Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thanks, Zig Ziglar

"Confidence is going after Moby Dick in a rowboat and taking the tartar sauce with you."
—Zig Ziglar

RIP, Mr Z, and thanks.

Monday, November 26, 2012

knitting angst

In yet another of those cart before the horse moments in my life, i decided that i wanted to knit a gansey sweater. Gansey, guernsey, or jersey as they've been called were knitted sweaters or jumpers which fishermen wore. The yarn was multi-ply, either 4- or 5-ply and quite thin in diameter. The needles used to knit these sweaters were also small in diameter (size 2 US/11 or 12 English/2.75 or 3 mm) with a tension or gauge of 9 or 10 stitches to the inch (~2.5 cm). Given the 4- or 5-ply woollen yarn used, and the small stitches, they were an incredibly warm, tightly knit garment.

Buoyed by the success of my mittens that i can now say actually look like a pair and not mismatched ones that share the same colourway, and knitting a few hats that actually fit the heads of real humans (there were a few false starts, but that did not deter me from making something that actually could be worn), i somehow figured that i could now step up to a big-time garment.

I've pored over a few books containing gansey patterns, and there's a wonderful website i found,, where they have lots of helpful info. I also tried knitting the sampler gansey in Beth Brown-Reinsel's book, Knitting Ganseys, thinking that i could learn the basic technique on the sampler that can fit a teddy bear, then move on to one for me.

I had high, high hopes, so high in fact my put the cart before the horse moment was to order the yarn i wanted for my sweater. It's beautiful yarn, and my plan was to have it be my winter project.

And so, in the halcyon days of summer, as i was working the sampler tra-la-la, i was fine until about Row 21, where i got good and stuck on the chart. For the nonknitter, charts lay out the pattern on graph paper, and there's sometimes a key, which can be helpful. In the books i've been using as models for the one i want to make, a filled in or dark circle means a knit stitch and a white or unfilled one means purl. There's also an oblong circle that's not really a squiggle that means a cable, but i thought it best to keep to just knitting and purling.

For people like Himself who are right brained, these charts are wonderful. They show at a glance an approximation of the pattern. I say approximation because graph paper presents the pattern as square, and in real life knitting will be more rectangular as stitches tend to work wider than they do tall--or maybe it's the other way round--at any rate, it's more rectangular.

Now, i understand all that, and i have thus explained it to you, gentle readers. But when i look at those charts, i see dots upon dots, and my mind simply swirls. I have ripped out that sampler gansey at least four times after Row 21 because i cannot seem to count the white or dark dots or oblong circles for cables correctly and either lose a stitch or pick something up along the way. After the last frustating attempt, i decided to make something i knew i could work all right, and before i knew it, i had two pairs of mittens done.

Emboldened by my success, i returned to the land of the charted gansey, and got stuck fast. The sampler, while charming, is a bit busier than the pattern i'd like to make for myself, and finally, that little voice inside of me that's always right said, "Megan, why don't you simply work the pattern you'd like to make? Just try it out with some scrap yarn, see if you can do it, and see if you'll like it when you see it in real life."

I thought this a most sensible suggestion and have been doing just that. I started with scrap yarn that was a bit larger in diameter than my gansey yarn. I cast on 24 stitches and ran through some of the patterns. I used  US 2/UK 11 or 12/ 2.75 or 3mm double pointed needles (UK knitters call these 'cable needles' or so says a book i read), which was a first for me using such skinny ones and knitted 10 rows or so of each of the patterns a) i thought i could do and b) i thought i could do without losing my mind either from frustration or boredom. While they were all right, there was one more i wanted to try, but i ran out of that bit of scrap yarn, and looked through my stash for something else that would be suitable.

Knitters have a yarn stash the way quilters do bits of fabric. It just sort of happens somehow.

At any rate, i found a yarn that was a bit smaller in diameter and closer in diameter size to the 'real' yarn i want to use but not waste on putzing around with different patterns, and decided i'd look at the chart for it once again. Yep, same dot swirling sort of is-it-a-migraine-or-was-there-dope-in-those-brownies sensation, so i decided to give in to my left brain, and i wrote out the pattern in a way that made sense to me, namely, Row 1, K2 P2, K2 P2, K4 P1, etc. This pattern has four rows before it repeats--rows 1 and 2 are the same as each other then 3 and 4 are the same as each other, back to 1 and 2. Repeat this sequence any number of times depending upon the size of the panel you wish to create.

You see, so many of these patterns weren't written down but handed down from one to another. Some of these authors have looked at the extant sweaters and have painstakingly counted the stitches and then give us the pattern of what they found. Some say things such as, "I saw this on a fisherman and then knitted up a sample."

I must say, i stand in awe of those people. I can usually tell you if it's knitted or purled, i might even be correct on whether it's wool or a blend, but to look at something and go home and create it without a pattern? Um no, that's in an echelon of knitting where i doubt i'll ever be a member.

