Saturday, February 28, 2015

Seeds for the birds and the frozen waterfalls

“By March, the worst of the winter would be over. The snow would thaw, the rivers begin to run and the world would wake into itself again.

Not that year.” 

- Neil Gaiman, Odd and the Frost Giants

Happy Saturday everyone!  I hope today finds you in great health and spirit. It's the last day of February and with March the promise of spring is in the air.

Or is it.

Weekend has arrived and with it I was expecting those milder temperatures we've been promised but there is nothing to be excited about so far.  It's currently -20C with the windchill of -27C and we are told it will be warming up to -8C.  Not quite the -1C we were told to expect few days ago.

We have broken many cold and snow records this February.  One of them is for the length of time we've been blessed with below freezing temperatures.  February 2015 is the first February since the turn of this century and second only in known history when temperatures remained below freezing for the entire month.  The last time this happened was back in 1970s.  And not only this month was entirely below freezing, most of it was in real deep freeze.

As I continue to observe my yard, I can see the grimness of the situation first hand.  All the birds are in fact gone, even the crows don't come around as often.  We've always had small birds and crows here throughout the winter but for the past few weeks it's nearly dead in our area.  Sometimes Angel and I put out some seeds for the birds and we've always had a pleasure watching them pick at the seeds and squirrels trying to steal a few as well.

Not this year.

We've hanged the seeds a week ago and so far nothing has come to claim them.  No squirrel acrobatics trying to get to the seeds either.  The critters are feeling the cold.  Hopefully not for too long.

Situation is not better down at Smokey Hollow.  The waterfalls have completely frozen over. Yesterday I stopped by and found Smokey Hollow enveloped in eerie silence I've never experienced before.  Mother Nature has shown us.

I recorded a short one minute video but for some reason Blogger insists it can't find it on YouTube, even though it's there.  Here is the link.

Now it's time for some tea.  Outside might be freezing but inside is warm and cosy and a hot green tea awaits.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Feeling the blues

Every day may not be good, but there's something good in every day. 
~Author Unknown

Happy Friday everyone!  I hope all is well and everyone is enjoying the prospect of the weekend.  I know I am.  Maybe it will help fend off the blues that have been plaguing me for the past few days.

I am not kidding.

This is not the first time it happened and I'm sure it won't be the last. I've noticed that every time I get sick with cold or flu or some other bug, few days later my emotional well being takes a hit. I lose interest in things that I love, I don't know what to do with myself, I get cranky and I want to eat a whole lot of crap.

This last little bit is especially annoying. Yesterday I proposed to my kids that we go and get doughnuts even though I don't normally eat doughnuts. I don't eat much sweet stuff to start with and when I do it's usually as little processed as possible and home baked preferably. Yesterday home baked wouldn't do however, I wanted doughnuts and we went to get them. You can imagine, I didn't have to twist my kids arms.  They were dressed up and ready to leave before I could grab the keys off of the key hanger.  Everyone came for a ride and we got the doughnuts I craved so much.  A whole lot too. And guess what.  I could have eaten a whole box and it wouldn't make any difference.  None.  I had some doughnuts and felt exactly the same, if not worse than before.  That will teach me.

And what about my writing? My goodness, yes the writing. There is a whole lot of ideas, thoughts, visions running through my head every minute and it's all scrambled. I want to write about everything and nothing at the same time. Picking a topic seems like too much effort now, I can't concentrate on a single thing long enough to compose it into a coherent thought.  Let's just mash it all up. That why today I decided to write this scrambled post about my scrambled head and see how much I manage to write. Seems like I'm having no issues whatsoever, a whole lot of nothing is making it onto the page. Sometimes it's refreshing to write about nothing.

Apparently I am not alone in the way I feel. My son tells me he noticed the same thing after he recovers from being sick.  Some sort of post flu blues.  Is there such a thing?

As a matter of fact there is.  It's called a post-flu depression but I can imagine it doesn't apply only to a flu.  Apparently when the immune system is hard at work battling whatever bug invaded, it releases cytokines which help the body fight the invasion but at the same time they deplete levels of serotonin.  

That would explain a lot.  I didn't have typical flu symptoms but I did have 3 nights of high fever, so I was definitely fighting something.  And now I feel like a used napkin.  Hopefully not for too long.

On the positive note, kitty cats have been keeping me company more than usual and I've been rewarding them with lots of love.  And snacks.  You know how that works. :D


Thursday, February 26, 2015

This thing called sleep

“People say, 'I'm going to sleep now,' as if it were nothing. But it's really a bizarre activity. 'For the next several hours, while the sun is gone, I'm going to become unconscious, temporarily losing command over everything I know and understand. When the sun returns, I will resume my life.'"
- George Carlin

George Carlin was right.

Funny thing, this sleep, isn't it.

Every once in a while I can't help but wonder about it.  We spend over 30 percent of our lives asleep.  That is a huge amount of time devoted to activity which at the first glance seems useless and even dangerous.   We're not only doing nothing while we sleep, but we are also completely unaware of our surroundings. Anything can happen while we're asleep and we won't even know it. We can get attacked, killed, our house can burn down or we can inhale poisonous gas and die.  All while we're asleep.

Why would Mother Nature put us in such a predicament?

I don't know and I don't think anybody knows.  One thing is for sure: sleep is just as important as food and water.  All we have to do is go without sleep for a day and see what happens.  Hunger and thirst are two most powerful forces and so is our need for sleep.  We suffer when we are forced to stay awake in a similar fashion to the way we suffer when we are hungry or thirsty.  And we get sick if we do it too often.

But why is sleep this important?

As it turns out there are few theories but no single good answer.  The first thought that comes to my mind when I think about sleep is that this is our body's way of physical rest. On closer examination though, it's not that simple. None of our organs completely rest during sleep, although they do work at lesser levels than during our waking time.  Certain areas of our brain on the other hand, are more active during sleep.  And if all we needed was a physical rest then why not just lie down and rest? Why should we completely power down? 

