Smelly Memories

Every once in a while, I have this urge to make split pea soup and when I do, I am reminded of my late grandma. Maybe I have the urge because I just want to feel like she’s near me… or maybe she is and that’s why I get the urge. It’s the smell of the dill in the soup in combination with the root vegetables and split peas (yes, they do have a hint of a smell).

According to How Stuff Works: “A smell can bring on a flood of memories, influence people’s moods and even affect their work performance. Because the olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system, an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it’s sometimes called the “emotional brain,” smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously.”

Today at lunch when I heated up my split pea soup and I started to smell the dill scent wafting, I was brought back to a time in my childhood. There was always a lot of people at my grandparent’s house. With 10 children and many more grandchildren, there was always a lot of kids running around. However, I am brought to a time when I was one of the only kids in the house with my grandma. I was playing in the living room and my grandma was at her post in the kitchen. She would shuffle back and forth from the stove to the cupboard to the table, over and over. She was always cooking for everyone. Her arthritic hands stirred the soup or kneaded the dough… she provided food for her family. When I became a cyclist, she would knit me toque after toque and give it to my mom to give to me to keep my head warm while I biked. I am still amazed at how non-judgmental and supportive she was, even when other people in my family were not.

When she was in the hospital, only days before she passed away after being on this earth for 89 years, I visited her in the evening and fed her ice cream. She loved ice cream, all cream, really. What good Mennonite doesn’t?!? She made a cute comment about how our roles were reversed and I was taking care of her and that this is what happens when one gets old. She lived long enough to see her kids and grandkids take care of her and that was long enough.

All of these memories spawned from a bowl of soup. Isn’t the human mind amazing.


Winter Biking in Saskatchewan is Hard… Core!

For the last few winters, I have suffered as a winter cyclist. However, after purchasing my car 2 winters ago, I have drove more than biked during the winter and relieved my suffering. This winter I want to reverse that and bike more than I drive for my commute. This will be my 8th winter cycling in this city and I have decided that I’m going to do it “for real” this year… with proper gear!

What I have noticed as I get older is that my tolernace for freezing toes and fingers has gone down siginificantly than when I was an early 20-something gal. Last winter I bought myself a heavy-duty pair of mitts that helped with my fingers and I’ve always managed to keep my core temperature up while biking in -40 degree Celsius weather. However, there are two exremeties that I have not figured how to fully insulate: my thighs and my toes.

Usually by the time I get to work, my thighs are bright red and tingle when I touch them. The way I have been dealing with that is to stand in the bathroom for about five minutes without any pants holding my warm hands against them to warm them up. Long underwear, jogging pants, and wind pants do help, but there are days when the biting prairie wind goes through the layers like a hot knife through vegan maragarine.

Now my poor toes are a completely different topic. I have never fully figured out how to prevent cold toes. When I was a newspaper carrier only a few years ago, I would come home at 6:30am, after being in the freezing cold since 4:30, with tears streaming down my face from my toes being so frozen. I would start making oatmeal and sit on the ground in semi-lotus position, holding onto my toes in my hands and rock back and forth. I would breathe on them hoping that the feeling would come back into them. Sure enough, after a few minutes, they would start to tingle. The pain was brutal. It has been ever since then that I have been completely afraid of freezing my toes off and doesn’t make my commute seem manageable during the winter. This is the part of winter biking that I must figure out because my commute is even longer now than it was last winter, with it being about 8.5 kilometres. It is also why I am completely understanding of those who think that winter biking is crazy and don’t want to try being a winter bike commuter.

My solution to all of this was met in one click to the Mountain Equipment Co-op website. I visited a store a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t have my act together enough to make a list of equipment that I needed. So I resorted to online shopping, which I really enjoyed.

I purchased some super duper long underwear, a neck warmer with a place to breathe out of my mouth, and a toque that goes under a helmet (I hope it fits my tiny head!). For my feet, I bought some shoe covers that they say are the warmest ones they have. I’m going to give them a shot. If they don’t work, I’m going to try another pair. I’m also going to try Smart Wool socks. I am determined to not lose my toes and still commute to work by bicycle! I’m just really thankful that my co-workers don’t mind that I come into the office with frosted eyebrows and look like the Michilan man with all of my bulky layers. At least I’m warm!

The last part of my preparation for winter is getting my bike ready. I need to re-pack my hugs and probably change my drive-train, which my bike guy will recommend against, but it needs to be done. I’m also going to try out studded tires for the first time. My first winter of bicycle commuting, I used road slicks… oh, how I have mellowed! Actually, I’ve just fallen too many times. My chiropractor recommends that I try not to do that as much, so studded tires it is.

