Sunday, December 29, 2013

goodbye twenty thirteen...

...i totally just woke up and sang that to the tune of 'goodbye yellow brick road' by elton john.. and then i remembered that i got to see elton john in the crazy mashup of epic awesomeness that this year has been.. yeah. but it's time to say goodbye... which seems to be a very long drawn out process. this year, on top of everything, has really messed with my perception of time. first it's flying by, and then dead stop. rewind, repeat.

now i suppose it's fitting that the tune goes so well along with the words of bidding the year farewell, because twenty thirteen sort of feels like my 'yellow brick road'. the dude that wrote that song was depicting the idea of leaving the life of fame and fortune to get back to his roots, to go back to the farm. that's sort of how i feel about this year.. experiencing bits of the high life here and there, traveling more than i conventionally would while living as a commoner. saying goodbye to this year and all that happened in it is my way of saying it's time to go home. back to my dirt and shovel..

when i was a kid i always loved going to my dad's house. he lived in what was then regarded as the 'middle of nowhere' in a log cabin on the edge of some trees, decades before urban sprawl caught up with it. there were lots of gardens and orchards around the yard, and one of my most favourite chores was gathering brush to burn in the firepit out back. i loved planting season, and the satisfaction one would gain from weeding a bed, i loved everything about it.

until i was a pre-teen of course, and i'd gone to stay there a while. no pre-teen in the country who knows what the city is like wants to stay out in the country. i was one of those kids. i felt my life was so disconnected, and i wanted ever so badly to stay in town. i knew not what i was getting myself into or about the hardships and challenges that lied within that lifestyle. i did know that going back to stay with my addict mother was going to be a challenge in itself, but one well worth it to get away from the country. i wanted to be where the people were, the people that didn't hate on me for being a city girl to begin with. i've always been torn between my two sets of roots. i suppose that's why i ultimaltely chose the lifestyle that i did, my happy medium.

and now here we are. the end of one year and the beginning of another. the idea of wanting to 'make it big' and change the world has faded back into the background where it belongs. i'm not a big fancy corporate leader, i'm a simple farmer. and if ever the day comes that my wanting to get back to my roots enables me to advance in society, or in my 'corporate career' then so be it. i could only pray that that would be the change.. that others might be encouraged to follow.

next year i'll likely be doing considerably less traveling, and focusing more energy on the soil outside my back door. all i wanted was that garden, and i let it get out of hand while my head was busy swimming in the clouds. literally, at some points... damn airplanes. i can't believe i rode so many this year, that's certainly a record i don't wish to break any time soon. goodbye twenty thirteen, your bright lights and fancy ideals. you can't keep me from my garden, i'm going back to my trowel.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Merrell Moab Ventilator hiking shoe

it's another perfect day to hibernate today, which means i have time to catch up on a review or two. there's one i've been meaning to do for a while now, years even.. on a pair of hiking shoes. if you know me, you know that i like to spend a lot of time barefoot, but when spending a long time on the road and experiencing various terrains and weather conditions, i wanted to get a pair of comfortable and durable shoes. something that could carry me many kilometers with a good amount of weight on my back.

to be honest, a big selling factor on this pair at the time of purchase was the price. they have a sturdy comfortable insole that eventually conforms to the shape of your feet, and they are reasonably water resistant while maintaining good breathability. they are lightweight, yet sturdy. the soles are by Vibram which assures reliability and durability.

i bought these shoes right before embarking on a year-long coast to coast journey hoping that they would last me through three seasons, and they did so well enough. i broke them in gently on my early spring hike along the southern portion of the Bruce Trail. they have seen many hundreds of kilometers of trails, mossy mountain sides, soggy field, rugged forest and miles and miles of the Trans Canada Highway, and the Trans Canada Trail wherever i could find it along the way.

my journey began when it was still quite chilly outside, and these shoes are well adapted to the cold with a good sock inside, i chose merino wool and they kept my feet toasty warm and dry. as the seasons progressed even into late summer it was easy to transition by wearing a thinner sock in the heat. i even used them as work shoes when on the road, perfect for doing hours and hours of garden maintenance, and the journey to and from my job sites.

i'd have to guess that i had hiked well over a thousand kilometers total on all types of terrain through almost a year's worth of various weather before i finally busted a toe seam. and even then , i still managed to squeeze a few hundred more kilometers out of them before they needed replacing. certainly the best value for the price i'd ever gotten from a hiker, and they were just under a hundred bucks. by the way, i made the purchase back in 2008 and i still have them kicking around [as my shovelling shoes] today. and they were such a good make, they're still widely available! i'd consider reinvesting if ever i find myself needing another solid hiker. i have since transitioned to fivefingers [by Vibram] as i have gained enough strength in my feet to carry a considerable amount of weight without as much support. stay tuned for my fivefinger review!

