Ponder This

Remembrance Day

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I did Remembrance Day a day early this year. I was invited to sing with the One Voice Choir in Edmonton, and we performed a medley of 2 songs for the No Stone Left Alone ceremony.
Although it wasn’t exactly like other Remembrance Day ceremonies I’ve been to, there were definitely some similarities. Dignitaries were announced as they walked in (I wonder why they do that? Maybe because in Elizabethan England people would whisper, “who is that? Who’s that with him?” so they started announcing people as they came in to reduce the whispering. It’s just a theory). People held flags. A man in uniform played the trumpet. There were speeches, generally boring and filled with cliches. They go something like this:
To [important person #1], [important person #2], [important person #3], [important person #4]… (until all “important people” in attendance have been listed). We are gathered here today to [insert cliche #1], [insert cliche #2], [insert cliche #3]. (They then proceed to say mostly boring, socially expected things and ramble on for their allotted time. Honestly, my mind wanders after a bit and I usually get sidetracked wondering what strange situation spawned the cliches in the first place.)
I don’t mean to slam all tradition; I know it is important. But,

Here is what I would like to say, on this Remembrance Day.


To the men and women currently serving in any capacity in our armed forces: Thank you.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I’m pretty sure you’re not doing it for the money or the fame. So, in whatever motivates you, may there be lots of it. Again, thank you.

To the families of those who serve in our military: Thank you.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Thank you for living with uncertainty, facing your fears daily, and for all the unseen and unknown hardships that you go through. I’ll never know what it’s truly like for you, and all I can humbly say is thank you.

To the families who have lost their loved one(s) in the line of duty: Thank you.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
May you have all the support you need. May you never feel alone. May you feel the gratitude your whole country has for the difficulties you have had to face. May you feel as much peace, hope, and optimism as you possibly can. May you remember that your loved one contributed to a good cause, and died in the prime of his/her life doing what he/she loved.

To the wounded soldiers who return to us, whether wounded physically or emotionally: Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.
May you have all the support you need. May you never feel alone. May you feel the gratitude of your whole country for the difficulties you have had to face. May you feel as much peace, hope and optimism as you possibly can. May you rediscover how to thrive, how to live a full life, and how to enjoy the freedom you helped to create.
Thank you.

To all those hearing these words, shake the hand of a uniformed person today, and tell them you appreciate them. Hug your loved ones and tell them you appreciate them. Stand and clap with me, if you agree.

[ thunderous applause ]

Dreaming of a Tiny House

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I am tired of walking 20 steps to get from the kitchen to the bedroom. I know, it’s a horrible first-world problem; people elsewhere have had their houses blown away by typhoons, crumbled by earthquakes, or wrecked by hurricanes. So, I have a lot to be grateful for — I love my house! — but I sometimes do feel my house is too big. I’m sure it’s a sign…

What’s it a sign of? It’s a sign that my innocent fascination with tiny houses, and tiny house-school-buses, has grown into something more. I think we are actually going to do something about it!

Originally, I started looking at tiny houses because of working away from home. Sure, I’ve been lucky to find good places to live, but I thought if it did not last and I wanted to have my own little haven to come home to. I also wanted it to be mobile, so I could camp out at the airport at times or in town at times. I started some surfing the web like a maniac. I did a LOT of research online, and started drawing up possible floor plans. I used to design houses all the time when I was a kid/teenager — it’s a wonder I never went into architecture.

I wanted to find some old sketches from when I was a kid, but that’s going to take a little searching. But here are some scribbly sketches I’ve done in the past couple of years:

12-foot long tiny houses... top sketch is all one level, lower one has stairs leading up to a loft
12-foot long tiny houses… top sketch is all one level, lower one has stairs leading up to a loft

Thinking about roof lines, and what you need in a tiny house
Thinking about roof lines, and what you need in a tiny house

Two very different layouts of a 15-foot long tiny house, with a hip roof
Two very different layouts of a 15-foot long tiny house, with a hip roof

Then, I saw a school bus RV conversion, only the people lived in it! Brilliant! So, then I started researching school buses like a maniac, and I even found a cheap one on kijiji I was considering buying. Imagine taking an old bus and turning it into something like this!
converted school bus
So lovely, and their blog is very nice, too!

It is just so much fun to dream of this stuff, and even more fun to make plans. Even if those plans never come true, who cares? I enjoy it!

