that the Israelites had to look at what was biting them in order to be saved. That loosened up my mind to get something more from this text than just what it says on the surface.

But what really got me thinking was when I looked at the Gospel passage from John. It contains the most famous verse from the entire New Testament: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Everybody knows it. Most know it by heart without even trying. But who knew that this passage was connected to the Numbers story about the poisonous snakes in the desert? There it is, in the two verses immediately before: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15). I was mulling this over, trying to understand the connection, when it hit me. Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn it, any more than those snakes came into the desert to kill Israelites. The Israelites were already doomed by their belief that they were going to die. The snakes could finish them off, for sure. But when a snake was lifted on a pole for them to look at, that snake became the cure, opening the eyes of the Israelites to a new belief, so that they could be saved.

When God’s son came into the world, he did not come the way old beliefs suggested he might come. He did not come as a warrior king, slaying his enemies. He did not come as a mighty judge, condemning all those who had complained or spoken against God. He came as a human being, filled with God’s love for all humankind. Through all the ages of the world there had been confusion about God’s intentions towards humankind. The message of love was there, all along, but often overlooked by humans struggling to understand their world and their God working in the world.

When Jesus was lifted up on the cross, the message could no longer be missed. Misunderstood, yes, but not missed. God loved the world.

God loved the world so much that God sent Jesus to heal, to forgive, and to show mercy, no matter what the consequences might be. God sent Jesus to live God’s love, even when it stirred up violence against him, and to go on living that love all the way to the cross. Through our own human violence, God showed that God does not intend violence towards us. The cross lifts up, for all to see, the consequences of our violence, and the consequences of God’s steadfast love.

Last week’s lesson from Corinthians spoke of God’s foolishness. God’s foolishness is this steadfast love, a love that plunges into the heart of the world and refuses to protect itself with power. When we claim the name of Christians, it is a bold and scandalous claim we make, by calling a man who was crucified, the Christ. We believe that God chose and anointed for us, not a warrior king, not a mighty judge, but a man who went to the cross rather than call down power to save himself by destroying others. When we look at this Jesus, lifted on the cross, we see both our salvation and our judgement.

Our salvation: the knowledge that God loves us – that God intends us to live.

Our judgement: the knowledge that God rejects our violence. God’s answer to violence is not more violence, but peace in the face of violence. God intends us to live, but this means to live as Jesus lived, in the way of peace.

Even if that way leads us to a cross.

Miraculously, just as the terrifying serpent of the desert has become the symbol of medicine and healing, so the terrible instrument of crucifixion has become the symbol of salvation and steadfast love. Yet this meaning is really not so new. A cross is a very old symbol, much older than the crucifixion of Jesus. Its older meaning is very simple, and very powerful: spirit (the vertical) plunged into matter (the horizontal).

Today we look ahead through our Lenten journey. We see the cross on the horizon, lifted against the sky. It is what it is: an instrument of crucifixion. It is also much more: it is a reminder, always, that God’s spirit is here with us in this material world, not to kill or condemn us, but to stand among us and embrace us all with a boundless, foolish love.

Friday, March 24, 2006

First Ride

Photo by Ruth.
Last light.

Suddenly Birds

Last week we took the long way from Carlyle, on the back roads, just to see if the water was running in the creek. There were horned larks everywhere, and still some lingering snow buntings. The horned larks return ahead of the spring, and I wondered how long they've been back.

Last evening Ruth and I were walking along Souris Avenue, east towards the edge of town. Suddenly I noticed the sounds of birds. Sparrows we have all year round, but these were new sounds - nothing definitely identifiable, at least to my little-trained and winter-rusty ears. Goldfinches? I always thought of those yellow-bright cheery birds as summer creatures only, but since I've been blogging, I've learned that they are not very far away in winter, and usually not bright yellow, either, so perhaps they are around here much more than I realized.

And just now, even from here inside the house, I heard a white-throated sparrow.

Now I'm second-guessing - could it have been a chickadee?

