Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Cranky Crow Squawks on Mother's Day

It was a busy week, but I did intend to write a blog yesterday. Unfortunately, the crow was unusually uncooperative and cranky.

“I suppose it’s going to be a warm and fuzzy Mother’s Day blog,” she muttered petulantly.

“And what’s wrong with that?” I asked.

“Don’t bother,” said the crow. “Everybody already knows what you will say. You’ll tell everyone how much you loved your mom and all the mother-figures in your life."

Embro, 1954

"You’ll say how wonderful motherhood is – how it added colour and sparkle to your days," the crow continues. "You’ll add a little tear-jerker vignette about the time your kids brought you breakfast in bed. How you wish you could go back to those days."

Devon, Christmas 1978

"Just don’t bother," warns my inner crow, "because everyone else is already writing those blogs or articles in the newspaper. Go have a beer in the garden and enjoy the flowers instead. Don’t waste my time.”

When the crow speaks, I’ve learned to listen. I went out to the garden and enjoyed the beer and the flowers – and then felt guilty because I hadn’t written a blog praising all the women in my life. Because guilt is what mothers do best. 

This morning the crow prodded me some more. She said, “If you’re really going to write a blog, tell the truth.” Ay-yay-yay. Really?

The truth is, Mother’s day makes ME cranky. It bugs me that commercial interests have taken it over. It bugs me that advertisers are dictating to us what the perfect mother’s day looks like, and how the best mothers behave. It bugs me when I read wonderful flowery tributes to the perfect super-mom. It's all about hearts and flowers and butterflies.

I’m cranky because Mother’s Day makes me feel inadequate. The truth is, when they plunked that bundle of new life into my arms, I did not feel an instant gush of mother-love. It took me weeks to bond with that baby (but he turned out great, anyway.) The truth is, when older women saw me mothering my troupe at the playground and told me to enjoy it while it lasts because these are the best times in your life, I wanted to scream. Really? These are the best days? Please don’t tell me that. Tell me it gets better. (It did! And those kids survived and thrived in spite of me.)

The truth is, there were days when I parked myself on the sofa with a novel and put my children on hold, with only one ear cocked to listen for sounds of distress. (Actually, the kids cooperated beautifully – maybe they didn’t want mom hovering over them all the time.) The truth is, I shoved my kids out the door to do their afternoon paper route instead of going with them to help them. The truth is, I was sometimes to tough on them. The truth is, sometimes – well, more than sometimes – I lost my temper and did things that embarrass me now, like packing up their coats and boots that were littering the back hall into a plastic garbage bag and making them pay to get them back. That’ll teach them to hang things up, I thought grimly. Really? I did that? Yes. Like I said, embarrassing behaviour.

Yes, I’m cranky because Mother’s Day makes me feel inadequate. The truth is, I was a fair to middling mom, like almost everyone else I know. As my friend told me recently, we did the best with the choices we had. We muddled through with the skills we had, we made mistakes, and yet, in spite of all that, the kids are all right. And I am so glad that I am their mother; I'm intensely proud of them all.

And now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I want to say something about Mother’s Day that’s really, really important. There is no substitute for mothering love; it shapes who we are and how we view ourselves. The thing is, it comes in so many shapes and varieties. I have had, and still do have, the most amazing people in my life who fulfilled, and still provide, a mothering role, and they include both women and men. My mom and Oma shared their unconditional love and made me feel incredibly valued; my aunts and uncles have been there forever with their kindness, concern and inspiration. My sisters are always there to pick me up when I fall down, and my children and their spouses know just when to give me the hugs I crave and words of wisdom that leave me in awe. My best man, the resident sweetie, lets me cry on his shoulder without feeling like he has to fix me, and listens to my grumbles. Occasionally, he even sets me straight when I need it. My friends, both single and married, both mothers and not, both men and women, listen and laugh, and tell me the truth about myself, with love, of course. Mentors have brought out the best in me and opened up my heart to new adventures. And even the stern church ladies and elders of my youth have had their role in teaching me the value of hard work and practical acts of kindness. Surrounding all that, there’s Creator God, who delights and encourages me in my struggles to become all that I’m meant to be. These are all forms of mothering love, and perhaps on Mother’s Day we need to honour these forms, too. After all, it takes a village to raise a child.

