Thursday, June 30, 2011


One thing I remember most about summer days as a kid is sitting around a table at a cottage somewhere doing jigsaw puzzles. To be honest, I recall having some of my best visits with my brother doing puzzles. I also had some great fun doing them with friends in university or by myself on a table outside of my tent at one of my remote dwellings out west. Puzzles have always been one of my favourite things to do.

Since I bought this farm I have done exactly zero puzzles (over 100 piece ones that is). Since I’ve had children, I’ve helped with many small puzzles with Disney characters, strawberry shortcake, dinosaurs, baby animals and other kid subjects. But never once have I tackled a puzzle for my own pleasure (pleasure outside of enjoying the time with my little ones, of course).

Lately I’ve found myself griping about all the work I have to do. You’ve had to put up with it too, haven’t you? Spring is a busy time. With summer here I had hoped for a lull but no such thing has occurred. We’re steady on folks! You’d think I could catch a good break over the winter months but truthfully we kept the train running full speed through the snow as well. I began milking my cow, making yogurt and cheese, I renovated the kids bedrooms and kitchen, and we were still delivering squash through snowstorms. I even fit in some training for a mountain adventure in March. Granted there was a lot less pressure in winter, but the ‘long winter’ months seemed to fly by without me this year.

So here I am. Summer is here. Officially it seems like July 1, Canada’s birthday, is a good day to ready-set-go your way into summer barbeques, lake swims, sleeping in tents, paddling in canoes, doing puzzles out on the deck… But wait a minute. When will I find time for any of this?

After getting mighty tired of listening to my brain chatter on and on about how overwhelmed it was, I did something quite surprising this week. I pulled out a puzzle. A beautiful work of art of 1000 pieces that includes a barn, a lazy, country road, and a landscape of fall colours. My daughter has taken to climbing up beside me on the dining room bench and doing the puzzle along with me. If I get her groups of pieces she’s surprisingly quick at figuring it. Then again, if she even got 1/8th of my genes she was bound to get some sort of puzzle-addicted personality.

I recall days of not moving from my spot, discovering piece after piece, hour after hour, often not eating much and not even taking breaks to stretch or go to the bathroom for 12 hours at a time. I would be fixed. If there was another person across the table from me, we might grunt a rare ‘good one’ at finding a hard piece but usually there was nothing but silence. My brother and I often joked about how we planned to do a puzzle and chat. Then silence. For hours. And we would look up every couple of hours and say: ‘yakety, yak’. That seemed enough to say.

Hey, I know this behaviour sounds a little obsessive/compulsive but really, don’t you think the world needs more silence? Don’t you think we could all use a little less television and a lot more sitting around, sharing activities with our loved ones? It might appear antisocial but really I think its just a marvelous way to take up each other’s space. Deep in thought, minding our own business, sharing a task.

This morning I did not partake in my usual habit of throwing breakfast dishes into the dishwasher and grabbing my coffee on my way out to the barn. I took my coffee over to the puzzle and sat for ten minutes imagining the day ahead. Putting together this little world one piece at a time seemed the only manageable thing I had going for me. So much order. So much sense. I suppose this is what many get out of knitting or other handiwork.

It is summer. It is time to do puzzles. Farm work or no farm work, I just can’t imagine another year without them. Those ten minutes might just buy me a day's worth of sanity.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


This is my 100th post. It feels like it should be a celebratory one. Yay! There.

Now on to business. I tried making a to-do list to match my husband’s strategy when he has a lot to accomplish at a time. I’m not usually a list girl. If it is important, I will remember it. It is kind of a built-in prioritizing mechanism.

So I made a list. It was long. It had 26 must-do-now items (big ones) and then a bunch of things written up the sides of the paper and on top, and on the back and then there was no more room. The problem with me and lists, I remember now, is that I can’t prioritize on paper. I think it means I have to do everything on it right away. So I do. Usually simultaneously. And then I burn out.

And come to think of it, last week’s burn out all started with a list as well. Ever since I can remember I have jumped to finish tasks and get them in the ‘done’ category before I can even write them down. I remember my first phone bills as a teenager – I would rip them open and run to the bank with a cloud streak following behind me because I couldn’t stand to leave it undone (I wait until the due date at least now!).

I’m also the kind of person that doesn’t know her role most of the time. I have a terrible habit of pissing off my bosses by assuming their jobs are my responsibility. And that of all my other colleagues too. Kind of like that helpful person in the park that returns your Frisbee when you’re playing Frisbee golf (like the usual game without the course, clubs or balls). It isn’t that I actually go to other people’s desks and start taking things away. It is more that I think I’m supposed to do it all and beat myself up when I don’t. I don’t have perspective around these things. The result is that I try for happy medium and show up lazy, frantic and everything in between.

Also, it isn’t that I can’t see what needs to be done first or what is most important on a list. It is that I can’t leave things undone. And on a farm that is like committing sanity suicide. I should clarify that cleaning my house is something I have no problem leaving undone. That’s a glitch in my system.

I recall writing about being only one person. As I look at my list, (or not make a list at all), I need a new mantra that repeatedly reminds me that I am only one person. I cannot be expected to do the work of others. This includes the work of my children as well – they have to learn to dress themselves, tie their shoes, brush their teeth. Enabling a child to do things for themselves is what a good parent does. Not returning their Frisbee in the middle of a game.

Incidentally in my list fury yesterday I showed up at the feed store for pig food and layer mash and there was that telling sound of chickens coming from their shed. It was ready-to-lay day and I had totally forgotten! I had set aside my brain and turned to a piece of paper as my guide and something as important as: ‘there are a dozen living full grown chickens waiting for you’ got wiped out. Thank goodness I happened to be there at the right time and they had some boxes for me.

I’m going to drop the list thing. My cloud-making superhero can’t cope with them very well. I don’t usually forget important things. That could be how I cull the stuff that doesn’t need to get done right away. As someone who blogs to make sense of a batty world, I think my mind might take the written word too seriously. I have a habit of putting what I write down into practise as though it is the gospel. And some little things don’t deserve that kind of attention. Not immediately anyway.

I’m going to keep working on leaving things undone. We will probably all survive. In fact, I’ll have a good look at my dirty, dirty house and see what’s behind that (because I even seem to drum up some forgiveness there). More of that please. Much more of that.

It is not more money that I want. I do not need more shoes. I have a lot of good friends. I have a family that I love dearly. What I am asking for is perspective. Give me the wisdom to see the difference between the stuff I can’t do anything about and the stuff I can. Let me know what is mine and what belongs to others. Give me faith that I will know what is important and that it will all work out okay.