And i found that it was these sorts of thoughts that were choking me and my feeble attempts. I decided i needed to follow my gansey path in baby steps, so baby step one after writing out what the chart told me to do was to do just the chart: 39 stitches, and 40 rows. Period. If it created the look i liked, fine, then i could say, yes, this is going into my sweater.

See, the sampler book also shows you how to design your own. And when i saw a picture of a lone lifeboat survivor in his gansey, i realised that was the pattern i wanted, only i haven't found directions for that specific one, only one that's similar. And the bloody chart. That's why i had to find other samples to work that were also similar and ones that i could understand in case i couldn't resolve this chart thing.

Using this thinner yarn with the small needles, i cast on the 39 stitches. Jim, who had been quietly watching me found the ball of yarn too tempting, and had to help me. After he realised i really meant it when i said he wasn't helping in the least, he consoled himself by curling up on my lap and poking only now and again at the needles.

That was last night.

Tonight at my knitting group, i ripped it all out and had to start over. I also lost a dpn, somewhere, most likely in the couch when Jim tried to help me put the knitting away.


I have two skeins of yarn wound into easy-to-use balls thanks to a friend's swift and ball winder, and shall start another pair of mittens. For a present and sanity.

The gansey project is an extremely high bar for me, and i want to get it right.

Yes, yes perhaps starting with an easier sweater would make more sense, or one for an infant as it could be done a bit sooner, but i'm not known for taking the easy way when i can find the most labourious, painful way right next to it.

We have long winters here, so there is hope that i can get the project on the needles, and get it finished before i'm an old woman. And, make it a size that will fit me all right even if lose or gain ten pounds.

************an update***************
When i saw the link to Gansey nation on this entry wasn't working and fixed it, i took some time looking around there once again, and i found the pattern of the Whitby life boat man! I don't know how i didn't see it before; perhaps i wasn't ready to find it until now. I am a very happy girl at the moment, and if you'd like to see the look of a finished sample of the pattern, click here. I hope mine can look as lovely.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Truck envy

I still think of my car as "my new car," although it wasn't new when i bought it, but it was new to me. And, i've only recently concluded that it's not new to me anymore.  When i consider buying a vehicle i try to see what i think we'll need for the next
10 years or 100,000 miles or so. And so it was with a start when i realized that i bought my car 9.5 years ago, and yes, i need to consider getting something else.
I can still keep my car, as i don't drive a lot of miles these days, and she's wonderfully fuel efficient. But not great in snow, and we get enough snow here
(100 inches/250cm per year) that i need to consider having a better way of navigating snowy roads. Himself is gone often enough that i can't always rely on his all wheel drive vehicle if i need to get someplace, and we have the boat now, too, which we didn't have a decade ago.

Himself's vehicle could most likely tow the boat, but he doesn't think so and doesn't want to try. I needn't rehash the futile conversations we've had about that; i'll say only that i'm still not any more convinced he is right, and he's not any more convinced that i am right, and moreover, is most emphatically unwilling to test the theory to see who is correct.

A few months back, i started noticing trucks. We had a small pickup truck many years ago, and it was quite handy. It had an extended cab, so if you had a bunch of groceries and a passenger, you could put the groceries behind the front seats. There was a small jump seat in the back (think of the little pull down seats flight attendants sit on for landing), and of course, the bed was handy for hauling all kinds of stuff.
At first i just noticed the trucks but after Hurricane Sandy and the Nor'easter that blew through here about 10 days later, it went from just looking to downright truck envy. So, as i do whenever i think we may need to consider a new or new-to-us vehicle, i make a list of what we need to have, what we'd love to have, and where we'll compromise.

The list looks something like this:
  1. something that can tow the boat (4 WD most heartily recommended);
  2. something that can haul the kayaks and/or dinghy along with the boat;
  3. something a bit better in snow than my car (4 WD a logical choice);
  4. something that can plough the driveway (currently a neighbour does this with the plough on his truck if i haven't gone out with the snowblower. I can do a whole blog entry all about planning for snow and how to position it so you have space to dump the ploughed stuff come late winter and in fact tried to write one, but it was too boring--not that this is exactly edge-of-your-seat sort of stuff).

The first three are what i'd consider needs for the next vehicle, and the 4th a really nice option.

And so, i found a few used trucks for sale, and some came with ploughs. I started looking and grew disheartened. Used trucks that have ploughs were used for ploughing. Ahem. And a lot of them may have had still somewhat shiny outsides but underneath showed a goodly amount of corrosion and rust. The price point i thought reasonable is barely getting me into the wheel house. And pointing me to most of the rust buckets. There are those people who want a truck because they think guys should drive trucks and they do very little hauling or ploughing, or they've got kids or hunting or fishing buddies, so they opt for the crew cabs where a few homeless guys would have enough room to be very comfy, and the bed is a good deal shorter to make room for the passengers. As 99% of my driving is me alone, that's a bit of overkill.