Why am I so reluctant to believe that spring is here?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

More about my milk cartons

My post about the missing milk cartons got some attention. Here's a photo of the salvage operation in progress.

I think I made the seedling flats sound complicated. Doesn't everybody use milk cartons this way?

The two at the rear are ready to go, except for dividers. The rear one has its cutout panel sitting in it, down the middle. To make that panel into a divider, I just cut three slits in it, halfway across, and then added some cross-wise pieces. Each cross piece is the same size as a milk carton base, and has one slit cut in it, halfway across. Put the cross pieces onto the central panel, slit to slit and then press them down to sit level (hard to describe but very easy to do - you probably made little stand-up paper dolls or Christmas trees this way when you were a kid). Square them up as you fill the cells with soil, and this is what you get:

I think the cells may be a little bigger than necessary, which could be a problem if I can't come up with enough space in the sun. Right now the flats are just sitting on top of the fridge - theoretically the warmest place in the house, but with all our energy conservation efforts, even that spot isn't terribly warm. Good luck, little seeds.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A beginning

Full of morning ambition, I went to the porch to fetch my collection of 2-litre milk cartons, and found that they were gone!

I bounded back up the steps, through the kitchen, around the corner and into the aptly-named living room. In some homes it would be a sitting room, but in ours most of the sitting happens in bedrooms because the living room is just too full of living. There is a sewing machine on a small desk jutting out in the middle, but the room is dominated by an electronic church organ in one corner and a gadget-laden computer desk diagonally opposite. There sat my spouse, unsuspecting, with his back to me.

"Whadja do wi' my milk cartons?"

He turned slightly, and said matter-of-factly, with just a trace of puzzlement, "I threw them out."

At my small gasp, he turned a little farther, gestured out the window and said something about the mild weather these days, and how they wouldn't be doing that ice castle thing now. (The Grade 7 class, that is, wouldn't be using milk cartons as molds for freezing ice blocks.)

At my incredulously disappointed look, he apparently did a bit more thinking and realized that I had been saving this last batch of cartons for starting seedlings for the garden.

He gestured to the almost-never-used front entrance: "They're in the recycling. . . I flattened them."

He flattens things differently than I do - less meticulously, and with more force.

Nevertheless, working meticulously, I was able to unflatten most of them. With the opened ends taped shut again, and a panel cut out of the side of each, they became flats for onions and peppers. I experimented with making dividers from the cut-out panels, plus some pieces salvaged from the severely crumpled cartons. I'm hoping they will make it easier to separate the roots come transplanting time. When Garth came into the kitchen just before lunch time, I quickly assured him that, although I was still carving up and notching milk carton panels, I hadn't spent the whole morning at it.

I now have one flat with three rows of onion seeds planted - I figure there must be 150 seeds in there - and three flats divided into eight cells each, planted mostly to peppers. Parsley seeds are soaking overnight. Next week I will do tomatoes and basil.

Ruth's windowsill just won't be enough for the transplants I have planned for this year. We checked out B's porch across the street, and it was bright and surprisingly warm on this sunny day. There is some work to do taping holes in window panes and chinking some large gaps around window frames - or maybe we'll just tent some poly over a table by the south windows and heat the little tent instead of the whole porch. Meanwhile I still have a worship service to prepare for Sunday, and lots of music to practise. The next few days are going to be busy.

From "Blogs of Note"

Here's a tasty tidbit from Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding, my latest discovery compliments of Blogger's "Blogs of Note." And if I keep browsing around, and then try to live off whatever my garden manages to produce without my attention, I'm going to starve.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Strathdees at Calling Lakes Centre

I wasn't going to go. In fact I didn't even let myself read the program description, just skimmed over it and told myself I'd had my quota of music-related travel for the year, or at least for the season. Then my friend Anita called and asked if I was going, since she was wondering if my kids would be keeping hers company there. I said no, and then added as an afterthought, ". . . unless you have a job for me . . ." She said she'd keep it in mind.

