In Praise of Small Towns

In our small town, a local business owner and resident dolled-up the old Ford garage for us to enjoy.

Wouldn’t it be great to live in an affordable home with a huge backyard and with sweeping views of a pristine valley in which deer graze at sunset? When you’re exhausted at the end of the day from work, doesn’t it sound ideal to avoid the traffic of your lengthy commute and instead walk up the hill to your cozy home? Do you dream of falling asleep to the coyote’s call and waking to bird song? Especially now that remote work is more acceptable and logistically easier to do, moving to a small town makes sense.

Listen to this post:

I love small towns. When on a road trip, I really enjoy pulling off the highway and exploring prairie towns. I search for churches, cemeteries, local museums, and history. I am rarely disappointed by what I find.  As I drive the quiet streets beneath spreading tree branches and admire the spacious residential lots, I can’t understand why people want to live in increasingly populated areas. Especially during this time of the coronavirus pandemic, we think differently about the perils of being crammed together and we consider the perks of fresh air, a big backyard, and a vegetable garden.

Along the railway tracks. Lots of large green spaces in a small town.

I do understand that it’s more convenient for financial institutions, large retailers, and government to have the residents of our vast land centralized and clustered together. This way, all three can streamline (cut) the services they provide and still have us clients, customers, and taxpayers nicely within reach. Density benefits those who provide goods and services because it’s less convenient and more expensive to provide services to a scattered population. Services are often retracted to discourage people from living in rural areas and conducting business there. Our Credit Union has cut its five-day-a-week service down to two days in the hopes it can Servus better by fading away.

A Common Criticism of Small Towns

Small towns are criticized because of their intimacy. “Everyone knows what everyone else is doing.” In these days of increasing isolation, that can still be true but it’s not always a negative. It’s reassuring to know that if you get sick, your neighbours will help you out. People shovel each other’s walks in a small town and keep an eye on one another’s property while one household is away. So, yes, when someone drives by on a skidoo or with a wagon pulled by a matching team of horses, I’ll look and wave and maybe even take a picture. That’s small towns for you.

Other criticisms, valid ones, include the difficulties between people, the gossip, and the resistance to change found in small communities. But isn’t this the nature of human relationships no matter where we live and no matter the size of our community? Aren’t all interactions subject to misunderstandings and pettiness, and can’t they all (ideally) be repaired by patience and forgiveness? Change is hard and gossip is toxic. These facts remain the same whether you live in a city or in a village. The only way to avoid cruel deeds and words, our own and others’, is by living high up in the mountains in a cave alone. Some days, that does seem like an appealing option but it’s no way to build community.

Like photography? Bring your camera and capture some stunning rural views.

In small towns, we’re more familiar with one another and so the stories are closer to us and our families, and sometimes they directly involve us. Human relationships unfold and unravel everywhere in the world, but in a small town we have a front row seat to this constant evolution. It isn’t always pleasant but it’s not often dull.

The Best Stories Come Out of Small Towns

It’s that close up, in-your-face human drama that makes many writers set their stories in small towns. Big events happen in large cities and everyone watches, but in a small town everyone is a part of most events because we know the people involved or we are the people involved. Authors weave stories about the people in small towns and create characters from the relationships formed within the context of smaller places.

I think of the 2004 Leacock Medal for Humour Award Winner, Ian Ferguson’s semi-autobiographical book Village of the Small Houses, set in the remote northern Alberta community of Fort Vermilion. Only this place and the set of circumstances it provided could give rise to these stories. Luckily, this gifted and funny storyteller was born and raised there to write the tales down.

Another great storyteller uses the small Minnesota town setting of fictional Lake Wobegon and its characters around which he has woven several novels. You see, it’s the soil of those close personal interactions within a small group of people who know each other well and know their surroundings into which writers plant their story seeds. The stories are dependent on a small town back drop and small town characters to come to life. These tales depend on closeness and relationships, and on Garrison Keillor to present as hysterical that which small town residents find, at best, annoying.

As a writer – and here I do not compare my skills to those of Mr. Ferguson or Mr. Keillor – I write stories set in small towns and about small town history. Little places on the prairies are stuffed to bursting with stories. There’s murder, suicide, betrayal, sorrow, and lust. Think of that next time you’re gliding down the highway. Depress that brake pedal and swing into that small town. Who knows? You might decide to never leave.