It comforts me to know that I do not have to be the perfect mother to my children, the perfect grandmother to my grandies, because they too have people in their lives to fulfill the mothering roles that are so vitally important to our emotional health. Not all of them are mothers, either.

As I’ve been writing this down, the cranky crow has settled down. Her feathers are no longer ruffled, and she’s tucked her head under her wing for a rest. Like a mother, she knows her job is done – until the next time. Thanks, Crow.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

New Math

I’m not good at math. But lately I’ve been noodling over some interesting equations. This new math is pretty simple. There are no rules to follow, no “carry the one” to worry about.

                                    1 + X = 2 much.    1 - 1 = enough.

I’ve been noodling over these equations since the beginning of the year, when I chose the word SUBTRACT as my word for the year. (See blog post January 27).  I chose it because of a quote I read during a very busy period in my life, when I felt as though I was shriveling up inside.

Growing the soul: that is, growing the most essential part of us. When we’re born, we come ‘trailing clouds of glory from God, who is our home,” as the poet Wordsworth expressed it.

There's nothing quite like a prairie sky to give us an image of "clouds of glory." This fibre art piece was created by Saskatchewan artist Cindy Hoppe. Check out more of her amazing work at this link:

But the clouds of glory – the delight in every living thing –  that children express so openly, often disappears quickly. The bumps and bruises of life inflict wounds, and our essential selves, the best we could be, is covered over with scar tissue.

Who are we really, after all? What’s there under the scar tissue? It’s a question so many people, especially as we grow older, ask ourselves. Have we been living our best lives? Have we been authentic, and do we live with integrity? Does what you see on the outside measure up to what you are on the inside?

These are big questions. Perhaps that’s why they often rise to the surface as we get older, when there is more time to noodle about such things. And some of us noodle deeper and harder than others. Perhaps, even now, your eyes are glazing over, wondering what on earth this old crow is squawking about.

If so, dear reader just skip the next few paragraphs and go straight to the end. SUBTRACT  a large piece of this blog post from your to-do list. There, did that feel good? Then you've got the gist of this blog.

But if some of you are ready to dig a little deeper, read on.

When we realize that we can’t always answer the big questions, we often blame ourselves for not engaging enough with spiritual practices. We should be praying more, we tell ourselves; we should be meditating more, taking more yoga classes and living with more mindfulness. We need more and longer quiet times, times of reflection. More. We need to do more.

Meister Eckhart disagrees. Our soul – the very essence of who we are – does not grow by adding all kinds of burdens; instead, it grows when we subtract, pare down, simplify. This concept appealed to me. 

Now the year is already 1/3 gone. How’s this word working for me, I ask myself. Actually, it is a good word, and more than once in the last few months I’ve been stopped in my tracks by it.

It echoes in my mind as I mull over the purchase of yet another pair of pants or essential collectible in the local thrift shop. Subtract, not add, I remind myself. Instead of buying more, I cleaned out my closets and drawers and gave much of it away. It felt good. Even better was the soul searching that accompanied it. Have I fallen  into society’s addiction to material goods? Why? And if I indulge, am I just adding more distractions to my spiritual growth?

I also hear the word  SUBTRACT whispered in my ear when I am restless, driven with the compulsion to jump into yet another project. People who are creative are prone to get carried away by great ideas that all clamor for fulfillment. But the reality is that as you grow older you have less energy. You find you just can’t do it all! (Sob, sob.) Maybe making that onion jam wasn’t such a great idea, considering how many hours it consumed of your time. Live and learn, I tell myself; not all these projects are conducive to becoming your best self. Narrow down your choices.

Subtract is my watchword as I give away three boxes of research books I used when I wrote Sunday School curriculum – it was one of the tracks on my career path, but I am not on that path anymore. It is time to subtract it from my life – fondly kiss it goodbye and fill that empty space with gratitude for a wonderful experience.

Subtract, I tell myself, as I consider environmental issues. My choices today impact the future of the world, the future of the children who come after us. We are connected to every other living thing. Our actions now have lasting consequences. Subtract the number of indelible footprints you leave behind for the next generation. 