I promptly forgot about it. With music festival and a wedding looming, and the Good Friday Cantata towering behind all that, I was not looking for any more things musical. When Anita called and said she'd finally thought of the job for me, it took me a moment to remember what she was talking about. "Sing with the Strathdees" took place last weekend at Calling Lakes Centre, and just a few days ahead of the program, Anita asked me if I would bring my sound system. I said I would make a few calls. I was supposed to be leading worship here on Sunday, but Garth graciously agreed to switch Sundays with me, and that was that.

My "job" was to show up with my sound system, and in exchange I got a weekend of singing, harmonizing, drumming (a new thrill), discovering a wealth of worship songs that don't turn me cold with literalist doctrine (see their website), playing along on my guitar, and of course enjoying the Centre's ever-delightful surroundings and food. I even got to open for the Strathdees (on the spot, really just filling time due to some confusion about the start time for their evening concert). I sang the "truck song" (Anita's request) and Breath Anew.

Breath Anew
Copyright © 2002 by Laura Herman

Startled eyes
filling up with hurt.
I can't take back the breath I poured into those words,
and it left an aching hollow
around my pounding heart.
Yet somehow in the emptiness
I feel
another start...

No matter how I spent my last breath,
God gives me breath anew.
"Child, remember that it's mine,
but use it as you will;
I believe in you."

In the night,
no-one else awake.
No-one to tell me not to worry, that's okay.
So I try to promise better,
ask for guidance in a prayer...
but I sob out my unworthiness,
and God is waiting there...

No matter how I spent my last breath,
God gives me breath anew.
"Child, remember that it's mine,
but use it as you will;
I believe in you."

Breath anew
for the next step of my journey;
breath anew,
no matter where I go.
Too gentle to be heard;
the essence of all words;
when I'm empty, I can't resist the flow...

No matter how I spent my last breath,
God gives me breath anew.
"Child, remember that it's mine,
but use it as you will;
I believe in you.

Take this breath

When she introduced me, Anita mentioned that one of my songs is being published in More Voices, the forthcoming supplement to the United Church hymnal Voices United. She is perhaps a little extra excited about that, since I named the melody of the song "Anita" in honour of her. I don't think she realized what an influence she has been, encouraging me to keep playing and writing my songs. This weekend, I discovered one of Anita's influences. I didn't even know she knew the Strathdees, but it turns out that they were music leaders in the church where she was growing up in California. She used to look after their kids and run the slide-projector for the lyrics when they led singing. By the end of this weekend, I felt like I had met the great-godparents of my song. (If you want to watch for it in More Voices, it's titled "Take Up His Song," and was written as a response to Voices United #359 "He Came Singing Love" by Colin Gibson.)

It was a wonderful weekend. Still, there were fleeting moments when I wondered whether I could justify the travel, and frequent moments when I felt out of step with almost all the world. Even among a group of generous, idealistic people, there were jangles of disharmony when the talk turned to protest marches, or when we sang "I would bring gold for buying bread" and I found myself mentally rewriting the lyric to say "wheat for baking bread."

And in all the commotion of another weekend away, I still haven't got my onions and peppers started.

Shall I quit blogging until I have something productive to report?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Sunny Side of the Street

And the shady side:

And a book from my Dad - he had somehow ended up with an extra copy, so he gave it to me!

Don't be fooled by that jovial sun face. This book is not just a feel-good go-hire-yourself-a-consultant pep talk. This is how-to, step-by-step, charts, diagrams, construction detail photos, formulas, tables - oooh, how am I going to make myself do my tax return before diving into this?!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