Speaking of killing, i'm small enough so that most of the larger trucks require me to pull the seat very close to the steering wheel so i can reach the pedals. If the airbag needs to deploy, i'll most likely die. Some have the option (more money of course) where you say how big the driver is, but most larger trucks assume people are at least four inches (8 or 9 cm) taller than i am, and carrying a bit more heft. Death by a safety device. Hmm, not exactly appealing.

When we first met, Himself and i both drove standard transmissions. I'm still in the standard school, but Himself has gone over to the dark side and really loves having an automatic transmission. Very few US trucks offer standard transmissions, and for every 100 trucks you see at a car dealer, you'll be lucky to find one with a clutch. I think a standard transmission offers more control, although there are those who argue that when you're towing and more importantly launching a boat into or pulling it out of the water, automatic is much, much easier.

The little truck we had all those years ago was a standard. It had a V6 so enough to tow stuff if we needed to do so. And i thought about looking at little trucks once again. Only they really don't make little trucks anymore. Ford stopped making the Ranger. I saw a used one (automatic transmission) that fetched a price about a thousand less than a brand new smaller truck.

I've always bought used vehicles and have had a lot of success with them. And this Ranger was more than several thousand above my threshhold price, but i began to reconsider. If i were willing to bump up my price by five or six thousand, how many more options would i have.

Turns out, the answer is many, many more. As in, do i want new or used. The Internet being the handy research tool that it can be, i researched trucks with all sorts of options. I test drove a few, and have a few more models i can test drive, but the conclusions i have so far are these:

  • If i insist on a standard transmission, then i'm looking at foreign trucks, and not many of those are offering lots to choose from. Guess most Americans really don't want a clutch or aren't willing to say it's a deal breaker for them.
  • If i insist on wanting a smaller truck, then i have more new options with foreign trucks.
  • The airbags on most smaller trucks won't kill me if they need to be employed.
  • A smaller truck will most likely fit in the garage. (The barn has been converted to a garage, but the doors hang a tad low in part to allow for the beams and automatic garage door opener. The beams are a structual necessity, the automatic garage door opener a very nice feature. If  i lose the latter, i can gain a few more inches clearance.)
  • A smaller truck is more fuel efficient.
  • Most used smaller trucks have not had a rough life as a work truck, so the corrosion/rust factor tends to be less.
Many smaller trucks have gotten much larger over the last few years, so they look more like a mid-sized truck. My research also shows that most can tow some weight, but there are two standouts in the small truck crowd that can pull over 6000 lbs
(3 tonnes or 2728 kg) and only one has a manual transmission option, and it's one of the models i test drove. It drove very much like Himself's little truck of yore, so i know both of us will be able to drive it all right.

The crew cab's description states it can fit 5 passengers, and while it can, I'm sure taller people would still find it cramped in the back, and i'd rather have the extra room in the truck bed, so the extended cab with the jump seats in the back will probably be more useful, as we can use the space behind there for groceries or what have you. If we have passengers who want to go boating with us, Himself's car can accommodate 4 adults quite easily.

If we wanted it all, we could consider a crew cab with an extended bed. But i believe that's overkill. I much prefer to get something that will beautifully fulfill our needs 90 or 95% of the time than to have something that'll be perfect for those two occasions in ten years that may occur and go unused the rest of the time. Unless those two occasions mean saving someone's life, but hell, we're talking a seat upon which to sit for a ten minute car ride.

Since i'll be the one chiefly driving the truck, i've gone alone to look at what's available. The salesman who had the cream puff Ranger who told me that since they aren't making them anymore, all Rangers command a premium, and really nice ones even more so, lost me when i mentioned that i was considering getting a plough for the truck.

"What do you do now?"

"Usually my neighbour ploughs me out for a very low price."

"Cheaper to stay with your neighbour doing the ploughing," and he gave a knowing nod.

It stuck in my craw when he said that--actually it was the nod that got stuck--and wasn't until later that i figured out why. He was right about the Rangers, as every one i've seen for sale is within a thousand or two of something i could get new, even ones that look "rode hard and put away wet" as the saying goes. And, even in a very snowy winter, i'd still be ahead of the game money-wise having my neighbour plough for me or sticking with the snowblower. But it'd be nice to have the option of ploughing out myself, or if i got caught somewhere and thought to have the plough on the truck before heading out, i could plough my way home safely. And the light went on, then. I couldn't see this salesman telling a guy to stick with his neighbour doing the ploughing. What i could see was him having a convo about ploughs in general and which ones might be a great fit for a small truck. That nod was the nod i've gotten many times during my life--that "there's a good little girl, run along now" nod that automatically deducts points from your IQ or at the least doesn't take you seriously. At least the salesman who tried selling me the rustbucket with a plough showed me how to operate it, and he opened with "I don't think you'll want to test drive the truck with the plough on it, so we'll take it off," and proceeded to talk through the steps he took to do that.