And for the 100th time - thanks so much for reading! This has been a great journey so far.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I'm Exhausted

I do not like complaining on my blog. I think the act of blogging is like the act of prayer. You have an opportunity to build the life you want in writing and also a chance to inspire (not depress) anyone who happens along to read.

But without pitfalls there is no level ground. Without dark, light doesn’t mean anything. So sometimes, just sometimes (well, often probably) I think it is necessary to draw out the monsters and have a good battle with them.

Here goes.

I have not been this tired in a very long time. My bones and muscles seem to holding on. My brain even seems to hold a thought or two most of the time. But I’ve hit this wall where I need far more sleep than I seem able to get.

The pace at which we have been running around here is not sustainable. This is a particularly crazy time of year and always will be but it never ceases to throw me off my chair. The transplanting, seeding, haying, repairs, fencing etc. etc. Whether we are getting things done or not, it seems the weight of what has to be done is getting to me. My kitchen floor has so much dirt on it I could plant some seeds in there. I have winter coats piled up by my front door waiting to head to their winter hiding place. My counters look like I’ve just cleared out my cupboards and left the contents out for everyone to see. But really, I haven't had time to find a place for any of that stuff. The kids toys, well, let’s just say they’re not that good at picking up after themselves (and teaching them to do so is another thing I’ve been meaning to get to). And I miss my friends. I don’t have time for my friends right now. Ug.

I’m a mess. I feel like a total failure. I know the real farmers out there are shaking their heads and saying: ‘I knew she couldn’t do it, the girl just doesn’t have what it takes’. And my compassionate friends are saying: ‘you do too much, give yourself a break.’ The truth lies somewhere in the middle I think.

I believe so strongly that the world needs small farms and a new model for bringing food to our tables. We need to close in our circles a little and make good with what we have around us. But if I was to try to be an example for that – at least the part of growing and raising your own food – I just don’t seem to be able to do this and keep my sanity all of the time.

The chores get done, the projects move along and even some quality outings with the kids are accomplished. From the outside it would appear I have it all under control, perhaps. But on the inside I feel the heavy weight of ‘I can’t do this anymore’. I look back and see a job that I could no longer balance with farming and parenting. Ahead I see a life of endless work (most of it unfinished), more than any human should have to take on. Rather, more than this human can cope with.

Or is it all just a product of where I came from? My perspectives are set and they can’t change. I want what I want when I want it and no matter how many ideals I hope to attain, I can’t let go of my cushy past? I want to just buy the stupid $3 watermelon from Walmart and forget this growing business. I want to eat the kind of bacon that doesn’t have hair and skin attached to it sometimes.

I have had a lot of privilege bestowed upon me. I have had the opportunity to educate myself. I have been blessed with children. Found a life partner who tolerates this nonsense. I even like my slobbering, misbehaved dogs most of the time. Chris Rock said that one is truly rich when they have options. I have had all of the options a person could ever desire made available to me. What is my problem? What more do I need to be able to rest, look around and be satisfied with what I see without working my fingers to the bone and my heart into a quagmire of doubt and worry?

If I could put some of it down. Not the life, or even the jobs. Just the weight of it. I might sleep better.

Last I checked I wasn’t responsible for changing the world. I’ve always believed that an individual can mark a trail by example though. I don’t need an audience. But I care that I’m doing the best I can and that it might help another chart the same path if that is what they choose.

But I’m so very tired.

Dare I say that I think there is a reason why jobs were segregated 60 years ago? I can’t transplant the plants, do the barn chores, take care of the kids, clean the house, mow the lawn, do the laundry, secure food in our cupboards and deal with the garbage and construction and repair of our home all at once. I don’t particularly like cleaning house to be honest. So admittedly I turn my attention to the outdoors as a way of procrastinating. But I love to cook. I love hanging out with my kids (even though they drive me bananas regularly). I just don't love the never-ending pressure of it all at once. And my husband does his share or more - this is me on me you understand, right?

I have to put some of this down. I have to carry a lighter load somehow. This lady is going to crash.

Friday, June 24, 2011

My Family of Trees

In my lifetime I have put hundreds of thousands of tree seedlings into the ground. And never saw them again. This treeplanting job was a metaphor for everything else in my life. Invest the energy then walk away. I never got to see what was on the other side of the work. Reaping the benefits. Watching the bloom.

Being a transient sort, I moved multiple times every year in my early adult life. I had never owned a home or a piece of land. My boxes were always half packed and one foot was always on its way out the door.

Then I bought my first home. It was on 100 acres of land. I owned it with my soon-to-be husband. With the farm came my first dog (although I had always seemed to be looking after someone else’s before that). She was 14 and unable to move into the apartment with the previous owner. The decision to keep her was a no-brainer. As you know, many other two and four legged creatures followed. But the story I’m about to tell you is about a different lot of beings.

For someone who was afraid to see farther than two weeks into the future, buying a farm, getting married, having children and caring for multiple animals was a very big deal. However, it was incredibly healing to let myself have these things in my life. They cost me. But on most days they give back even more. I am afraid that I will lose them. But the joy of having them for yet another day is worth all of the fear.

A tree seedling. It starts out hardly bigger than a small stick. You put it into soil hoping that one day it will become a large, looming, regal entity. It can shade you from sweltering heat. It can bring you fruit. In exchange for the carbon dioxide it takes up, it adds fresh oxygen into the air. They are beautiful and at times covered in flowers with the sweet smells of spring. They can grow taller than your house (and hopefully not fall onto it, right?).

The idea of planting trees around our farm came to me in the first year we bought the place. I have always taken the saying: ‘the best time to plant a tree was ten years ago, the second best time is today’ to heart. I believe it. Just because they will take decades to grow doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wish for them in your future. Coming from a commitment-phobic person, this was a revelation!

So I ordered any kind of tree I could get my hands on. I planted them by the dozens. I would transplant the seedlings that dropped from them. I would take more seedlings from the forest behind our house and move them into our yard. I would go to the ‘free tree’ days at farmers’ markets and community events and bring home new surprises to our environment every time.

The year we married we planted two trees that came as gifts, an apple tree and a linden tree. Unfortunately our new puppy decided to girdle the apple tree six years in, but the linden tree is growing stronger ever year. That was planted the weekend that we married.

The Linden Tree

Many other casualties have come to play out (and for any of you who played a part, don’t worry this is not a roast!). All the staking, mapping, fences, marking, flagging, pleading, reminding, mulching and garden stones could not have saved these trees. They were chewed down, mowed over, driven on, dragged over, blighted, dried, girdled, drowned and sometimes just forgotten in the weeds.