While I don't know why we should power down, amazing things happen when we do. First and foremost, sleep regenerates brain function, more specifically, our thinking and memory.  We think and remember much better after a good night of snoozing.   It's almost like our brain is a giant battery, completely self sufficient and it recharges during sleep.  I think that is interesting to ponder all on its own.  Life is truly a perplexing mechanism.

Sleep is also important when we are in need of fixing.  When we don't feel well, when we are sick or injured, our brain insists we go to sleep and we sleep quite a bit during this time.  That means that some restorative functions must be turned on during our sleep.  Science does tell us for example, that our immune system is more active during sleep and begins to shut down when we are sleep deprived.

And how about those lazy teenagers that like to sleep until noon?  It turns out that they have a good reason for doing so.  Some hormones are released only during sleep and growth hormone is one of them.  That seems to explain why children and teenagers need so much more sleep than adults do.

Sleep is important, no doubt and I think that no matter what happens in our body when we sleep, it all ties down with our brain.  Our brain regulates majority of functions in our body and sleep re-energizes our brain so we can function and live.

As important as sleep is, we sure are not giving it the respect it deserves.  We've been treating sleep like a pesky nuisance rather than powerful ally that it actually is. We live in a society that rewards work and punishes the need for sleep and then we wonder why we get sick. 

We need our sleep.  Let's stop apologizing for it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mr. Bunny lives under my gazebo

"Surviving winter is easier once you realize it's simply a matter of providing your own sunshine."
- Susan Gale

Another gorgeous although cold morning in my neck of the woods. I absolutely love watching the brilliant rising sun caress the undisturbed white sparkling snow.  It's so beautiful, it really makes one want to get outside right that second, only to remember it's nearly -30°C with the biting windchill. Still, something to look at nevertheless.

It's a good thing that I took the pictures of these strange wiggly snow tracks when I did yesterday, because just an hour later they were all gone. The winds picked up, the snow started blowing and the tracks were wiped from existence in a matter of a short hour.  If it wasn't for the pictures I would think this was all a figment of my imagination.

And what about those other tracks I mentioned yesterday? Well, these keep getting wiped out too but they reappear with amazing persistence every morning. Not only that, I see the owner of these tracks almost every single day when I wake up and he is cute as a button.

Meet Mr. Bunny.  He lives under my gazebo and he is really tough.  I've seen him on the coldest mornings with snow blowing, just sitting and chilling like that.

I've assumed that it's a male but in reality I have no idea. What I do know is that Mr Bunny makes regular rounds in my garden every morning and munches on any vegetation that is still sticking out of the snow. He's been working especially diligently on brussels sprouts and kale plants. All the leftover leaves which I didn't pick are gone now.  I'm glad I was able to leave some to help this little guy to survive this tough winter.

As a thank you gesture, Mr Bunny has been leaving whole bunch of little presents everywhere he goes and I couldn't be more thrilled.  Rabbit poop is a premium fertilizer and I'm getting mine for free with new deliveries every day!  Rabbit poop is great because unlike manure from chickens, cows, horses and other farm animals, it is considered "cold" manure and it does not have to be composted before it can be used.  That means that the moment Mr Bunny deposits his presents in my garden, these wonderful little time release capsules start to work their magic on my soil and slowly, over time, provide it with nutrients needed for new plants to thrive and provide us all with food.  

This is Mother Nature's own reward system at its best and right on my doorstep.  Everyone contributes.  I till the soil and plant the veggies which feed us all and help the bunny survive the winter, who in turn fertilizes the soil for the new plants to grow and prosper in the new season.  And then we start all over again.  You just gotta love it.

Now that I think of it, it's been so brutally cold here for the past couple of weeks that Mr Bunny and some crows are the only wildlife that I've seen in my garden for the last little while.  I don't even remember when was the last time I've seen a squirrel and we have whole bunch of them here.  I guess they are all huddled together, away in their nests, surviving the bitter cold and dreaming of warmer days.  

Hopefully it's not too long now.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What is this?

“Harmony is about bringing things into balance and knowing how to go from sunrise to sunset. Mother Nature teaches this to us, in so many ways, each and every day.” 
- Jaeda DeWalt

Happy Tuesday everyone!  I hope today finds you in great health and spirit.

It's a brilliantly sunny day today which looks beautiful but is very deceiving.  The extreme cold is still with us and in addition the wind gusts chill every bone in the body for those of us brave enough to venture outside.  There won't be much relief until the weekend and everyone is feeling the pain, both humans and animals equally.

Speaking of animals, for the last little while I've been observing wildlife footprints in my garden. There are a lot of them and it appears at least from a couple of different critters.  One of them I identified already, the other not really but I have a good idea what it might be.

This set of footprints appeared after last night and it made me scratch my head at first because the track starts in the middle of snow and ends in the middle of snow.  I don't ever remember seeing anything like this.  It is about 1.5 inches wide and looks like a long, thin corridor through the snow.

And here is what these corridors end in.  A hole into the snow.

No doubt something very little with burrowing abilities is responsible for this so my first thought was mice.  We do have mice around here and our cats are all too happy to prove it to us if one gets to brave and makes a run through the house.  I've never seen mice tracks in the snow though.  My other guess would be voles.  Voles look just like mice and are often mistaken for mice but they love dwelling under the grass.  I remember last year some of the neighbours complaining because something has ripped through their lawn and left long, windy trails of upturned grass.  I remember seeing couple of marks on our lawn too.  Apparently that's what voles do and there have been a surge in their population after last year's tough winter.  Based on what I'm seeing, we might have a Vole 2.0 coming this spring to the lawn near you.

That's okay.  I think lawns are an abomination to start with.  When I think of all the land that is wasted on lawns and all the resources and money spent on upkeep of these useless lawns, all I can do is shake my head.  Maybe Mother Nature thinks the same.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cold, cold, cold

"There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you...In spring, summer, and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savour belonging to yourself."
- Ruth Stout

Brutal cold has returned to my neck of the woods after couple of relatively "mild" days. Too bad I couldn't enjoy the warmer outdoors and play in all that snow we have, as I was busy fighting the bug all weekend long. Oh well, March is just around the corner and the spring is coming, right?

