Sunday, November 29, 2009

You know what they say about good intentions…

Yesterday was Saturday, November 28, Buy-Nothing Day.
I had decided to stay away from my computer, out of my car, to buy nothing.
I managed one out of three. Me! Who sometimes doesn't get in a car for a week at a time, relying instead on two feet or two pedals. Me, who is still wearing a t-shirt I bought in 1994.
By 8:13 yesterday morning, I was on the phone with my father, arranging to go to his (unpowered and unplumbed) cabin for the day – with a stop at a favourite restaurant for breakfast on the way.
Eight thirteen. Oy. 
I'm trying really hard not to feel like a failure about it, and I'm helped greatly by the success of the day in every other way. I read most of a really good (entertaining and informative and thought-provoking) book – Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Had a great time with my dad, reading him bits that made me laugh out loud while he read me bits from his newspaper. Listened to the kingfisher working the bay and the eagle trilling from its treetop perch and the rain on the cabin roof. I came home refreshed (and slightly damp).
And hell, Dad bought breakfast. 

Friday, November 27, 2009

The three syllables of happiness

“Listen to this!” my husband exclaimed recently.

My head snapped up from my book. An exclamation from him usually signals something pretty freaking spectacular, like the sun rising in the west or an early start to ski season.

“To be happy, every human being needs love, a purpose, and something to look forward to,” he quoted from the novel in his hands.

It struck us both as one of those universal truths that you recognize right away – as soon as someone else says it.

Of all the people I know, the happiest are those who have all three things. Those with only two are restless, or worse; love alone cannot create happiness.

I know people in their 80s who are happy because they have good friends, they want to finish writing their books, and they’re looking forward to Christmas dinner with their families (or at least to Christmas dinner). I know people much younger who chafe at their lives; they don’t know what they want to do, so they can neither do it nor look forward to doing it.

In the books I read and the movies I watch – and in plays and music, too, for that matter – the stories usually exist because at least one of the three elements is missing.

The movie Revolutionary Road, set in the 1950s, perfectly illustrated for me what can happen when a couple of the puzzle pieces are missing. (Spoiler alert.)

Frank had a suburban life and a job he disliked, but no clear ambition, no dream except to go to Paris some day. His wife April had the love of her husband and children but her life’s goal – to be an actress – was shattered when she discovered on stage that she’s a terrible actor.

With that dream gone, she created a new one: the family would move to Paris, she would get a job to support them, and Frank would be free to discover his purpose. However, when Frank got a better job, he decided that loving and supporting his family were, in fact, his purpose and what he looked forward to doing. April was bereft again.

Looking at life and stories this way helped clarify a few things for me. Like that hollow feeling when our chicks fly the nest and our purpose as parents changes drastically. The fear with which we face old age, when we’ll be jobless and we’ll think more about sore joints than smoking them.

Sometimes I’m a little shaky on my purpose, but I have wonderful friends and family and even on my most Eeyore-ish days I look forward to something: there will always be another fantastic story to read; popcorn makes every movie better; and my office window faces east, so each morning that I show up for work, there’s a sunrise.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Little House in the Big Woods has been one of my favourite books for more than 40 years. The author, Laura Ingalls, was the middle child in a family that lived quite a self-sufficient life in the wilderness of Wisconsin in the 19th century. They grew or hunted their food, sewed their own clothes, chopped wood, hauled water…but every Sunday they stopped. The Sabbath was a day of rest – and sometimes a day of boredom for little Laura, if I remember correctly – but the principle is interesting. Once a week, you don’t cook or clean or fix cars or whatever you usually do. Once a week, you take a break.

This year, organizers have proposed an expanded Buy-Nothing Day on November 28. Not only do they want us to refrain from shopping, they want us to abstain from any kind of consumption, including a “Ramadan-like fast.”

Uh, no.

I won’t be giving up food any time soon, even for one of the shortest days of the year, especially since I don’t understand the organizers’ goal for that particular suggestion.

However, I’ll give some of the other ideas my best shot. I’m not a big shopper, so my absence is not going to cause a blip at Wal-Mart or even my local craft fairs, but it might teach me something.

My intention next Saturday is to do no shopping (easy), stay out of the car (easy), and use no electricity (no email? That’s harder). I’ll walk, ride my bike, read near a window. Try to coerce my husband into a game of backgammon. I will use my stove (gas, though electric sparker) and if it’s cold I’ll turn on my gas fireplace (ditto).

This looks like very do-able. After all, I don’t shop much anyway and I can do without my computer for one day.

Just one day.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

I ate Kauai

On my recent expedition on the sailboat Maple Leaf, I became a foodie. Those of you who know me can stop laughing now. I mean it; I haven’t had a Dorito since.
Chef Lila Ruzicka served three meals a day (and snacks) that looked, smelled, and tasted beautiful. She made butternut squash and roasted apple soup with fruit we intrepid explorers collected in an old orchard on Portland Island. (By we I mean the captain, first mate and deckhand, not actually moi.) She served Chinook salmon and fresh-caught (again, not by me) prawns on quinoa with broccoli and spinach. And poached pears with vanilla-bean ice cream and Belgian chocolate sauce…. Every meal was a revelation, four courses of good reasons to step lively on our shore expeditions.
Then I came home to a chef-less kitchen and exhausted my cooking skills with local beets and potatoes, free-range eggs and herbes de Provence for a week before I headed to Hawaii for a family vacation.
Kauai is called the Garden Isle and it certainly is an eruption of green – sugar cane, coffee, palm trees of all descriptions, cactus gardens on the dry side, taro fields on the wet…. 
We scored a bagful of starfruit, papaya, limes, and avocado at a farmer’s market in Kapa’a on the east coast. We picked up locally baked sourdough bread and fantastic island honey in Sueoka’s market in Koloa in the south, and coffee on the plantation a little further west.
I had a slice of coconut pie in the central mountains that makes me salivate still. The pre-foodie me would have wangled an entire pie to go, and devoured it all, too. Instead, after I enjoyed my slice I put down my fork; that’s when I figured this foodie thing might be more than a flash in the pan.
Now that I’m home, though, I want to make sure. I’m on the hunt for coconut pie.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Looking forward

In the opening of her book The Curve of Time, Muriel Wylie Blanchet paraphrases John Donne and Maurice Maeterlinck as they describe time. A person can stand at the top of a curve, she wrote, and look back to the past and ahead to the future at the same time.
That’s how I feel about Remembrance Day.
During the first World War, three of my great-uncles left their farms in what is now Tsawwassen, BC, for army service in France. Their younger brother, my grandfather, delivered supplies to a prisoner-of-war camp in the Monashee Mountains. They all returned to their farms and picked up their lives – they got married, raised crops and children, and argued happily and constantly with each other for another four decades.
During World War Two, the young woman who would be my mother-in-law left her home in Detroit to work in Codes and Cyphers for the Canadian Air Force. There, she met the man she loved and bickered with for fifty years.
As I think about my relatives this week, long gone from old age and natural causes, I also focus on my friend’s daughter in Afghanistan. I look into the future, when she comes home and argues with her loved ones for a long, long time.