Garden City Under Ice

at 2:30 in the morning i somehow was startled awake by the sound of the power going out... i lit a candle to wander and investigate. a few minutes later i got a text from Matt asking if the power was out at home. it must be the weather.. i opened the door to the sound of icy rain. parts of the city were out. i checked online while my cellphone still had juice, many towns around lake Ontario had downed power lines.

it looked amazing. i couldn't wait for the rain to slow down so i could take some pictures...

i ventured out with an umbrella and the telephoto lens. i could hear tree branches crackling under the weight of the ice as the winds started to pick up again. i made it a quick jorney through the garden and down the street. the cedars bowed down maples around the corner. everything glistening under a thick layer of ice. the frozen turned back into rain and i quickened my pace to return to the homestead, the umbrella was about to give up. brr...

it's days like today i'm especially glad i have someplace warm to hide.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Vaude Gallery Air 30+5

i'm a big fan of a good pack. this was my second time purchasing a good name brand pack so i knew more what i was looking for this time around. it has everything i insist on having in a backpack.. bottle pockets, a built in rain tarp, and a mesh open air backboard. this backpack set the standard for me, and influenced a later purchase of a bigger one. it may even be... my favourite!

that being said, this pack is considered 'small'. it's 35 liters fully extended, and 30 liters compressed. it has a compression zipper built in around the bottom half that will pull the bag closer to your body when it isn't completely full, making lighter loads more comfortable to carry without the pack sagging down. it also has a zipper access to the bottom of the main pocket, a zip-up divider for the main compartment, and a whole separate front compartment with little mesh elasticized pockets to organize tools, gadgets and other small necessities.

there is a small zip-up pocket on the inside to hide small important things, and a pocket for a water bladder down the inside of the backboard. i personally never switched over to using such things, i've always been a classic nalgene bottle type of gal. hence my insistence on bottle pockets, perhaps sometime in the future i'll give the tube a try.

this bag is incredibly versatile. given all the zippers and straps this pack can be shrunk down for day use, or expanded out [and stacked upon] to carry enough gear for a multi-week long journey. i was a little nervous at first about all the moving parts, but after weeks and even months straight of daily use, and being my main pack for years since, everything still works. there is expected wear and tear on things like some of the elastic, and the mesh has worn little holes, but everything is fully functioning, even the fly.

there are many loops, solid and velcro, on the outside of the pack. they are positioned to support hiking poles which i haven't used in a while, and they are now used to hang my damp extra pair of fivefingers or wet washcloths to dry, cups or dishes, or whatever extra bits i may have to carry. i even used the bottom loops and the frame to tie my sleep mat to the bottom with a bootlace.

this is the perfect mid-sized pack for me, and with proper arrangement, all the gear a person could need [in warmer weather] fits comfortably on this little pack. the suspended mesh-lined backboard keeps the weight from sitting directly against your back allowing for airflow, and for sweat to evaporate instead of sitting against your skin. certainly comfortable to hike with for many hours of the day. when this pack finally breaks i will likely get something similar or the same. i have seen the newer makes with slight improvements to things like the mesh pockets [better reinforced] and the straps. big win, would certainly go with a Vaude product again.

every five years..

something amazing happens. of course, i just realized this now as i was thinking.. this was the best year ever. and the last time i thought that very thing was back in 2008, 5 years ago. and five years before that. all the way back to 1988 when i was three years old, my baby brother was born. so i suppose that's when it all began.

i didn't have many expectations for 2o13, but i was hopeful that it'd be a lot better than 2o12. and it was. my luck had certainly changed. last year so many things had gone wrong, i felt like i was in my own personal hell. it was the 'end of the world' indeed to me, the world that i had created for myself was crumbling. once i had finally stopped resisting and accepted all that had happened it got easier.

 in mid february, i found out about shareholders. it's a huge annual event held in arkansas that hosts people from all over the world for a mind blowing week of lessons, activities and interactions. one had to be voted by their store to go, and then audition to the district. i won the store level vote. i felt loved.

a few weeks later into march, i was surprised to find out that i had won, and was to be sent to represent our district at the international shareholders meeting! that means i was one of 150 canadians to attend, of the 90,000 canadians that work for our company. what an honour! the day after i found out, i was in for another surprise that was truly quite unexpected.