I don't know.

Being a realist somehow I don't see it happening that quickly. Taking into consideration that it's almost the end of February and we are still in negative double digits, I don't think we'll see any drastic changes any time soon.

Translation: I think we are in for a cold and snowy March. At least the first half of it.

Sorry Hercules, I think you'll have to be satisfied with window entertainment for a little while longer.

After hearing about all the records our February has been smashing, I took a look at the historical data for February for my region and I can't say that I wasn't surprised. I thought we had an exceptionally brutal winter last year (and we did), but it looks like this year's February managed to outdo 2014 one. For the past three years February has been getting progressively colder with mean temperatures for years 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively -1C, -5.4C -9.4C and -13.1C.   It looks like every year we're getting 4°C colder.  Is the trend going to continue next year? Only the time will tell I guess.

I just hope we're going to have a reasonable summer. For the sake of my crops, that is. Farmer's Almanac has predicted warmer than normal summer for Ontario this year but after another record breaking winter and Great Lakes nearly completely frozen, I have to wonder. It will take some time to melt all this ice and the chill from the lakes will remain in the air for some time to come; that almost always translates into cooler weather.  My tomatoes will not like it and after the last two summers, they deserve a break.

On the plus side, there is no short of winter wonders to look at. We have a spectacular ribbon of icicles hanging from our roof with the largest one measuring at over 5 feet long. That's right. It's longer than the window itself and I don't ever remember seeing an icicle this massive so I took the tape and measured the sucker.  Over 5 feet long and 4 inches wide at the base.  It's a beaut.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunday Reflections

“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.” 
- Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Happy Sunday everyone!

Another night of sleeping in and this time I took a little longer.  My body needed it.  Last night I came down with quite a fever.  I guess the bug that kept Angelina from school this week is trying to make its home in me.  I don't think so, you nasty little bugger.

We got another nice covering of snow yesterday, probably around 10 cm.  Still a little bit is coming down at the moment but it is a slow, lazy snow which I don't think will amount to anything. It does look pretty though.  With all this snow coming down the countryside looks down right gorgeous and magical. The temperature is mild too, -4°C to be exact, right before it will plunge tonight to a soul crashing -26.

I hope everyone out there finds a safe and warm nook to ride this out.

Last night Angelina and I took a little ride after the snow stopped falling and the night was settling in. The moon was out and its appearance stopped me dead in my tracks.  If there is such thing as perfection, then that was it.  The most beautiful moon crescent I've seen in a while.  Captivating.

What else captivated me last night, was virtual survival.  Every once in a while I like to enjoy a little bit of gaming.  For quite some time I've been hearing about the survival game "The Long Dark".  The game takes place in the post apocalyptic Canadian wilderness and the goal of the game is to survive as long as you can. Yesterday I decided to give it a try. Upon logging in I found myself in the middle of woods, with nothing but a few supplies and relentless blizzard bearing down on me.  I didn't even have a warm coat for protection. The game is pretty realistic in design but the most realistic part is that when you die, it's over.  The game resets itself and you have to start from the beginning.  No cheating death.  Not this time.

I've died a bunch of times yesterday and now that I think I got the general feel for the game, I'll play more seriously today and see how long I can survive.  Should be fun.  It will be even more fun knowing that a killer shot from the sun just missed the Earth, the killer shot that would have sent us to a dark place for quite some time.  It's possible that it came from the giant filament that just turned away from Earth facing direction a week ago. This game might be a virtual training of what's to come, it seems. We are riding a giant roulette wheel.

Since today is Sunday, I'm having one of the teas I've never tried before.  Today I've pulled a sample of Mountain Organic Indonesian green tea from Tea at Sea which was generously shipped to me free of charge. Stop by Paradise In My Teacup for a review later on.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Day we got Hercules

“Time spent with a cat is never wasted.” 
- Colette

Glorious Saturday. How good it is to sleep in.  I wish every day was like that.  I woke up at 8:30 so I don't sleep in that long but it does make a difference whether I wake up naturally or whether I'm ripped out of my dreams by an alarm.

Every morning when I wake up Hercules lies right there in my feet. Sometimes I'm afraid I'll kick him off the bed when I stretch as it has happened few times in the past.  I swear cats have the ability to mathematically calculate where the most inconvenient spot is and lie right in the middle of it.

Hercules came to us from animal shelter on June 23, 2010 when he was just about eight weeks old. He was born on April 24, 2010 and his shelter name was Chip.  I still remember when I went into the room where all the little kittens were and quickly scanned all the cages; he was the one that immediately caught my attention.  He really wanted out of the cage and when it was opened, he crawled out into my arms and wanted to stay there.  I knew right away that Chip had to come home with me.

My daughter Sara adopted a kitty that day too and she named him Elliott.  Hercules and Elliott spent the next several months together and became best friends.  It was fun watching them grow up together.

Unfortunately, Elliott lived a short life and is no longer with us.  He died two years later and the day he passed away was heartbreaking.  Those of us who have ever adopted pets know that pets become a part of our family and when they die, part of us die with them.

Picking out a name for Chip wasn't easy.  I liked the name Chip but it was not what I envisioned for my new little friend.  I wanted an extraordinary name for an extraordinary kitty that I knew he would become (well, at least I hoped so).   After a lot of tough deliberation I settled with the name Hercules. The family liked it too and it was funny at the time because Hercules was so little.

Boy, oh boy, did Hercules ever lived up to his name.  Over the years he grew big, muscular, and so strong that even vet commented how well his name suited him.  He became a hunter and put all the chipmunks in their place in our garden.  Mice too.  The birds proved to be a little more difficult.