What I'm up to lately:
  1. a few less errand-type things, since Garth is home, and at the same time, a few more errand-type things, since Garth is home
  2. garden planning, but not much action yet - but the seeds came, and it's time to start some peppers and onions
  3. teaching Tai Chi to children at Pheasant Rump (if I'd known it was going to be children, I'd have said no - Tai Chi is too leisurely for children, except the ones who, like me, were born old)
  4. organizing rehearsals and recruiting singers and practising piano parts for a Good Friday Cantata (volunteers welcome, especially altos, tenors, and basses)
  5. fretting occasionally about all the other music I should be practising (accompaniments for the kids' music festival solos, organ music for an upcoming wedding - I don't even know what they want yet)
  6. starting to compose a sermon for Sunday, and realizing that I'll have to come up with all the prayers etc. as well because I let my Gathering Magazine subscription expire
  7. trying, in fits and starts, to clean up my clutter so I can get these things done more efficiently
  8. writing out priority lists and schedules which are slowly convincing me that, if I'm going to scrape up some money and renovate this house and expand the garden and build a root cellar and do a lot more food preserving than I've ever done before . . . a lot of the above busy-ness has simply got to go
  9. reading stuff like Wayne's recent posts about climate change that reinforce my conviction that a lot of the above busy-ness has simply got to go
  10. enjoying having Garth home . . . gotta do more of that . . .

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Birds yesterday

While I think of it - as I walked home yesterday, my mind said, "That sound is new - merlins!"

Then my other mind retorted, "How do you know it's merlins?"

A small hawk came speeding up the strip of sky between the street trees, and I thought, "See? It is a merlin!"

Then my other mind retorted, "How do you know that's a merlin?"

Another one perched in the top of a spruce across the street and let me take a good look. I checked out some pictures just now - definitely a merlin. How did I know? Beats me.

There was an owl calling last evening, too. Great horned, I think.

This evening, not even a sparrow.

Let the dead bury their own dead

Contrary Goddess:
In Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume heaven and hell are one ship carrying the partying departed -- on one side the ship’s name is “heaven” and on the other it is “hell”. Same ship.
CG goes on to reminisce about a moment in heaven, galloping through a sunny, flowery meadow. She says, "I got over dichotomous (heaven/hell, god/devil, good/evil) religions a long time ago, but still just the other day I found myself smack in the middle of hell." And she paints a picture of "McMansions" lined up behind their paved driveways and fat garages, all along an unpaved road through a former cow pasture. She concludes:
I don’t live in heaven or hell. I live in a place between the worlds. More and more I’m feeling like I’m not even the same species as these other Earthlings. I could holler, “What is wrong with you?” but I am but a silent shadow to them. Fellow shadows only know me. And as a shadow, I will live.

And I will not mourn the passing away of either heaven or hell.
I was with her until that last line. I asked her about it: "not mourning the passing of either? I don't get that. Is it sort of a battlefield mentality - no time for mourning or even burial, just soldier on?"

CG replied:
. . . no, it is not a battlefield mentality on my part. Since I'm unconcerned with saving the world (no dichotomies, remember?), I'm not part of the "battle". You and Dan(*) can have that. I don't see a damn thing TO mourn.
(*Dan's blog is here. He is known for challenging people to keep on working for political and social change. This post is a good example.)

I pared the above section of CG's reply out of some further comments about people choosing to live stupid lives and being welcome to die that way, and smoothed down my feathers ("Did she mean me? Maybe she noticed my mention of my own paved driveway the other day . . . well, so what if she did?"). Still something didn't sit right. Something about the battle, and the mourning.

Truth be told, these days I'm generally walking away from the battle, at least as it's conventionally fought. I find environmental workshops and conferences increasingly tiresome. I just can't see past all the parked cars around the hotel, the fashionable decor of the corridor, and the stacks of paper on the registration table. If there's a battle for me, "the enemy . . . is us," and "I'm starting with the (wo)man in the mirror."

But I live in an agricultural landscape, chopped into neat half-mile-by-half-mile squares, "improved" with straight ditches and tree rows. Tiny remnants of much more diverse and lively ecology cling where the land is rough or the water flows. I can appreciate a field of waving grain, but . . . somehow my mind lifts up memory-dreams of unbroken prairies with their slower wave of blooms of wildflowers through the seasons, the light and dark of different grasses and shrubs instead of the shading of the wind-tossed grain. I mourn.