This is a photo of a sharp shinned hawk in my front yard. There are lots of chances to view wildlife in a small town.

What Careful Soil Testing Revealed About My Level of Patience

Soil testing in my garden accurately measured the level of my patience.

Listen to me read this post:

Dave tested his soil and found out that it was very low in phosphorous. He went to a seed plant, bought some, and added phosphorous to his garden. Now his potato plants are three feet tall.

“Do you want to borrow my kit?” he asked and so I did. I went out to the garden and dug down about four inches into what I considered to be the most depleted soil in the garden plot. I brought a trowel full of soil into the house to dry overnight.

The next morning and according to instructions, I mixed one part of the soil with five parts of water, swirled the mixture gently in a jar, and waited for the dirt and water to separate out a bit so that I could retrieve a small, fairly clear sample.

Dave’s phosphorous-filled garden soil produced beautiful vegetables.

The instructions included with the kit said that this separation could take as little as half-an-hour (Perfect!) or as long twenty four hours. “Twenty four hours!” I cried out in disbelief and felt the impatience start to gnaw. The next morning the soil still hadn’t settled to the bottom of the jar and the water was murky as heck. Still, I took a sample using the eyedropper provided and filled the plastic tube to the fourth line with the muddy water.

I was testing for phosphorous first hoping this might get me three feet tall potato plants like Dave’s.

Carefully separate the two halves of one of the capsules. Pour the powder into the tube.

Step 2 of the phosphorous test sounded pretty easy. I retrieved a conveniently coloured-coded blue capsule, grabbed each end and gave it a gentle twist. This caused a bend in the plastic, but the capsule didn’t open. Next I tried to snap the capsule in half at the spot where the two halves had been originally joined. Again, the capsule bent but didn’t open.

Finally, I took out a cutting board, placed the mangled blue capsule on it, and started stabbing at it with the pointy end of a sharp kitchen knife. This made a hole large enough for me to expand the opening by twisting the knife blade farther into it. By now, the only thing about the misshapen capsule that resembled its former self was its colour.

I held the capsule over the tube which held the water sample, turned it over, and spilled most of the powder on the kitchen counter. I muttered a phrase of which my mother would not have approved and spooned as much of the powder as I could off the counter and, bit by bit, into the tube.

After placing the colour-coded cap on the tube, I gave it a gentle shake, and placed the tube in its holder. Almost immediately this experiment determined two things:

  1. Our garden soil contains almost no phosphorus.
  2. My husband is in charge of opening any remaining capsules needed for testing.

Following this single test, we went away for a week. I put the jar containing the dirt and water mixture in the fridge hoping that the soil would settle and the water would rise while we were gone. When we returned home I flung open the fridge door to see my jar of test water as muddy as before. Impatience visited again. “It’s been a week!”

Still, I thought I might as well use the sample to try another test. I filled one more tube with murky water and asked my husband kindly to open an appropriately colour-coded capsule.

Cap the tube and shake thoroughly.

I got a bit dizzy but the motion really relaxed my muscles. Then I realized that the instruction’s author was referring to the tube. Shake the tube thoroughly. After I regained my balance, I did.

Allow colour to develop for 10 minutes.

Ten minutes. That sounds about right. I set the timer on the stove and counted down. When the timer went off, the water had not changed colour.

“I bet the cold fridge killed whatever was supposed to show up in this test!” I proclaimed with no science to back my theory. Science doesn’t matter these days. No one with a different education knows more than me. What matters is what I believe in my gut and I believed that the soil sample was ruined. I’d have to gather a new sample and wait twenty four hours before doing anymore testing.

And so I tossed the soil and water mixture into the garden with disgust and rinsed out the jar. Then I saw that the liquid in the tube had turned green. Soil testing proved that our soil is full of alkali and I am full of, among other things, impatience.

Speaking of patience…

I received a note in my mailbox recently to inform me of an upcoming inconvenience. The brief notice closed with this:

Thank you for your patients!

Editors always notice things like this. Mostly I think it’s funny but I don’t laugh too long because it’s also humbling. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes when writing and I plan to continue.