Today there is some flab covering all these muscles, especially in the winter when Hercules doesn't go outside and therefore doesn't get a lot of exercise.  His love for junk food doesn't help either.  I try to control how much he eats but he is very persistent and doesn't give up easily. He can literally sit like a statue and stare at me for a very long time with both disappointment and contempt in his eyes that I didn't get hat bag of snacks out yet.  His gaze is so intense that most of the time I find it hard to ignore.  I know he is practising Zen on me.

But if for some reason that didn't work, he turns on his charm.  He is really good at it too.  Can you say no to a backside flip?  It melts my heart every time.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bitter cold and another power outage

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” 
- Charles Darwin

Seems like everything is about snow, cold and power these days. What an interesting February we're having.  And it isn't over yet.

We continue to be caught in the grip of extremely bitter cold.  -30°C/ -22°F cold to be exact.  Relief supposed to come tomorrow for couple of days in a form of a heat wave. We'll get up to a balmy -4°C both Saturday and Sunday.  It's funny how I think of -4°C as a heat wave these days.

Warmer temperature is not the only thing we supposed to get tomorrow.  Snow is on its way as well and that actually makes me happy.  Like I said many times before, I don't like extreme cold, but if it has to be cold, at least give me something to play with.  I keep seeing the great mounds of snow in Boston and New Brunswick  or P.E.I. and I can't help but be a little jealous. I too want to build a tunnel out of my front door all the way to the truck which won't go anywhere.  That would be a story of a lifetime.

This polar vortex that keeps dropping in for a visit, beats the heck out of our fragile grid and last
night we lost the power again. Second time in eight days.  This time it was a little colder outside than last week though.  It was -30°C/ -22°F.  We gathered in the family room which has a fireplace, closed the door, turned on the fireplace and lighted my oil and beeswax candles.  It looked very pretty and cosy in the room but the story was quite different in other parts of the house.  I watched with fascination the plunging temperature on the thermostat.  One degree per hour.

At some point we got the power back but it was short lived.  As a matter of fact I'm not sure what it was exactly because I've never seen anything like that before.  The smoke alarm came on and stayed on, the lights were flickering and dimmed to about 20% output.  The fridge and microwave turned on, but furnace didn't. I thought something went wrong with our house electrical only to find out that everyone in the area was experiencing the same thing.  I killed the smoke alarm by shutting the breaker off.  At some point they took this joke of a power back and darkness resumed.

All in all almost five hours without power and the house temperature dropped to 16°C by 12:30 am. This was quickly turning into a survival situation and we were all ready.  We had the fireplace, the blankets, the light and we were planning on camping in the family room.  We've put warm clothes on and we were quite comfortable.  I was reading The Stand by Stephen King and got to the part where the city started to lose all the power.  I could partially sympathise.

One thing that I find amazing during power outage is how quiet the house gets.  No hums, no rumbles of various gizmos, gadgets and appliances.  Just pure silence.  When the power did come on just before 1 am, it was almost like a monster had come alive and drowned out everything.  I couldn't hear my thoughts any more.

Today the life continues without any inconveniences, but the seed of doubt has been planted.  We simply don't know what tonight will bring.  Or tomorrow.  Or next week.


Thursday, February 19, 2015


Sometimes stuff happens and you might not like it.  Acknowledge it and move on.  Present moment is to precious to be wasted on disappointment.
- Kamyria

Brutal cold is back with us today after a day of break.  There isn't much wind to go with it but even the still air is so cold it freezes the breath right in the chest.

Angelina is staying home from school today because she ran a fever last night and is not feeling so well this morning.  I think extra time in bed and plenty of rest is in order today.

And she is not the only one that is not at her best.

You see, 15 year old trucks do break sometimes.  It's not that surprising.  Long years of faithful service and the resulting wear and tear do take the toll.  Connections break, fluids leak and I can only hope that the heart keeps beating as long as possible.  That's the most important thing.

This is why, when my son came to me yesterday morning and announced that our elderly Ford Expedition was making strange sounds, I was a little disappointed but not surprised.  With the kind of weather we've been having recently, days of extreme bitter cold and mounds of snow piling up, one almost expects the old truck to rebel eventually.  In our case it did just that.

We suspected the power steering leak and when my hubby moved the truck we knew for sure.  Our truck bled something awful onto the snow covered driveway, something deep red in colour.  The trusted oldie had burst a vein for real.

The mechanic confirmed what we already knew.  Power steering it was.  To our greatest joy, the Expedition was all stitched up and ready to come home by mid afternoon.

Then the mind boggling thing happened.

I found myself stuck in the middle of the road, backing out of the driveway in our second truck.  The one year old baby Jeep. The thing just simply wouldn't move.  Some electrical warning light flashed wildly and the engine light came on.

You must be kidding me.  Second truck in one day?

After turning it off and back on again, I was finally able to move but the engine light remained on for the rest of the day. It's still on today.  It seems our Jeeper Creeper has to go to the car doctor too.

I've never had the pleasure of taking a one year old vehicle into repair service, but I guess there is always a first time for everything.

Tough Canadian winter or crappy engineering?

Moving on.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Moonless Night

Though my soul may set in darkness,

It will rise in perfect light,

I have loved the stars too fondly

To be fearful of the night. 

–Sarah Williams

The time flies, it really does.  It seems like it was only yesterday that I wrote about the new moon but it was actually 28 days ago sans few hours. And here we are again.  A sun rising together with the moon, setting together with the moon and the moonless night that follows.

The night of the Black Moon.

Black Moon is the third of the four new moons in the current season (December Solstice to March Equinox).  It is special because a season normally has only three new moons.

In Pagan community, the Black Moon is a subject of mystery and intrigue.  Some say this is a time for spiritual hibernation while others believe moon's energy is amplified at this time and should be utilized.  Magick is more potent on the night of the Black Moon they say.

Beside its spiritual significance, the moonless night is special in its own right. The night abandoned by the moon but celebrated by the stars. The night so dark, it's made for stargazing.  The night when we struggle to see but other creatures walk around guided by invisible light.

