Sunday, 13 November 2011

Local Produce

After roughly twenty five years of living in large cities, I have been in a very small one for five weeks now.  One of the big concerns I had when making this transition was the availability of fresh, local food.  I mean, if there is a city of almost a million people 50km away, what are the chances of having ANY locally produced food available.  I figured the sucking maw that is the urban sprawl would devour everything produced and I would be left with large chain supermarkets.

I was so wrong. 

Let me start with the local beef farm.  This particular beef farm sells their meat to two of the better restaurants in Ottawa – and it is featured by name on the menu.  I have bought their meat in the past from the Main Street Farmers Market and was astonished at not only how good it was, but how rich it was.  It is a curious thing to suddenly switch from regular supermarket beef to organic, grass fed beef.  I could only eat half of what I consider a “normal” portion.  I have experienced the same thing with organic bison, wild venison and free range chicken from a friend’s farm.  So, has our beef consumption increased because our wealth has increased, or is it because feed lot beef is lacking?

There is also a bakery nearby.  Not just any bakery – they don’t use conventional baker’s yeast.  They also have a complete line of gluten-free bread and treats.  I don’t suffer from celiac disease, but I do have trouble with wheat (and I suspect yeast and lactose as well).  Breads baked here are sold all over North America in speciality stores.  I can drive down the road, chat with the baker and make my selections.  And the bread is lovely.

But clearly I’m not the only person in town looking for locally produced foods.  There is a store here that is devoted to selling locally produced organic produce and other health foods.  They even have milk from the local dairies!  Oh, and they'll ship to you if you can't get to them.

And then there is the pub.  It’s in the tiny little hamlet of Ashton, population roughly 200.  It’s a 20 minute drive from my house so isn’t a good choice for a bender as I still have to get home at the end of it, but they brew their own beer.  But this isn't the nasty plonk you're thinking it might be.  This is good stuff, and well worth the drive.

But you didn't hear all this from me - I'm one of them now.  It's a secret.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Stress of New

A quick internet search of stress indicates that there are several common events in our lives that are considered highly stressful.  Weddings, divorce, births, deaths, a new job and moving are all on the list (and I agree with them totally).  Experts claim that if you start combining these, the result is an exponential increase in the stress level. 

So what it is about “new” that is so stressful for us?  Weddings and births are events that are looked forward too and welcomed by one and all, new jobs are actively sought and celebrated and finally being able to buy a house is for many, the final step to being a fully independent and successful person.  All of these events deal with new, usually cost far more than we think they are going to and throw the routines of our lives into uproar.

On September 30, the deal to purchase my Old Stone House closed and I can finally post a picture:




I think the stress of new is not so much about new, as the disruption or total destruction of the old and familiar.  I had my kitchen unpacked and more or less working within 24 hours of the moving van leaving the house, but then I had to go back to work and we were still getting our old house ready to sell so it ended up taking me three weeks to find the rest of my clothes and even longer to find my shoes.  We could live in this house, but we weren’t living comfortably.   I still don’t know where my wool stash is....and that for me is stressful.

My old routines are gone – I have a 90 minute commute now instead of 25.  The TV is more centrally located in the house so I’m watching more of it instead of reading.  A great deal of my furniture is still at the old house (for staging purposes) so I feel like I’m “making do”.  We see the new and different things in our lives and struggle to accommodate them. 

But it doesn’t take long for the new and strange to become comfortable.  I’m finding joy in the long drive to work by watching the sun rise.  I’m PVRing the shows I want to watch, and I found the local yarn shop. 

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Personal and Confidential

As mentioned earlier in this blog, my husband and I recently bought an old stone house in the country.  As is common with rural properties, it has a well and a septic system, and as is equally common we had the water tested as part of the purchase of the house.  Inside the house is a filter and UV lamp for water purification – I know a thing or two about water treatment and am fine with this as a purification system.

The seller’s agent had copies of recent water tests all showing that either the well is pristine or the UV lamp is working correctly.  The test results were perfect – just what a buyer wants to see.  But I wanted to know what was actually coming out of the well so my husband and our real estate agent arranged to go back to collect their own sample from outside the house and dropped that off at the local Public Health Office for testing.