This topic reminds me of my second year of university during which I did not give a hoot about academics. Obviously. One morning, I wandered into my English class to see that the professor had scrawled across the whiteboard a very embarrassing phrase I’d misused in my most recent essay. Mercifully, she didn’t reveal the identity of the student who produced that phrase which, in turn, produced a lot of laughter.

Partly because of this experience, I laugh shortly and correct gently.

If you’re writing something, a piece as short as a newsletter or a project as long as a memoir, I can help. I work as both a content writer and as an editor.

Thanks for reading. Take care and keep safe. ~ Lori

A Duck In the Sink Beats a Pan On the Table

The duck that was in the kitchen sink. To bring it out of the house, my uncle wrapped the bird in his bathrobe and carried it out to the deck. Moments after this photo was taken, the frightened duck flew away.

Listen to me read this post:

Today my uncle called me with a mystery.

Each morning, my uncle heads downstairs to make coffee for him and my auntie. Then he goes back upstairs while the coffee’s brewing and when the coffee’s ready he brings it back upstairs. My auntie and uncle enjoy their coffee in bed. This Tuesday morning, the routine was the same.

Except when he returned to fill the two coffee mugs, there was a live duck in the kitchen sink.

My uncle and aunt are both in their 80s. They live on a very well-tended acreage that has a large barn and a couple of gardens. They still live in the two-storey farmhouse that they restored more than forty years ago. They are kind and generous, and their place is peaceful.

My aunt always claimed (mostly jokingly) that there is a ghost in the house because sometimes a pot or a cookie sheet or a piece of cutlery will be out of its cupboard or drawer and placed on the table or counter in the kitchen when no one’s been home. This has happened a few times and it always makes for a fun story.

But a duck in the sink beats a pan on the table.

“I went back upstairs and we heard this sound downstairs, this rustling,” my uncle described it to me. “But I’d just been downstairs making coffee. I asked Jeannette, ‘Is Tim here already?’”

My uncle called to see if I could solve the mystery. Yeah, right. I can’t remember what I’m looking for in the fridge lots of times. How would I know how a large duck ended up in their kitchen sink at 7:30 on a Tuesday morning?

Anyway, it’s kind of fascinating and so I wanted to share the mystery with you, dear reader. Got a theory about how the duck got into the house and then into the kitchen sink? I love to hear it.

Take care and have a very happy day. ~ Lori

The lane leading to my auntie and uncle’s country home.

Of Bertrand Russell and Linseed Oil

What I’m doing now:

I finished applying boiled linseed oil to the old fence as practice for treating the enclosed deck exterior with it. I really like how it made the wood planks look, deeper in tone. I don’t think the deck wood will become quite as dark because the wood on the deck is much newer than the fence boards. When the wood is older it seems to soak up more oil. We’ll see.

What I’m reading now:

I recently started reading Bertrand Russell’s Portraits from Memory and Other Essays. It’s the first time I’ve read him since university, and I barely read him then. I guess I thought I had better things to do. I was wrong.

This book is available, along with other used copies, from AbeBooks.org.

“Of remoter ancestors I can only discover one who did not live to a great age, and he died of a disease which is now rare, namely, having his head cut off.”

~ Bertrand Russell, from Portraits from Memory

Listen to me read this part about Bertrand Russell:

In university years ago I studied philosophy and I read the British philosopher, mathematician, serial husband, and campaigner for peace, Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). Not as thoroughly as I should have but enough to keep me interested all these years. That man accomplished more in a week than I’ll do in my whole lifetime!

Since we got our new computer, Pocket now pops up on my home screen and offers suggestions of articles I might like to read. Sure enough and big as day, there was a Bertrand Russell essay called “How to Grow Old” featured on the website brainpickings.org.

After reading this essay about how to age and die well (spoiler alert: the key is living well) I looked up Bertrand Russell to find out more about the man that nurtured these beautiful ideas and then grew them into words.

Young Bertrand Russell didn’t have it easy. Both of his parents, his sister, and his grandfather died by the time Bertrand was six years old. This misfortune left him and his brother Frank to be raised by their grandmother, apparently the last adult standing. Frank was sent to boarding school while Bertrand was educated at home. It was lonely, but he claims he didn’t mind the solitude, only the boring, repetitive meals in a household that could’ve afforded to feed a small village. Oh yes. Young Bertrand also loathed the strict routine including the hour-and-a-half piano practice each day. He admits his relief at leaving for Cambridge and discovering that there were others more like him out there in the world.