And at the same time, I have a hunch that you, CG, are right: the dichotomy is false and leads me astray from the "good life." To be able to walk in a vast untouched prairie is a luxury made possible only by crowding the people in one place and leaving nature somewhere else. And hope lies in the beauty of paradox - that if I claim a small piece of these plains and make the best life of enough-ness I can upon it, part of it will be a pasture, and the best pasture one can have in these parts is native prairie.


p.s. I did some Googling to check on my vague recollection of the quote, "We have seen the enemy and he is us." It has been much quoted, and I don't know where I saw it first, but it seems it originated with cartoonist Walt Kelly and a 1970 Earth Day poster. Amidst the Googling, though, I came across an intriguing Schellenberger/Nordhaus article which takes up this very theme of "no dichotomies," and even uses related imagery: "Death Warmed Over." This is a follow-up to an earlier, controversial essay: "The Death of Environmentalism."

Friday, March 10, 2006

More thoughts on indoor temperatures

Somewhere I saw an article about the variation in temperature from one area to another in an office environment, and how this variability is very hard on a body.

What? Don't these people ever go outside?

I remember the thrill of running down a hill in the evening and feeling the sudden chill as we dropped into a pocket of valley-bottom air. I remember thinking I would like to be a micro-climatologist, because there were so many fascinating variations all around me and nobody else seemed to pay much attention. I still love to discover a tiny sedge blooming well ahead of the season just because it gets extra heat from an adjacent boulder.

I didn't read the whole article, and now I wonder. Maybe they went on to say that the body isn't very good at dealing with only slight variations in temperature. Maybe large variations are actually good for it. When a body gets used to a stable environment, small variations get overlooked by the body's temperature management system, and then the body suffers. Or the brain just ignores the body pleading that it's a little chilly. Speaking of which, it's time I got these poor neglected limbs in motion.


When I was a school-kid, we lived in a house trailer about 10' by 40' with an extra room built onto each entrance. There was a wood stove in one of these extensions, a propane stove in the kitchen in one end of the trailer, and a propane heater in the hallway towards the other end. None of these heat sources had any forced air circulation; the warmed air just spread where it would. The space under the trailer was closed in with plywood and straw bales to help keep the floor a little less icy, but that tactic only goes so far. Warm air rises. Arctic air masses are cold. I remember I used to sit on the kitchen table, with my feet on the seat of my chair, to get comfortable.

I don't know how many years we lived in the trailer - a couple of years at Saskairie, I guess, and then maybe four or five years at the present farm. My father was building a new house, with help from Mom and tool-fetching and board-holding by the rest of us. I think I was twelve when we moved out of the trailer. The new house was far from finished, but I had developed chilblains.

I don't remember whether my condition was really unmanageable, or whether it just convinced my parents that they had had enough of managing under conditions that were, shall we say, out of fashion. I do remember that when we first moved in, I rushed into my new all-to-myself bedroom and did a somersault on the bed, ending with my heels embedded in the wall. Fortunately the drywall hadn't been finished and painted yet.

All that was a long time ago. Still, when I felt the itch and saw the puffy redness in my toes a week or so ago, I knew exactly what it was.

Garth welcomed the excuse to turn the thermostat back up.

It has crept back downward, though, and he's away this weekend, so it's all the way back to about 17 Centegrade, and colder overnight. (C stands for Celsius, too, but as Dad always pointed out, Centegrade is much more meaningful.) My toes are complaining a little, so I'm working on self diagnosis.
Chilblains are usually caused by an abnormal reaction of the body to the cold. People who have poor circulation, an inadequate diet, or an allergic response to low temperatures are vulerable to chilblains.
An "allergic response to low temperatures"?? Yikes! I refuse to admit that I have that.

An "inadequate" diet - what does that mean? I know mine is not the best, but it's probably above average. Still, it won't hurt to work on the fruit and veggies angle.