Our real estate agent met with me later that day and gave me the card with the sample number on it that I would have to present to get the test results from the Ministry.  No problem – I waited 3 business days, then called the number, entered the sample number and received an automated recording indicating that the water sample was fine.  There was absolutely no E. coli and no coliform bacteria.  Excellent news.  Let the sale proceed.

Two days later, my husband left for an extended business trip overseas.  No problem.  While the trip wasn’t exactly planned, it was something we could work with.  I settled back into my urban life with my urban amenities and busied myself with getting my house ready to sell.

It was the next week that I received The Letter.

It was in a discreet brown envelope from the Province of Ontario’s Public Health Laboratories.  In big, bold, red letters across the front it said:
Personal & Confidential / Personnel et Confidentiel
It was addressed to my husband.

I was stunned.  One of our great strengths is our communication.  We talk often and make a point of ensuring the other person knows what is going on.  I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why he was getting personal and confidential test results from the Public Health Office.  He hadn’t been to the doctor recently (well, he had, but there had been no diagnostics ordered and that kind of test result is given during a return visit).  Normally, I don’t hesitate to open his mail when he is away but I was nervous about this one.  I didn’t know if I wanted to know the contents.  Why is he having tests done that I don’t know about?  Is he keeping something from me?  Do I need to be seeing the public health nurse soon?

I poured myself a drink and sat down with this envelope.  I took a deep breath......

It was the written copy of the water test results.  The well is pristine.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Into My Comfort Zone

I’ve been really knitting for just over 11 years.  The reality is I learned in the mid/late 70s when I was about seven years old, but apart from a few odd pieces (and I mean odd in every sense of the word) I didn’t really pursue knitting.   In the 80s fibre was mostly acrylic.  I’m not here to bash acrylic – I even have some in my stash and I am the first person to agree that it most definitely has a role to play.  But I really do prefer working with natural fibres and since my mother wouldn’t buy them they were so hard to come by in the 80s and expensive when you found them, I didn’t really pursue knitting.  Slowly it dropped off my radar.

In the early 90s, my maternal grandmother died and I inherited (of all things) her knitting needles.  They came in a whisky tube and I have it (and the needles) to this day.  But still, while I found a home for them in a very cramped apartment and tried my hand at knitting (using cotton!), it didn’t really grab me.  Might have had something to do with the cheap cotton string baler twine yarn.  And so the needles languished, unloved and unused in the back of a closet.

In 2000 I became pregnant and lost my job.  Both these events happened within weeks of each other and while the pregnancy had absolutely nothing to do with the job loss, it did leave me at a bit of a loose end as it’s pretty hard to get a job when you’re visibly pregnant.  At this time I was doing a lot of cross stitch.  This is the last piece I was working on and I still have it on a frame. But this isn’t what pregnant women do.  They are supposed to sip tea, get moderate exercise and knit baby clothes. 

So that’s what I did.  And since I really had nothing else to do other than the groceries, I knit.  And knit.  And knit some more.  I remember going to Zellers and picking up a little booklet on ‘How to knit’, a set of needles and a ball of cotton yarn.  I went home and made a facecloth, ripped it out and did it again.   I did this over and over and played with different stitches until I had a comfort level with the needles and had sorted out my tensioning of the yarn.  I’m sure my husband thought I was coming unhinged with boredom – there I was knitting a square and ripping it out, then knitting it up again and ripping it out….  Then I picked up a booklet of baby patterns.   Then I got a booklet of adult sweater patterns as well as my first skeins of real wool…you can see where this is going right?

Based on what my mother taught me as a little girl, I was able to figure out stranded knitting, cables, knitting in the round (that involved a visit home to figure out this ‘joining’ business) and knitting on double pointed needles.  This time I was hooked.  I’m the first to admit that not everything has turned out well.  Some things have been spectacular, some have been spectacular failures but I have an ease with wool and needles that leaves me fearless when approaching new patterns and techniques.  That being said, I still can’t bring myself to cut a steek – I think that’s going to be the next big thing.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Sick Days


I work in a cube farm in an office building in the east end of Ottawa.  There isn't much fancy about it – I have a cubicle with two computers, two monitors a phone and a filing cabinet.  The recent recession has hit this company just as it has hit every other company so I was thrilled when I was hired on as a permanent employee with vacation, sick days and other benefits.