the year previous i had lost my home, my garden, my partner and a lot of friends. but i had gained one special friend from all of it, the dude on the couch. once everyone had found somewhere to be as the community house died off, this fellow was left without a place to go. i took him with me. a year later we were still living together as roommates. late march he had to travel out of town for a week to visit family. it was a long, cold lonely week.. when he had gotten home, the very day after i'd found out i won the vote, i found out that i'd won his heart as well. we had missed each other so much while he was gone we wondered why we weren't together. and so, it began. the last day of winter.

a few weeks later i decided to do something i never thought i'd do, write my beginners. i passed with flying colours, and this hippy walked out with a license to drive. and somewhere around that same time i obtained a passport to travel, and a clean pass into the states. it was only april and already my life was changing for the better.

in may we got our own place. i was hesitant at first to make the move, i wasn't sure about the neighbourhood or the fact of living in a basement.. but i was excited learn that we would have free use of an enormous yard to do and grow whatever we please, and a fire pit to enjoy. did i mention there isn't any neighbours? so it worked out.. just when i thought there'd be a year without a garden we found someplace to grow.

and we did.. we grew as much as we could plant on such sort notice. we have a surplus of tomatoes to make sauce with all winter, and we gorged all summer on freshly grown eggplants and herbs. the berries got off to a good start, and the sunflowers made plenty of tasty fresh seeds for the fall. oh and one more thing..

the day after we moved in, i cut off my dreads. this time, by choice. for years i didn't feel comfortable with the idea of not having them, over ten years i spent moslty in dreadlock. two sets, five years each. i felt i might as well go with the flow of changes, and i wanted to shed some unnecessary weight off my shoulders. also in preparation for traveling to the southern states in early june.

it would be my first time flying since i was eleven. and that time was awful traumatic.. it embedded a deep fear of flight in me that took a lot of nerve to get over. i had sworn to never fly which i knew would limit me on travel, but i had to for this journey. i'm glad i did, four planes later [two each way] i can finally stomach soaring through the air at insane speeds and altitudes to get places faraway quickly.

 had i not gone, i would have missed out on the surprise elton john concert.. truly a once in a lifetime thing. i'd never have the money or the bother to attempt to get tickets to a show like that, and here i got to see him for free. something i will truly never forget.

before all of this, i had decided that i'd like to visit nova scotia as it had been far too long since i'd been. and now that i had a new someone to bring with me, it was an extra special journey. i got to introduce matt to my old friends, and to some of my favourite places i've been. and we got to experience a few new places together like peggy's cove, and a huge inner city permaculture food farm. we got to see the pitch black skies and watch the stars and the milky way, and glide peacefully in a canoe on the lake. a little taste of what life will be like after retirement.. hopefully sooner. anyhoo..

i'm glad that we mostly relaxed for that journey. somewhere along the line i had signed up for a trip just about as action packed as the last one, and it was nice to take a breather in between. friends of mine had been trying for a long time to convince me to shoot their wedding. after saying i wouldn't a few times [i don't do weddings] they finally won me over.. with a journey to the dominican. and i couldn't be more grateful as it was an amazing experience all around.

i made a bunch of new friends that week, photographed a beautiful wedding, and had a chance to go geocaching in the sand. not to mention a few other once in a lifetime type things including swimming with dolphins, sharks and stingrays, riding a dune buggy into the jungle.. and staying at an all inclusive resort enjoying a swim up bar with all the banana mamas and pina coladas i could ever drink.

really, i still have a hard time believing it all happened, let alone in the past year.. my head is still swimming as each experience is catching up with me. i have so much to be grateful for.. some great challenges have been balanced with some great opportunities and experiences. i have no idea where my luck came from this year, but i won't complain. thirteen has always held a special place with me, perhaps that is a part of it.

peace out 2o13, thanks for everything. i think i'll need a year off to recuperate.. and garden too.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

when the lights go out..

i guess it's been on my mind a lot lately. at least for the last decade or so.. the 'blackout' was already ten years ago. summer of 2003 most of the northeast and some of the midwest experienced a widespread power outage. some places were without power into the evening, other places such as the old forgotten neighbourhood i lived in went three days in darkness before the power was restored.

my recurring dreams tell tales of a powerless society, i often catch short glimpses into a world where we no longer have access to this much sought after and often taken for granted utility. i always wonder where i'm going to be when it happens, who i'll be with, what i'd have access to in that moment.. every time the power goes out for no weather related reasons i wonder is this it? what.

lets go back to 2003 for a minute. i remember it like it was yesterday, i was 18.. it was my first year on the job in the company i'm [back] at now. i worked in the photolab of a fair sized department store. just less than a month into my employment there, that's when it happened. i wasn't at work yet, but i was due to go in that evening. i was hiding from the summer heat watching a movie in the halfway house when suddenly everything was very quiet.