But the ones that remain tell the story of time that has passed and the people that came with them. I clearly remember the day that I came home from work and a group of spruce, birch and pine trees that had arrived were well overdue to be in the ground. Despite the fact that Rob’s parents and grandparents were coming for dinner, I decided to squeeze in the time to plant them. To this day I look at that fence line and remember fondly as we dug those trees into the ground while Rob’s grandfather looked on. Those trees belong to him. They are doing very well seven years later.

Fence row of Grandpa's trees

Jasmine’s first spring we bought a truck full of baby cedar trees and planted them along our road. Imagining it would be forever before they amounted to any kind of green fence, they are now lush and lovely and have already made our front lawn more beautiful and more safe for the kids running around.

Baby Cedar Trees

Cedar Hedge today

One of my favourite trees (especially for my impatient self) is the black locust tree. They are prolific and ridiculously fast-growing (also categorized as an invasive alien plant and I see now why as they are so good at out-competing native species). Seven years after planting a twig it is already providing a small web of shade over the greenhouse in the summer months. It has also produced many seedlings that have been moved to various spots on my farm and onto other people’s land.

Black locust

The year we built our addition we had the hard decision of whether to put it in the path of the meanest West wind you ever did see. AFter the house was built, Before the rubble was cleared away, I planted myself a group of pine and spruce that in twenty years will hopefully provide shelter to the West wall of our house. Those trees make me smile every time I see them growing. They grow beside a large spruce tree that protects our little log cabin from the cool winds of winter every year.


Many other trees like ash, elm, butternut, black walnut, oak and maple are scattered about in places that I can’t quite remember. The butternuts are more obvious and despite nearly getting mowed (by me) a few dozen times, they are still standing and growing lovelier every year.

Butternut tree

This year I invested in more fruit trees on the heels of some plum and cherry trees that I planted two years ago. I now have pear trees, more cherry trees, more plum, and a few more apple trees that may one day provide fruit for jams and sauces and pies along with spectacular landscape bouquets in spring. They may never come to fruition, but I deeply enjoy the process of watching them become.

Cherry tree

Pear tree

My trees have brought me lessons on everything that matters in life: patience, letting go, faith, beauty and appreciation of the here and now. Hopefully some of them will bring delicious, healthy food to our table one day.

Ever-changing, sometimes heart-breaking, always a breath of air, sometimes getting in the way, making it cool in summer, providing us warmth in winter - just like my other family members.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Leave Your Troubles at the Barn

Our first two years on this farm felt like a test. Things were going wrong at rates that seemed far more frequent than normal. Or were we just not used to coping with having so much to repair, care for, build and get a handle on? I’ll never know the answer to that question. But it seems after almost eight years on this piece of land we probably run into as many snags as always, but now we are better equipped to deal with them.

It seems the practise of farming is all about investing in something when you can’t know what the outcome will be. You seed and care for thousands of plants and lose many while gaining surprising successes in corners you never expected to. You breed and raise animals gaining more animals for milk or meat or money (or heartache and trouble or all of the above!) It involves far more ‘letting go’ than this type A, control freak has ever been comfortable with. But in time, I have learned that the best thing to try to control around here is my reaction to the things that go wrong.

Further it is outstandingly important to count your blessings and take great notice of the things that DO go well because there is always something in need of more work waiting around the bend. And everything has a silver lining somewhere if you are patient and look for it.

For example, yesterday at market we didn’t have as much to sell as we had hoped so there was a serious absence of income from the day. We were also a bit nervous about the fact that there were no grandparents there to distract our kids. But beside us a free pancake breakfast tent was erected and our children were ecstatic with unlimited pancakes and syrup to snack on. They also took quite a liking to climbing around the empty van for hours on end – a place where they were safe and cool. New organic vegetable growers arrived beside us who are expecting their first child later this summer. It was fun to share growing ideas and talk about the balance of family and farming. In the end we had one of our favourite days at market so far.

This morning we awoke on a lovely Father’s Day to find out that our cows had escaped to another farm. We have a heifer who must hit the road in any direction every time she is in heat. Her mother was exactly the same and we called her Houdini. I happened to have spent the week fixing fence posts, putting up new gates and restringing new electric fence where the new packing shed had changed the outlay of our pastures. After all of this work to keep the cows in, to learn that they had escaped was a real blow. Our gracious neighbours who called to let us know they had visitors said that our cows had damaged some of their new hay bales and fairly wanted compensation for it. Sometimes it seems that no matter what we do, we can’t stay on top of things.

It was hard not to feel ashamed that after all of the work we had done for the past few weeks, late into most evenings until the sun went down and often beyond into the wee hours of the morning. How could it be possible that we still had nothing to show for it in market sales or animals that were properly contained?

But this is just what spring is about. It is about the promise of something to come (including those ‘hormonal’ heifers waiting to be bred!) It is about trusting that your efforts now will result in a bounty in the summer and fall or later. I reminded myself of the squash deliveries we were doing well into January and how in those months we invest nothing in our fields yet gain a continuous return on last spring’s hard work. Or the beef that we usually get in our freezer come the middle of winter. The frozen vegetables, milk, berries, chickens, pork are all gifts from our past endurance.

Further, if I put my head up and look around here is what I see: romping pigs that are successfully confined in an outdoor pen with net, electric fence; forty chicks that are thriving in their new halfway house in the barn before they head out into their mobile pasture pen; a dozen or so productive egg layers of various ages stomping around; a greenhouse half full of the rest of our healthy transplants ready to go out to the fields; two productive raised beds of greens under cover, tomato and pepper plants waiting to burst into fruit in the greenhouse, a field almost full of thriving plants (except for the lot of tomatoes that literally blew over in our wind storm), excellent help from local folks to get our harvest out of the fields, irrigation pipes down and trellis up, equipment that mostly works when we need it…and on and on I could go.

In those early years, we had endured some heartbreaking losses. Our family of draft horses was continually suffering or dying of colic one after the other – two of them still quite young when they died. While we searched for a cause, there was no common thread except for their genes. One old girl had even been boarded at another farm at the time. A mare rejected her foal at birth and we were left bottle-feeding a filly when we had a 3-month old human baby waking up every three hours in the night inside.