I had a talk with my mechanic about three weeks back to let him know i was thinking of buying a truck. I told him the four items on my needs/very nice to have list, and he told me some pitfalls in some truck models. Since then, i'm leaning more towards the foreign one with the manual tranny, so i need to have another chat with him and get his view on the matter. With year-end clearance sales, i'm thinking i'll be able to find something new that will be more than i wanted to pay initially, but may save me $$ down the road with fewer repairs.

I went through similar angst when i got my dream car nearly 10 years ago. It took me awhile to find anyplace that had them, and then, as daft as it might sound, not only did i want a stickshift, i wanted the car to be blue. I did find one dealership that had three of the model cars i wanted; two were silver, one was blue. Both silver ones were automatic transmissions, and the blue was a stick. The silver ones were new; the blue one was two years old. The price difference wasn't all that great, and i'm sure there are some who would have argued the newer ones were better. But i've been happy as a clam in my little blue space car.

For the truck? If i do decide to go with new, i'm thinking red.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thanksgiving--in Cyberia?

In the US, we celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, and yes, we'll be having turkey this week, which shall make all the cats happy. Himself, too, as he's an adoring fan. When it's just the two of us for The Meal (accompanied by the felines) i don't go to great lengths to make myriad side dishes. Usually mashed potates, candied sweet potatoes, a couple of veggies, cranberry sauce, and a cranberry-apple pie. I also stuff the bird, so there's stuffing, and i make gravy.

This will be Jim's first Thanksgiving, and the first time he'll see a cooked turkey. He likes chicken, which he made known to me the last time i was cutting some up for stirfry. He circled round my feet, and looked expectantly. I didn't take the bait, so he started to claw and climb up my leg. I went to shoo him away, my hand was full of raw chicken smell and with a little bit of the raw meat on my fingers. He licked every finger and removed every morsel of chicken meat. Mission accomplished.

The Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in mid-October, which makes a lot more sense to me, as that's when the bulk of the harvesting is occurring/has just occurred. On the other hand, November can be somewhat dreary, so having a feast day some time during the month is welcome.

So, since i've got off all next week, because yes, i took some vacation, i'll have time for cooking and cleaning. What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than proposing one in Cyberia? I'd love to see roasted chestnuts on the menu (Cro), or some sausages to add to the stuffing from Nos. 12 and 21 (John), or rashers from a certain midlife farmwife (Donna), and it'd be great to have the Canadian take so we can compare notes (Carla, Witch, and Gill, even though you've been a more recent transplant to Canada). I'd expect nothing but stellar conversation and wit from a master stonecutter who lives in a compact but adorable city apartment (Tom), and i'd love to hear more about the history of a particular township (Joanne). I know this list isn't complete--the more, the merrier.

And, of course, with a cyber celebration, the cyber tables groan with food that contain no calories and no allergens. Let the feasting and lively conversation begin!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Sometimes, perhaps it's best we don't always hear how things turned out. We can wonder, hope, and dream, but if the story has an unhappy ending or has entered a very sad chapter, do we really want to know? I've been pondering that since hearing an update this morning on facebook.

Facebook can be very useful in keeping in touch with people. Yes, it can also be a timewaster, as i've mentioned before, but i found it a very useful tool during Hurricane Sandy, for instance, where people could provide updates or friends of theirs could say, "So and so doesn't have power just now, but is otherwise all right." I've also found that for things like reunions, it's incredibly handy.

I've a high school reunion coming up next year, and the wonderful co-ordinator who shouldered the last one is doing this one as well. She's expanded it to include the class year immediately ahead of us and the one the year before that, which was my brother's class. I'm especially happy about the latter, as we moved away after my brother graduated high school, and i ended up graduating someplace else, which never felt like home. I looked through my yearbook from that year and made a mental note of those i hoped would attend, as it'd be nice to catch up with them. I haven't seen a lot of those kids in my brother's class since their graduation, although a few contacted me when Bill died to say how sorry they were. But, his funeral was nearer his home and out-of-state, around the holidays, and during winter, so travelling for the service was a bit challenging.

The reunion co-ordinator is happy to include anyone who went through our school system, even if they moved away before graduation, which is why i'm included on the guest list. Given that i attended kindergarten with some of these folks and knew them up until i moved away, i feel much more kinship with this school than the one from which i graduated.