Poor circulation. Yep. I spend way too much time on this computer chair. And while I'm here, I get so preoccupied, I don't even notice that my feet are cold. I've always had trouble with foot cramps, too - they're my nemesis while curling - so this looks like the first place to apply some effort.

What to do about it? Get out of this chair... do I have to? Okay, okay, I'll set some limits. But will that be enough?

Well, I could order a special formula of cayenne, ginger, garlic and ginkgo. Take a pill. Or I could just put more cayenne and garlic in everything, and maybe buy some seeds for the garden.

I could try some hot and cold treatments, but I'm not fond of water. Nice thought, but it just wouldn't happen. Unless I could just run around the outside of the house in bare feet and then stand on a register? Um, no. Garth's family does that for sport, and takes videos of all the screaming people in swimwear running through the snow. I watch through the window.

Nobody out there mentioned it, but I think my treatment of choice is going to be Tai Chi. Somehow I've let the Tai Chi slide over the last few years, but Garth and the folks at Pheasant Rump got me going again. I was there teaching the Tai Chi Chi Kung breathing form for almost two hours yesterday. After I left I had a bit of a headache, and then later a very hot face. I thought I was getting sick, but this morning I seem to be fine, and I'm thinking it might have been the breathing form. Got some stuff circulating, I suspect. I remember when I used to play Tai Chi a lot, there were several times while playing through the long form, I would notice one hand turning quite warm and the other icy cold. It worried me a little at the time, but I didn't notice any ill effects after that. I hope it will toughen me up so I can generate my own heat, or at least make me more aware of my body so that I notice when I need a blankie for my feet.

Of course, if I had a wood stove, I'd probably be so active cutting wood and gathering kindling that my circulation would be just fine. And the hot and cold treatments would be automatic.

But the wood stove awaits the renovations, which await the money, and I'm not sure yet where that's coming from. Meantime, more Tai Chi and less blogging.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Lessons learned on the ice

Sliding is fun.

Falling down hurts.

Sliding is fun.

Fast people are scary.

Still, sliding is fun.

"I can do cross-cuts!"

Throwing your arms in the air in jubilation may drive your picks into the ice.

Falling down really hard on both knees really hurts.

Sliding while falling makes it hurt less.

A diving slide is almost fun.

It is possible to take a chunk out of the ice with a knee.

Rink ice is not very thick.

When you see the wrinkles in the tape that marks the lines, the ice might not be thick enough.

The caretaker might not believe you.

When the ice starts breaking up in the middle of a hockey game that evening, he'll wish he'd listened.

Hockey is fun to watch, once you grow out of your fear of stray pucks.

To win at hockey, you have to play rough, and push the rules to the limits.

In curling, you have to follow the rules exactly, or else the game doesn't work.

I get to curl with some fine people.

Some nights I'd rather play hockey.

First I'd have to learn how to skate.

But walking home from the curling rink tonight, thinking about body checks into the boards, I looked up and saw a great bright ring around the moon.

There were just a few stars showing just inside the ring, like those curling stones that hang around the edges of the house and sometimes mean nothing, and sometimes make a big score all at once.

The ring was too big and subtle for a picture. Maybe someday you'll get to see one like it. I hope so.

Sliding is fun.

More about Earth Day

I sat down to write about bringing in a movie for Earth Day, and ended up ranting about believing in our girls and helping them do community service and help the environment year round. Read that first.

Now about that movie. Like I said, I want to stir things up a bit. Beware, o thou members of the Christian Education Committee. I stand nominated to replace your chairperson this fall. Here' s a foretaste.

I contacted the movie co-ordinator for the Optimists Club a while ago, suggesting that they bring in El Caballo for Earth Day. The decision was that it didn't fit their mandate.

I still want to see it done.

I'll be bringing the idea to the meeting this Wednesday. I will personally kick in part of the cost to bring in the movie. I want help with the rest, plus whatever the Optimists will need for the use of the theatre and the help of one of their projectionists (hopefully nothing). I will also look for support from the Earth and Sky Society and the Moose Mountain Wildlife Federation. Any other suggestions? Are you with me?