We also lost our first strawberry crop to a hard frost in the middle of June our first year. There had been a lot of heat in April and early blossoms, meaning many of these potential berries were killed before they could become. After spending days setting up an overhead irrigation system to ‘warm’ the plants on these cold nights, our old pump would not start. I recall listening at 2am while Rob made repeated attempts to get it running without success. I felt so helpless as 5 acres, some 50,000 plants, along with our hopes, were dying and there was nothing we could do about it. These are only a couple of examples of how we were being tested – if I told you the whole story you would think I was making it up to be dramatic.

It was during this sequence of what seemed like unusual bad luck that I realized that underneath these events was one important truth. The people in our family were blessed with their health and strength and we were all immersed in love and unlimited opportunities for happiness. Our troubles were staying at the barn and in the fields.

It seems twisted to be grateful for misfortune, and this definitely does not mean I don’t value the non-human living beings that we raise and care for. But if we were going to have to ‘pay’ for our share of troubles – we must feel blessed that these troubles are not in our home.

As Nanci Griffith so aptly puts it in her song: “there’s still a lot of love here in these troubled fields.”

Friday, June 17, 2011

Grocery Personalities

I have a confession to make. I like places that sell food. I like grocery stores. I like farmers’ markets. I like little stores chock full of things I can’t pronounce in the middle of China town. I like the way food is sorted, shelved, displayed, and sold. I think the places where locals can buy their food are very telling of how people live. I also think the food that people choose from these shelves is telling of who they are but that story is for another day. Whenever I have visited a new town, either for work or play, whether alone or not, I like to look at the places where people can buy food.

When my husband and I were in Albany, New York for a conference he was going to, we had brought along our little fellow who was only a few months old at the time. He wasn’t very easy to put to sleep so we often found ourselves roaming the streets at night trying to get him to settle. On a night when we were hoping to get the little one to sleep in his portable car seat bucket, we had hoped to head out for a late dinner with him sleeping at our side. Instead, he continued to be upset and wanted to keep moving around. As it was a cold and sleet-filled October night, we opted to do this movement in a grocery store with the bucket lodged inside the cart. My husband was restless and unhappy the entire time as we paced the aisles but I took note of everything on those shelves. It turned out that was to be the extent of our date. The grocery store. Our little guy never went to sleep the whole time and it was a strangely memorable night out with my hubby.

When I was heading up north for work last summer, I had a stopover in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Although this town can feel like the end of the road, there were more stops to make before we would get to our destination of Resolute Bay. In Iqaluit, I visited the North Mart. Like other big box stores it was lined with plastic gadgets (10 times more expensive than what I pay in my hometown) and other goodies besides food. The produce was limited but available, yet this was July. Winter months would be much leaner. This was apparently true for the towns I visited in Newfoundland as well. If produce came in at all, it would be very expensive and not always fall into the ‘freshly harvested’ category. Other grocery stores in the coastal towns along Baffin Bay sold things like animal furs and hunting gear.

North Mart in Iqaluit

The General Store in Pond Inlet, Baffin Island

After a May wedding, my husband and I spent the growing season on the farm and then took off to Europe for our honeymoon in October. I call this the food tour. We ate crepes on Paris street corners, croissants in the mornings and sampled cheese all around town. We had delicious pasta and gelato on the Mediterranean Sea in Italy and ate the most amazing squeaky cheese pizza in Milan. Some of the best food I have ever eaten was consumed during this trip.

A Pregnant Girl with her European Loot

I also had the benefit of the insatiable hunger that comes from being pregnant while I was there. My favourite part of that trip was our visit to a Farmers’ Market in Turin, Italy. You’d think we would have wanted to get away from what we call our ‘work’ but we couldn’t get enough of it. The displays were gorgeous with dried meats, fresh fish, delectable cheeses, bins of olives and spices, fresh figs, nuts and tomatoes. I could have spent my whole two weeks in this one spot and been happy.

Olives at Turin, Italy market

Farmers' Market in Turin

Spices in Nice, France

Recently we visited some friends in Manhatten and on the evening before we were leaving, our hosts were sitting around reading the newspaper and relaxing after the children were all in bed. That night I snuck out and walked the 20 or so blocks to the Fairway grocery store where each display was separated into little hut-like sections. One was full of different kinds of coffee beans in bushel baskets. Another was filled with dried meats and hard bricks of cheeses on cutting boards. There was a bakery section for freshly baked breads wafting their yeasty smells around.

Food does not have to be plentiful and excessively available to have a story. In East Africa, I lived among people who ate simply and sparingly. A biscuit-type bread and mangoes were common for breakfast, dinner was mashed cassava (a potato-like root vegetable) and boiled kidney beans or rice that may or may not have been washed free of sand. I also happened to be visiting during the month that Muslims observe Ramadan. This means that almost all of the local people were going without food or water from sun up to sun down (7am to 7pm as we were near the equator). Many would not swim in the water for fear of getting a splash in their mouth (and the outside temperature was very hot).

At 7:30pm each night on the island of Zanzibar a whole series of booths would be set up along the beach and an incredible feast was laid out. There were various meats grilled on sticks, freshly pressed tropical fruit juices, fish and other fruits and vegetables. Some things I could not recognize and some things made me scared but I tried each and every thing anyway. Although I was not fasting the entire day, most of the restaurants and stores were closed for the day that month.

Other Farmers’ Markets I have enjoyed include the Upper East Side market in Manhatten, the Hornby Island market in British Columbia, the St. Andrews by the sea market in New Brunswick and the one in Carp outside of Ottawa for the sundried tomato feta dip, pepperettes and homemade butter tarts. Last fall we biked from one end of the island of Montreal to the other to visit two different markets - although the number of vegetable re-sellers were disheartening at these markets, the ability to pedal your way across the big city was delicious!

I must admit that my favourite is the market in Halifax, Nova Scotia because of its excellent smoked salmon, multi-levels of artisans and other food producers. I have actually threatened to take the 3-hour flight to Halifax for the day just to go to this market again. Gorgeous. Delicious. Outstanding. Another that stands out as a frontrunner is the Ithaca, New York market. Besides gawking at the enviable vegetable displays, however, all I recall is eating the best refried bean and scrambled egg burrito on the planet.

Upper East Side Flea Market

Ithaca Farmer's Market

St. Andrews by the Sea Market

And of course, there is the Main Street market in Ottawa that we go to sell at every week. The sheep cheese there is award winning in my books. And every lunch hour I must wrestle with the decision between Sawaddee’s homemade Pad Thai or green curry. Little Stream Bakery also makes a girl want to quit baking bread in my opinion. The magic touch that goes into Graham’s spelt bread is something I’ve never been able to even remotely emulate. To die for.