“If a person when adult is to be able to fit into a society, he must learn while still young that he is not the centre of the universe and that his wishes are often not the most important factor in a situation.”

~ Bertrand Russell, from Portraits from Memory

Despite early tragedy and a rigid upbringing, Bertrand Russell turned out all right. Over the course of his 97 years he published in excess of 70 books and approximately 2000 articles. In 1950 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Bertrand Russell had his ups and downs. For example his first wife, Alys Pearsall Smith, was a bit disappointed when he returned home from a bicycle ride during which he made a realization. According to Wikipedia, “Their marriage began to fall apart in 1901 when it occurred to Russell, while he was cycling, that he no longer loved her. She asked him if he loved her and he replied that he did not.”

During his life of activism and of expressing his views, many liked Bertrand Russell and many hated him. Either way, it’s this philosopher and Nobel laureate that I’m researching and writing about today. The same can’t be said of some guy way back when who intensely disliked Russell. I’m not familiar with that grouchy man or his body of work. but I might have met his great grandson.

Take care and be well. ~ Lori

“Contempt for happiness is usually contempt for other people’s happiness, and is an elegant disguise for hatred of the human race.”

~ Bertrand Russell, from Portraits from Memory

No One Needs To Hear It

Yesterday we sat outside the restaurant eating our hamburgers in the car. Through the windows I could see the tables and chairs stacked up, wide yellow tape surrounding them as if it were a crime scene. Some nights I dream of eating inside the A&W, and then I wake up and remember that things have changed.

As we ate we watched the large, white gulls hop around the parking lot. Two were fat and healthy. They squawked as they searched for French fries on the asphalt and occasionally sipped from the puddles there. One gull was different from the other two. She stood mostly still on one leg and when she walked, it was gingerly. Clearly, she had an injured foot. At one point she was perched on a curb, balancing on one leg and a strong gust of wind blew her right over. She rearranged her feathers and sat back down on the curb.

Listen to me read this post:

I felt profoundly sad and helpless watching the injured gull. Then I realized that for days now I’ve felt profoundly sad and helpless. The gull simply made me feel the emotional combo more deeply. Darn sad bird.

It’s been really hard to blog lately  because everything I write about feels small in comparison with what’s going on in the world. I can’t write about my garden when people are dying from and frightened of COVID-19. I can’t tell about my mild discomforts when folks are out risking injury as they protest civil rights abuses and bravely demonstrate for much-needed change. I’m too safe and too comfortable to comment on either situation. I likely will never get sick from the coronavirus, not where I live, and I don’t think I have the courage to go stand up for civil rights only to be deterred by “less lethal means.” Yikes.

“No matter who we are, no matter how successful, no matter what our situation, compassion is something we all need to receive and give.” Catherine Pulsifer

So I’m stuck in sadness and helplessness, unable to write and unable to say something useful. I’m mired in sadness because marginalized people feel threatened, are imprisoned, and die at a significantly greater rate than folks like me. I feel really sad when I see corporations take financial advantage of a bad situation to build their wealth while the food bank lines lengthen.

My heart aches when I hear people I care about focus on riots and looting. These happen, I know, and I don’t condone vandalism, theft, or violence. But I don’t let looting distract me from the issues of poverty and racism that run deep, so deep and for so long, through the world. And I don’t confuse riots with peaceful protest. The differences are pretty easy to spot if it suits you to see them.

For someone stuck for something to say, I guess I’ve found something to say after all. It’s just not the time to talk about my flowers or my travels or my beautiful life. No one needs to hear it so I’ll rearrange my feathers and sit here on the curb, waiting out the hard times and hoping for peace and for justice.

Thanks for reading and listening. I appreciate you. Take care. ~ Lori

Before They’re Gone

Here’s an article I wrote last summer. Since then my husband and I have each lost a dear auntie and uncle. The auntie in the story below has turned 90, though, and is still chugging along! Time passes quickly. It’s hard to imagine that there might not be another tomorrow to spend with the people we love, but that might be the case. Spend your time now.