I can think of many more compulsions, habits, and attitudes to subtract: harsh judgements, negative thoughts, unkind criticism to name a few. Every subtraction makes room for better things – mercy, hope, compassion, kindness -- that nourish my soul and let it gently unfold. There are a lot of layers between the outer me and the inner me, but I am peeling them away bit by bit. It’s not easy to subtract these ingrained patterns of living. I am definitely a work in progress, and have a long way to go.

But at this point in the year, I like how the new math is helping me grow.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Fighting Words

Today, I need to write about conflict. To tell the truth, I’d rather write about onion jam any day. Easy peasy. But the crow has been squawking, and I can no longer ignore her.

It's all about conflict: fight, battle, struggle, strife, controversy, quarrel, discord, antagonism, opposition, collision, incompatibility ...

The crow is in a flap about conflict, but I am the classic conflict avoider. So was my mom, who would resort to martyr-like sighs whenever she was upset about something. This would send dad into the basement to putz around in his workshop, where we could hear him banging around and mumbling nonsense syllables. You can’t fight with a conflict avoider.  But once, when I was a kid, I recall mom and dad  actually having a loud and prolonged argument It upset me so much I ran for the bathroom, locked the door, knelt by the side of the tub, and prayed like mad  that God would restore peace to our home.

I still want to run away when conflict erupts. If people in a meeting start arguing with each other, I want to grab my coat and run for home. That meeting is so over for me. Why can’t we just listen to each other?

Which is why my inner crow is squawking so loudly: I am in distress. Last week I visited my sister in Alberta, a province where I lived for 33 years. For the last 12 years, we’ve been residents of British Columbia. I love both these provinces. But now they are fighting with each other, pointing fingers, threatening, accusing each other of heinous deeds and malevolent intentions. If you are Canadian, you know this. If you aren’t, briefly, the conflict centers on oil; land locked Alberta mines tar sands and needs pipelines to send unrefined bitumen to ports to be shipped to other countries for refining; Alberta’s economy depends very, very heavily on oil and oil production. BC has the ports, but says, hold on a minute, we don’t want to build more pipelines on our lands and increase shipping traffic along our coastlines. We’re taking the risks, but there is nothing in it for us. And besides, why are we encouraging the production of more products that increase global warming? In the meantime, the company that needs the pipeline is threatening to pull out, and the situation continues to escalate. It will take the wisdom of the Dalai Lama to figure this one out.

What am I to do in this situation? My facebook friends from Alberta, and some from BC, are sending out scathing memes; people who protest the pipelines are probably paid protestors from the US, they say. BC citizens who are against the pipeline are selfish, naive, and basically idiots, pawns of the snowflake environmental movement. Hypocrites, too: they’re still driving cars, aren’t they? BC politicians are digging in their heels, launching court cases that are doomed to failure, but which may buy them time to come up with alternative strategies. The contra-pipeliners cite dozens of reasons why this project should not go ahead, but can’t seem to get it together and speak with a unified voice. While it appears from here that everyone in Alberta is mad at BC, there are folks in BC who agree with Alberta’s stand. Many British Columbians work in the Alberta oilpatch; they want to keep their jobs. I throw up my hands in confusion. What am I to think?

Google tells me conflict avoiders tend to change the subject, or they run and hide (shutting down FB would be one example), or they smile and agree with both sides. They are people pleasers.  None of these tactics leads to lasting resolution, and may just increase stress. Hence, the crow is squawking, “Stand up! Let your voice be heard.”

So I will. My view on this conflict is inspired by a billboard I saw on our recent trip. The billboard flashed past as we sped along in  the 4-lane river of vehicles stretched out as far as the eye could see. The billboard was split in half; one photo showed people like us living the good life. The words said, “Our choices today”. The other half showed young children’s faces; it read, “Their future tomorrow.” Just sit with those words for a moment. THEIR future. Our choices today impact not only us, but the future of our children and the generations that follow. This world doesn’t belong to just us. In fact, every action we take has consequences for every other being, for we are all interconnected.

The irony of this situation does not escape me: I am reading this billboard as we are consuming gasoline and contributing to climate change, hurtling down these roads to visit a warmer climate. We don’t live in a world of easy choices.