Now a story a little closer to home. Just before Christmas, the grocery store near our home closed due to a labour dispute. In the past six months, stories about progress (or lack thereof) have been front-page news in our local paper. For a while it seemed as though the store would be closing for good, leaving the town of Shawville with little more than a discount store, a bulk wholesale food distributor and a butcher/deli (which is better than nothing, I know). The nearest grocery store is at least a half hour away from us. I did not realize how much I depended on my local store until it closed. Although far more than half of our food is stored from our land, there is still the baking powder, raisins, olive oil and many other things that I use regularly in our meals. Local businesses were reporting decreases in sales as much as 70% due to the mass exodus of people buying their food (and then other things) elsewhere.

Today I have learned that the store will be re-opening. When I went to pick up a few things at the Home Hardware store (which is attached to the grocery store), I saw a group of women collecting cleaning supplies and paper towels getting ready to re-stock the shelves that had been barren for months and months. You could hear the silent hum of ‘hallelujah’ in the air as this town was relieved of another hardship that it could barely fit onto its already steep pile of troubles. Coping with higher than normal rates of illness and unemployment are examples of what day-to-day life can be like around here. The news brought tears to my eyes. Something good. A grocery store.

Around the globe I went visiting food marts wherever I went. But as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz so aptly put it: ‘There is no place like home’.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Outside of Walls

It is difficult to farm entirely under Mother Nature’s rules. The very act of tilling up land to plant vegetables or confining animals involves a departure from how things would be left to their own devices in the wild. But we do our best. We do what we can. Of course I’m thinking what you’re thinking. We all have to eat, right? And these are ‘domestic’ plants and animals anyway – they are here because we put them here. But as farmers we have choices and I figure if these beings are going to give their lives to nourish us, we might as well make their living conditions safe, healthy, happy and nutritious.

This season marks the 20th anniversary that I slept outside in a tent for the first time. Incidentally, I learned to pee in the woods at this time too. What is so special about learning to sleep or pee outside, you might ask? Or how is it possible that a girl could continually find a washroom for 20 years without fail? How could she have gone that long without ever once pitching a tent for her slumber?

I remember the day I arrived at a tree planting camp with my white and pink hand-knit sweater, freshly washed hair and glasses that were getting annoying specks of rain on them. The other folks on the crew had also just arrived and it was time to set up camp. We were going to be at this remote site for a month so it was necessary to build a kitchen, outhouses, and a mess tent, and create our own living areas out of tarps, tents and clothes lines. (Most of the crew had bets that this city girl would quit - but because of the physical work, the surroundings, the friendships and the adventure, I returned for seven years).

After a couple of hours on that first day, I had my tent all set up but I really needed to go pee. I recall looking around and wondering exactly how this was to happen. How could I be absolutely sure that nobody would see me? Were there certain spots that made more sense than others? Did I need to go off the path? Bury it? I was so out of my element that I decided to actually wait for the outhouses to be dug. I waited another hour or so. I dared not tell anyone that I did not know how to pee outside.

That first day in the woods was the beginning of a new life for me. It was the awakening to the difference between one plant and another, knowing soils and weather as I know my best friends and having an eye for an animal or a plant hidden in a field. What I saw, smelled and heard in nature was a complete shift from what my senses knew for the first 20 years of my life. My body and mind came alive in this environment. I continued to live my life centered around the outdoors for work, play and adventures for each day that followed.

There was a time that I knew only the feeling of heat reflecting from concrete. I did not notice the smell of exhaust. I existed under artificial light. All of the plants in a field looked like a mass of indistinguishable green. The bird songs melted together with the sounds of crickets or frogs (or traffic for that matter). I took refuge every night under the cover of four walls with windows closed. I did not know what it was like to sleep under the stars. I did not know the sounds of the night. I did not know that sleeping in fresh air, preferably slightly chilly air, gives one the best sleeps ever! I never imagined that I would soon cross paths with a moose, a bear, a porcupine, a beaver, a cougar, a killer whale, an elephant, a gorilla, a wolf eel and many other wonders in their natural habitats.

I learned to wake up at exactly the same time of day without an alarm clock (6:02am). I could walk barefoot anywhere and preferred to have the different textures tickling the bottoms of my feet. I grew immune to mosquito and blackfly bites (but never the sound of them buzzing around my head!).

This journey into awe was complete without the influence of any mind-altering substances, I might add. I am far too much of a control freak to have fit in that way.

It was my brother who inspired me to move from the city of Montreal where I was living and working at the time to the great west coast of Canada to plant trees. As a disgruntled person wanting to get out of the fashion business I was ready to repel myself anywhere that would give me a new, fresh start. My parents were concerned that this was a bad decision for me. THey saw that my ability to be civilized was in jeopardy.

I want to go back and tell that terrified girl who had to pee like the dickens that its all gonna be okay. That everything will work out perfectly. To go into the great unknown as that is where she will find her new home.

I believe that the best places in the world are the ones that don’t have walls. The best places to sleep, eat and be are all outside under the great, big sky. And the farther you are away from those walls, the better it seems to be.

Today I put my pigs into their outdoor pen (including a shed for cover). They are ten weeks old now. When I let them out of the barn, they ran excited circles around each other in their yard of mud, sand piles, grass and straw. I don’t know much about what it is like to be a pig. But now they have the choice to sleep and pee outside in the grass. And they do.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Monkey and her 1 Million Buttons

Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love describes meditation as the experience of trying to tame a Monkey Mind. Your brain naturally wanders effortlessly between one distraction and the next like a monkey swinging through the trees. She also points out that the mind is a lot better off if you give it something to do rather than tell it what not to do. So she describes the need to focus on breath or a mantra while meditating as it keeps the monkey occupied. It is like asking the monkey to move 10000 buttons from one pile to another.

As part of the process of building a new packing and storage shed for our vegetables, a large pile of stones was delivered before the shed was up. This meant that we were in charge of moving the stones once the shed was built. We have no front loader on our tractor and no backhoe type thingie to do the job. We have a small scraping blade that fits on the back of our tractor, but with the soft sand the blade was not working well for moving the stones.

So the monkey had her pile of buttons.

Day one had the monkey loading 25 shovelfuls of stones into a wheel barrow and carting 20 loads to the back of the shed.

The monkey had help.

Day two another 20 loads were dumped across the shed floor. At this point the monkey was not willing to admit how much more there was to do.

Day three arrived and more help was offered. Although this time it was from a 3 year old boy that insisted that the stones were moved with a tractor. The monkey took time out of her wheelbarrow and shovel work to help the boy hook a wagon onto his peddle tractor and use this to cart stones. The wheelbarrow works much better, said the monkey. But the boy said that using the tractor was more fun.