On a facebook thread, I heard bad news about a boy in my brother's class, and the man who was telling it clearly held him contemptible. A number of us who were shocked to hear this expressed our sorrow, and the messenger was very quick to judge and condemn him, and chide us for seeming to take this slimeball's side. I responded that the messenger was enough younger that he only knew the man from this incident he reported. Those of us who were older could remember when this man was a schoolboy, and if like me, had lost touch with many classmates, had a hard time piecing together that boy they knew in high school with the "slimeball" now presented to us.

For this reunion, the co-ordinator is using facebook as a way of updating people about the event. The date has been changed once, and the location moved to one that could accommodate more people. Now, we need to see if Hurricane Sandy has rendered our venue unuseable, and if so, what other options will be available.

A few new people have responded to the reunion request, one of them being a man who was a year ahead of me in school. He was one of five brothers who lived very near another family with five boys. I briefly dated one of the older boys in this latter family, but before i dated Michael, i'd had a mad crush on P in the other family. P was in my brother's class, and for much of my sophomore (Grade 10) year, my heart seemingly skipped a beat whenever i saw him. I was invisible to him, of course, being younger, and my brother and he, although in one class together, were worlds apart socially. P naturally grouped me with my brother, thus showed no interest.

Yes, i must confess, i wondered if he and his goodlooking friend Art would be at the reunion. Art melted many hearts and was more gregarious than P. Both could be termed as bad boys, i suppose, although Art could charm his way out of just about anything and was quite popular.

And so, my heart raced just a little when i saw P's brother add to the reunion discussion. He'd love to attend, was sick the last time we had one and will try to help in contacting others as he didn't move far from our hometown. The co-ordinator asked for P's email address so that she could invite him as well, and in a succinct sentence, his brother said that wasn't possible as they'd completely lost touch with him because of life decisions P had made. He alluded to what they were, which i won't repeat out of respect to the family, but it made my blood run cold. The five brothers had been rather close, and i'm sure this was heartbreaking for them.

I wondered what events in his life made him choose the path he now walks and realized that if it makes me sad to hear where he is now, perhaps it's best i don't know all the details.

So, there'll be two who though they may walk among us, are lost to us and won't attend. There are a few who have since died, although given the amount of partying that went on, i'm frankly surprised more of us aren't pushing up daisies.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Last night after a dear friend who'd been visiting for the weekend returned home, i thought about some of the veterans i've known. Two memories rushed to mind.

I was active in fife and drum for a goodly part of my teenaged years, and one evening after a Christmas parade, three other f&d folks and i piled into a car and headed over to the VFW for a few beers--i was legal by a few months, as the drinking age was 18. Two of the three--R and C-- had served in Vietnam; the third had been too young by a year or so to be called up. I had a few beers, but the rest had many more. R and C both looked at each other and started describing some of what they'd seen. To each other, and each was nodding in his turn. R was part of the Tet Offensive; C had been a machine gunner on a helicopter.

It seemed all of us there were invisible to these two as they traded horrific details, and i was paralyzed as they spoke. An unspoken moment passed between them, and R as if awoken from a trance, glanced over at me. It appeared as though a screen drew up over his and C's faces and he said quietly, "We went so you wouldn't have to. Don't ever ask us about it, because we'll never tell."

A few months later, at many college friends' urgings, i went with them to watch the film The Deer Hunter. I walked out of it after about half an hour, and cried all the way home.

Several years later, i was in my own apartment and earning just enough for my keep. I didn't have a car so walked everywhere, including to and from work. An acquaintance who was fast becoming a friend gave me a lift home sometimes if he happened to be there when i was done my shift. On this particular evening, he drove me home, and i invited him in for a cup of coffee. He agreed, and we sat talking. He suddenly grew quiet and seemed miles away. In an instant, i knew he was having a flashback. "Get down, everybody get down!" he yelled, and he threw himself onto my living room floor. I knew he hadn't dropped any acid in the 60's, but he did go to Vietnam.

I prayed silently, asking what could i do? He was 6'2" (~1.9m) and about a buck eighty-five (13 stone 3 lbs/84kg), i was almost 5'2" (1.58m) and about 108 lbs
(7 stone 10 lbs/49kg). He was trembling, and i lay on top of him, covering his body with mine as best i could. I placed my hands on either side of his broad shoulders and said with a calm, quiet voice in his ear, "I've got you covered. I will keep you safe."

It felt as if i were lying atop an earthquake. I don't know how long we lay prone like that, i'd squeeze his shoulders and repeat like a mantra that i had him covered and would keep him safe. When he stopped his violent trembling, i slid off alongside of him, he took me in his arms and sobbed.

That awkward space appeared next, where i handed him a box of tissues, he had an embarrassed look on his face, grudgingly took one, and i thanked him for the lift home.

He straightened his shoulders, told me you're welcome, cleared his throat, and left.

We never talked about it again, and it was years later that i'd learn the term PTSD-post traumatic stress disorder. Whatever it was called, it scared the hell out of me.