Earth Day

Here's a heads-up for folks around here: I want to stir things up a bit come Earth Day (April 22nd). The Girl Guides have been faithfully marking the day with their Recycling Drive and Cookie Sale, every year since I don't know when. And every year that I've been involved, I've grumbled my way through it. We idle our trucks all over town for hours. We collect beverage containers and cash them in for the deposit money, and say we're doing people a favour. Oh, sure, we collect their other recyclables while we're at it, so that's a service, and it's good for the environment. Well, wait a minute. We do this once a year. What about the other 51 weeks? How is this a service? And like I said, we idle our trucks all over town. I will boldly wager without even bothering to estimate anything, that we do substantially more damage by burning that gasoline than any benefit we do by gathering those recyclables. Well, er, isn't it educational? For both the girls and the community?

Oh please! What exactly are we teaching? We can do better than that.

Last year, I tried a small challenge to the tradition. I meekly brought Garth along to drive my little old pickup truck, but I also brought my bike and trailer. With another mom and a troop of girls, I walked around our assigned collection and sales route, pushing my bike and toting our cookies and bottles in the trailer. Garth kept the truck parked with the engine off, except for a few short hops to meet us at the end of a block and see if we needed to unload.

It worked fine. In fact, it worked great, because the bike and trailer could follow the girls more closely than any motor vehicle, and there was no awkwardness about who gets to ride and who has to walk, or whether the whole group should hop in for a ride now and then.

Now if the Girl Guides wanted to try some real service, here's a suggestion. We could build several bike trailers, or beat the bushes for existing trailers buried in back of garages or up in attics. For any girls who were keen to participate, we could fit their bikes with good trailer hitches (axle mounted - see a video demo at the Wike site). Then, for Earth Day, we could run the Drive with one truck, yes, I said ONE truck, plus a fleet of bikes and trailers, and cell phones. The truck would stay parked at the recycling bins until it was called for.

But that's not all. After the Drive, for the rest of the year, yes, I said YEAR, the more senior girls would be available to collect recyclables from anyone who has difficulty getting down to the bins themselves. Perhaps they could make an arrangement with the grocery stores to help with deliveries, too. That would teach about closing a loop, tying the grocery shopping trip to the recycling trip in a meaningful cycle that will settle into habit.

For those of you who are grumbling about practical details: a toboggan works great when there's too much snow and ice for the bicycle. And to keep the bananas and tomatoes from harm at 30 below, an insulated food cooler for summer picnics can do winter duty. And if you're thinking that those seniors still need to get out to the store to choose their groceries anyway, actually they don't. Some phone in their orders, and there is even an Internet catalog for shopping online from Chapman's (though Kelly tells me it has never been used, but it's there if you want to try it out). And there are probably some seniors who would welcome the chance to walk safely downtown and back, unburdened by recycling and groceries, knowing that their selections from the stores would be delivered later by a cheerful Girl Guide.

Oh, but the work! Who would co-ordinate it all?

The girls.


Come on, people. Believe in them. If you won't, who will?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Thoughts while shovelling

When we lived in Regina, we said we would never again buy a house with a north-facing driveway.


But for some reason, it doesn't seem so bad. My guess is that we don't drive as much, so we get it shovelled before we pack much onto it.

It's not a terribly long driveway. I only shovel the paved part, and let the loop around the other side of the house fill up with snow. That way the grader operator has enough frontage for dumping his windrow, so he doesn't slop it over the main driveway. This year, though, we had so little snow, they didn't even start grading until a week or so ago, and I guess they forgot which end of the driveway to bury. Not enough traffic to make it obvious.

Anyway, while I was shovelling the dearly welcomed four inches or so of fluffy white stuff Wednesday evening, I was thinking about doing a photo essay about the chore.

What would be the point of that? Evidence that I actually work sometimes? "See Laura work! Work, Laura, work!"