Sometimes I find myself jealous of cats for their amazing ability of night vision.  Imagine walking out in the middle of moonless night, away from the lights of civilization and have the world illuminate in infra-red light. No goggles, no binoculars, just the work of your own eyes. That would be quite an experience.

And then I think about the essence of the night.

And realize that everything has its pros and cons.

I happen to love the darkness of the night, the shadowy veil which wraps around me every evening. It's an inspiring companion while I'm awake and lulls me to sleep when I'm tired.

Would I like to give it up?

I'm pretty sure I wouldn't.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Almost time to dig in the dirt, yes?

"To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves."
- Mahatma Gandhi

We are still in the middle of ferocious winter but my mind wondered into realms of spring today.  I realized that being more than half way through February, it is less than one short month away till I can start planting tomatoes, brussels sprouts and kale.  Of course I'm talking about indoor planting and these seedlings won't see the outside for some time after, but nevertheless planting.

Actually brussels sprouts and kale can be planted outdoors mid March but I'm not expecting our snow to be gone by then, so I'll just plan to plant them indoors for now.  Maybe I'll do both even.  I don't know.

All that means that I have to make sure I have the seeds ready to go.  I combed through my seed collection this morning to see what I have and sure enough there was not one tomato seed leftover from last year.  I've been meaning to collect my own tomato seeds like I do it with many other plants, but for some reason that never happens.  I get so wrapped up in harvest and preservation that I forget to collect every time.  That means I'll have to order some more online and shipping takes some time so I'm happy I thought about it this week.

Oh, I can feel the anticipation already!  I simply can't wait to get my hands into the dirt and create bountiful life out of tiny seeds again.  
Every year I plant a big garden full of flowers, fruits and vegetables. Last year was probably my biggest undertaking and I had the most amazing harvest despite the crappy weather.  I hope to repeat it this summer.  I'll be growing tomatoes, cucumbers, brussels sprouts, kale, sunflowers, potatoes, green beans, green peas, lettuce and more.  It's a lot of hard work but so worth it.

I guess this is what they mean by saying that if you find your true passion, something that you were meant to do, you won't have to work a day in your life.  I can be outside, digging in the dirt, swinging a shovel all day long and come back inside exhausted with my back broken and the smile on my face.

It's hard work that doesn't feel like work and it feeds the family.  It can't get better than that.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Family Day

"The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together." 
~Erma Bombeck

Fourth glorious morning of sleeping in.  I could get used to that very quickly.  

Today we are celebrating a Family Day.  Well, I don't know how much celebrating is actually going on but some people do have a day off.

Interestingly enough, not everybody is free to stay home today because Family Day is not a national statutory holiday.  It is observed only in Ontario, Manitoba, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan and even in these provinces not everyone gets a day off.  Since it is not a federal holiday, all federal employees including office workers and public servants have to report to work.  Post office workers included. The irony in all of this is that Family Day was originally created to provide people with an extra day off between New Year and Easter as well as to give people time to spend with their families.  Hence, the name Family Day.

Isn't it kind of cruel to call it that when you know good chunk of the population won't get a day off?

Who ever invented Family Day must have had a good laugh. 

For our family, the Family Day is not anything special but rather just another day off.  We don't have any grand plans or activities scheduled especially for this day, we simply carry on doing things that we would normally do on the weekend.  Sometimes we spend it together and sometimes everyone is in their own world.  And that is okay.  There are no expectations and no hurt feelings.

The real Family Day, in my opinion, was taken away from all of us a long time ago, a true Family Day that happened every week.  It was called Sunday.  I still remember those good old times when Sunday was the day of rest, all the stores were closed and everyone (or most everyone) had a day off. At the time, being young and stupid, I thought it was an inconvenience that I couldn't go to the mall or grocery shopping on Sunday but my perspective has changed over the years. Today I think it was great. Everyone was able to count on this day off every week without the worry about overzealous managers forcing them to work on their loved one's birthday and getting in trouble if they refused.  If our family ever wanted to get together, the Sunday was the day to do it.  

Sadly, this is no more and hasn't been for a long time.  In Canada, since 1990 if I remember correctly.

Today, organizing a family get together is painful as people are scrambling to get either Saturday or Sunday off, sometimes getting in trouble for doing so.  Some people work regular 9-5, Monday to Friday jobs and they have no problem, but others are not as lucky and sometimes it's not as easy as booking it off in advance.  We live in such inhumane times.

Indeed we live in times of a Great Western Machine that never stops spinning. The consumerist engine is so well oiled and its cogs so well fitting that it never comes to a halt. To have a day, once a week, when all the businesses are closed and people are allowed to be human and not bunch of androids programmed to shop or work, seems like an unattainable dream, a ship that has sailed to never return.

And that is a shame.  A real shame.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sunday Reflections

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” 
—Neil Gaiman

Sure hot tea feels nice as I'm sitting here writing the blog post and the winter rages outside.  We are under a spell of an arctic air which last night had the temperatures plunge to -22°C/ -8°F with wind chill of -35°C/-31°F.  It's not any better this morning, it actually dipped further to -25°C and we continue to be under the extreme cold advisory.

My thoughts are with the homeless today, I hope they've all found a warm nook to ride this out.

Last night we braved the cold and left the security of our humble abode to see my oldest daughter Sara and her band play in next town.  This was a first time we saw her sing live.  We had so much fun.

Her band is called Television Rd and they are from Peterborough, Ontario.  It is an alternative music band with jazzy, funky style that delights and surprises at every turn.  Sara's bold, boozy and at times raspy vocals are a perfect fit with the music and really make the band.  I can't say enough good things about these guys and it's not just because she is my daughter.

The event was all ages and Angelina who is 9 was able to come as well as Derek who'll be turning 19 later this year.  Both were thrilled and stuck to ginger ale all night long although Derek might have dipped into something stronger in the parking lot with the help of one of his older sisters.  Here are several pics from last night.

Sara and the band entertaining and having fun

Sara and Dan playing keyboard

Dan and his creepy mask.  Simply awesome!

