Category Archives: Lifestyle

The beauty of making do

We replaced kitchen cupboards at our cottage on the weekend.

The old ones had been there for decades—probably since the 1950s when my father-in-law bought the place. They were functional, but not perfectly so. The drawers, without sliders, squeaked closed, wood against wood. One cupboard door was hung crooked and sprang open again if not closed with authority.

I was excited to replace the old cupboards with units that had proper shelving and drawers the slid home easily with a quiet thunk at the end.

And then we took the old ones apart.

Those gliders on the wooden drawers? Hockey sticks. (Canadian stereotype alert!)

The side panels were pieces of used decorative paneling (that I suspect he picked up for free from a discard pile somewhere). Every screw used to cobble the whole thing together was different. He’d obviously empty every jar of used screws in his work shed.

We bowed down to the skillful frugality of my father-in-law, the King of Making Do. What we found behind the smooth white front was a masterpiece of creative re-purposing that gave new meaning to the term “custom kitchen.”

He was teenager during the Great Depression and those years of poverty marked him. He lived Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Re-purpose, Recycle before it became an environmental mantra.

It was marvelous. And so beautiful.

Syd, if you’re out there somewhere, I hope you know that I am bowing down to your work and the beauty of making do.

Bank of lower kitchen cabinets
The new look: Functional yes, but not NEARLY as interesting.

Modern tree stumps

Pioneer woman in long dress moving a tree stump.

Meet my great-grandmother.

I’m told I have her chin.

There are many things to love about this picture—the long dress, the apron (!), the hat that looks like something Charlie Chaplin might have sat upon, the natural grass untouched by any lawn mower, and the corner of a barn that was probably raised on a good old-fashioned barn-raising day.

And, of course, the tree stump she’s wrestling into submission.

The thing I love the most is that she doesn’t look unhappy. There might even be the hint of a smile.

The woman is digging tree stumps in a long skirts and she doesn’t seem to mind.

In some ways her challenges were greater than mine. She probably sewed that dress that she had no choice but to wear. She had to clear the land where they grew the food they ate, she had to bake from scratch every single cookie and loaf of bread she consumed, and she had to can her green beans and tomatoes. She was driven to do those things because otherwise her family would go hungry. She worked hard—physically—from dawn to dusk.

In other ways her life was simple. She had food, faith and family. She never had to suffer the irritation of four-way stops, she never had to receive emails from hackers trying to scam her, and she never had anyone in the next cubicle eating curry for lunch.

The modern “tree stumps” I have to wrestle into submission are quite different, and I don’t have to do it while wearing a long dress. (Although I can if I choose.) My tree stumps challenge my mind, my emotions and my spiritual equilibrium more than my body, but they still challenge me from dawn to dusk.

But, from what I hear, I inherited another thing from my great-grandmother—the calm joy of moment.

No matter what’s happening—no matter what—there’s joy to be found, even if it’s the flip-side of sorrow.

On being Mrs. McGregor: Bunnies

This bunny hopped into my backyard early Saturday morning.

small bunny on the snow
March Hare?

Cute bunny, right? But my reaction to the furry friend was not charitable, because last year this bunny, or one just like her, ate the tops off all my tulips. My Canada 150 tulips, no less. I was not impressed.

close-up of the leaf shape in the centre of the Canada 150 tulip
Canada 150 tulip – 2017

And my front garden has become her favourite place to poop. Yuck.

bunny poop in the garden
Bunnies poop is cute, but still . . .

As my tulips come into bloom this year I will be keeping a close eye on bunnies. My red and white blooms will be guarded, and I posted a comment to that effect on my Facebook feed. One of my friends commented: “Okay, Mr(s). McGregor.”

I laughed out loud, because I did sound like Mr. McGregor chasing Peter Rabbit about the garden.

cover of The Tale of Peter Rabbit

I laugh.

But, I love my tulips.

Bunny, I’ve got eyes on you. And I’m not afraid of being called Mrs. McGregor.

Pussy willows in the wild

Do you buy yourself flowers?

I don’t. The frugal former farmgirl part of me is uncomfortable with impractical spending. Why spend money on a luxury that will die in a few days?

Praises be, I raised a city daughter who thinks differently. She willingly spends money on touches of beauty: plants with character, fresh flowers and unique throw pillows. (Frugal former farmgirl says, Throw pillows? Useless!)

three throw pillows, one with a Harry Potter Marauders' Map
Useless?

Last week my daughter brought home pussy willows.

Boom! She transported me back to my childhood farm near a wooded area where pussy willows grew wild. In my barn-chore gum rubber boots, I’d walk through the soggy marshland in the spring and run my fingers over the soft pussy willow buds.

I wondered how many people in our oh-so-urban society are lucky enough to have such a beautiful memory. I felt privileged and full of gratitude.

My daughter, spending her money so willingly, bought more than fresh flowers. She bought a long-forgotten cherished memory, an appreciation for my carefree childhood, and gratitude for how her different approach to life makes mine richer.

Those aren’t luxuries, and they won’t die in a few days.

Pussy willow buds

Pussy willows in the wild: Ontario Trees