Take care, dear readers, and have a good, healthy week ahead. ~ Lori

My IMG_7016message here today is simple: visit your old folks while you still can. Time is tricky and days all run together so closely resembling one another and moving us ever forward. Before we know it, time has passed and so have the people we love.

 Why would I use a dating service? I’m 89!

Last Monday, we had the best visit with my husband’s auntie. She told us that a credit card company contacted her because some suspicious purchases had been made on her credit account.

“What kind of suspicious purchases?” she asked the company representative.

“Well, there are several charges for a dating service.”

My husband’s auntie shook her head and told us, “That was the best laugh I’d had in a long time! A dating service. I’m 89 years old. What do I want with a dating service?”

Her outrage at the idea of her needing a dating service was so fun! Auntie has been a widow now for decades and enjoys independence in her own home that she shares with a huge, orange cat. The credit card company refunded all her money, had her cut up her old card, and sent her a new one. All’s well that ends well.

IMG_7044
This is a random photo of me at the Bar U Ranch posing as a calf.

She knew we were coming to visit so she’d made ginger snap cookies, cheese biscuits, and fresh coffee for us. There were also fresh pickles from cucumbers right out of her garden to sample. They were crunchy and made my lips pucker. We brought a jar of them home. When we were done eating, we toured her garden and she talked about the strength she’d built up in her arms this seasoning by watering her garden pots using buckets of rain water.

She told us, “I use my mother’s wagon to haul those water buckets. She watered her garden the same way when she got old.” My husband’s auntie’s eyes filled with tears. It just goes to show that no matter how old we get, we all miss our mothers when they’re gone.

I have a passion for recording stories.

It’s one of my favourite things, visiting with the older people in my life. I’m a lover of stories and old folks often have great stories to tell. I do know some older folk who don’t care to talk about the past. They live in the now and prefer not to reminisce. That’s just fine, too, but I really like the old stories. That’s why I’m passionate about helping people to get those colourful memories recorded before the colourful storytellers are gone.

Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to right than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.

~ Marcus Aurelius

If you’d like to record your family history in its entirety or to simply write down some of those good old stories, please get in touch. I can help with everything from writing to editing to publishing. It would be my pleasure.

 

George and Views From the Road

One of my favourite spring sounds is a chorus of frogs greeting one another and encouraging the production and fertilization of frog eggs. These guys were singing up a storm in the little slough just north of town last evening. (It breaks my heart when brush and wetlands are plowed over and drained to create more farmland. I’ve got to toughen up if I’m going to live around here. Heck, I’ve got to toughen up if I’m going to live anywhere.)

This morning I had my first really good visit with George, my neighbour’s cat who disappeared last year and then unexpectedly returned months later, starving and full of buckshot. I’m so glad he’s back! We missed each other. Having him around saves me from needing to get a cat of my own!

See how charming he is?

It’s such a beautiful sunny and still day here! I had a quick editing assignment to do, and now I should go sweep out the dusty garage. Before I do, though, here are some more photos. A neighbour lady here in town paints these rocks and leaves them along the road north of town for walkers, runners, and bikers to find as they trek along. I took these the other evening, the same time as I captured the frogs’ song.

I hope you’re having a very pleasant day wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Take care of yourself and of each other during these very strange days. ~ Lori (and George)

Well I’ve been out walking
I don’t do that much talking these days

The Hardest Part of Life Is Letting Go

The Past 1.png

Amid all this time and space the COVID-19 pandemic has given me, I decided that I want more mental and physical room in which to move around. I want to clean out some of the old stuff and clear a space where creativity can flourish and where a new version of my future can begin to form.

I can’t move forward as I’d like, dragging my heavy, dusty past behind me. It’s time to let it go.

At mid-life, if we’re fortunate enough to live that long, we come upon a fork in the road. It’s there we pause and choose to hold on to our past tightly or choose to release it. I’ve seen folks choose one or the other to varying degrees. From what I’ve seen, the people who are able to let go are happier and freer. To me, happiness and freedom are appealing. I understand this is not the case for everyone.