Let the snow fall and the temperature drop – I’ll be ready!

From one prairie girl to another: Miriam Toews

Last night I decided to leave the house and brave the cold, wet night to see Miriam Toews read at McNally Robinson. Being spontaneous is such a novelty to me and I was glad to take advantage of the free evening to see the writer of one of my favorite books a complicated kindness about a girl growing up in a Mennonite community.

Ms. Toews (pronounced “tayves”) read from her newest book The Flying Troutmans. She read a part of it that she had never read before and I think she was a little nervous. I have not heard an author read from their books very often and it was such an interesting and different experience from reading it all by myself, curled up in my arm chair or under my blankets on a cold winter night before bed. I found myself laughing several times because she it was a humorous part of the book that she read. I realized that I don’t generally laugh out loud while reading. Probably I smile and maybe even chuckle, but it has to be a very funny book to cause me to laugh outright. One of the only books that has done this successfully is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, which is the funniest and saddest book I have ever read.

As I sat there laughing with many other people in the packed restaurant in the bookstore, I realized how wonderful it was to be there to experience her. Miriam Toews is also a prairie girl from a Mennonite background. I could tell that she was one of us… a down-to-earth prairie girl. She smiled a lot, which I have been told is common amongst prairie folks – we smile and laugh more easily. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her read the dialogue of “he said,” “I said,” “she said” that gave us just a little insight into the book that I couldn’t help but purchase that night.

Also, in the Q & A part of the evening, she was asked when she became a writer and she said that she had started when she was 28 years old. A feeling of relief swept over me: I’m not out of time.

Composting toilets are drafty

This weekend, I spent the majority of my time at a greenhouse management workshop in Craik, SK. This particular small town is very special because it took a turn that not many other small towns would consider, which included sustainability on a community level. They built an eco-friendly building with a restaurant and golf course all called the Craik Eco-Centre. Most of the materials for the building were re-used from other buildings and the design was made for it to be low-cost to run and highly efficient. I especially love that the people in Craik saved the wood from their fallen grain elevator and used it to build this building. It was a community effort to build and the work was mostly done by volunteers. There is an eco-village coming about as the next step and it is reviving this community.

The Craik Sustainable Living Project is putting on a few of these greenhouse workshops to inform others on growing food with the use of a greenhouse. I went in both a professional and a personal level and really did learn a lot about greenhouses and can’t wait for spring! However, the best part of the workshop was just being in that building, where everything is so purposeful to being sustainable and it was inspiring to me.

As someone who considers herself a well-hydrated person and is slightly antsy while sitting all day, I went to the washroom a lot. Maybe it was just because I loved going there so much because when I walked in, I was often surprised by the darkness and having to turn the light on. Then I used the very drafty composting toilets and read the sign about what not to throw down the compost toilet and thought about what must have happened in order for the sign to include “Do not let young children in here alone.” It was probably just for safety – a “just in case” situation.

The best part of the composting toilet was being done my business because usually in public washrooms I am faced with a dilemma after a #1 situation. Flush or no flush. At home, I have a strict “If it’s yellow, let it mellow” policy. However, in public toilets I waver. It irritates me to no end to have someone go in after me just to flush it before they sit down. I have also seen people look into the stall, see something in the bowl, and go to the next one; the worst part of this one is that I do the same thing! I mean, what if the toilet isn’t flushing right?! Then it could get all over the floor and I’d have to find someone to clean it up and they’d look at me all judgmental about using the toilet that already had toilet paper in it. With composting toilets, there is no worries at all! There is no “flush or no flush” debate and I was thankful for it. I felt a relief in more ways than one when I left the stall.

But as I turned off the light after washing my hands and wiping the residual water on my pants, I could still feel my cold butt from the draft that comes up from below and was kind of uncomfortable with it.

Biking in the Full Moon

The energy on the day of a full moon is always so intense. I became a moon watcher when I started riding my bike at night the fall after I biked to PEI. It seemed I was always biking at night and so I started noticing the moon more and more. Now I am a moon watcher. I keep track of my cycle in comparison to the moon and I keep track of behaviors around the moon. It is all very interesting. The ebb and flow, waxing and waning of the moon affects every person, whether we know it or not.

When I lived on 15th Street, I used to bike in the “tree park” at night all the time. I would purposely turn off my bike light so that the only light for me to ride by was the light of the moon. It was always spectacular and felt like I was flying. In the winter, the moonlight off the snow would make it glow as if it was day. I have not had many revelations while biking in the moonlight, but it always feels special. It feels significant, like something is about to happen – something exciting and life-altering. It is exhilarating and scary all at the same time.