I have a hard time with veterans day and memorial day parades. I see the military personnel, the "lucky ones" who survived and made it back with that haunted, hunted look that's often mostly hidden but just under the surface.

"Thank you" seems wildly insufficient, but it's all i have.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

—John McCrae, May 1915

Thursday, November 8, 2012


I was going to write a bit about readying myself for winter, checking the larder and all that, but Cro beat me to it, and his pantry shelves look so tidy. Next, i was thinking of single friends and how they are sometimes viewed like lepers but John wrote about that.

Great minds, eh? Okay, now that i've returned from that momentary self delusion...

Hurricane Sandy went a bit south of us so while we had some rain, high wind gusts, some limbs fall from trees, and a complete tree or two, as well as power outages, there was really little indication here that this was the largest storm ever recorded. We don't often lose power, but the lights can flicker now and again in high winds, and as we are on the coast, high winds are not uncommon.

We were more concerned about the Nor'easter which arrived here last night, bringing snow, and i must say, i wasn't quite ready for it. I usually find the first snow of the season delicious. I welcome the brisk, crisp air, the chance to snuggle under sweaters, and the usual search through the closet for boots and a pair of matching mittens or gloves. But it caught me mentally unprepared this year, and i felt rather gloomy yesterday when i saw that my larder wasn't as stocked as i like it to be by first snow, the second raking of leaves in the front yard didn't happen, and i nearly missed the postwoman's arrival. I was walking towards the letterbox to put letters in for her to take, as she pulled up. Letters. It's been a long time since i sent a proper letter. No, they were cheques, as i really don't like electronic banking.

Over my lunch break yesterday, i went to the grocery store to stock up on some things, and silently clucked when i returned knowing i wouldn't have time to do the last bit of raking before dark as i needed to get back to work. At least i had gotten the first raking done, and that's what got me to thinking about chestnuts.

The trees in our front yard are for the most part old oaks and maples. The garden patch, which the previous owners had sectioned off with green wire fencing, houses a few rhubarb plants, two grape bushes, and cranberry plants (those being planted by me last year). The card that came with the cranberry plants said to mulch around them with leaves over winter. The mature trees in the front make it quite easy for me to do this, and so last year, i raked when half the leaves were off the tree to cover the cranberry plants (they were too small for me to qualify as bushes), and what i didn't use there i used in the asparagus bed on the other side of the yard.

The second raking was good for mulching around some roses, and any leaves i had left went to a leaf pile behind the barn.

This year, newly out of my walking cast, Himself away, and Hurricane Sandy approaching, i thought it best to do another two-part raking, even if it did feel a bit like Sisyphus. I knew what areas i wanted to mulch and was raking leaves for that rather than for cosmetic purposes. Many had already blown down, more than i would need, and i didn't relish having to cart the extra to the other side of the yard behind the barn. Once raked into a pile, i couldn't just leave the pile there.

I was reading through the classified ads of our local weekly paper, and saw an advert asking for leaves. The ad read that the person would cart them away for free if they were in bags or piles. I started raking and called after a bit. If he'd already had enough takers and wasn't interested in my leaves, i didn't need to rake any more for my mulching needs. He answered, was happy to take my leaves and would arrive next day, late morning.

Overnight, of course, more leaves fell, and i hustled outside to add the newly fallen to the piles all over the front yard. I then started to weed the section of the asparagus bed i hadn't gotten to before covering it with leaves. He arrived as i was weeding, and i went over to shake his hand.

"Are you here to help?" he asked.

I liked how he got right to the point, told him i'd be glad to, and we loaded up the piles by raking them onto large tarps he had brought then lifting the tarps into the back of his truck. He wanted the leaves for mulch in his orchard. Oak leaves took a long time to break down, so he loved those for the orchard. He preferred maple for the gardens, since maple leaves broke down faster. His truck had a few bumper stickers on them, one which read, "Dirt Worshipper and Tree Hugger." So his comment about which leaves were best for which purposes didn't surprise me at all.

We collected the piles closest to the road first, and they were nearly all oak leaves. Between the garden patch the previous owners fenced in and the open side yard, there's a thicket of trees--a large evergreen, some straggly maples, and one notched tree that reminded me of ash, although the leaves were a bit different. Always meant to look up what kind of leaf it was but never seemed to get around to it. As we worked our way towards the pile in this open side yard, he grabbed one of the small, yellow, oval leaves.

"This is elm!" he exclaimed. "Where's the elm tree?"

Elm? I knew there was a huge elm by the town office, and as a child i remember the lovely shade they provided on many streets in my hometown, but then Dutch Elm Disease struck. I wasn't very old when that happened, and as i thought on that, i pointed to the tree i thought was ash. A scant handful of leaves still clung tiredly to one of its branches.