Most employees are more than happy to take vacation time.  Ours is a company that only lets us carry a very small part over from one year to the next (or we lose it – no cash value) so people actually take vacation.  Other benefits such as a drug plan are used as needed – why pay full price if your insurance is going to cover part of it.  We also get a fixed number of sick days each year.   This company gives fewer than what I believe is the national average however, after years of contract work and therefore not having a sick day allowance I’m pretty happy to have any at all.

So why the hell don’t people use them?  Even kindergarten classrooms have this rule – “If you’re sick, stay home to avoid infecting the rest of the class”.  What is it about this particular “benefit” that people are so reluctant use?  Do they think it’s a sign of weakness to take a sick day?  Do people think they’re going to miss something crucial if they miss a day of work?  Do they think the rest of the office thinks they are faking it to get an extra day off work? 

Any of the above are possible I suppose.  I for one have never thought that using a sick day to take care of yourself was a sign of weakness.  I’ve always thought it was a sign of a mature and responsible outlook and respect for the people who work with you.  If something crucial happens while you are away, then it happens.  Rarely does your absence cause the collapse of the company or loss of a contract.  There are other people who can cover for you and if your absence causes such an upset then the company has bigger problems than a sick employee.  Do people think you’re faking it?  Hmm – that’s a tough one.  Maybe you are faking it and that’s your business, but there is such a thing as a “mental health” day.  You’re not physically ill, but for whatever reason you need that time away from the office for mental clarity.  I believe this counts and is a valid reason for taking a day off work.  Just be judicious with it.

I say all this to the individual who works in my office that came to work last week with a Cold.  Not just a sniffle and a bit of a cough.  I mean a Cold – somewhere between tuberculosis and the plague.  Two days later, the woman in the cube beside him was down with it, then the guy behind her.  And then the person over the wall.  And then one of the women in my quadrangle.  And now me.  So because this one person didn’t want to stay home with a cold, at last count five other people have become ill.  From a company perspective, because he didn’t take a sick day that he was entitled to – there have now been five people take sick days.  That’s five days of productivity now instead of just one.   

And now I have a head cold.  I’m not amused.  Buddy, your stoic acceptance of this pestilence does not impress me at all.  Next time, take a sick day and keep it out of the office.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Lockdown

I make a habit of eating together with my son – and my husband when he’s home.  It gives us a chance to talk about the day and to find out what is going on in each other’s lives.  I admit I don’t have much interest in video games and have actually had to instigate a rule that we don’t discuss Pok√©mon strategy at the table and in return I don’t bore him with details of localizing software.  

With such a restriction of topics in place, school is a major topic of conversation.  Besides, I like to hear about what the kids are learning.  Some of it is charming in its simplicity (i.e. multiplication tables), and some of it stuns me that it is actually on the curriculum for Grade 5.  For example, my kid not only knows what a Tesla coil is, but where they are used.  Did you know this in Grade 5 or did you have to wait to see it in a movie?

Like always, there is an element of public safety in schools and how to live in a large group of people without chaos and anarchy.  Today there was a fire drill.  Nothing new there.  I wholly approve of practicing fire drills because in the event of a real fire you really do need to know what the plan is – and since there is an arsonist working in the Ottawa area right now I think it’s an even better idea.  Then Ian informed me that next week they were going to have a “lockdown drill”.

I very nearly choked.  A lock down drill in an elementary school.  Holy shit.  I asked him about it and was told that it was in the event of a threatening situation in the school.  Really?  Part of my mind thinks this is the worst kind of paranoid overkill that makes kids think that gunman and hostages in schools (because that's what this is really about), while not common, is common enough that we actually have a plan in place for how to deal with it.  Part of me thinks that planning for just such an eventuality is the first step to normalizing what is considered an abnormal behaviour.  

But then there is the other part of my mind – the part that actually reads the news and knows that no matter how much I wish it otherwise, this is part of our world now.  There are guns in schools, and kids and teachers are taken hostage or even killed.  I can stick my head in the sand, in a box (or elsewhere) but it doesn’t change anything.  It happens.  I’m not exactly reassured to know there is a plan in place for such a distant eventuality but I am actually glad that someone out there has the thankless job of making policy to ensure the safety of my kid in school.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Dreams II

Many many years ago (like 20 or so), I was working for a BIG music retailer.   To put this in context, there was no such thing as iTunes, mp3s, or file sharing.  Buying movies was becoming the next big thing - the format war had been won; VHS was the victor.  Laserdiscs were cutting edge technology and prohibitively expensive.  Music was as popular with all ages then as it is now, but you had to actually go to a store and buy it – the disc or cassette tape.  LPs had gone by this time.  This store was very popular, always busy and considered a “cool” place to work.