Today, my full moon adventure was more about a change in energy in my day-to-day activities. Everything just “felt” different. Perhaps it’s also because of the big change in my personal life, but I don’t believe that it all happened coincidentally at the same time. Two men in my life are hurting right now because of choices I made. One is my dog, Clifford, who got neutered today. It was the saddest thing to pick him up from the vet and see him so sulky. He barely even wagged his tail. Now, because he is a “licker,” despite the bitter spray they put on the sutures, he has to wear one of those degrading cones around his head. When he runs into the wall, he stops and looks like he is about to give up on life. I have never seen him so depressed in the 4 months that we have been together. I am sure that he will pull out of it and be back to his fun-loving self in no time.

Adventures in Gas Prices

Being an environmentalist is hard work and trying to avoid hypocrisy is almost as hard. However, I do my best at biking to work and reducing my footprint on the earth. The fact of the matter is, however, that I have increased my footprint since getting a “real” job and acquiring “stuff” that accompanies the lifestyle of being a middle-class person.

Tonight I drove to my Thai yoga massage because I had to run home after I discovered that I had forgotten my yoga pants and wanted to be comfortable during my massage (no, the massage does not count into being middle class – I got massages even when I was a dumpster diving activist). As I was driving to my appointment, which was disappointing in itself, I saw that my gas tank was almost empty. I knew that gas prices were going up, but I thought that the one near my work wouldn’t have already gone up. After my massage I went there to check… $1.45/Litre. Ouch. So I decided to drive by the gas station near my house, nope, $1.47. In theory, I support the rise in gas prices. In practicality, I hate it. This causes a bit of inner turmoil to me.

As an environmentalist, I’m glad that people are starting to think twice before hopping in their car to go just down the street. However, as someone who drives pretty much only for work and “emergencies,” it is super annoying. I’ve made a budget of how much money I’m supposed to spend on gas and it is going to be eaten up in one fill if I fill it up right now.

Apparently gas prices are so high because of the hurricane near Texas. Hurricane Ike is its name. I have some friends in Texas who are under curfew because of the storm. Sometimes I’m glad to live in Saskatchewan, where we get somewhat scary lightening storms, occasionally hail, and rarely small tornadoes. It was like everything became connected for me: storms in areas rich in oil will make gas prices increase a lot. How predictable! Haven’t scientists been warning people of this storm for at least a day now? It’s just so interesting to me that we would not have been told that our gas prices were going to increase by at least $0.10/L. However, in some places, it’s increased more than that. Incredible. I love how the world all works – we are all connected! To me, it seems amazing that a storm that is thousands of miles away could affect me in my everyday living.

So did I get gas? No, I did not. I have decided not to buy gas until I absolutely have to, which is Tuesday because I have a meeting >200km away that I need to go to for work. This weekend, I will be completely car-free. Sometimes life’s little inconveniences just help make avoiding hypocritical behavior so much easier.

For the record, here is a map of the gas prices in Canada:

Canadian Gas Prices

Canadian Gas Prices

Adventure: What it means to me

According to Webster’s dictionary, adventure is a noun that comes from “Middle English aventure, chance, risk, from Anglo-French, from Vulgar Latin *adventura, from Latin adventus, past participle of advenire to arrive, from ad- + venire to come” and dates back to the 14th century. It defines it as:
1 a: an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks; the encountering of risks;the spirit of adventure
2: an exciting or remarkable experience;an adventure in exotic dining
3: an enterprise involving financial risk

Isn’t it wonderful how a word that seems to simple can mean so many things. I was thinking today about my adventure of buying a house. While the risk to my physical well-being is small, it is a financial risk of sorts. However, the biggest adventure part of buying a house is that it is an exciting and remarkable experience. In Saskatoon, I have paid rent for most of 10 years. That is a decade of paying rent. Now my rent goes towards owning a home. It is quite remarkable in my mind. Sometimes I wonder what the bank was thinking, giving me a mortgage! To me, I’m still the 18-year-old wide-eyed farm girl who needed EXACT directions to get to Saskatoon from my small town.

I remember the day that I moved here. I left home on my 18th birthday, just like my mom had always promised I would. When I was just too much for her to handle she would yell, “As soon as you’re 18, you’re outta MY house!” And I would, of course, yell back that I couldn’t wait. However, we were both teary-eyed as I drove out of the farmyard. I was the first of three to leave the “nest.” I believe I cried for an entire hour of the 2.5 hour drive from “home” to Saskatoon. I knew my life would never be the same and that I would never again live on the farm. I was, indeed, an adult.