Derek can't drink :P

Derek and Angelina at the bar getting ginger ale

Our whole bunch after the show

I'm so glad Sara is following her dreams. She is an artist at heart and she is getting her message out both in visual arts and music.  Sure it's not easy right now because artists are not showered with money (unless you're in Hollywood of course) but she is making do while having a blast and that's what matters the most.

I hope the rest of my kids do the same.  Follow their passions, figure out what makes them tick and don't look at the money aspect.  Studying something you don't like very much just to graduate and get a good paying job sounds okay at first until 20 years pass and you realize you hate what you're doing. And then what? That's what happens to a lot of people.  I want my kids to look in a different direction.

Life has a lot to offer but most of the times we have to step out of the box to find it.

I will leave you with one of Television Rd songs from their first album Character Splatters.  It's my favourite one and it's called Burial Ground.  I hope you enjoy it.  Cheers!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine, the Love Day

“In a world full of temporary things
you are a perpetual feeling.” 
- Sanober Khan

Happy Valentine's my dear friends, I hope you're all having a good one. I wish you lots of love, laughter and chocolate all day long and for the days to come.

I wondered what picture to include with today's post and then I found this photograph of a bleeding heart which I took last year in my garden. Every year when they come out and flower, I lose myself around them with my camera. They look so tempting when the morning sun hits them the right way. I can't stay away.

I went yesterday with Angel to get some chocolate treats for her classmates. She will hand them out in school on Tuesday together with the Valentine cards she made herself. The people were hustling in the store, buying flowers, chocolate, greeting cards and other Valentine gifts. The Valentine's fever is in full swing, that's for sure.

I grew up in Eastern Europe; Poland to be specific. We didn't celebrate Valentine's Day. I mean, I heard about it but it was more  for young lovers to express their infatuation with one another than anything else. There were no people running around with flowers and boxes of chocolate, that's for sure. It was a quiet day for young people in love to walk hand in hand and gaze into each other's eyes. I didn't even hear about it until I was fourteen.

When I came to Canada I was shocked at the seriousness of the affair. Valentine's Day was a big business and everyone was participating. I gave in and participated for many years as well, until the thrill kind of wore off. I saw the Valentine's Day for what it really was: an old tradition blown out of proportion and turned into a commercial frenzy to get the people to spend as much money as possible. Attached people felt unduly pressured and single people just felt awful.  Completely unnecessary if you ask me.

The Lupercalian Festival in Rome(ca. 1578–1610)
The origins of Valentine's Day are quite interesting if one cares to explore.  Just like with all other major holidays, Valentine's Day has pagan roots.  It is said that it originated in ancient Roman festival known as Lupercalia.  It took place from February 13-15 every year, during which time men would strip naked and swat young maidens with a dog or goat skin whips to increase their fertility. One shouldn't be surprised that a dog or goat died for this noble cause.  This tradition began long before Christianity was established, but later on it was adopted by Christians and given a name of St. Valentine.

Today I couldn't care less for Valentine's Day.   It's a day like any other for me.  I don't know why, maybe it's because I'm no longer a maiden and my child bearing years are over. :P I do acknowledge it for the loved ones in my family though and it does give a good excuse to get a chocolate fix.  I usually get my loved ones some chocolate treats and an extra treat for myself.  After the morning Happy Valentine wishes are exchanged and everyone has their chocolates, we carry on with our day as with any other.  I like to think that we give each other a lot of love every day and so we shouldn't need a special one to express it.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Could I survive without power?

“During the four days of the storm, I became accustomed to the soft light of lamps and candles and grew to like it. When the power came on again, I discovered that I was actually disappointed. The electric lights seemed cold and impersonal; they revealed too much.” 
- Damon Knight, One Side Laughing: Stories Unlike Other Stories

Happy Friday the 13th everyone!  I hope today finds you in great health and spirit.

We have been blessed with the four day weekend here.  Today teachers have a P.A. day (professional activity day) and there is no school. We've all had a chance to sleep in.

On Monday, Ontario enjoys a Family Day and so just as the name suggests, we'll be spending it with family and not at school or work.  All in all, sleeping in for four days, what can be better than that?

Now on to the topic of today's post.

Yesterday when I was writing about our recent power outage, I realized the subject matter deserved a more thorough examination.  There was so much more I wanted to say about it and so many questions it posed. I've been thinking about it many times over the years but never really said anything out loud.

When the lights go out we rush to our cupboards, get the matches and light our candles.  We turn the the house inside out in search of that flashlight we're sure should be where we think we've put it. Then we sit and wait until the power comes back on and we are sure it will come back on.  It's only a matter of time.

What about if it doesn't?

Do we ever ask ourselves this very important question?  What would we do if the power didn't come back on?  Not in a day, not in two, maybe not even in a month.  What would we do then? How would we survive?

A lot of us don't think about that.  The electricity has always been flowing and we expect it to be there for us today, tomorrow and for the rest of our lives.  Never before, has humanity been this dependent upon third party for survival.  We are wired, we are addicted and we are very, very dependent.   And it is scary.

Just short two hundred years ago, every family was well equipped with everything they needed to survive.  They grew their own food, raised their own livestock and heated their homes without outside help.  How much things have changed.  Most of us have lost the ability to take care of ourselves and what's even worse is that new generations are following in our footsteps.  We don't teach our kids any real life skills any more.

I will not go into details of what might actually happen in the event of long term power loss.  The empty store shelves, the famine, the human desperation and so on and so forth.  The internet is filled with worst case scenarios for anyone that has guts to inquire what if.  And for the sake of humanity, everyone should.

My quest is more psychological one.  I want to know how mentally prepared am I?  How do I feel when the power goes out and all my modern amenities stop working?

Every time the power goes out I see three groups of people.  The first group whines and complains and can't wait for the power to come back on.  They have to get back to whatever they were doing and there aren't many things outside technology that interest them.  If it's evening and dark, they'll just go to sleep in hope that when they wake up everything will be back to normal.  The second group of people adopt really fast and they even seem to (gasp) enjoy it.  The third group of people are peeved that the power is out but they'll make do if they have to.