One morning I woke up after having had a spectacularly vivid dream.  I dreamed that I had got up, had my coffee and ridden the bus to work – same as I always did.  I got to work at a big mall in the suburbs (so far, so good – this was normal) and unlocked the accordion door, locked it behind me and went to the back room to disarm the alarm system.   I looked around the stock room, sighed as if I was carrying the woes of ages in my soul; put my keys down on the counter by my computer (I was the shipper/receiver in this store so worked in the back room), started to cry because I couldn’t stomach another day of meaningless drudgery, turned around and walked out of the store.   I went upstairs, bought another coffee from the Tim Horton’s in the food court, got back on the bus to go into town, went to the bank and liquidated everything I had.  In my dream, I think I was able to scrape together about $5000. When you’re 24 or so and working retail this is a lot.  

This is where the dream starts going sideways, like they always do.  I took that money in cash and went down the road south of Ottawa to the Sale Barn and bought a flock of sheep.

Sheep?!

It was about here that I woke up.  I can’t begin to describe the feeling of peace that the thought of a flock of sheep gave me.  The reality however, is that I lived in a small apartment on the 21st floor – not quite the place for a flock of sheep.  I lasted in that job for a few more months and then quit to study Information Technology.  Not sheep farming but I still believed I needed a conventional city job like this to live well and that I would find happiness in it.  I did after a fashion, but still thirsted for something else.  Something more.

I’ve carried that dream around with me for a long time and even now – 20 years later I can still recall that sense of peace.  I’ve become a proficient knitter – I can do socks and basic sweaters out of my head.  Last winter I learned to spin roving into yarn.  This year, I bought the rural property with a barn.   My husband and I have been joking about having sheep to deal with the 4.5 acres of grass we bought.  Perhaps it’s no longer a joke.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Autumn Dreaming

I have very mixed feelings about autumn.  

On the one hand I get to harvest and enjoy the produce from my garden which every year has been getting more and more plentiful.  I truly look forward to crisp and tart apples, warm stews, and the return of wooly socks.  I enjoy the warm days and cool nights; “Good sleepin’ weather” as my mother always used to say.  I like watching that indefinable quality of light shift from the white light of summer to the golden light of fall.  I’m privileged to live in Eastern Ontario so I’m surrounded by vibrant sugar maples with their magnificent display of red, orange and yellow leaves. 

On the other hand, it is the end of the easy meals of summer – of wandering through the garden to see what is perfectly ripe and making a meal of it.   I see my plants that I have carefully tended since they were first planted are dying back, fully spent.  They will be composted to feed the soil for next year.  The days are getting shorter and it is now dark when I get up in the morning.  The stone floor in my kitchen was cold enough that I had to put something on my feet when I left the windows open overnight.   The weather patterns will start to shift and the rains of autumn will come.  Mostly what I dislike is that this means that soon the geese with start gathering into the huge migratory flocks and making their way south.  It will get colder and colder until the world freezes and goes still, blanketed under several feet of snow.

But we’re not there yet.  This is a time to start dreaming.  I know what worked well in my garden this year and what didn’t (damn rabbits).  I know that next spring I will be starting from scratch in a new house with new gardens.  I will have considerably more room.  I know what I want to grow for immediate consumption and what I want to grow for storage.  I’ll spend the winter planning and sketching garden designs, I’ll be thinking of spring and those first seeds that I’ll be planting.  I’ll pour over the seed catalogues until they are dog-eared with pages falling out.  I will no longer be a backyard gardener; I’ll be a smallholder.  I can’t wait.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Two by two

So.  In case you’re wondering, I don’t actually live in the Old Stone House yet.  My husband I and bought it and now find ourselves the petrified proud owners of TWO(!), count ‘em TWO houses!

Keep breathing.  Just keep breathing.  (Do you hear Dory from “Finding Nemo” singing that?  I do)

And we’ll own two houses for at least two weeks.

Breathe.