But, it looks like it might not be just a dream anymore. For starters, I realized the other day that our spare room is about the size of many tiny houses! It would be very workable, in particular if we subtract the bathroom element and just use the house’s bathroom. Bathrooms, and plumbing in general, can be tricky in tiny houses! I mean, I’ve seen showers that were only 2 feet wide — that is awfully skinny even for a skinny person. I’m pretty sure I’d hit my elbows on the sides a lot. And how do you install a waste water tank below the floor? In Canada, it has to be inside the house so it won’t freeze. Gravity-fed plumbing requires a tank up high, otherwise you need a pump… so overall, plumbing is definitely not trivial.

So, here’s my plan: I’m going to make a platform for the bed (which is a double mattress) and raise it up, like the bunk beds people buy their kids. Sometimes, they have a desk below the bed, or whatever. I am going to put a couch or comfy chair below the bed, and my dresser. I’m going to make sure that I can still sit up in bed, and that the window in the room will not be blocked. I’ll have a small counter for a kitchenette — probably just a toaster oven, and maybe a bin for a sink… or maybe I’ll buy a sink and install it with a pail below to catch the water. I should probably add some shelves for plates, bowls, and mugs. Clothes in the closet, and books on a shelf. What else does a person really need? :) Oh ya, space for yarn!

I’m really looking forward to it, to playing tiny house inside the main house. I will have about 85 square feet (11’4″ x 7’6″), which is pretty small by tiny house standards — anything less than 100 square feet is considered “micro!” Tiny house people have such a great sense of humour! But, since I won’t be totally self-sufficient (no bathroom contained), I am definitely cheating a little. And my ceiling isn’t as high as most tiny houses, so the space below the bed will be a bit short — sitting down space only. Which should be fine! Everyone needs somewhere to sit. I’ve thought about making a fold-up bed that can be stowed during the day, but for now, I think I’ll stick to the platform. I love the idea of creatively using the space you have.

I will be sure to post some photos when I’m done! It’s going to be a while before I can get to it — I have to wait for winter. There is still a LOT of outdoor work on the farm that we need to do to prepare for winter! It’s a little overwhelming, but we are finding some people to help and it’s coming along!

Every Day, a New Hair Adventure

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In early April, I stumbled upon some articles on the internet about washing one’s hair without shampoo. Many people use baking soda and apple cider vinegar (abbreviated ACV), but I also found some sites discussing the hazards of that — the extreme pH differences can hurt the hair. Then I found this site about washing with water only and it intrigued me. It made sense to allow one’s natural oils to condition the hair, rather than stripping it with shampoo and then adding the oils back in, artificially, with conditioner. So, let me tell you the end result of this experiment!

I love my hair! As many of you know, I enjoy being “a natural woman,” and this new hair regime suits me. It might not suit everyone, but for many, I’d say it’s worth a try. If you like perfectly-coifed hair, this might not be for you, because I do find that sometimes my hair behaves unexpectedly! Water-only washing is especially recommended for naturally curly hair, but I don’t actually have curl, just cowlicks — and sometimes, it gets pretty licky!

best shampooThere is an initial oily stage that everyone has to go through. There are webpages out there that give hints on how to get through this stage gracefully. Since I was already washing only every second day and using a great tea-tree and peppermint-oil shampoo, I found that it did not take very long to get through this stage (3 weeks perhaps). I put my hair up lots and I don’t think people noticed very much.

After that, I went through a strange waxy stage, where I felt like I had helmet-head. Other women have commented on this on the internet, too. My hair was ridiculously thick and felt like I had something like styling wax in it. All over. Not good. I mean, it looked fine, but I could have made dreadlocks so easily. A quick google found the answer — lemon-juice rinse or “shampoo” with an egg. I did both, and it worked beautifully. Actually, on those super-hot days, I put lemon and water in a spray bottle and squirted my head from time to time… so the lemon spray kept me cool AND gave me highlights!

