Category Archives: Lifestyle

Power, prickly pears and puffballs

A doozy of a storm blew through Ontario, Canada on Saturday, May 21. In Ottawa, the storm caused more damage than either our legendary ice storm of 1998 or our more recent tornado. The tornado destroyed 80 hydro poles; this storm toppled 300.

We lost power for 7 days.

At that, we were lucky. Most houses in our neighbourhood are still without. As I write this, I hear generators in the distance. And chainsaws. And sirens.

Living without power for that long is disorienting for people of the 21st Century. We couldn’t focus. Routines fell apart. Sleep patterns were disrupted. We ate differently, and our digestive tracts protested. We moved from one room to another with a flashlight in one hand while flicking a (useless) light switch with the other.

Unable to work, or do pretty much anything, people moved around neighbourhoods like zombies. We mourned the loss of beloved trees. So many trees toppled or torn in two.

The event reminded us of the cruel indifference of nature. Sometimes a perfectly healthy tree had snapped while older, sicker ones nearby stayed standing.

The storm was not “fair” or “unfair.” It was its wild self.

Through it all, when we met neighbours on our walks, we counted our blessings:

  • We didn’t have bombs falling on our heads.
  • Gunmen were not shooting up our schools.
  • We had access to generators.
  • We had to worry about losing food, so that meant we had food to lose.
  • We had no internet, but we had data plans!

I found another blessing while burning up data on my phone powered by a generator, I read a post on one of my favourite Facebook pages: The View From Connaught Pond, Grant Dobson | Facebook. I learned that the prickly pear cactus can thrive in Canada. I never would have thought it! That simple knowledge gave me joy in our time of frustration.

Another spot of joy came when I dug around in my garden and came upon some puffballs. I hadn’t seen them since I was a kid tromping around our farm woodlot. It was a simple, silly thing, but it brought light to my day when electricity couldn’t.

Watch the puffball, and tell me, what brought you gratitude and joy today?

My husband demonstrates proper puffball technique.

Living the first draft

I posted this on a previous blog. It’s come to my mind again in recent weeks.


Sometimes I wonder . . . Did someone ever say to Mozart, “Ya know what, Wolfgang? I think that should be two quarter notes instead of one half note.”

  • Have you ever been lost for words in an emotional moment only to think later, “I should have said this . . .”?
  • Or perhaps you said the absolutely worst thing possible only to think later, “If only I hadn’t said that!”?
  • Or maybe you have thought, “If I could do that over again, I’d do it differently.”?

We don’t get to edit our lives before publication. Everything we do is first draft.

Anne Lamott encourages writers to “Write shitty first drafts.” She knows that getting something—anything—down on the page is key. Writers can’t believe that words are supposed to sprinkle gracefully onto the page in perfect pearly rows. We’d never get anything done, we’d be so frozen with apprehension.

A mediocre mess of an idea out there is better than a perfect pearly idea hidden.

Every day we meet people and choose words to speak to them. Sometimes we choose appropriate, helpful words. But sometimes we choose hurtful ones.

Every day we choose clothes and do our hair. Sometimes our wardrobe and hair could be on the cover of Vogue. But sometimes we manage only sweatpants and a washed face.

Occasionally  life kneecaps us with unexpected blows. Sometimes we rise above it with wise, rational choices. But sometimes we solve problems with beer and a whiskey chaser.

We can’t edit our lives before publication, and that means our words and actions won’t sprinkle gracefully in perfect pearly rows. We have to live our delightfully shitty first draft and forgive ourselves for it.

Because one mediocre mess of a life out there is better than a perfect pearly one hidden. 

Rose petals scattered across an light pine hardwood floor.
Scattered rose petals. A beautiful mess.

Being rid of that which does not feed us

I have been reading Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, a recommendation of TheHomePlaceWeb blog.

The book provides solace to the soul, and that is something we citizens of Ottawa, Canada need in our difficult times.

Katherine May writes about how we think of life as linear, a slow march from birth to death. That is true, but May reminds us that the pattern of life is also cyclical, or seasonal. We circle through periods of beginnings and endings, storing up and shedding, and wakefulness and sleeping throughout our lives.

At the beginning of a day, or a project, or a course of study, we are similar to trees with green leaves full of chlorophyll. The leaves absorb sunlight and convert carbon dioxide and water into tree food, and we absorb information and convert physical supplies into some sort of product that serves to advance our lives. Spring and summer cycles are about gathering and growing.