How many times had the monkey noticed in her short farming career that more time (and money) was spent repairing or tinkering with a piece of equipment than it would have taken to do the job with manual labour? The monkey’s husband had once had horses to do heavy work and although they needed less repair than a tractor, the upkeep and cost grew unmanageable. This is a shame, because the monkey sure wishes she had those horses now.

Anyway, the monkey kept on with her loads of stones.

Her helpers would take breaks, but she continued on until a total of 70 wheelbarrow loads were done.

Then along came the men and their tractor to level out what was left of the pile.

The girls counted the number of stones in a shovelful. 475.

475 stones in a shovel, 30 shovelfuls per load, 70 loads.

1,000,000 buttons. But who's counting?


Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Weight of Things

Having come from a job where I was paid for a certain number of hours of work each day and contract work that had me counting the number of hours that I needed to bill, I now have an ingrained habit of assessing what is considered ‘work’ or not.

As a farmer, it can be difficult to know when the punch clock starts and when it ends. Parenting can be like that too, can’t it? Sometimes I do things and feel nothing but sheer joy. Sometimes the jobs at hand are nothing but a chore. Often the same job could take on different faces depending on the day.

What makes something ‘hard’ work? Is it how long it takes? How much money you make at it? How physical the job? How much you enjoy it or not? How repetitive it is? A new factor has come to mind that I believe has become the most important one of all in the final assessment. That is the emotional weight of a task.

For those of us who are prone to burn-out, it is a very good idea to know the difference between work that drains your body, mind and spirit and work that replenishes those things. We do not always have choices about the ways we spend our time but I believe we do have total and utter control over the net amount of energy we have at the end of a given day. If we are always drained, we are not letting enough of the stuff that fills us up into our lives.

I have spent far too many years driving myself into the ground and then wondering why I had no reserves left to face the next day. But recently, as the days flow more organically without punch clocks or deadlines (at least the kind I am used to), I have been able to notice that some jobs require more recovery than others. Interestingly, how long the job took, how much energy I gave to it, and what I accomplished actually don’t provide the measure for how much of a break I need afterwards.

I often get the question: ‘how do you have time to write a blog when you are so busy?’ Perhaps people question how you find time to exercise, do your art, read, surf social media… The answer for me is simple. The hour it takes to get a post up replenishes me in a way that gives me energy that I can give back to my family, my house, my friends and my farm. But how easy it is for us to not prioritize these things that give us back our energy?

On the flip side, as women, we seem particularly good at ignoring the emotional cost of the events in our lives. Yet emotional impact doesn’t forget about us! It sneaks up and builds gardens of weeds around our hearts and stone beds across the backs of our necks then winds us up or weighs us down. We are told to get over the worry, the stress, the effects that life can have on us. It can apparently dissipate if we could just get a handle on the right attitude. Good then.

I pride myself on being nothing if not resourceful. If there is a way to wash my slate clean every time a situation or a comment or an event got the better of me, I would have figured it out by now! What I have not tried is letting the darn worry have its way with me and then pack its bag and head on out.

Somehow, noticing that certain happenings in the day carry different emotional price tags has helped me budget my energy better. If I fill up time because time is there to be filled, I often run over my emotional quota for the day. Yet if I give things their proper due and stand back or lay low when a heavy day sets in, I find my recovery time much better.

Maybe you’re somebody who sails at an even keel most of the time. Maybe you don’t know what I’m talking about with this emotional quota business. I’ve always wanted to be just like you, you know? But with some decades behind me now, I’ve learned that I best accept the way the wind blows.

Now throughout each day I keep better track of how things are taking their toll. My choice is to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere or budget my energy so that I can get home to my husband and kids every night ready to be fully alive and present with them.

We are all sentient beings that are meant to feel things as we go through life. It is inevitable that we will brush up against pain, grief, sorrow, worry, loss, conflict, fear etc. I don’t think its good to dwell in these places, but to acknowledge their presence and taking a break might be just the ticket to getting free of them.

We are not meant to conquer the planet. Only this one little world we have created for ourselves. I’m learning that a little well-timed kindness goes a long way.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

To Homeschool or not to Homeschool

We are often asked if we are going to homeschool our children. I suppose it is our lifestyle that prompts this question as most people in our situation (somewhat educated people who have chosen to live on a piece of land in the countryside and grow and/or sell food ‘organically’. We’ve been labeled hippies and alternative, ‘those people who recycle’, radical…

My husband and I have had many discussions about whether or not homeschooling would be a good option for our children. Which side of the fence we land on is ever shifting. People give very excellent reasons for wanting to put their children in school or educate them at home. Our decision seems to move with the tides of the best reasons we’ve heard to date.

Here are some of the top reasons that I’ve heard about why people choose homeschooling:
1. To avoid bullying, premature sexual encounters, or emotional abuse for children who appear different in some way.
2. Wanting to ensure certain religious values have been instilled (apparently the bible says that parents should teach their children and not teachers).
3. To be more efficient with time allotted for learning – instead of having your child spend the vast majority of the 6 hour school day being part of the disciplining and organizing of a group of students.
4. Children having difficulty academically at school, possibly due to behavioural issues.
5. To spend energy on loyalty to the family unit (as opposed to investment in peers or the ‘system’).
6. To have more variety in what is being learned including more focus on music, dance, theatre, painting and other arts, nature, practical skills (building things, sewing, knitting, growing food, butchering animals etc.), interacting with society outside of an institution and more time to learn these things during the day rather than around homework commitments in the evening.
7. For socialization (yes, you read that right). To learn how to communicate with the elderly, with siblings and other family members and a wider scope of individuals in public rather than just their peers.
8. To avoid the assembly line system so often used in schools. Each teacher must move the program along regardless of varying levels of knowledge or skills in the students.
9. To avoid confirming the values of peers including consumer desires, money, status, fashion, musical influences…
10. To seek a more natural order to the day, in touch with the rhythms of the season, life with family at home (or on a farm). To spend time teaching things that can be applied throughout life.