So, how is my hair different? The pro’s: it’s thicker, feels really healthy and has way more body than it used to. As mentioned, it has more “curl” than ever, which is sometimes frustrating, but should not be surprising, since my hair always has been easy to curl. The con’s: My hair gets staticky sometimes for no apparent reason. I can usually get it to stay down by dampening it. Speaking of wet, when I blow-dry it, sometimes I can’t tell if it’s dry or not. It feels thick, so I think it’s wet, but it isn’t. All things considered, I would definitely not go back to the normal way of washing and conditioning! I am intrigued by soap nuts, so I may try them some day, but I have no idea where to buy them.

howtowraphairbrushNow, here’s a pro-tip if you decide to try this: when your hair feels (or looks) a bit oily but you don’t want to wash it (or don’t have time), wrap cotton yarn around your hair brush and use that. This was key to my success! Some people recommend using a boar hair brush to absorb and distribute the oils throughout the hair, but I didn’t like it. The bristles are too bendy for me, and I found that cotton absorbed the oil fabulously and I could replace it whenever I wanted so my brush never got icky. I use the same cotton yarn that people use to make knitted wash cloths — you can buy it in lots of places — and I just wrap it around the brush, through the bristles (see photo at right).

This page says that the more you use shampoo, the more you need it, because it strips the natural oils so much, your scalp produces that much more. This makes so much sense to me! And this reinforces something else I recently realized: hair dye makes your hair go grey faster, therefore you need to buy more of it and are soon hooked! Grey hair is caused by a build up of hydrogen peroxide at the root, and what’s the main ingredient in most hair dye? Hydrogen peroxide. Have a look at this article. I guess it isn’t surprising! Hair colour, like so many things in this world, is meant to cover up a problem, not prevent it. So, let’s not be trusting the fashion industry, drug stores, or anything commercial, when it comes to health or beauty advice!!

If you are interested in trying the water-only method, google it, or try this site. And be prepared to give it a good, hearty try — not just a week or two. I think 2 months is needed to really let your scalp settle. You may even want to start in fall (how about now? :) ) — summer is perhaps NOT the best time, as the heat can make the oily stage worse. Also, you need to use hot water, and on a hot day, who wants a HOT shower?

water-only washed hairI have my really good shampoo on standby if I get really dirty or dusty — my absolute favourite is in the photo near the beginning of this post. And remember, it’s not that I don’t wash my hair! It’s just that I don’t use detergent. I just use water!

Earth-Friendly Coffee

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I wonder if Jim Henson — or whoever did the writing for the Kermit character on the Muppets — realized how popular Kermit’s line “it isn’t easy being green” would become! In particular, it resonates with those of us who’d like to have less impact on this planet we live on. I’ve been thinking of ways that I might be able to make a difference, and of course a small difference in something I do every day adds up to a big difference over time.

Take coffee, for instance. For so many of us, it’s a daily routine of brewing, or driving to get our favourite liquid addiction. I’m not even sure it’s as much about the caffeine as it is the sugar — coffee is an excellent sugar-delivery system! In any case, coffee is something we do a LOT of, so I wonder if we could do it more sustainably?

First up, paper cups. Where I work, we have ceramic cups available, but hardly anyone uses them! Why not? I think we’ve just gotten used to paper cups with plastic lids, and a paper sleeve if it’s really hot, but honestly, a reusable ceramic cup is so much better. Everyone knows that styrofoam cups are the worst (although I believe it’s now illegal to use CFCs in their production), but paper cups are lined with plastic. A true paper-only cup would be like a Dixie cup and wouldn’t hold up to coffee very well at all. So, although the cups can be composted, they don’t do it well and we may be introducing microplastic into the environment, which no one wants to do. So, I have been making an effort to use an ordinary ceramic coffee cup or my stainless steel tea thermos whenever possible. :) Just a tiny bit of water and they are clean and ready to go again! Think of how many times a ceramic cup can be reused. A million times!

K-cups. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s noticed how wasteful they are! They are meant to reduce waste in brewed coffee — instead of making a pot and then pouring a bunch down the drain when no one drinks it, use a K-cup (or Tassimo, same thing)! But rather than one large container of coffee grounds, which we scooped out of, we now have many small plastic containers going into the trash! Is a little coffee down the drain really so terrible? Compared to the garbage we are producing in astronomical amounts? I mean, you can take them apart and send the plastic only to the recycling, but if you’re not at home, are you going to do this? Not likely. Although this nifty tool might help: Recycleacup.com. You can buy a reusable K-cup that you can put your own coffee into, and I think that is an excellent option!