after a few minutes of waiting for the fan to resume it's motions we ventured outside to look around. someone probably hit a pole. maybe a transformer blew up, lots of air conditioners running this week.. within half an hour someone on our street had heard that the whole city was out. when i arrived at work an hour later we knew most of the province and surrounding states were without power. it took hours for a reefer truck to arrive at the store from a short distance down the highway. there were no traffic lights, the roads were chaotic. we packed up what had held temperature and were sent home before the sunset.

back in the neighbourhood the fridges and small freezers were first to go. i lived in 'old Merritton', a place that seemed to be decades behind with it's old houses and fire lanes, and everyone still had a firepit in their back yard. groups gathered in to neighbours' yards to cook meat and feast on the fresh food before it spoiled. it was the middle of august so nothing lasted long. down over the bridge the local Dairy Queen was giving away all it's frozen treats, massive ice cream cakes brought out onto the picnic tables to be devoured by all the kids in the neighbourhood. kids did cartwheels down the middle of the empty four lane street. i joined them.

that evening we sat in the kitchen around a small huddle of candles and talked about what we do if the power never came back on. that night and into the second day we had heard news [word of mouth of course] about some lootings downtown and home robberies. there was still some propane left in the barbecue, we used it to boil water for tea and coffee. we started a neighbourhood watch with the people on our street to keep an eye on the older folks and children. the air was hot and thick as summer was in full swing. we broke the seal on the deep freeze to find something to eat.

most of the city had come back on that evening, our end of town was on an older grid and we had to wait one more night in the dark. at least we knew it was almost over. a part of me was a little sad i think, while at the same time i was relieved to have another chance to be prepared. i think this whole experience left such an impact on me that it has been in the back of my mind ever since.

earlier this week we had one of those moments.. i was at work this time, and the lights went out. a brief moment passed before the emergency lighting kicked on, and we would have a short time to find everyone and get them safely to the front of the store. there was also that brief timespan of not knowing, a solid chill ran right through me. was it just us? the whole mall? the whole city? why hadn't it come back on yet, why did it turn off in the first place, it's a regular sunny day.

and there it was, the question.. is this it? of course not. but i didn't know that at first, and as i did rounds of the store checking the exits i'd do a mental inventory of all of the supplies that we had access to just in case. food, gear, firestarter and fuel, blankets, clothing and shelters, and luggage and backpacks to carry things in. and bikes.. i thought, if this is it, i should bike home and collect my family as well. when i came back from the first rounds i found out it was just the mall. a transformer had blown, we were in the dark for hours. we were organized and well prepared to transfer everything into a freezer truck. shortly after i left for the day, the truck had arrived, and of course the power had come back on. everything gone back to normal shortly thereafter, and it was just another day.

another day that left me thinking, i wonder what would happen if the lights went out for good..

Saturday, December 7, 2013

...where did all this stuff come from?

i have always naturally been interested in living a minimal lifestyle. now that i'm housed it has become more of a challenge, one that i feel is time to get serious about right away. these things especially come to mind this time of year, when people feel the need to go out and spend money on things to give one another that we may or may not even need. personally i've never really been huge on the idea, i'd rather spend time than money on the people that i love. the smiles and memories long outlast plastic gadgets and trendy do-dads and toys.

you would think that a person who has spent a considerable amount of time living out of a rucksack may not own a lot of things, but in my case it seems this rolling stone did pick up an abundance of moss along the way. i had become so resourceful in the craft of living sans address that i had several different places to store my things and lost track of what i had already owned.

finally in the last move, all of my [and matthew's] possessions are together under one roof.. err, in a tiny basement apartment that we share. he had recently spent his share of time floating around surfing couches and crashing where he could, which means his stuff was scattered all about as well. now that it's all together in one place, it has come a bit of a chore to deal with. we spent the majority of our year after moving here gardening, working, traveling and generally being outdoors. now that hibernation time is upon us, the piles of stuff we spent a few seasons pushing aside is now our current task.

having all of my stuff split up made it seem like i had a lot less than i actually do, and it also means that a lot of what i own consists of clothing and gear. most of the clothes are second hand or hand-me-downs that i acquired over many years of being thrifty and requiring layers to survive. i even had stashed away in my dad's basement totes of things from my early childhood like artwork and stuffed animals, namely beanie babies. in a friend's closet i had three totes of art supplies, two of photos and albums, a small tote of camera gear. in my main storage a selection of camping gear, blankets, rucksacks and various footwear to coordinate with the seasons.