"Oh, i thought that was an ash tree when i looked at it," he said. I nodded, mumbled that i had, too, and felt very happy inside. No wonder the leaves didn't look familar to me. I hadn't seen them in nearly 45 years and couldn't remember them clearly enough from childhood to know what they were. I mentioned planting a ginko seedling at my last location. A friend saud that i wouldn't be alive to see it grow to any great height. While i knew that was true, i told him it gave me hope that future generations might.

We talked about his orchard--he's got pears, peaches, a few apples. And chestnuts. By this point, the truck was nearly filled with leaves, and the few piles that were left would be no problem for me to add to my mulch spots. He pointed to the bumper sticker on his car: TACF, the American Chestnut Foundation. He also pointed to his cap, which sported the same logo. He's a high ranking member in the organisation, and through back breeding, they're growing Restoration® chestnut trees.

Chestnut trees were a US staple in eastern forests until about 1950 when an Asian fungus wiped out most of them. The TACF is cross-breeding Chinese chestnut trees, which are resistant to the fungus with surviving US chestnut trees, and when those trees reach a certain age, they take the most desirable ones and cross-breed again with US chestnut trees. Lather, rinse, repeat. The goal is to breed a tree that retains many of the American chestnut characteristics but one that is resistant to the fungus. The Restoration® chestnut trees are 94% American. They use US chestnut trees from the same state where the orchards will be planted, so when they are ready to offer the seedlings to the public, the US chestnut part of the tree will be very similar to surviving chestnut trees in that same geographic area.

In order to have an orchard of them, one needs about 3/4 acre, which would use up most of our open land, so i couldn't offer to be a spot for an orchard. If i want to be a member and pay a higher than regular membership price, i can get two trees. Or more, if wish to pay a good deal more.

The literature he handed me (only after asking if i'd be interested in seeing it) mentioned how chestnuts provide food for all types of wildlife here: wild turkeys, white tailed deer, black bears. I've seen all three in my back yard--even without chestnut trees. It would take several years before the trees would bear fruit. I dug in my asparagus and cranberries last year knowing it would take a few seasons before i could have anything to harvest. Why not add chestnuts to the list?

And so he drove away with a truck full of leaves, leaving me to smile at the elm that somehow avoided a plague that wiped out most of its kin and wondering where the chestnuts ought to go.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Question 1: citizen initiative

Do you want to allow the state to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples?
The ballot measure states:

"This citizen-initiated legislation would remove the existing prohibition on same-sex marriage...and allow the state to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples. The legislation also provides that the marriage of a same-sex couple that is licenced and certified under the laws of another state would be recognized as valid for all purposes under the laws of this state.

"No member of the clergy is required under this legislation to perform any marriage in violation of his or her religious beliefs, and no place of worship is required to host a marriage in violation of the beliefs of that religious organization. The legislation also expressly provides that the refusals to peform or to host a marriage shall not be the basis upon which to file a lawsuit against, or to find liable, a member of the clergy or place of worship for refusing to perform or to host a marriage.

"If approved, this citizen-initiated legislation would take effect 30 days after the Governor proclaims the official results of the election."

A "YES" vote is to enact the legislation.
A"NO" vote opposes the legislation.

The people said it with votes.

The answer is YES.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Besides the vote for president on Tuesday, we have a number of local races and quite a few referenda. Most are bond questions, and frankly, i don't like the way most are worded. They are all for different capital improvements throughout our state, but they're glommed together. One is asking if it's all right if we have a 30 million dollar bond for, and here it provides a laundry list of items with attached dollar amounts. Some of the items seem worthy of consideration but some do not. In some cases, i like the items but think the wrong amount of money is being apportioned. However we can vote either for or against. So i am mulling over which i think may be worthy enough of a yes or which i feel are most pressing for a yes.

Question 1 is the referendum that's getting most of the press, with blue signs telling all who can read to vote NO and orange sides telling all who can read to vote YES. It's a referendum that appeared on the ballot before and was narrowly voted down. It pertains to gay marriage, and a yes vote says you are in favour of allowing persons of the same sex who consider themselves a couple the option of becoming married and having the same rights and obligations of those couples where one's a male and one's a female. Voting no means you are not in favour.

At the last local election or maybe the one before that, after i was done voting, a woman asked if i'd sign a petition for this question to appear on the ballot for this election. There are a certain number of signatures which must be collected before an item can appear on the ballot. She went onto explain that it was narrowly defeated the last time it was put to the vote, and i asked when that was. It was after we had bought the house here, but were still residents at the last location, so we hadn't voted in any of the elections here. I asked her if it was the same one they had on the ballot before, and that they thought perhaps public opinion may have changed?

She replied no, the wording had changed somewhat. Unlike the earlier time, this one gives clergy the right of refusing to marry gay couples--the first one did not. I told her i could see why it hadn't passed the first time, then. I could think of one church i attended where they'd NEVER consent to something like that, and i attended another church where they'd rush to be the FIRST ones to have gay weddings.