The trouble with living into our fifties and beyond is that we’ve accumulated a lot of shit along the way. What untidy and disheveled mental attics and crawl spaces we own! We’ve even stored up the physical junk, those bags and boxes, jars and totes, jammed with tokens of our past lives, lives that are gone. There’s nothing much there that anyone will want after we die and yet we hold on.

The Past 2.png

We can choose to keep all of it, caressing each carton, each memory as we revisit our journey thus far. For some, the journey may have been pleasant. Perhaps you recall a grassy roadway and gentle sunshine on your shoulders. My looking-back path is not smooth. It’s covered with roots of regret that trip me up and sharp stones of memories that cut, reopening the wounds of the past.

I guess you can call it a choice, my decision to let go of the past that follows me, slowing my steps and weighing on my heart. But it’s not really a choice anymore; it’s a necessary surgery, this removal of those malignant cells. I have to shed them or they’ll keep growing until they kill me. I’m sure of this because I’ve seen it happen. Some holder-on-ers haven’t physically died yet, but big chunks of them are poisoned and they are determined to share that poison.

I’ve met some folks who, when presented with the option of happiness and freedom, say, “I have the right to remember. I have the right to be angry.” They’re correct, of course. Everybody has the right to feel pain, to self-inflict it over and over again. You have the right to sit outside at a future barbecue, and in a shady corner of the yard, stab yourself repeatedly in the thigh with a large meat fork.

Someone might pull their lawn chair into the shade alongside yours and suggest, “You know, you don’t have to keep torturing yourself. Put that fork down. Come play Frisbee with us, if you can still walk, that is.”

The Past 3.png

You don’t stab her with your precious meat fork. That’s a special pain reserved for you. But you knew this do-gooder would try to convince you to have a pleasant time and you’re ready for her. You’ve been sharpening your words for weeks before this get together in anticipation of this moment. You verbally jab at the one inviting you to join in the fun. You’ve perfected a particularly humiliating memory to prick her with. And you’ll remind her and everyone else at the party about her shame, about her pain. Why should you suffer alone when there’s so much sorrow and anger to go around?

In the end, we can’t make the decision to release the past for anyone but ourselves. It’s true that you really can’t help anyone but yourself. Part of self-care is learning to avoid those who want to inflict their pain on you, to fill your head with their baggage. You might have to let them go, as well.

In this time of physical distancing and an uncertain future (isn’t the future always uncertain, though?), I’ve had more space in which to work on letting go of both my mental and material clutter. It is hard work and I know I won’t do it perfectly. But I am grateful for the opportunity. I’ve got the time to tackle this job.

I’ll try to focus more on what’s happening in the present moment and review the past less. It’s over. It’s gone. It’s dead. But I’m still alive and able to breathe the sweet fresh air of this new day. I can’t take away anyone else’s pain, but I can release my own and who knows what kind of a difference that might make to me and to the world. Let’s see.

Take care and thanks for reading. Be well and be safe. ~ Lori

IMG_1033 (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hard-Won Happiness

Doctors

I was just thinking about how it doesn’t feel much like Easter. When I woke up this morning, some dry snowflakes were drifting down from the lead-grey sky, and that felt about right.

It’s been a mixed time in my life. I myself, this being, am just fine. I’m healthy, occupied enough, and enjoying my at-home activities. In my larger life, though, folks have been ill and dying around me. Not because of the COVID-19 pandemic, mind you. Their illnesses and passing merely coincide with the world’s other difficulties. And so I’m a bit heavyhearted right now. But, on the other hand, I’m so grateful to be well and to be able to give my love and support to those whose suffering is much more close-up than mine.

As always and as with most humans, I’m learning that I can feel a whole bunch of emotions at once and that these feelings can range from glowingly positive to downright negative. And I can experience them nearly simultaneously. Still, I don’t mind experiencing how I feel. I just wish sometimes the emotions would settle down a bit, be a little steadier. But wouldn’t we all?

Piranhas

My Twitter friend Donna shared these images the other day and I’ve been wildly re-sharing because nothing puts a global pandemic in perspective better than humour does!

Well, folks, that’s about all I’ve got to say about that. Please take care, and if you’re celebrating within your religious tradition these weekend, enjoy. It will be different, I know, with physical distancing in place, but this obstacle can perhaps make your joy and connectedness feel more special because, this year, it’s hard won.

Wishing you all the best,

Lori