I'm in that second camp.  Sure it's inconvenient when the lights go out and all my modern thrills go silent.  But when that happens, a whole new world wakes up, the world in which we have so much to learn and I am eager to learn.

Every power outage for me is an adventure and a test on preparedness.  Do I have the candles, the flashlights and batteries all ready?  Do I have everything needed to build a fire if needed?  Do I know how to build a fire in the middle of winter if the power goes out and I have no other means of cooking food?  Do we have some food stocked up just in case?  Do I know how to grow my own food?  Do I know how to occupy myself without technology?  Am I strong emotionally to deal with something like this or will I fall apart?

We had couple of major power outages in the past year and a half.  The first time it was a mini twister that went through our area in the middle of summer, ripping everything in its path and toppling some trees, including a tree in our backyard.  The whole neighbourhood lost the power for just over 24 hours.  We had a lot of fun cleaning up the debris and cooking by the fire.  At night when it was time to go in, we played board games by the candlelight and simply talked.  The question of meat in the freezer came up and we've figured we'll cook it if it defrosted.  When the power came back on it was a little disappointing. Everyone went back inside, the air conditioner was turned on and the magic was gone.

The second power outage was a bit more serious and it happened due to an ice storm in December 2013, three days before Christmas Eve.  The trees were breaking like twigs, we had an entire yard full of fallen timber and this time the neighbourhood lost the power for several days.  We were the lucky ones to get the power back after couple of days but some of our neighbours had dark Christmas.  This time people were a bit more upset.  Some downright terrified.  Few began questioning our current way of life.

There are several ways in which catastrophic power outage can happen.  Powerful ice storm, sabotage, war, EMP attack, asteroid or geomagnetic solar storm can all knock us out of our cushy existence for quite some time. In a case of a solar storm, many of us don't realize that the question of such event is not if but when.  Every 150-200 years, Earth is hit with a solar super storm capable of frying our transformers and plunging us into prolonged darkness.  The most powerful geomagnetic solar storm on record was the Carrington Event back in 1859 which did not cause much damage because all we had to worry at that time was a telegraph system. If such event happened today, it would be a whole different story. One does not need to be strong in math to see that we are due for another one.  As a matter of fact, something did happen in 2012 that not many people know about because it wasn't widely publicised.  In July 2012 a massive coronal ejection tore through the Earth's orbit, a geomagnetic storm just as strong as the Carrington event.  The only difference was that the Earth was not in its path.  We've missed it by one week.

I'm not saying any of this will happen but it might.  Instead of basking in a blissful ignorance, I like to step out of the box sometimes and ask some really tough questions.  Thinking that we can sustain this technological civilization forever without any interruptions is simply dreaming. Something is bound to happen sooner or later.

What do you think about it?  Have any such thoughts ever cross your mind?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Of Power Outages and Winter Hiking in Canterbury Falls

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” 
- Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Happy Thursday everyone, it's hard to believe first half of the week is already gone. Even harder is to believe we are almost half way through February. The time flies faster than I care to admit.

Last night we lost the power for couple of hours. For my son Derek and I it was fun but Angel was really scared at first. At the tender age of 9 years, she is still terrified of darkness. All three of us ended up having good time though. We've all gathered in Derek's room with my oil candles and my large beeswax candle and couple of flashlights. We sat and talked for some time while chomping on some snacks. Power outages bring families together every time.

Later after the kids went to sleep the power came back on which was probably a good thing because today is brutally cold. The temperature is sitting currently at -16°C/ 4°F and with the 50km/h wind chill we are looking at -27°C/ -17°F. Ideal day for staying home and working on my blog.

Every week we have at least one day when the temps go up and sun comes out to delight us with its presence. Two days ago, on Tuesday we had such glorious day and of course I spent it winter hiking. Exhilarating!

The place I chose this week is very special to me because it's the very trail Angel and I went hiking for the very first time few years ago. Oh boy, did we ever have fun that day!

Canterbury Falls are part of the Heritage Trail which runs from Ancaster Old Mill area and later joins with Bruce Trail all the way to Sherman Falls. This time I did not have enough time available to make it all the way to Sherman Falls since winter hiking takes a lot more time than hiking in other seasons. The snow has a funny way of slowing us down.  I did hike to Canterbury Falls though and had a lot of fun in the process.

I've found couple of hollow trees close to the trail and of course checked them out.  I was even able to fit into one of them.  I laughed when I saw human tracks leading to every point of interest of mine. There are other curious Joes like me out there and that is heart-warming to know.

Just like last time, I saw no wildlife anywhere except for one lone squirrel which got so scared when I arrived, that it booked before I had a chance to zoom in my camera.  Oh well, there'll always be another time.

Canterbury Falls were pretty much frozen.  I could hear them but not see them.  Not even a little bit. If I haven't been to this trail before I would not have known where to look for them and probably would have missed them. 

The only sign that there might be waterfalls here somewhere, appeared in a form of couple of visible spots where the creek was not covered by the snow and ice.  That would be easy to miss for someone who wasn't paying attention though.

Throughout my hike, just as last time, I was on the lookout for the birch trees and any signs of Chaga mushroom on them.  Unfortunately, even though I found quite few birch trees, there was no Chaga to be seen anywhere.  I guess I have to keep searching, one of these days I'll find one.

As previously, I've put together a short video of my hike.  It's only 7 minutes long but I've been there for over 2 hours.  It's so hard to compile hours of fun into 7 minutes.  I hope you enjoy it.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How long can you be with yourself?

We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful moment we remember that we forget.” 
- G.K. Chesterton

Sometimes I like to turn the computer off, put away my phone, close the book, separate myself from all distractions of the modern civilization and just sit there in nothing but a complete silence and with nobody but myself.  I'm aware of the air slowly entering and leaving my body as I breathe, the clothes gently pressing against my skin and the cat watching me in the distance.

