Image of the week

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Country living has found us adding many miles on our vehicles. The old ‘inner city walk to the corner store’ has become just wishful thinking! Now, shopping requires a lot of forethought, as running out of milk means a ten minute drive. Play dates, trips to the library, parent- teacher interviews and after school activities all require car time. But, it’s not all bad. Check out my blog from April entitiled Gravel Roads for a more romantic take.

The power of ‘no’

As my friends, family and fellow bloggers know, it’s been quite a journey of self exploration for me this past year. My move from city to country has been both exhilarating and nauseating.

I find myself teetering between the two sensations on a daily basis; I am still trying to figure out where I fit in this new life. And it’s not just me. As a family we had to let go of so much to come here. It was not a blind move, and certainly not a decision we made lightly, but it was still a test of faith.

I have always believed we are all on a path. The old clichés ring true to me and have guided me my whole life. Clichés like, “It will all work out in the end,” and “What will be, will be.” And also “When one door closes, another door opens.”

It’s one thing to have a door close and another door open. But what happens when it’s you who closes that door? Does fate still extend her hand of generosity? Or, are you just screwed? Have you altered your own intended timeline and changed your destiny irreversibly?

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I’ve done just that. I’ve closed a door. Last year, as I was settling into my new life in the country, I was fortunate to have a teaching position fall into my lap at a private school. Suddenly I went from “who am I?” to “French teacher.” It was a wonderful and fulfilling experience. I discovered the joys (and rage) of teaching children from grades one to eight, and in doing so, opened up a whole network of new friendships. The school invited me back to teach again this year, but after much soul searching, I decided to decline.

Why? Why close this door?

I suppose I didn’t want it to become a crutch. As wonderful as it was, it was not a financially sustaining endeavour, and it took up most of my free time. I didn’t do it for the money. But, I realized that my time was too valuable. That sounds awfully narcissistic, doesn’t it? Very self-indulgent. Who in the hell do I think I am?

So now I’m left wondering what’s next.

It’s an odd feeling. I’ve worked my entire life! Now I find myself wandering the property like I’m retired. I get up, I feed the chickens and the goats. I stroll the grounds with my coffee and cats. I do my yoga. And, I think.

The truth is, I do have some goals in mind. I will steer myself in those directions and let the universe guide me. I need to be grateful that I’m in a position to have this freedom of choice. But this decision to decline work could be viewed in two very profoundly different ways: either it’s very brave of me to indulge the universe in this way, or (and this is what I fear) very reckless.

Either way, I’ve made my choice and now I have to live with it. I tell my children that every decision they make in life should scare them a little bit. If you always choose to operate within your comfort zone, then your world will become too small.

This is advice I repeat to myself often these days. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. If you don’t stray from the path now and then, you’ll never know what you’re missing. So if nothing else, by closing this door, I will show my children that sometimes saying “no” takes more courage than saying “yes.”

 

 

 

 

Image of the week

abandoned

On a family drive in the country last week, we saw the ghostly silhouette of this house in the distance. We couldn’t resist pulling into the lane to get a closer look; the property looked like something out of The Walking Dead. An old car sat smashed and abandoned right next to the house; driver’s door ajar. A broken tractor, found next to the old bank barn that was barely standing, had a shattered front windshield that looked like it had struck a pedestrian. The entire property was overrun with grass and weeds. I was able to take a few photos before we left. The hair on the back of my neck was standing on end. Something didn’t feel right.

Preservation

Preserve
[pri-zurv]

verb (used with object), preserved, preserving.
1. To keep alive or in existence; make lasting.

For the first time in my life, I have finally managed to preserve something other than my marriage. Next, I will attempt to preserve my sanity. But for now, it’s tomatoes.

Canning my own tomatoes was a dream I held onto for years. I imagined one day I would don my grandmother’s apron and set about the task, rosy-cheeked and full of zest. But the years ticked by and my excuses piled up. I was busy with work and kids. “When I find the time I’ll do it!” I’d say. “I’m busy!”

The fact that many “busy” men and women found the time to can did not elude me. That knowledge just added to my guilt each time I opened yet another can of BPA-free, top dollar organic tomatoes.

But, as I now know, the art of canning truly is one of time – and of patience. Both of which I feel I have at this point in my life. Well, time for sure; patience is debatable. And so, with much determination, I decided this year it was going to happen. A phone call to a neighbour found me supplied with all the required equipment, and a much needed boost of confidence.

By the end of the first day I was definitely rosy-cheeked, but not full of zest. And for the record, the rosy “cheekedness” wasn’t all that pretty. It was more of an “Oh my fucking god I hate tomatoes” sort of flush. And my grandmother’s apron? Thankfully I couldn’t find it and it remains folded (and clean) in a chest, somewhere.