But on this issue, I must choose, and stand, and speak. It’s possible that eventually the pipeline will go ahead to satisfy the short-term needs of many, including myself, I also believe it is the wrong choice in the long run, and will bring suffering and pain to this planet we call home. There, I said it.

The crow stops squawking...but only for a moment. Then she says, “That’s a start. But words are words are words. Now what are you going to DO?”

The journey continues. Stay tuned.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Jamming it Up

It started out as an adventure, chasing a rabbit called Marmalade down the rabbit trails of my mind. That was last week's blog. It ended up with 10 jars of onion marmalade sitting on my counter. And how did that happen? Well, as they say, “thereby hangs a tale” (or tail?)

Over coffee with friends, I shared my ponderings about making onion jam for my brother-in-law. Was  it really worth the trouble – cutting up kilos of onions, stirring for hours, bottling and processing. They looked at me like I was one onion short of a basketful. “Surely you’re not going to do that!” they said. “And if you are, he must be some brother-in-law.” Well, yes, he is, but there’s more at work here.

What it’s all about is that I have terrier instincts.

Once I’m on the scent of something, it’s hard to stop me. (Just ask the RS.) Onion marmalade was the golden grail, shining in the distance. I had to hunt it down, to see what it was like.

If Martha can do can I. Simple, right?
First step: find a good recipe. I checked with faithful Google. One recipe mentioned cooking it up in a slow cooker, eliminating the hours of stirring. Easy-peasy, they said. It was another thing to find a definitive ingredient list. Red onions? Sweet onions? Sure, whatever. One recipe matched onions and sugar one to one by weight. Another called for 100 gm. sugar to 3 kg. onions. One called for wine and vinegar, another for paprika and mustard seeds. It seemed as though, whatever you decided, you couldn’t go wrong. So, I decided, like Frank Sinatra, to just do it my way, which is making it up as I go along. That’s what a terrier does, right?

Next step: buy the onions. Well, now, 3 lbs/$2.97, or 10 lbs./$4.97? I’m Dutch, so what do you think I did? Right. The big bag came home with me. The corollary to a big bag of onions is a big batch of jam. The corollary to that is a big cooking pot, lots of jars, lids, etc. Check. Oh, oh, I should have bought sugar, too. Oh, well, probably brown sugar will do if I run out of white. Maybe even corn syrup. Terriers are not all that fussy.

And then I make my first mistake (if you don’t count deciding to do it, and forgetting to buy sugar the first mistakes). I had decided to go with the slow cooker method, but I didn’t get started till 2 p.m. Would it be done by the time I wanted to go to bed? Oh, well, I’d use the high setting on the slow cooker. We shall see what we shall see. Easy peasy, remember? You can’t go wrong. Terriers aren’t so great at planning ahead.

Down from the high shelf came the Cuisinart, only used when I get similar hair-brained ideas. Al watched the tears rolling down my cheeks as I peeled the first onion – only 9 left to go. He took pity on me. Now you might think this is above and beyond the call of duty, and it is, but not quite as masochistic as you might think. He’s been known to chop 10 pounds of onions by hand at the local soup kitchen with not a single tear burning his eye. With Al at the controls of the Cuisinart, the job was done in jig time. What a guy! Love him.

It turns out that 10 onions is way too much for one crock pot. Out came the second one. Well, if I’m making two batches, I should try two flavours – one simple sweet one with a bit of brown sugar, one with a bit of bite and spice with the addition of paprika, mustard, vinegar, and more sugar. Why keep it simple if you can make it complicated?

The hours ticked by, and the kitchen smelled like simmering onions, not a bad smell on a cold rainy day. But by 11 p.m., my onion marmalade looked more like onion soup. I turned the heat down, and went to bed. One online cook had said that’s what she did when it took longer than planned to become jammy.

Are you getting tired of this blow-by-blow cooking adventure story? I am. So I’ll skip over the part about getting up at 12:30 a.m. and turning the crock pots off to quell the bad dreams I was having about the house burning down. And I won’t go into details about additional spices and vinegars and sugars that needed to be added to make the jams tasty and cover up the musty paprika smell.