Here are some examples of reasons why people choose not homeschool (this is not meant to be a comprehensive list of reasons to send your child to school though):
1. Parents do not feel qualified (or patient enough) to teach their children.
2. Parents don’t have time because they are earning two incomes or have other commitments.
3. Parents need time away from being a parent.
4. Concern over the lack of socialization or fitting into society if child isn’t in school.
5. Concern that the child is being sheltered from reality of the world if child is not in school.
6. Most other kids are in school during the day, therefore, less interaction with peers and less in common with most children.
7. Keeping intelligent, conscientious children away from the school system does not solve the problem of a faulty system. It is best to work within the system to instill positive change.
8. Your child will be too clever and won’t fit in or will not be learning the standard, government curricula and therefore, will fall behind if ever they enter the system.
9. “Pet” projects that parents would like to teach their children can be taught on weekends, during the evenings or in summer.
10. There are good schools available (alternative, public or private) that are suitable for the child’s particular needs.

As in all things that are important and matter greatly in people’s lives, I have learned that decisions surrounding schooling inspire passion in people. There is a lot of guilt, defensiveness and personal experiences at work when it comes to choosing what is best for our children (and ourselves!) when it comes to educating our kids and it can be awfully tricky to find ground that we are comfortable with and are willing to stand up for. When the decisions are only for our own individual selves, it is easier to make big commitments but as soon as there will be more than just us affected, the pressure is on!

The point is that when the stakes are this high the decision is not just a practical one. With education we could be talking about influencing our child’s ability to interact with other human beings, know how the world works, acquire a set of useful skills, function in complicated situations, compile knowledge, feel secure and confidant, apply creative thinking and the endless other things we might hope that our children will get from their schooling experience. Making a decision around educating your child is emotional, related to our value systems, dependent on logistics and available resources (time and money). Choosing how to educate our children is not as easy as 1-2-3.

My personal fears related to home schooling are that I’m afraid I won’t have the patience to be my children’s educator. I’m afraid I won’t be able to teach them what they need to know. That I am not a very good example. That I need time to myself more than I’m able to admit and having them around me all day will drive me bonkers.

I do worry that my children will not know how to interact in groups of other children if I sequester them away at home. I want my children to feel like they belong to the world. I don’t necessarily need them attached to my apron strings until the day they move out to marry but I also want to make sure they feel grounded from their upbringing at home.

If we do choose to send them to a school away from home, I want to be ready and able to respond to any situation that isn’t working out for them. Perhaps they aren’t able to keep up. Perhaps they are coming home and acting distant. Perhaps some kid said something crude and disturbing to them and they are afraid to go back the next day. Perhaps they have trouble learning certain things or they get bored easily and act out. All of these things may be the impetus to taking my kid out of school for a period.

But if I can focus on what I do believe I have to offer as a teacher at home, it is a lifestyle that provides the opportunity to learn true life-skills. Around here on any given day we build things, grow things, process things, feed things, find things, solve problems, work together with others, manage resources, interact with the public, express ideas, figure out creative ways of doing things. I can’t imagine a better list of things to offer a child exposure to! And in executing these, there is always math and reading and writing and physical activity and creativity. I would hope to include music lessons, dance, free play, nature exploration, visiting the elderly in homes or hospitals, playing games, making up games, teaching our new elderly friends our games.

I have never been a teacher. But I have taught myself many of the things that I know. Even in university I rarely attended classes (don’t tell my kids this) and had to go home and learn the material on my own time, my own way. I taught myself to play guitar and sing and write songs. I taught myself to grow, cook and process food (even my ‘farmer’ husband couldn’t get a word in edgewise). I taught myself to become strong enough to run long distances, lift heavy things and hike tall mountains. I don’t think what I have to offer is superior to the teachers available in schools today – that is for certain. But in my own family, in our own home, with the two people I am blessed to have a part of my life, I do envision offering a coherent approach to life that blends family life with learning.

I believe that educators today are some of the most dedicated and well-armed people to be teaching our children (at least many of the ones I know). Unfortunately the system is bigger than all of our greatness put together. And like many well-meaning government teams (last year I was part of one), it is very difficult to change the wheels on a moving vehicle. And I don’t know if that means we should jump out of the vehicle and walk or stay in it and try to change within the system.

I also keep bumping up against the fact that I really enjoy time to myself. When my children were younger, I held my breathe for a very long time because there was so little time alone. Yet raising newborn babies is so incredibly magical that even the staunchest of hermits couldn’t resist spending their every waking moment with one of them. And being a part of children growing and learning is a gift. I am not going to miss out on this special time. But sometimes, I tell you, I really need a minute to myself, you know?

I really don’t know what will happen next. In the fall my daughter is slated to start kindergarten at a French school up the road. Things are complicated further by the fact that we are Anglophones in a French-speaking province. I need my children to learn French. And everything I know about learning languages is that it facilitates expansion in the brain and provides a greater ability to learn other things when the mind is exercised in this way. I don’t know if I can teach French. But I could try!

Right now I imagine keeping my two children home together somewhere between Grades 2 and 6. That's my latest thought - but things will change. My husband is still all ears for the evolving ideas.

I welcome any and all feedback on this issue. I am not sold to either side and the discussion is still very wide open. It is true that many folks living our lifestyle choose to homeschool their children. But as always, we’re not all ‘many folks’ are we? We’re our own cases. And that deserves some attention as well, I figure.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Runaway Mama

A little over eight years ago my mother and I went to a spa together. It was at a time in my life where I was picking up some pieces and wasn’t very happy with the way things were going. I lived alone in a bachelor apartment downtown (and wanted to live in the country), I was single (and hoped to find a partner one day) and worked at a job where I was still trying to find something I was good at and enjoyed. Needless to say I was ready for change.

One of the sessions at the spa was with a Reiki practitioner who many of the other ladies had said was fantastic. I was game. Immediately I was told that I had a rare silver light surrounding my entire body. Without telling her anything about myself I asked her what that meant. She said it usually related to a huge shift in one’s life in the very near future. A handful of months later, I bought a farm with my best friend (current husband) and my life changed completely – and for the better.

Roughly translated from Japanese, Reiki refers to a non-physical energy that flows through all living things connecting them to the wisdom of the universe. The person who administers Reiki will basically hold their hands above a 'broken' place on a person's body and unblock the flow of this energy, healing the person as a result. My husband is very good at this practice and often unwinds my nervous stomach or spinning head if I can’t sleep. The way I see it, he is a pretty calm and collected fellow most of the time and I’m hitching onto his vibe if you will.

This month has been a busy one for us. Things going wrong, large projects planned and underway, the usual May planting and seeding extravaganza. This is the first year I mostly have the kids home with me while I work. It has been a juggling act to say the least.

We now have our new packing shed mostly erected, our vehicles are mostly functioning (save for one), the fields are finally drying enough to get transplants out and the pigs and chickens are arriving and settling in. It feels as though we are now in the busy-ness as usual phase rather than the steep growth or recovery stage. This makes me feel relieved.

