Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fall Plein Air

Fall At Police Outpost, oil on canvas board

Today was one of those fabulous early Fall days with the sun shining brilliantly and all of the trees in colour. We went to Police Outpost Park, a beautiful place at the foot of Chief Mountain, Montana. On the Canadian side of the border, this park has lots of history. During Prohibition, it was an outpost of the Northwest Mounted Police, who were stationed here to intercept the cross-border trade in whiskey. Some of the original log buildings are still standing. 

It is also a great place to hike, camp, fish, and paint. It is hilly and has a large lake, several smaller lakes, forested areas, open fields, and some marshland. It is an important nesting area for birds, including species like the mountain bluebird, common loon, eastern kingbird, American golfinch, common snipe, and the sandhill crane. It is on the western edge of the prairie flyway for migratory birds. In the past, Rob and I have explored all of the trails on our mountains bikes and on foot. 

Sadly for me, I have broken a bone in my foot. My left foot is in a cast, and I get around by hobbling on crutches. So this afternoon, while my companions went off on a hike, I set up my painting things on a picnic table and painted a small plein air painting of the fall colours. For a quick little painting, I am fairly pleased with it, although if I had had more time, I would have added some shadows to the path and made it a little less straight, and also worked on the grass, trees, and shadows on the righthand side a little more. But the light was going, my companions had returned from their hike, and the temperature was dropping, so I signed it and that was that. 

It was a lovely day. The final bonus of the day was that as we drove back, we had the opportunity to see the super moon go into full lunar eclipse. It was an amazing sight, something that only happens every few decades, and something I have never witnessed before (I have seen a super moon, and I have seen an eclipse before, but not an eclipse of the super moon.) Also know as a blood moon, in our sighting, the moon was huge and yellow, not red. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Helping the Earth for my Grandkids

I began to become concerned about the long term environmental sustainability of human behaviours before I reached my teens. I remember doing a science project when I was about 11 or 12 or 13 in which I implemented several rules at my household that involved reducing, recycling, and reusing. This was long before awareness of environmental issues was a common thing, and before these words had become a mantra for us all. This was around 1969-70. I can no longer remember all of the environmental rules I presented to my family, but I do remember two that "stuck." I created a compost bucket for kitchen vegetable waste, and I put concrete blocks into the tanks of our two toilets to reduce water usage. My family was somewhat bemused but went along with it. It was one of my first lessons that one person's actions can influence others' beliefs and behaviours with respect to big social and environmental issues. 

Some 45 years later, I am still concerned about environmental sustainability, and I still compost and try to use water wisely. I am far less sure, however, that my small actions are enough to make a real difference. Although I am am quite diligent in many small environmental actions, I am uncomfortably aware that some of my large actions are many magnitudes more damaging to the environment than the little preventative things that I do to increase sustainability. A list of some of my environmentally reponsible behaviours follows.


- Grow some of my own food in a backyard garden
- Garden organically
- Use square foot gardening method (intensive rotated plots)
- Compost vegetable waste and yard waste
- Use compost to build the soil
- Avoid the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and inorganic fertilizers
- Use the least amount of water necessary in the yard and garden
- When possible, choose food grown locally, humanely, and organically
- Buy groceries in smaller quantities and use leftovers to reduce food waste
- Bring leftovers home from restaurant
- Choose items with less packaging
- Use reusable cloth shopping bags
- Recycle cans and plastic and glass bottles
- Take newspaper and cardboard to recycling depot
- Take paints and other chemicals to recycling depot for proper disposal
- Donate used clothing and household goods
- Bring my own mug or water bottle
- Reuse plastic bags and glass jars
- Choose environmentally sustainable household cleansers (e.g., Citrus cleanser)
- Cloth diapers rather than disposables as much as possible
- Plant trees
- Use short cycle on washing machine if possible
- Turn off lights and electronics when not in use
- Eat less meat
- Reusable lunchbag
- When possible, choose glass, metal or paper over plastic
- Installed water cooler at work to reduce staff use of bottled water
- Use the items I have until they wear out, and avoid shopping unnecessarily (eschew materialism)