Ras-el Hanut is a Turkish spice mix. It had been sitting in my cupboards just waiting for a dish in which it could make an appearance.
Nor will I wail about finally having to resort to stove-top cooking to get it to jammy consistency -- 22 hours after I started this gig. Turns out slow cookers are not so easy-peasy after all.

Here’s the end result:

Oh, and this:

Al came home just as I was leaving to run some errands. I said I’d do the dishes later. When I came home a few hours later, this is what I found:

Like I said, he’s a keeper. He taste-tested the sweet onion jam on a slice of bread and said it was very good. I hope Don thinks so too.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Chasing down Rabbits

Well, the rabbits have been busy blazing new trails in my head this week.

Does that happen to you, too? You’re sitting there minding your own business, and then, suddenly, the puffy tail of one of those little creatures peeks out from an opening between your brain cells and runs off.  You could ignore this invitation to follow the rabbit and see where it leads you, but what’s the fun in that? So you are off on another mind adventure, like a terrier chasing a delicious scent. You might get lost, unable to find your way home again for a while, but the chase – well the chase is worth it.

The rabbit first appeared as I was sitting at the breakfast table all alone, a book open in front of me. Absent-mindedly I took a bite of toast, and wow! Fireworks! Yellow splashes of sunshine! I sat up straight and regarded my jammy toast. Of course – kumquat marmalade – the taste of it brought memories of Phoenix, and warmth, and experimentation with sugar, kumquats and canning jars. That’s all it took.  The rabbit called Marmalade was off and running.

Marmalade: what a lovely word. The mmmmms and the llllls roll off your tongue with a little help from the rrrrrrs. I’d never made marmalade before, but I’m sure I’ll do it again, if I ever see kumquats on the grocery store shelves.

Kumquats – there’s another – but no, that’s another rabbit, another trail. Stick to marmalade..

 Which reminded me: I’m going to visit my sister and brother-in-law next week, and Don once posted a picture of a British pub lunch that featured onion marmalade; he wondered plaintively why nobody ever made onion jam anymore. When I looked up the recipe, I was daunted by the pounds of onions and hours of simmering it would take, and nixed it. But wouldn’t it make a nice gift to bring to him? Yes, I do have other things to do, but this trail smells good. I think I’ll do it, but don’t tell him. He doesn’t read my blog, so it will be a surprise.

Do other people make marmalade? Do they still do canning and preserving? It’s so easy to just pick up a few jars of jam or pickles or chutney at the grocery store – why go to the time and trouble of creating all those jars of stuff? But it’s something I enjoy. Sometimes I get the urge, and can away to my heart’s content. The kitchen smells oh so yummy when that happens. Right now I have applesauce, tomato sauce, tomato jam, relish, 2 kinds of chutney, pears and more sitting on my shelves. Why? Maybe because the flavours that tickle your taste buds are ones you yourself added to the pure goodness of the fruits and vegetables, and maybe, like my marmalade, the tastes burst out in your mouth like nothing else, bringing back memories of their original state. Maybe. Or maybe I'm just crazy. Maybe. It’s another trail to explore another time.

Not yet, though, because the words canning and preserving give me another rabbit to chase. A week or so ago, my quilting friend Lorraine wrote about the Jesuit Pear – a heritage pear brought from France by the first Jesuit missionaries to the area where she grew up in SW Ontario. Some of those pears still survive hundreds of years later. You can read her blog and look at the wonderful art she has created based on these pears.  (Yes, you'll be running down a new rabbit trail, but it's worth it. I'll still be here when you come back.)

Lorraine's blog made me think of my mother’s “stoofpeertjes” (pronounced stofe pairtches). The name means “little stew pears,” – these pears were apparently popular in Holland but little known in Canada. Hard as golf balls, you had to simmer them for hours in a light syrup of sugar and water until they softened and turned a rosy pink. You could gussy them up with cinnamon sticks and wine, but plain and simple is how we had them. They appeared as a side dish at special meals, and they were highly prized. Back then, in the 50s and 60s, a woman in the church had a stoof peertje tree in her yard. When the fruits were ready in late September, the call went out to come and get them. Mom came home with paper bags full of pears and set to work to stew and bottle them. The memory of those peertjes makes my mouth water, and I am off on another trail, to see if I can track down my own source of stoof peertjes. I poked around on the internet – lots of trails to follow there – and found out that this type of pear is called the Giezer Willemand, but only nurseries in Holland and the UK carry it. So that’s a dead end trail, but perhaps one of my 14 wonderful readers, some of whom grew up eating those pears, will have some clues that I can follow up on. And I’ll be off and running again.