oh, and books. lots and lots of books. between the two of us, we have our own personal library right here in our apartment. everything from anime to health and nutrition, fiction and philosophy, gardening and textbooks and a bunch of stuff in between. put it all together with a mishmash of random junk that has snuck into the boxes and bags and totes and you've got way too much stuff.

phew! see, it even took a bunch of paragraphs to explain all the stuff we already have, and we don't need any more. this season we are taking the time to go through the things that we already have and making use of them, donating what we don't need and organizing our inventory so that it is more accessible. we've already made some great finds on our mission of living a more minimalist low-impact lifestyle. one of these key finds; old journals from my rucksack days. at that point in my life i lived with so little that i was profoundly more grateful for every little thing.

this sense of gratitude i find kept me fulfilled and i rarely longed for more than i had. the memories from this mentality reminded me of this, and how important it is to acknowledge the 'sacredness' of every little thing in our lives, material and not. and at the same time how to let go of things that i once held so sacred. it's a delicate balance that if not well maintained will result in ditching things i never meant to, or hording things for the fact that i don't want them to go to waste.

i'm not sure where i'm going with this post, i guess i just didn't want to forget all that. random thoughts that came to mind when i was asked what i wanted for 'christmas'. you know what i want for christmas? ...less stuff.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

wooden hearts

for a couple weeks there was a stack of boxes under the stairs filled with things that were destined for the dump. the tenants upstairs told us to go through it in case there was anything we might like to keep before they throw everything away. amongst old albums and schoolwork and random broken things there was a few decorations that i liberated with the intent of updating them. i found ceramic geese, a wicker wreath and three wooden hearts glued to braided grass that read 'home sweet home' ...classic. with lots of potential.

today i started with the wooden hearts. i wasn't sure exactly what i'd do with them, so i sketched out a few little sayings and words and tried to make them fit inside the shapes. after sorting through a couple totes of craft stuff on my buy nothing black friday, i found an assortment of metallic acrylic colours. red green and gold. perfect, they fit with the theme we're already rockin' in the kitchen.

i used some leftover dollar store taupe as a base coat to cover the letters on the hearts and provide a solid backdrop for the light coloured paints. after putting the colours on i decided no further alterations are needed, no words necessary. they look nice simply red green and gold. and now they live in our hand painted crafty kitchen! happy craft day :)

life after: winter sun

i promised myself i'd write more about my past, i don't see it at all as something to be ashamed of, but something to celebrate in many ways. first off, i survived.. and some would say that some of those years were the best years of my life.

living outside was once my preferred lifestyle. at first i had little choice in the matter, but once i got used to it, it wasn't easy to go back to being housed. i am still reminded in my everyday life what it was like to be on the outside, and i cherish those moments.. for those are the moments that people seek to achieve and have a hard time doing so, living 'in the now'.. being 'present'. it's one of those things that people in this rush and go society barely know, but out there.. every hour of every day is made up of moments. it's hard not to be present when every thing you do and every choice you make has an impact on the reality of your survival.

i still have my cart, the one i used to load up from my storage on laundry day so that i could wash everything i own at once. i also used it a lot when moving from place to place, from one storage room to another.. once of course i learned that it is possible to hang onto more than just what one can carry on one's back. anyway, i still use that cart for my laundry. i don't think i've ever had the luxury of owning a washer and dryer, but the low-impact mentality in me doesn't mind.

it was a pretty winter day, the first real snow had fallen, and the sun was out. it would also be the first day of the season i'd have to drag that cart out through the snow to wash our clothes. i did so with a grin on my face. i was well bundled, looked more like an urban gypsy than a girl going to do some laundry. after putting our clothes in the machine i hung my coat and went to sit out front to get some of that sun on my face while i had the chance.

there weren't any clouds in the way, the air was still and crisp.. when i closed my eyes and settled into the plastic lawn chair i was brought back.. i remember those moments, those breaks in the cold. when the sun was warm enough to peel back some of the layers and embrace it's rays. as if the goddess herself had sent a personal message to remind me that the cold never lasts forever.

my alarm startled me a little. i must have drifted off into the sun, into the stillness. i felt truly at rest. i remember now, the best time to get some sleep [out there] was times just like this. i would spend the coldest nights wandering to stay warm, and make up for the missed sleep when the sun would come around to watch over me.

i tucked my folded clothes back into the cart and started back towards home just as the sun was setting in my eyes. i didn't mind the glare. i knew the cold was coming back for the evening. with each step towards the house i recited my gratitudes, for the clean clothes i carry behind me, for the warm bed i have to go home to, for the food in my fridge, and the fridge for my food.. for the shelter and the company. i am blessed.