So what would possess two lunatics normally sane and rational people to commit to something like this?  I mean, that’s two mortgages, two gas bills, two hydro bills....

Did I mention two mortgages?

Did I mention this is a stone house?  Built in 1824?  It’s got one of those enormous fireplaces that you could put an entire pig in and still have room to bake beans, simmer soup and boil water for tea.  The walls are a good two feet thick – they might actually be two and a half.  There are three stories to the stone part, plus a modern extension that is larger than my current house.  It sits on just under 4.5 acres (1.8 hectares if you like metric) and has two barns and a large circular driveway.  The land slopes down from the front of the house towards a creek that runs through the property.  There is lots of room for me to have a freakin’ enormous modest vegetable garden where I can grow food to put away for the winter.   Chickens are a possibility as well - can't have that in Ottawa.

And this is where it really gets idyllic – it’s on a new road with a gas line.  I know – the romance brings a tear to my eye.  A country home on a paved road with natural gas.  What truly captivated me is this  - this house is in the middle of what is going to become a “rural residential” community.  Each lot is an acre in size and is serviced which means that not only is the road paved, but it will be ploughed in the winter!  There is garbage pickup at the end of the (quarter mile) laneway.  There will probably be herds of kids for my 10 year old to play with. 

I know that this isn't the usual picture of country living.  It’s going to be country living with training wheels.  And right now, living in the heart of a major city, that suits me just fine.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Knitters vs. Non-knitters

I recently went out to lunch with three of my co-workers; one of whom is a dedicated quilter and knitter, one who knows how to knit but isn’t really a knitter and one, who for a variety of reasons, is a non-knitter.  It could be that she has simply never known the joys of creating something as glorious as socks out of a divine merino/silk blend.  Then again, it could be that she is violently allergic to all things woolly.  Either way, she does not knit.  So when the two of us who do actively knit decided that we should stop at the Local Yarn Shop on the way back to work (it helps that my partner in crime is also my boss), the others had no choice but to come along for the ride.

I had never been in this shop before.  Think of every stereotype that non-knitters have about yarn stashes, combine it with the most claustrophobic used bookstore you can think of and that was what this shop was.  It was a long, narrow, low ceilinged bowling alley of a shop with so little air circulation (or possibly – do I really say this – too much stock) that my ears popped when I went into the store.  Sound did not travel normally as it was absorbed by all the wool.  If a customer was in any way claustrophobic, they would run screaming.  Heaven.

The allergic-to-wool non-knitter left within minutes of entering.  The fact that she is over six feet tall and had to stoop might have been a factor.  The overwhelming riot of mixed fibres may have had an impact as well.   Knows-how-to-knit-but-doesn’t stayed most of the time and touched things.  We may make a knitter of her yet.  My boss and I had a great time in the 15 minutes we had allotted ourselves.

In those 15 minutes I found three skeins of sock wool.   I got a khaki green imported from Germany, a brown and white twist from Norway and a hand spun, hand dyed skein of alpaca/merino blend from Peru.   I also got a new set of double pointed needles as every set I own has at least one bent needle – a result of being left on the couch where my 90lb dog likes to sleep and the rest of my family sits from time to time.  So, to recap – three balls of wool and a set of double pointed needles, plus tax, totalled $65.00.  Yes, it was steep, but it was hand dyed, hand spun alpaca/merino wool in the most glorious blues, pinks and purples.   I really didn’t stand a chance.

Back in the car returning to work there was great interest in what I had purchased.  My boss and Knows-how-to-knit were in the back seat and asked to see what I bought.  There was much ooooing and ahhhhing with the general consensus that the brown and white twist was the most interesting, but the divine alpaca/merino felt the best.  I freely admit the green was a purely functional 75% wool, 25% polyamide purchase and in no way frivolous.  It’s September.  Winter is coming.   A girl needs socks.

Then I very nearly got us all killed.  I said what I had spent.  I don’t remember my exact words, but Does-not-knit - who happened to be the driver - snapped her head around so quickly I’m sure I heard something break.  I could just about see the aneurysm happening as her eyes got bigger than I ever imagined eyes could get.  The shock on her fact quickly turned to disbelief.  She very nearly drove into the ditch.  It was a very quiet ride back to work.

Curiously, she didn’t come to work the next day.   I however, had cast on a new pair of khaki green socks.  

It’s September.  Winter is coming.