Like it or not, marriage is a civil union in this country, which may or may not have a religious ceremony. For those not wishing any religious trappings, they can simply go to a local office, get a licence and have a justice of the peace do the honours. Takes about 10 minutes. You need the licence in order to have the marriage "count." You needn't see any clergy, and even if you went through a wedding ceremony in the largest house of worship possible, it doesn't count without the licence.

I think Question 1 will pass this time around. One of my former bosses is gay, is madly in love with her partner and would love to get married. They live in a state that doesn't allow gay marriage. Fortunately, both of their families understand the depth of this couple's commitments and feelings, so if one is deathly ill, the other will have the first sayso about what needs to be done, and not like those horrific stories one reads about where estranged family members show up and completely cut out the partner from any of the decisions. As if they simply didn't exist, the love wasn't real, not looking, not looking, not looking.

About 1990, i was attending a church that had a Lenten study group that met, not surprisingly, during Lent, where we discussed all sorts of topics. One of topics was on gay people in the church,. How did we feel about that? I said that i only cared about someone's sexual orientation if i were interested in sleeping with them--or rather lying awake with them--and otherwise couldn't be bothered. I didn't agree with people who grouped homosexuals and perverts together. Pervs could be homosexual or heterosexual.

A few people cleared their throats, and the rector then asked me about gays in ecclesiastical roles--would i mind having a gay priest lead the service. No, i wouldn't mind, i told him. I didn't say anything else but immediately recalled a wonderful gay, Catholic priest i had met in college. He gave heartfelt sermons, and his services were always packed with students from all over the college campus. Many of us weren't Catholic, but we liked him. He didn't care we weren't Catholic, he wanted to help us to know God.

The rector then asked if there were people who wouldn't mind if someone were gay, but who wouldn't want to know because it would make them uncomfortable in some way. I clearly saw some people look shocked as they realized they fell into that camp. He went on saying that as we are all doing our best to serve God, shouldn't we allow those who feel called by God to serve? Why should we say no to someone, based on sexual orientation.

"You mean the way women were told 'no' for centuries because they didn't have the proper plumbing? And how, in many places, it still matters?" i asked.

The rector nodded, and then as our usual practice, we had to divide up into small groups and discuss the matter. Several people purposely stayed away from me, and the rector did not assign me to their group. An older woman i knew from church was in my group. She was clearly agitated by the topic. "Why should it matter and do we as a parish have to know? Is this some sort of question that the search committee would put forth to a potential priest in our parish? Or to a person just visiting our church and perhaps wanting to be a member?"

I was struck with the urgency in her voice, and as she spoke, i realized her voice was tinged with fear. Why? i asked silently to myself, and i looked at her as she was speaking. Then it dawned on me. She's gay. And closeted. And content to stay that way. Well, she'd have to be, wouldn't she? She was a teacher for years. And prevailing attitudes lumping together gays and perverts....

It made me angry. Here was a lovely, kind person, who always exhibited wonderful patience with learners of all ages, skills, races, and creeds. And i wondered how many other gay people might feel threatened as she did, if they were outed. I wanted to try and turn the conversation more towards supporting those people who wanted to let the world know, rather than force those who'd rather stay quiet to speak up. I just don't do subtle well, and when she was done speaking i found myself saying, "I don't think the rector meant that every person would have to broadcast his or her sexual orientation. I think he wanted us to talk more about what about those who DID want others to know about themselves. Would we be so uncomfortable with that that we'd not want these people in the same building or worship service with us, or would we say they can pray with us in church but not lead us in service. I don't think i have anything else to add to what i said initially when we were still in the large group. The only time it matters to me is if i want to have sex with someone, and since i'm married, that'd be a different situation, eh?"

There were smiles in our group, and the discussion did return more to the scenario the rector had described. The older woman mostly listened after that and looked a bit shaken. I felt bad for her because i knew the matter was close to her heart, and yet she didn't want to give herself away. As we were wrapping things up, she said that she didn't think people ought to be forced to tell, and here she looked directly at me. "I'm only going to ask if i'm trolling for sex, and then i have to hope that it doesn't get back to Himself."

I lost touch with that older woman after i stopped attending that church, and i don't even know if she's still living. I have thought about her from time to time, and wonder if she'd think she'd be more accepted now, or would she be more comfortable now letting people know she was gay. Would she be glad to know i now live in a place that wants to put to vote the opportunity for a gay couple to have the same legal rights as a heterosexual couple? Would a friend of ours, who is also closeted?

I doubt either would tell me, although i'm sure both know that my feelings for them wouldn't change. If either had a great love in their lives, i'd be glad to meet them. And if they wanted to have that piece of paper making their partnership legally binding, i'd love to celebrate that with them.