Well, slowly but surely, the rabbits trails are petering out. Oh, that’s a good one: petering out/Peter Rabbit – get it? Yes, another little trail...and where that one leads could be fun, but I do find myself heading back home again, tired but happy after a good run, to give my brain some rest.

Until the next time another little critter pokes its nose out of the space between my brains cells.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Keep Singing

In my last blog, I wrote that this week I would blog about why people travel. But then I realized it would be Easter Sunday when I posted, and that calls for a different kind of reflection.  The other topic will wait.

Easter Morning Alleluia
Four years ago, on impulse, I created a crow piece to celebrate Easter – a raucous, mouth-wide-open squawking crow to celebrate a sublime and sacred event. In my blog that Sunday, I wrote about heart songs – we all have a song in our heart that becomes loud and glad when we are doing what gives us joy. Even the crow! The crow, and all of us, too, for that matter, were created to sing the song that only we can sing.

In that blog, I wrote, “It takes courage to follow the song in our hearts, and especially to believe in the song when it is being drowned out by other noises. Today is Easter Sunday, the day that rings out with songs of joy. Whatever your spiritual persuasion, you can still be stirred by the universal message of the Easter story. It’s all about having a heartsong and the courage to follow it. The Creator had a heartsong and acted on it. Creation – the world we live in and all that it contains, including us  – is the result of that song. The thing deep within us that makes our heart sing is the best of us, it is who we are meant to be..

When the song within us was lost, Courage stepped up and in love, did the hard thing to restore the music. The message of Easter is that the song planted within us cannot die. The name of the song is Love, and love is stronger than death.”

Well. I loved my “Easter Morning Alleluia” piece and all that it said to me, but when it was put on display in a show, it sold. That’s good news, but I no longer have it to hang on the wall. So now (Friday) I feel the urge to create another work of art. The song in my heart is a bit muted, but working on a new piece, I’m sure, will raise the volume.

The piece I envision is based on something I experienced in California when we were on vacation. We had been driving most of the day on busy interstate and state highways in California, and discovered to our consternation that many California drivers are rude beyond reckoning, zig-zagging in and out of traffic, cutting you off, flashing their lights, even when you are going over the speed limit in the center lane. We zoomed by non-stop commercial districts, chains of cheap motels, golden arches, one mall morphing into another. It was totally nerve-racking. And then we got to our turn-off, a much quieter road that would be leading to our destination, a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

It took only a few minutes for our racing hearts to notice the peace. Rolling hills, dotted with cattle and bare-branched oak trees, bathed us in a balm of pastoral beauty. We caught our breath, let the tension leak out of us, and gradually tuned into the song in our hearts. Those trees had their own song – to my eyes, they were dancing, their twisted limbs silhouetted against the sky, going this way and that, as though expressing joy.*xIBtQEYaAIoYd8WLSwIBYqQ0Rbeuw/
That week, wherever we traveled on the country roads, we saw them over and over again. No photo can capture the sense of joy I felt traveling through that pastoral beauty, but the scenes are lodged in my heart.

It’s Easter joy, made manifest through Creation, and I’m wishing it for you. 

I’ve started the piece, but realize there’s lots of work to be done, lots of experimenting if it is to say what I want it to say. Maybe, next Easter, I’ll be able to post the completed work.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

The Joys of Poking Around

After four long days of driving, we settled into our first digs in Sedona, Arizona. We’d been urged to go there by friends – “It’s so beautiful,” they said. And it is: red rock canyons, clear blue skies, amazing sunsets.

 And hotels. Lots and lots of hotels. And condos and time shares. Golf courses, helicopter rides, guided tours.  Fancy restaurants. And, of course, tourists!