The cat surely takes notice because usually when I put things away it signals that I might be getting up to do something else. Maybe heading to the kitchen, quite probably to fill the cat bowls with food or maybe even throw a snack or two.

This time I do no such thing. I just sit there doing absolutely nothing. Something is amiss, the cat thinks, humans don't usually do that.

He is right you see, and such is a sad state of affairs. How often do we allow ourselves to just sit there staring into the distance with absolutely nothing to do?  My guess is, not very often. I try to do it every day, but sometimes I get so entangled in day's events that I forget.  It's a concious effort on my part to remind myself to just stop what I'm doing and simply be.

The very first time I did this I was surprised at how uncomfortable doing nothing was.  Please keep in mind that I'm not talking about a typical meditation here.  Meditation is something to do and there is an expectation that comes with it.  I'm talking about actually doing nothing.  If we just turn everything off and sit there in silence, we realize how ill equipped we are to be with nothing but ourselves. Quite frankly we can't stand it so we look for a distraction, and the next, and so forth.

We are conditioned to to be well oiled machines. Every minute of our day must be productive or we grow dissatisfied with ourselves.  Working and leisure times are equally effected.   If I'm not browsing internet then I should be cooking. If I'm not cooking then I should be cleaning something somewhere. If I'm not cleaning then I should be reading a book, or watching a show. If I catch myself sitting and doing nothing, the first thought that comes to my mind is that I'm wasting my time. But am I really?

The moment I stop doing whatever I'm doing and just pay attention to the stimuli around me, something wonderful happens. It's like I'm able to push away the polluted top layer of my consciousness and look deep down inside where the waters are clear and so much is going on. Random words assemble themselves into sentences without much effort and ideas begin flowing.  My inner self is talking to me and I can finally hear it.  The partition is gone.  The very thought of writing this post came to me this way yesterday.  

Other animals have not lost this art. Have you ever observed cats? They are such intriguing creatures. Just like a little statue, the cat can sit in complete silence, without moving a muscle for a very long time. There is no rush, there is no, I have to be here or there, he just sits and observes. We have so much to learn from them it seems.

So how about it my dear friend? Today take a little minute to yourself. Sit down, put everything away, turn everything off and just be with yourself for as long as you can. Feel the air you breathe, feel the clothes on your body, listen to the whispers of your inner self of who you really are. Have no expectations. If you really give it a shot, you might find yourself amazed.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The books I want to read

“Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent. What I wonder is why everybody doesn't carry a book around for those inevitable dead spots in life.” 
- Stephen King

Yesterday I visited one of my favourite stores.

You've guessed it, the bookstore. 

I had a little bit of cash leftover on the gift card I received for Christmas and so I thought the time came to use it all up. Besides, the bookstore is a great place to visit even when I'm not planning to buy anything. I love going there to window shop, browse around, read little snippets here and there and breathe in the intoxicating aroma of new books.

This time I went there with something specific in mind. I wanted to purchase the next book in The Giver Quartet. Gathering Blue is the second book in the series and the last time I checked it was available for purchase at my local bookstore.

I guess I should have checked again before I left, because apparently it got sold out. There was not even one copy to be found anywhere and I can't say that I wasn't disappointed.

As I browsed around the store, checking out my favourite sections, I got an idea to write a blog post about books that I want to read.  I love reading, I love writing about reading and I love reading other people write about their love for reading.  Why not write about what I want to read next?

As with many things, the task is easier said than done because there are countless books that I've set my sights on.  I do have several that are quite high on my priority list though and unfortunately they are not on my home bookshelf yet.

1. Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

A little while ago, I wrote a review post about The Giver (1993). Gathering Blue (2000) is the second book in The Giver Quartet and in turn it is followed by two more books set in the same future era: Messanger (2004) and Son (2012).

I had an amazing time reading The Giver and when I found out there are three more books accompanying this one, I knew that I had to read them all in some near future. The Giver Quartet is a young adult science fiction novel set, each book following its own protagonist belonging to a futuristic dystopian society.

2. Dark Recollections: Adrian's Undead Diary Book One by Chris Philbrook

In preparation for when The Walking Dead current season will end, I've been on a lookout for a good apocalyptic book that will keep the spark going. I think I finally found one. Dark Recollections is the first of eight books of a series Adrian's Undead Diary that was released over a span of one year in 2013-2014. Seven other books that follow this one are: Alone No More, Midnight, The Failed Coward, Wrath, In the Arms of Family, The Trinity and Cassie.

I've read the sample of Dark Recollections available on Amazon and the first few pages got me hooked already. The language is very spicy to say the least, but I don't mind. It feels very real. I doubt that any of us would be choosing our words carefully when mindless killers lurked in every dark corner and every minute of our lives was spent trying to stay alive.

3. The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan 
     W. Watts

Alan Watts is one of my favourite philosophers of the 20th century, a spiritual polymath and one of the best of his kind. Although it is very difficult to describe his books I'm going to try.  This book opens the reader's mind to the art of living in the present, rather than dwelling on the past or the future.  I haven't read the book yet but several sample exerpts have spiked my interest and burning desire to read it cover to cover.  Although I've seen countless Alan Watts lectures, I haven't read any of his books yet and I'm very excited this will be the first one.

4. SAS Survival Handbook, Revised Edition: For any climate, in any situation       
    by John 'Lofty' Wiseman

This last book I happened upon yesterday when I was browsing the survival section at the bookstore. I have heard about this title before and so I leafed through it to see what it was all about. I have to say I was impressed and I would definitely love to read it. It has wealth of great information from navigation and basic campcraft, to first aid and strategies for coping in a disaster situation. It also has a little section about wild edibles and although I'll be getting a more detailed book for just that purpose later this spring, it's nice to have this information included in this survival guide.

These four books are only few in a plethora of books on my horizon.  I am currently finishing the Wizard and Glass by Stephen King and starting The Stand, also by Stephen King.  Once I'm done with these I'll be ready for any one of the above titles.  I can't wait.