- Water by hand or with soaker hose
- Water in the morning or evening, not under the hot sun
- Have planted drought tolerant perennials 
- Choose wild salmon, not farmed salmon
- Purchased low flow toilets
- Purchased hot water on demand system
- Wash in cold water
- Wash full laundry loads rather than a few items
- Don't run the tap when brushing teeth, or only a trickle
- Do not use the garburator


- Do not use air conditioning in my home
- Turn the thermostat down at night and when away
- Chose a smaller more fuel efficient car over a larger gas guzzler
- Sometimes walk or bike rather than drive
- Carpool when possible, e.g., to social or work event
- Live relatively close to work so don't have to commute far
- Have natural gas furnace and fireplace rather than oil, coal or wood
- Do not purchase aerosol cans
- Do not use motorized "toys" for entertainment (quad, motorboat, motorcycle, sled)

These are strawberries that I grew in my garden.

However, there are other bigger things that I do that are not very sustainable. I fly in airplanes far too much, both for work, and to go visit my grandchildren as often as possible. We own two cars, and one is a big truck and camper rig that is not fuel efficient. We live in a house that is much larger than we need. We have not invested in household systems that are more environmentally friendly, such as solar panels, a grey water system, or energy efficient new windows. We had begun doing this in our previous house, but not since we moved here. My house is not close enough to my workplace that I can walk or bike to work. Much of my pension funds are invested in energy funds and other big corporations that are engaged in non-sustainable practices. Rob and I like to go on long driving/camping holidays. We have backyard and camping bonfires. I eat sushi that is made with farmed Atlantic salmon. 

I feel conflicted because some of my behaviours are not aligned with my beliefs and values. I guess it is still worth doing the environmentally conscious things that I do. But I know there is a lot more I could be doing. Those remaining things are the hardest kinds of behaviours to change, however.

Monday, May 18, 2015

May Long

This weekend was the Victoria Day long weekend in Canada, fondly known as May Long. The May long weekend is one that people especially look forward to, as it seems to mark the beginning of the summer season. It is the weekend that locals will tell you is the earliest date to put in your garden. As well, most parks and camping destinations open on the May long weekend and close the Labour Day weekend, the first weekend of September. For us, the dilemma this weekend was whether to go camping or to plant our garden. 

The garden won out, as it almost always does on May Long. I had already cleaned out and weeded the perennial flowerbed in the front years a couple of weeks ago, and the plants are coming in nicely although nothing but the tulips have flowered yet. This weekend we dug up and planted the annual flowerbed at the front of the house. It is a raised bed that Rob built with garden ties two years ago. There are three bushes down the middle of it - a spirea and two pontentiallas - and we planted wave petunias in assorted colours around the front and sides. 

We also planted a container of pansies and more wave petunias in pipe planters on the back patio. 

Rob built the pipe planters out of ABS plumbing pipe. They have a concrete base. In past years we have planted trailing strawberries and cherry tomatoes in the pipe planters, but I like them best for flowers, especially trailing ones. 

I also planted potatoes in potato bags. I tried this for the first time last year. Basically, you start with a few inches of soil in the bottom of the bags, and put about three seed potatoes in each. Then you cover them with an inch or two of soil. As the potato plants begin to show, you add another layer of soil and another layer of seed potatoes. You should be able to get about three layers of potatoes in each bag. It is a great solution if you want to grow potatoes but you don't have a lot of garden space. The black bags also seem to catch and hold the warmth.  

This weekend, I also turned over most of the soil in my vegetable plot. When we first moved here, the soil was terrible, all clay and rocks. Now, going into our fourth summer, I finally have built up the soil to be better for vegetables. I have used compost, manure, black humus, and sand to improve the quality of the soil. I garden organically without the use of chemical fertilizers, so it is especially important to have good soil. 