And the company that got me thinking about all this? One Coffee!

one coffee-box-1

90% biodegradable sounds more like it, and their website says they are now at 99% biodegradable! And Fair Trade, too!

one coffee-box-2

one coffee packets

The pods are individually wrapped, but I still think it’s better. The bottom pod is made of the a thin coffee-filter material, rather than plastic!
one coffee pod

And after brewing one, this is what it looks like. No mess!

one coffee pod after

I love to see companies coming up with cool solutions to problems. Here’s another one: Lafarge is burning K-cups and then using the ash in cement mix. That’s one way to keep K-cups out of the trash!

Alpaca Lovin’

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We had a little excitement the other day — hell, we had an alpaca porn show! It started when I went out after sundown to close the barn for Uki and Daisy (the momma and baby — and baby alpacas are called crias), and I thought I saw something black in the barn with them… sure enough, it was Fozzie! He had somehow gotten out of his corral and was in the barn with the two females! Little bugger! Well, little did I know, the “buggering” was just beginning!

I had to get him out again and try to wrangle him back into his corral. All the alpaca books (and breeders I’ve talked to) say that you need to keep the male out for about 2 weeks after a cria is born. So, I opened the gate to his corral and went back to try and separate him from the girls and all three got out of the barn. Hrmf. Well, no sooner were they out when Fozzie started trying to get on Uki. She did what any female alpaca in her position would do, I guess: she laid down on the ground and let him. They don’t do the wild deed stanging up, like horses or cows — they lay down. And I think I know why.

alpaca cave artIt takes forever! I had read in the alpaca book that it can last as long as 20 minutes, but I’m sure this was more like 45. Little bugger again, I said to myself! So, Daisy (the cria) and I just hung out, with the twilight fading and Fozzie sidling up and up and up onto Uki, and making the most crazy and amazing sounds! “Orgling” it’s called. It’s so strange someone had to make up a word to describe it! It’s like “oh baby, oh baby” in alpaca. Mixed in with strange gasping sounds. Apparently, it’s the combination of orgling and the male grasping the sides of the female with his front legs that makes the female ovulate. So, I think it worked! Way to go, buddy!

It was too dark to take a picture — plus, I didn’t want to leave Daisy unguarded in case any coyotes were around — so, I hope you enjoy this cave-art drawing (by me) of what it looked like. For 45 minutes. (There really should be more cave art in the world, don’t you think?)

The next day, I found the exact spot Fozzie must have jumped over the fence, little bugger. There was fresh broken wood, and Fozzie with a “what’s up?” look on his face kept visiting the spot. (I fixed it right away.)

Fozzie where he jumped

Now, we’ll know if it worked in a few more days when I let Fozzie back in again to visit Uki. If she spits at him and won’t lay down for him, it means she is pregnant. Isn’t it cool that she knows? I have never heard of an animal like that.

So, there you have it. Porn on the farm. Sex in the corral. Doin’ it, alpaca-style!

Oy, what a life I lead! :-)

Daisy photobomb
Daisy, only a few days old
(Thank you, Patricia, for the photo!)

The Baby’s Here!

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The day after I posted about getting the shearing done, and announced that our female alpaca was pregnant, she had her little one!! (It’s been so busy, sorry I didn’t get this posted until today!) Here she is, just minutes old:

Cria, just born
The first time we saw her — what a cutie! Wet and wobbly! (We totally missed the birthing process!)

cria, just born, resting

Baby alpacas are called cria. Here she is the first morning, peeking around her momma:
cria, first morning

On her second day, checking out the world!!
cria, day 2

And here she is on the third day! Don’t you think she’s getting bigger?!?
cria, day 3

cria, day 3, fast2

cria, day 3, fast

She is amazing! She is so perfect, and perfectly alpaca! She’s curious and she often came right up to us to check us out. Her momma would make a little noise — like a cross between a hum and a squeak — and call her baby back.

She is incredibly fast! She runs, but sometimes her back legs try to pass her, and it is the cutest thing! She’s still learning how to use her brakes. She has gorgeous eyes, eyelashes and the sweetest little nose. Every day, she is a little taller, and she’s so alert and curious. She was born with a lot of wool, so she’s fluffy and SO soft.

So, I’m madly reading a book all about alpacas, so I can learn all the finer points of raising them, but thankfully, it’s all been common sense so far. Well, common sense for me since I grew up with sheep, and I bounce things off of Mom and Dad when I need some validation.