For my first two years of university, I lived with my cousins in their basement suite. Now that I think about it, it was definitely the best thing for me. The day before my first class of the “Math Readiness” course that I took, I had to ask them which was I was supposed to turn when I went out the front door. That would be the first day that I had taken public transportation. Yes, I was so young. However, the next morning I walked out the front door, turned right, and walked the 3 blocks to the bus stop. I repeated this almost every day for the next two years. To me, even taking public transportation was an adventure!

So, really, everyday is an adventure. Some experiences are more remarkable than others and some are riskier than others, but they are all adventures. I guess it just depends on how we look at them. I foresee many adventures in home-owning. Things like replacing furnaces, buying dryers, fixing floors, cleaning eaves troughs, and so much more. Hopefully it will be more exciting for others to read about! I guess no matter what, they’ll be adventures for me.

Politics on the Prairies

I have always said that Saskatchewan is bipolar in terms of politics. On the provincial level, the two big parties are the NDP and the conservatives (and whatever name they are running under). I can’t help but wonder if it’s not because of our extreme temperatures. In the winter, it can get down to -50oC and in the summer, it can reach up to +40oC. While we do spend a lot of time in between, we spend the duration of our time speaking about the extreme temperatures. It seems very much to represent our political views in this province. We’re either hot or cold. We love something or we hate something. We’re left-wing or we’re right-wing.

My other theory is that our family background tells us where we will stand politically. On my dad’s side, my great-grandfathers decided to “agree to disagree” on politics. My grandmother’s father being a lifetime member of the CCF (the old-skool NDP) with his being from Sweden and all. My grandfather’s father was a Liberal – “middle of the road” I suppose. In my family, we don’t really talk politics. My parents never used to tell each other how they voted and we weren’t allowed to discuss it. However, since I’ve become quite politically involved and very open and loud about it, my parent’s have disclosed how they have voted. While they generally agree on the fact that there really is no great party or candidate, I’m not sure that they always vote for the same party. Nonetheless, voting in elections has always been a priority for me, even if it is to abstain from picking one party.

I have to admit that I have left-leaning tendencies in a lot of ways. Ultimately, though, I don’t really like any of the parties. There are some good individual candidates, but rarely do I think “YES! That party stands for what I believe in!” Basically this is the case because I believe our political system is flawed. Our country is too vast and intricate for any one party to possibly represent everyone. I believe in smaller parcels of land. Maybe our city counselors and Rural Municipalities should have more of a role in the federal and provincial political system. Maybe everyone needs to take some lessons on how to get along with others and how to compromise. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I think that everyone in this whole country should learn that from a very young age. However, this will never happen in our current political and economic system – capitalism feeds on the fact that people don’t get along and that people think of themselves first, even if it is at the expense of another person.

I believe in compassion, compromise, trust, relationships, and love. We are all human and we’re all just trying to make it. Why can’t we all just get along?

All I’m saying is “give peace a chance.” What party believes in that?

A Purpose

This blog is just one of many of my blogs that I have in internet-land. Writing is an outlet for me and I plan to use this in my many adventures that I go on. In my daily life I have adventures and this seems like a good place to write about them. I often go on these adventures with my dog, Clifford, a 6-month old standard poodle who is quickly becoming a very integral part of my life. I don’t clip his hair and I like the way he bounds around and loves everyone.

Upcoming adventures that I have planned are a bike trip to the Pacific Ocean, as inspired by a recent acquaintance who came through town to remind me not to say “I’ve always wanted to do that,” going to New York City, a place that I’ve always wanted to go and I have to admit is entrenched in my love with Sex and the City, and taking yoga teacher training and/or thai yoga massage training. When and where these things will happen are unknown.

For now, I live and work in beautiful, sunny Saskatoon. I love it here and it will always be here. My roots run deep in this city and province. My family is so important to me and the prairie runs deep in my blood as my grandparents were born and raised here in the prairies. My remaining grandparent, my grandmother, was born in a small town in southern Saskatchewan that is not much more than a speck on a map. I recently got to pass her little town of Ardill, where she lived until she was 10 years old and The Depression hit them hard. She is now 88 years old, her bones are made of steel, her mind is strong, and her love is great. She is an inspiration to me because through all of the hardships she has seen, she has remained open-minded and loving, with just a hint of bitterness. With all of this in mind, I will always come home.