The weather has been unseasonably cold all week with the possibility of minus temperatures and frost, so I have held off on planting much so far. However, I did put in some herb transplants: dill, thyme, and parsley, and I also planted some celeriac transplants. The oregano, sage, chives, and savory have all come up again and are doing well. 

My fruit garden that I just started last summer also is doing well. It is a tiny triangular bed with raspberry canes along the fence, a rhubarb plant in the middle, and strawberry plants at the apex of the triangle. Everything seems to be thriving and the strawberries are all in bloom. 

I have always loved to garden ever since I was a teen. Wherever I have lived, I have always created a garden. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Moments of Joy

Life is not the perfection depicted in soft focus Mother's Day ads. You know the ones: a young, perfectly made up, smiling blonde woman with a picture perfect baby in her arms, a vase full of roses, and a piece of jewelry with a large diamond featured prominently in the foreground. That fantasy version of life is as thin as the paper it is printed on. And, despite what the marketers insist, true joy in life is not available for purchase.

Real life is more mundane, complicated, and ambiguous than that. Wherever I have gone in the world, whether to Heidelberg or Mexico City or Whitehorse, I have discovered that I bring myself along. My perspectives, emotions, preferences, and worries come along for the ride. I interpret the experiences I have there through my own point of view. Similarly, significant events in life -- the birth of a baby, a graduation, a wedding -- are experienced through my personal filters. Add in significant others, and their perceptions and preferences, as well as the dramas and agendas of acquaintances and strangers, and the complication index rises. 

Life is not a freeze frame snapshot. Things keep happening. The ten year-old is stung by a yellow jacket. The two year-old has a tantrum. The nuts you are toasting for the salad get left in a pan on a hot burner a little too long and they burn. You feel like you have a head cold coming on. Someone at work has made a critical remark on email about a project you are working on.

Not only that, but a lot of your time isn't your own to do with what you wish. Instead it may be filled with work or family obligations and mundane tasks. Like most of us, I spend much of my time engaged in everyday routine tasks at work and at home. I attend meetings, I answer work email, I drive here and there, I cook dinner, and I do the laundry. These tasks are not primarily associated with the pursuit of pleasure. My "free" time is limited, and so it carries a heavy burden. I try to pack into it all of the experiences and passions that my regular duties exclude. 

Recently, I had a very special opportunity. I had the chance to travel to a distant city to spend time with my daughter and son in law, my not quite three year-old grandson, and my newest dear little newborn grandbaby. I was able to hold my new grandson within six hours of his birth. I was able to spend a few days helping out with cooking and childcare, and bonding with both grandsons. 

There is nothing at all that can replace the joy of gazing down into the face of a brand new grandchild and holding the that warm little body close. I also experienced the joy of seeing my strong and beautiful daughter mothering her two sons, and my wonderful son-in-law looking after his family in all the challenging little ways that occur with a newborn in the house, all on four hours of sleep. And I had the special privilege of spending time with almost three-year-old "E." 

Together "Bamma" (his word for grandma) and E read and re-read the book about the spikey haired guy, shopped for groceries, flew to the birdhouse in the top of the tree on a swing, built a cage of pillows, and made sticker pictures. E taught Bamma the proper bedtime sequence, and showed Bamma how he managed the potty and setting out his dishes for mealtime and getting dressed all by himself. 

The last full day that I spent with my daughter's family, E and Bamma went to the beach. Together we gathered armloads of driftwood and carried it down the beach. E explored a log and driftwood fort built by someone else. He considered adding his stash of wood to it but then decided to continue on down the beach. We crossed a stream, took a look at someone's dock and boat that were pulled up beyond the tide line, and then came to a patch of sand. At this spot, E directed me to drop my armload of sticks and he began to build a house. He used the smaller sticks, poking them into the sand, and propped them up with rocks as well. Then Bamma took a picture with her phone to show Mommy and Daddy when we got back home. 