I was thinking I could make a "how-to" post out of it - "How to Move a Lot of Snow." I had worked out such a clever pattern to minimize the work. I pushed as much snow as possible on each journey down the driveway, and never wasted effort moving it back and forth while gathering it up. I had a path cleared, just the width of the shovel, all the way down the driveway. Starting at the far end, I'd push snow across the width of the driveway, and into the start of my path. Once more across to catch the stuff that fell off the side of the shovel, and I had a big pile in the start of the path. It was all I could push, but almost all of it went down the path, held in by the ridges left on previous trips. Working this way, I didn't need one of those great heavy snow scoops with sides on it. Just an ordinary wide-blade snow shovel.

As I cleared my way down the driveway, the path to the back yard got shorter and shorter, and shinier and shinier. I wish I could have got you a picture of the times when I misjudged and made the pile in the path too big for my snowboots' traction.

I worked out an extra trick for pushing a lot of snow without getting stalled by the extra resistance where it hasn't been moved yet. I'd section off an area of snow by pushing a cross-wise path through it, and then work back across, clearing the section into the path with that rhythmic scoop-and-toss pattern that most people use to just windrow the snow along the side of the driveway. Then I'd push my whole cross-wise windrow over to the main path and away I'd go.

Now, you might be wondering why I don't just do it the way most people do, and pile the snow along the side. Here we come to the rationalization I invented for calling this a "how-to" post. You see, a how-to article should really address something useful, or as Contrary Goddess puts it, something that contributes to the community. I figure my contribution is that I leave extra room in that narrow tree-row for the neighbour to pile her snow. Less work for her.

The beauty of it is that my technique involves almost no work at all. If I did that scoop-and-toss thing up into the tree row, that would involve a vertical displacement of the snow. My scoop-and-toss is really more of a push-swish thing, and as my engineer father loved to remind me when I was lugging hay bales, it doesn't matter how far you move something along, there's no work involved unless you move it up. Work is defined as, oh, I forget, something times height.

Yep, Dad. If I was a proper diligently efficient adult and just pitched that snow into the tree row, that would be work. When I cleverly channel-plow it all into the back yard, that's pure play.

I know, I know, there's some vertical displacement involved in making that pile. Believe me, I know.

Bits learned

I was browsing the Lee Valley catalog when I noticed a tip in the pruning section: when choosing a handsaw for a task, make sure the blade length is more than double the length of the cut you will be making. Otherwise the middle saw teeth will never clear the cut, and they will be clogged with sawdust that they can't drop.

Well. Why couldn't I have thought of that myself, when I was sawing away at something and wondering why I was so slow? (Don't answer that!)

It reminds me of last fall, when Garth's brother was helping me improvise an enclosure for the dog in the back yard. I was driving fence staples with a hammer, and I mentioned to him that I seem to lose all strength in my grip after maybe two or three staples. He said his father taught him to relax his grip on the hammer just at the instant that it strikes. That was the secret to being able to drive nails all day.

These are the sorts of things that you might figure out yourself, if it occurred to you to try; and you might find somewhere on the Internet, if it occurred to you to look; but on the other hand, you might just struggle and then decide to let a stronger, faster person do it for you.

Courage. Testosterone doesn't always win.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The last of the letters from Nepal

I've posted Garth's last three updates from Nepal on his webpage. It's sort of like the postcards that arrive after the traveller is already home. There's one more article to watch for in the Carlyle Observer (and on the webpage later) which he wrote in response to their questions after he got back. I expect we'll be adding some pictures to the webpage too - he has thousands.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

March 1st in Arcola

This doesn't do it justice - it's really coming down. Thicker every time I look.

Worth the wait

Don't miss this new post from Eleutheros: The Oil Standard.

All the pieces fit.

You Already Hold the Truth

Well, here it is: You Already Hold the Truth, sung, in mp3 format, about 1.8 MB. I'm just itching to type a whole page of excuses and wishes to do better and all, but my sister says "Never apologize," and I almost always kind-of sort-of listen to my sister, so I'll just hush.

The lyrics are here.