At the end of a day, or fiscal year, or a career, we prepare for change in the way of a tree. The chlorophyll in leaves breaks down in fall. The green disappears and exposes other beautiful colours that were always there but hidden. In a process called abscission, the cells between the stem and the branch weaken until supply to the leaf is cut off and the leaf falls. In our lives, this is when we pass on clothes we no longer need, or clear out university textbooks, or pack up personal belongings from the office and walk out the door.

Abscission, the process required for shedding of leaves, is “part of an arc of growth, maturity, and renewal.” In other words, to protect ourselves and stay strong, sometimes we need to rid ourselves of that which no longer feeds us.

BUT—and this is important —even on the coldest, darkest days of winter, when deciduous trees appear fully dead, there are buds. They are small and protected by thick scales, but they are there.

“We rarely notice them because we think we’re seeing the skeleton of the tree, a dead thing until the sun returns. But look closely, and every single tree is in bud . . .”

From Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
A twig of a deciduous tree in February against a background of snow. The branch has buds protected by thick scales.
Buds waiting for the sun

On this cold winter day in Ottawa, it helps me to know that buds are in place. It allows me to believe that the events taking place in downtown Ottawa had a spring, summer, and fall season and that the time of shedding approaches.

Soon we will be rid of that which does not feed us.

Focus: A word I need

My word for 2022 came to me in December as I was reading a post on The Spectacled Bean.

What would my word for 2022 be, I wondered . . . Oh wait, the laundry needed to be changed.

. . .

Right. A word. 2022. That was what I was thinking about. What should . . . Oh, but then my husband was going to the grocery store. I just needed to tell him we need milk.

. . .

Back again. Think, think, think. What would . . . Sorry. A notification popped into my computer screen. I needed to respond to that.

. . .

If only I could focus, I thought.

That’s it!

FOCUS.

One thing at a time. Multi-tasking is a myth. I aim for a more productive 2022 as a result.

Do you have word for 2022?

The word BE written in black marker on white paper
Just be

Sun salutation

Illustration of sun salutation positions
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license: Kasun Perera

I began the solstice morning with a sun salutation, “a humble adoration of the light and insight of the self,” as it says in Yoga Journal.

[I have been practising yoga via Zoom through the pandemic with the amazing Andrea Robertson of bodyandbalance. No matter where you live in the world, you too could improve strength, flexibility and balance.]

On the darkest and longest day of the year, we salute the sun. It is returning to us here in the northern hemisphere—but not for a while. We have months of darkness first.

Darkness is a scary place of uncertainty, but it’s full of possibilities too. Darkness makes dreams came true.   

“For the first time, Chris [Hadfield] could see the power and mystery and velvety black beauty of the dark. And, he realized, you’re never really alone there. Your dreams are always with you, just waiting. Big dreams, about the kind of person you want to be.”    

From The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield

The darkness of a movie theatre makes enjoying a movie possible. The images are clear. Any light—from a cell phone, for example—is unwelcome.

Darkness makes us uncomfortable, but it also forces us to focus. If we carry a flashlight out into a black night, we must choose where to shine the beam. We narrow our outlook to what’s important in the moment.  

I salute the sun. And I appreciate that, at a time of year when it is less present in my life, I must narrow focus and choose where to shine my beam.

Christmas tree with lights illuminated
Darkness allows me to enjoy my Christmas tree lights.

Seek, and then keep seeking

An empty row of seating in a church. A sign hangs from a barrier blocking access to the row. The sign reads, "'When you seek me, you will find me.' Just not in this pew."
“When you seek me, you will find me, when you will seek me with all your heart.” –Jeremiah 29:13

I attended a concert on Friday night. Due to COVID restrictions, the venue needed to bar access to every other row of seating. They did so with humour.

The sign above made me laugh, and think.

We often seek some wonderful new event or item for our lives, and we expect it to appear immediately and directly in our path. POOF!

Not so fast. Maybe we can find what we seek, but not right away and not in the first place we look.

Seek, and then keep seeking, with the whole heart.

Ioan Harea on violin and Judy Ginsburg on piano
Ioan Harea on violin and Judy Ginsburg on piano. Lovely.