Today being the first day that I’ve felt that I’ve been able to come up for air for weeks, I asked Rob if it was okay if I took a tour off by myself. The intensity of being with the children and driving forward all of our farm affairs had finally caught up with me. I needed a minute to myself to breathe.

So I started to drive towards the city. Once I got there, I kept going. Part of me wanted to keep driving the two hours it took to get to Montreal from Ottawa. The open windows, the sun, the quiet, the predictability of the car’s movements was all I needed to heal from this busy time. I did eventually stop and busy myself before getting too far out of town.

The life I have is one that I asked for, prayed for, longed for, worked hard for. But in the whirlwind it is easy to get lost in it. Watering plants, feeding pigs, wiping bottoms, tidying floors, getting ready for markets. The bucket of demands is bottomless. I have learned that the only way to stop doing what needs to be done is to leave. And today I was blessed with some time and space on my own. My husband also heals me by giving me this without doubting my need for it. I have a very hard time taking it, but it is helpful that I am the only one who questions the necessity of it.

I listened to one of my favourite songs by Lucinda Williams in the car as tears of relief streamed down my face. Here are some of the lyrics.

Lucinda Williams – Side of the Road

You wait in the car on the side of the road
Lemme go and stand awhile,
I wanna know you're there but I wanna be alone
If only for a minute or two
I wanna see what it feels like to be without you
I wanna know the touch of my own skin
Against the sun, against the wind

If I stray away too far, don't go and try to find me
It doesn't mean I don't love you,
it doesn't mean I won't come back and stay beside you
It only means I need a little time
To follow that unbroken line
To a place where the wild things grow
To a place where I used to always go.

I’m home now. Exactly where I want to be. There are children sleeping peacefully upstairs and dogs lying on the floor, a husband eating brownies in the living room, cats and chickens and pigs and cows nestled in the barn.

Recently I looked up silver light and Reiki. I’m no Master, this is sure. But one thing I kept finding was that everyone has a basic colour that surrounds them all of the time and other colours just flow around this one. And guess which colour that is? Silver.

All these years I had told the story as if I had been singled out as having had this special silver aura. Instead, it is possible that I'm just like everybody else. She probably showed me that I had the power to build the life I wanted. I believed that change was possible and so many good things started rushing in faster than I could hold them.

And that is a silver lining that I’m grateful for. I’m especially grateful on days like today.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Grown-Up Princesses

My daughter is five. She spends a great deal of time telling us which princess is her favourite. She has also taught her little brother to have a favourite princess as well. I am required to give a regular update of which one is my favourite. If I should change my choice, the record keeping must reflect this important change. Today I was asked at breakfast about who my favourite princess was. Usually I say Ariel, the mermaid princess. But this time the name Miranda came out. ‘Who?’ A character from Sex and the City. But they were not Princesses. Or were they?

I don’t know whether you ever got into that HBO show but at the time I was utterly addicted. I ordered cable because of it. I made sure the night it was on was clear and clean. If I had to record it, I made sure there was back up. The show made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me judge and wince, contemplate and be disgusted. But most of all, it comforted me.

If you are not aware it was a show about four women who were single (and then not), growing up in their thirties and forties, and figuring out their careers, romance, friendship, sex and the inner circles of New York City. It was racy, sure. But there was something paradoxically tender about the storylines. The writing was impeccable. The characters were believable even though they seemed to be caricatures.

Each woman had a stereotypical slant. One was the whore (Samantha). The other was the prude (Charlotte). The other was the lawyer geek (Miranda). And the main character, was, well, the girl we all wish we were but know we could never be. She was whimsical, smart, successful, neurotic, shallow, frivolous, skinny, poor or rich depending on the season, single or taken depending on the season, a trustworthy friend or a deceitful, self-absorbed hag depending on the episode (or the scene). She was also the parts of us we wish weren’t there. She was Carrie Bradshaw.

But what a guilty pleasure I took in studying these women. It was a relief to know that I was not alone in my obsession as there were people writing PhD theses on these women. Why was it acceptable to love these women who gave themselves away to men, fashion and the good old dream of money and status? Had I not grown out of such fantasies back in the day of my Disney Princess phase?

But that’s just it isn’t it? I’m not sure we do grow out of our Princess phase. It just shifts a little. We still long for magic and wonder in our lives. We want to sing with the animals in the forest and feel the backwards pull of a billowing heavy dress and the clic clac of our shoes as we walk down the staircase. We want a partner on our arm. Incidentally people have written PhD theses on Disney Princesses as well. Capital ‘F’ Feminism is having a field day with these characters.

I admit that I love to watch Disney movies with my daughter. I think her favourite right now is Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. Something about the pink dress AND the blue dress options are exciting to her. Some days Princess Jasmine gets the win for obvious reasons.

But, my daughter can still climb around in the dirt with the best of them. She bosses around her boy friend at day care in ways that make me cringe. She shows no signs of submission and seems to understand that the world is her oyster. She is kind to others but makes certain she keeps her share of control. She is smart and knows it.

I prefer to push a wheelbarrow full of stones or compost around instead of dragging a ballroom dress but I understand the excitement of dressing up pretty. I kind of like it under a rare moon. My daughter does too.

I’m sure these depictions on the screen of women are costing us something. But I’m not sure it is all as bad as some make it out to be. There is as much or more concern lately of racism showing its ugly head in Disney movies – but that is a whole other story. I believe we are in a position to differentiate between fantasy and reality – and as parents we have the opportunity to point out the distinction to our children. We can teach our children to dream, create and expand like in the movies but still intimately know our place in the earthly order of things.

I loved Miranda in Sex and the City because she was quirky, blunt, did not know all of her strengths, was generous but only in guarded ways, worked hard, read trashy magazines and cared deeply. I rooted for her. I wanted her to find happiness through the fog of working too much, yelling at people too often, and eating too much ice cream.

These people are not real. I know that. But watching them play out their lines on the stage, I see a bit of myself in them. Or perhaps an image of what I wish to be – if only in an alternate reality – or my perception that day. Sometimes I think I find comfort that I am not one stitch like any of these people. I want them to get a grip and buy clothes that don’t need dry-cleaning or start cutting their hair themselves instead of wading through all this beauty B.S.

So I guess Miranda is my favourite princess. Perhaps one day I’ll find a new one. And even if she grows a tail and goes to live in the ocean, I will still look to her for that magical little escape.

Somehow, by contrast or example, she helps me see that I am already everything I want to be and have everything I wish to have. I think that’s just a grown-up kind of Happily Ever After.