I have become a bit jaded when it comes to travelling. After our 2015 trip to France, while walking through big and small towns, I sometimes felt like I was walking through a theme park staged just for us. So much of our world is turning to tourism as a lucrative industry to replace the small businesses that have been wiped out by the big boys of commerce. They need to find ways to make a living, so they turn to B&Bs, special attractions, cafes and souvenir shops for their income. They spruce up the village square, polish the big church bell, put potted red geraniums everywhere, and voila! Wherever you look, you find another postcard-worthy scene. It’s great for a while, but then you begin to wonder, “What’s life like here when the lights go out on the tourists?”  When you decide to find out, you stop being a tourist and become a traveller.

The life that goes on after the tourists go home is the part I like most about travelling. You can find it if you engage in the activity of poking around. When you are poking around, you don’t know what you will find, but often it is what sticks in your mind and what gives you stories to tell.

For instance, when we were poking around in Hawaii a few years ago, we came across a local farmer’s market. The farmers were selling big bunches of basil and bags of macadamia nuts for dirt cheap. The cottage we’d rented had a food-processor and some empty jars, and we had bought some good olive oil and garlic. What else could I do but make macadamia nut pesto? We had enough for several good pasta meals, plus a bottle I froze and packed in my suitcase. If you poke around, it’s what you get as a souvenir instead of the wall plaque featuring a hula dancer and a palm tree.

So in Sedona, when we passed a farmer’s market in the parking lot of local shopping center, we stopped and poked around, bought organic salad fixings, and had a lovely meal at our rented home, a trailer parked in someone’s 1 acre yard.

We also chatted with the owner and learned lots about the vicinity. We visited the local artists’ cooperative and learned about the thriving art community there.

Inspiration for another art piece?

We picnicked in a popular park which is packed on hot summer days by the locals. We found a Christmas shop where they carried some very unique nativities to add to our collection. All in a good day’s work of poking around.

There was a quilt shop down the street from our lodgings. Of course, I had to go see what I could see.

The caption says, "Waiting for Wife." He was, in the car, with his cell phone, playing games. 
“Have you visited our quilt show at the library?” asked the shop owner. Off we went to the library located in a residential part of town. (The RS was being exceptionally indulgent that day!) The quilt show was amazing (and free!).

The library was architecturally beautiful, but that wasn’t all.  “Have you visited our used bookstore next door?” asked the librarian.

Thousands of donated books lined the shelves in a building that used to be a Buddhist meditation centre, complete with golden mandalas painted on the walls. We walked away with guide books for the area, an Audubon bird book and a few novels for our down time. Score! And as a bonus, we glimpsed what happens in that town when the tourists go home. It’s a good place to visit, but also a great place to live.

We shared our next lodgings, a house in the desert about ½ hour out of Phoenix, with my sister and brother-in-law. Now there were four of us poking around. We walked the trails at a local conservation areas, and walked the sand roads in the neighbourhood. Sometimes, when you are poking around, you may not like what you see:

I signed up for a free class with a conservation officer and a professional photographer to learn how to take better pictures, and spent a morning with them and other locals learning a lot about the flora and fauna of the area.

Poking around is also how I got to make kumquat marmalade.  Beside the patio at our home, there was a kumquat tree loaded with tiny fruits. I googled Kumquat to find out more. It turns out the skin of these oranges is sweet, and the insides are sour. You eat the skin, and toss out the insides. 

It also turns out that you can make amazing marmalade out of them. So I did. It meant scouting out a local thrift shop to find some canning jars. The thrift stores Sue and I visited in our search were run by volunteers and we had lots of fun finding out what was happening. We even got invited to the Shrove Tuesday Pancake breakfast at the local church. The end result of our poking around: I’m down to my last of three jars of the most amazing marmalade I’ve ever tasted.

Okay, please understand: I’m not against tourism. I’m not against helicopter rides with spectacular views of the canyon you can only see if you get up in the air. We’ve done some of those kinds of things, too. I’m not against hotels and restaurants and lounging around the pool while soaking up warm rays – it may be just the thing to rejuvenate you. Different strokes for different folks. It all depends on what you want to get out of your vacation. I’ll blog more about that next week.

But for the RS and me this year, poking around was the best! And I have the kumquat marmalade to prove it.