E's House of Sticks

We made our way back along the beach with a few stops to examine shells and kick at patches of sand. My heart was full of love for my little guy. I felt like the luckiest grandma in the world to have had those precious few hours with him. Experiences like this, and like holding my newborn grandson, are intense nuggets of joy in the everyday flow of life. The worries and "shoulds" recede briefly to make room for the most important experiences of all. Life with all its tangles is so much better than the airbrushed media images. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

La Casa del Pintor

I belong to an online artists' group that specializes in nocturns, or paintings of the nighttime. It is very interesting see works from painters around the world. It has really piqued my interest in painting nocturns. I have just started another one tonight, using a reference photo that I snapped last Fall. It shows a dark foreground, city street, and a western sky with the sun setting, illuminating dramatic layers of clouds.

Tonight I would like to feature a painting that I love, posted by a member of my online group. This amazing work is by Alan Fioravante from Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is "La Casa del Pintor" (The House of the Painter). It is a plein air oil painting. Aren't his colours fabulous?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Perfect Sunday

Today was a perfect Sunday. I started the day by sleeping in. Sometimes after a long week at work, sleeping in is the best thing ever. Then Rob cooked brunch for us, an omelette, and it was delicious. We sat around lazily sipping coffee and chatting.

It was a beautiful sunny day. So we loaded up our mountain bikes and the dog, and drove out to Pavan Park. It was a lovely spring day for riding around on the trails. Then we went down to the river and threw sticks into the water for Kate to swim out to and fetch. I think it was Kate's perfect Sunday too. 

After we came home and had a snack, I spent a couple of hours puttering around in my vegetable garden. I cleaned out dried leaves and so on left over from last Fall, and then began turning over the soil. My herbs are starting to reappear, even though it is still going down below freezing every night. I dug out some marjoram plants and chives to give away, as they are spreading and I have more than I need. I gradually have built up some good soil in the garden bed, and there are lots of worms. Once again, probably foolishly, I have high hopes for my little veggie garden!

Then Rob built a bonfire in our little backyard fire pit, and we had a wiener roast. I always love the first wiener roast of the season. There is something very satisfying about sitting outside on a beautiful evening, gazing into the flames. 

Throughout the day, I checked my phone frequently, almost obsessively, looking for messages. We have two more grandchildren on the way, and one of them could arrive any day now. I am one excited grandma!

Throughout the day, I managed to fit in a few minor tasks. And now, as soon as I finish this blog post, I am going to relax with a novel, some chocolate, and a cup of tea. This is, I have to say, a perfect Sunday.

Roasting a wiener at the backyard fire pit.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Gratitude and Troubles

This morning, Easter Sunday 2015, I am sitting in a treehouse in Los Angeles listening to the birds and thinking about gratitude and hope. I am so fortunate to have the life that I do, with many dear family and friends, and the freedom to make choices and experience the good life. 

My focus for most of the hours of the day, especially on work days, is on troubles -- problems and issues and interpersonal prickles. I function like an adrenalin junkie navigating, advising on, and solving problems. Life at work can seem like a sea of troubles. Thrashing about in those choppy waves takes a lot of concentration. Sometimes it seems like there is nothing but troubles. 

And then I step away. I step into the arms of my loving partner in life. We snuggle down to watch a movie together, or jump on our bicycles and ride into the wind until our eyes are gritty and our T-shirts are soaked with sweat. We stop in at our favourite little coffee shop for a latte and a butter tart or visit the bookstore and buy an art magazine (me) and a wooden boat magazine (him). The fat grey cat crawls up onto our laps and purrs as if his heart is breaking, while the dog dances around us to say, "Walk! Walk! Walk!" 

So walk we do, trekking up and down the coulĂ©e hills observing the first of the spring greenery beginning to push up under the dry grass of the past winter, and one hardy plant already putting out tiny white flowers. Meanwhile the dog sniffs along the path, seeking the scent of other dogs who have passed this way, or races down the hill and up the next looking for deer, or dashes into a copse of trees in the hollow after a porcupine. 