My canned tomatoes.

My canned tomatoes.

It didn’t take me long to realize this canning business would be a love-hate affair. But like the magic of childbirth, after gazing lovingly at my new “babies” all lined up on the table, I’m already forgetting the pain and imagining what I will can next.

The slow, methodical work also gave me time for reflection. Looking out the window above my kitchen sink, washing and slicing the fruit, it was easy to forget my worries.  Unexpectedly, I found my late grandmother, Earlene, whose apron I had imagined wearing, standing beside me. And her mother, my great-grandmother Lila-Mae, was there as well.

You see, canning – despite it’s gentrification into the modern world – once belonged solely to women. It was their job to preserve the food that would nourish their family through the winter months, food that was planted by hand and harvested from the kitchen gardens of yesteryear. By continuing on with this tradition of “women’s work,” I found myself bound in spirit with the matriarchs of my past. And not just my family.

I had a neighbour whom I adored when I was a young girl. Jean Humphrey was her name. I spent much of my childhood spare time with her. I remember vividly the tiny cuts on her thumbs after a week of canning. She would slice the fruit and vegetables with her paring knife, cutting against her thumb instead of a cutting board. They were tiny, superficial little marks but I was mesmerized. I asked her if they hurt. No, she replied.

And in my reveries, I also thought of Margaret Mulvihill. She was the woman of the 160-year-old house I now call home (Read their story in the “about” section of my blog). An Irish settler, forging a new life in the Canadian wilderness with her young family. How much canning did she do in preparation for the long, cold winter months? Who stood next to her in her thoughts? Her mother? Her grandmother? Did her mind take her back to the home that she would never see again?

It’s a time of “preservation” here at the farm. I have gratitude for the abundance in my life and I’m proud to carry on this tradition. It wasn’t just tomatoes I was preserving after all; it was my womanhood, and the cherished sweet memories of lives now gone.

Goats from hell

So. I’ve been practicing the breathing techniques I leaned at Lamaze class 14 years ago. Deep breath in through the nose, and out through the mouth. With my eyes closed, I think of a better place. A peaceful place, like one without goats for instance. Sometimes there’s a noise on my exhale though; a slight moan. But that’s OK. I’m working through the pain.

 Yoga works too. Well, sort of; it works in theory. Take a look at this image of me attempting some “relaxation” yoga with my three-year-old. Yes, that is him. On my head.

Hard to benefit from "relaxation" yoga with a kid on your head.

Hard to benefit from “relaxation” yoga with a kid on your head.

 So then we come to my goats. Don’t get me wrong, I love my goats. Stella and Beulah arrived at my farm just over a month ago and it was truly love at first sight, despite the big nasty scabs all over their faces. Orf, the vet said. Harmless. Harmless, but disgusting. And the incessant coughing was a bit disturbing as well. But they have since matured into two lovely and healthy baby goats.

 Healthy, lovely little goats from hell.

 “What are you going to do with them?” I’m often asked.

 “Just love them,” I reply.

Beulah in the pram

       Beulah in the pram

 As time goes on, however, the goats have become more comfortable and a little too confident in their new environment. If I’m going to follow through with the loving, then we have to sort out a few important boundaries!

 It became clear early on that the goats cannot be left to roam the property unsupervised. They are capable of clearing vegetation like the locusts of biblical times. I’m OK with that, except when said cleared vegetation is my fifty dollar shrubs. And, every-single-one-of-my-potted-plants.

 I decided to put this talent for clearing to work in a positive way. Why not fence them and they can “cut” my grass for me? Cities around the world have adopted this practice for years and it has been very effective. Check out this link for “adopt a goat”: (http://www.today.com/video/today/40380939#40380939)

 So, with a new lightness in my step, I made a quick trip to the Co-op and returned with flexible fencing that is easy to install and can be placed anywhere on the property.

After wrestling with the thing for a half hour (it’s all in one piece – posts and all – so it was easy to get tangled), I managed to get the fence in place.

 With much excitement the kids (mine) led the kids (goats) to their new temporary enclosure. It was wonderful for the first, say, 10 seconds, until they both slipped through the fence like it wasn’t even there. (Insert breathing technique here)

 Long story short, the fence has to be electrified to keep these critters in. And so begins the next segment of my frustrating journey of goat ownership. I’m learning about “fencers,” and the importance of grounding electrical currents. And, not to be tempted to jump over the fence by your daughter after consuming a couple glasses of wine. This is not recommended.

 To be continued.

Yiddish Proverb

         Yiddish Proverb