This is going to be a great adventure!! Twice a day, we have a little alpaca rodeo when we put them in/out of their little barn. I’ll post more about that soon, and some more pictures!

Remembering Stella

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Some days, you just have to do the thing you don’t want to do.

Death makes you face things and do things that you just don’t want to. You can’t leave it until later. You can’t deny it. You just have to find some strength within — and you always do — to be able to do what you must. And in my case, that was wrap up our sweet, fluffy barn kitty who passed away unexpectedly.

Stella in the hayloft
Her name was Stella. I just gave her that name one day last fall. After living at the farm for a week or so, I felt our cute, skittish barn kitty should have a name, and Stella is the name that came to me. She was a little black-and-white cat who lived in the hayloft of the barn. We’d see her sitting out on the edge, catching some sun on a cool October day, but if we even approached the barn too purposefully, she’d be off like a flash, into a hidden part of the hayloft.

We would climb the ladder to fed her every day, and each time, she’d be barely visible, hiding from us. Before too long, though, she be a little more exposed, a little closer, and one of my favourite memories of her was the time she came to the food bowl before I had even gone down two rungs of the ladder — I got to see her up close for once! She was so sweet! Most of the time, though, she would sit on a nearby disintegrating bale of straw and look at us. The look on her face said, “you’re going to feed me again? Why are you being so nice to me?” In a way, it broke my heart that she was so baffled by our care and interest in her. For the last couple of months, however, she just looked at us with caution — as she approached so much of her life, I suppose — instead of confusion. She understood that we would bring her food every day and that we loved her. At least I hope she understood that last part.

A few days ago, Darren found her unmoving in the hayloft. He had gone to give her fresh water, and he didn’t see her at first. Then, suddenly, he saw her, laying with her chin on the straw. When I got home, and he told me that we’d lost her, I went to the barn. I saw her immediately from my spot on the ladder. How strange, since she was never in that part of the hayloft, that I knew. But we knew her so little! We only saw her for a few minutes a day. What was her life really like? We have no way of knowing. We only know that she had lost about half of her ears in harsh winters of the past. We know she had at least one litter of kittens — my mom had told us that, and that’s the only way they’d known she was a she. You just couldn’t get close enough to her.

Was she ever mistreated? I don’t think so. She is — ahem, was — a barn cat. She caught mice, and maybe birds, as her diet. Yet her look improved greatly once we started feeding her regularly. Her coat got fluffier, she seemed to put on some weight, and she looked less scared. But I don’t think she was ever mistreated before. It’s just the way of a barn kitty. She got table scraps once in a while, and other than that, she was independent. She lived out there, all the time, and we live in here, and we just didn’t know her very well.

The first time I got to pet her was after she’d died. Despite all I just said about barn cats, I feel it is such a shame I never got to connect with her, pet her and show her more affection while she was alive. She was so soft, and so sweet, and still warm! It seemed like she had just stopped breathing, and she might start up again any second. What would she do? Would she try to bolt away, suddenly aware that she had let her guard down too much? Or would she sigh and purr and then die again, but this time, knowing for sure that she was loved?

It broke my heart, petting her in the barn that night. But my heart will mend.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I chose a bright yellow piece of cloth to wrap her in. It seemed the most appropriate for her, but my mood was anything but sunny. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to have to take care of her body. I wanted her to be alive; I didn’t want to be in this situation. Then, quite out of the blue, I thought, “every day, we have new opportunities. and today, this is my opportunity.” What a strange thought to have… and it changes everything. It’s my opportunity to take care of the body of my sweet kitty. Not an obligation, or unpleasant task. It’s my chance, and it only comes once.

I cried quite a bit, still caught up in the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” But, like so many facing death, I consoled myself with “we did our bests” and “I think she loved us.” It’s all we can do, with so many unknowns.

One thing I know about myself, though: I am enough of a realist, or scientist, that it’s okay to console myself whenever I need it. There’s no worry that I’ll fall into a trap of unreasonable excuse-making, although there’s always a hazard of wanting to live in the past and/or feeling sorry for myself. But if I focus on the good bits, I can avoid that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So let this be my tribute to you, dear Stella. I have the feeling you enjoyed your time on this earth! I hope you know how much you meant to us. This isn’t the last time we’ll think of you! We’ll miss seeing you in the hayloft every day. Although you are gone, in spring, we’ll bury your body at the top of the garden. We won’t forget you.