In this life that I have, we can load up the camper and go away for a weekend to the mountains where we hike and read and sit around a small bonfire. A couple of times I have taken my painting gear and spent a happy afternoon doing a landscape on location. Sometimes we take our mountain bikes, and grind our way uphill into creek valleys along gas well roads blocked off to vehicular traffic. 

We talk on the phone to our daughters and sons. We hear about the progress of the pregnancies and plans for our two little grandchildren who will be born this spring. They tell us about the recent move to L.A., and about their work, and their plans for the future. We FaceTime our grandsons, who dance for the camera and make funny faces to amuse grandma and grandpa. On a long weekend, I can book a flight, and spend a few days with them, and it gives me great joy. 

We talk to our friends on the phone, and keep in touch via social media. Sometimes we visit, or they visit us, our we plan to meet somewhere for a ski holiday or a conference. Even though the geographic distances are far, the social distances are not so far. 

Just as with my work, the world seems to be and is full of troubles. People are dying in wars; climate change threatens the future of all humanity; and the corporations are hurtling along an agenda and timeline towards massive social collapse that is unchecked by any regulatory system. 

It is easy to respond with anxiety and despair. Throughout my lifetime as a baby boomer, the narrative about the future has mostly been negative. I have lived through the Cold War, the population explosion, the increasing desertification of the earth, the famine in Ethiopia, Chernobyl, AIDS, the revelations about residential school atrocities, the financial crisis of 2008, the dwindling middle class, Ebola, the boom and bust of fossil fuel economies, many wars, and now the awareness of the implications of global climate change.

My generation has responded with science. We have believed that we can save ourselves with science, and for the most part have managed to stay one step ahead of the collapse of humanity looming on the horizon. Yet in North America, we are experiencing an epidemic of mental health issues: depression, anxiety, substance abuse. Physically, we are living longer, but at the same time, we seem to be experiencing a proliferation of cancers and immune disorders, and obesity is on the rise. My generation has created and is wallowing in a sea of troubles. 

Despite the real and serious troubles facing us as a species, I have faith in the future. I have faith because of the generations of people after the baby boomers. The post-baby boomers have stepped beyond blind worship of science and total obedience to organizational and bureaucratic structures. This generation has sidestepped the the monopoly of big telecommunications companies, publishers, and the entertainment industry via the global network of the Internet. In breaking the communication monopoly, all people around the world can have a voice, not only the rich and powerful. All people can distribute their creative works, or market their wares to the world, not only the corporations. 

The present generation is remaking work. The global digital network has allowed new notions of commerce and entrepreneurship to emerge, like Uber for in-city transportation which does away with the need to own a car, or organic grocery delivery to your door via the Internet, which ultimately will loosen the stranglehold of agribusiness and giant food retail chains. Separation of valuable societal work from employment servitude to a company is another way in which people get their voices back. 

This generation is also remaking the systems of generating and sharing knowledge. For the most part, universities haven't noticed it yet, but the medieval model of institutions of higher learning with its restrictions on who has access, what counts as knowledge, and how credentials are valued, will become obsolete very soon. 

For me, perhaps the most exciting new aspect of what young people today are doing is the infusion of social consciousness into their actions of working and living. For example, across Canada, as in a number of countries, people are lobbying for universities to divest of their investments in fossil fuels, and using their power of voting with their feet to press the point. People are choosing not to work for giant corporations such as the Canadian National Railway that view human beings, their employees, as interchangeable widgets. Instead, young people today insist on an alignment of values and work, and in so doing they are taking away the power of corporations and bureaucracies. 

Instead of the profound sense of helplessness and despair that is a byproduct of my generation's accomplishments, this generation is weaving a narrative of hope and gratitude. This is why I have faith in the future of humanity; our kids are changing the world for the better. 

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