Friday, May 25, 2018

Regard – Part I (The Gift of Presence)

***This is the first in a series of posts about the concept of regard. I'm not sure how many parts the series is going to have, probably four or five and possibly more. I will tag each of them with #regard, so if you click on that label in the right-hand column of my blog it should pull up all of the posts in the series (all that have been written and posted so far, that is).*** 

This post is dedicated with gratitude to Frank, Momo, Trevor and my Mom.

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

—Thich Nhat Hanh

I have been thinking lately about the concept of "regard".

It's a word that I use often, but I have to admit that I had not given much thought to what it means. "Best regards," I often write in work emails; sometimes "Kindest regards" or "Warm regards" to friends and extended family members; or just plain "Regards" when I'm stumped for a closing salutation.

Then, I had an experience this past winter that brought my attention to thinking about regard and what it means in new and different ways. 

I have a friend named Frank, who lives in the States. He and I don't know each other particularly well – we met briefly when he was travelling in Nova Scotia a few years ago. He's a storyteller and a thinker and we meet up (virtually) by times in the realm of words, as storytellers and thinkers tend to do. 

Frank often reads my blog. And this past fall, he sent me a gift – an email which said, in essence: I see what you are doing over there. And I feel connected with it.

Frank saw me. 
And he told me that he saw me.
And I took that in. 
And it got me thinking.

Now, it's not that no one has ever seen me before, or never told me they saw me. And it's not that I've never taken it in before. In the past, I've even given some thought to the experiences of seeing, of being seen and my relationship with those experiences. But a new train of thought got sparked by Frank's email and has been bubbling away in my brain ever since (if you love mixed metaphors – you're welcome).

What does it mean to be seen?

This is the definition Google gives for regard:

Click here to visit this link for a larger, more readable version.

Check out the etymology from Old French. Regard basically has its origin in this idea: I've got your back. 

Regard is more than being seen. It is mattering to someone else. It is about meaning and connection; care and attention. Frank's email got me thinking in new ways about what it means to me to be seen and also to feel seen.

I didn't develop the habit of feeling seen when I was growing up. I was a latch-key kid. My busy parents separated when I was seven years old and then divorced. From there, I continued growing up in a family with more parents and step-parents than I knew what to do with. Each person was coping with a lot; I felt like I often disappeared in the midst everything that was going on. And frankly, a lot of the time, I felt pretty lucky if I was able to stay under the radar. I preferred to keep my head down, trying to avoid both conflict and disappointment.

Unfortunately, growing up in that environment trained me to notice people who were absent or pre-occupied more than people who were present and paying attention.

As I moved into adulthood, I became someone who noticed the people who sent their regrets more than the people who showed me their regard.

My approach to regard was twisted.

The people who didn't give a hoot about me often felt more important than the people who had my back.

I was better able to see the people who couldn't see me and less able to see the people who could.

I am just now beginning to understand the impact this kink in my personality has had on my life so far.

I could still spend days, maybe even weeks, running down the long list of the moments I can remember when I felt people didn't show up for me, whatever their reasons, and how I felt about it. I could talk about the amount of time and energy I have spent focusing on people who didn't give a damn about me – hustling for worthiness, as Brené Brown would say.

Husbanding those grievances is a familiar and well-worn strategy. But that way of looking at my story is losing its appeal.

What is becoming more interesting to me is this new lens that I'm developing, a new understanding, a new way of experiencing and valuing being seen. And along with that, I hope, new ways of seeing others.

Let me tell you a story.

Re-framing regard

In 2015, I did a 52-song project on YouTube. Once a week, I posted an original, previously unrecorded song. There were a few people who viewed every (or almost every) single song and often commented on them. All year long.

I was having a tough year, struggling with depression and a broken heart. That song project felt very vulnerable to me most of the time. Sometimes excruciatingly so. And it was also a lifeline, something that kept me reaching out week after week, to connect even when trying to connect felt agonizing or unlikely or pointless. And every week, those few stalwart people gave me the gift of seeing me. Some of the videos in that project got eight views each in their first week.* And I know who at least three of those eight people were, because they granted me the gift of saying: I see what you are doing over there. And I feel connected with it.

While the project was going on, I admit that I frequently struggled to feel seen. I mostly couldn't take it in. When a video got only eight views I would take it as a sign that I shouldn't bother, instead of realizing that those eight views, and – most of all – the one or three or five comments and acknowledgments were the most precious part of the whole process. And that I would be far better off focussing on them rather than on the people who couldn't or wouldn't see me or who wouldn't or couldn't acknowledge that they did.

The people who could see me were the ones I needed to take in. They were saying with their constancy and their encouragement:

I see what you are doing over there, and I feel connected with it.

I struggled to understand this at the time, but now I see more clearly.

I was being given mighty gifts of connection, of constancy, of love, of regard.

Those connections were pointing me in a direction where I need to explore and grow.

And now that I'm finally getting closer to where I need to be, I feel profoundly grateful.

Thank you.

I am really, really, REALLY taking our connections into my heart.


(Better late than never, eh?)

I'd love to hear in the comments your thoughts and feelings about the experience of being seen and/or seeing others. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Slug Challenge Kick-off 2018

The first seeds have been planted. This means that my yearly challenge has been issued to the slugs who are the de facto overlords of The Crooked Wood.

I think this is year two (?) for my flat-topped hugelkultur bed. 

I bought a bigger bottle of Abundance liquid fertilizer at Seedy Saturday this year, but last year's empty is still in my garden. I think this photo demonstrates how picturesque it can be to be messy and a total chaos muppet.
I hear slugs hate sand, so I gave this bed of bok choy and other greens a good sprinkling...

Salinger enjoys gardening. And, of course, he is quite good about staying off the planting beds –
at least when anyone is watching. Now, if only I could help him acquire a taste for hunting slugs – but ugh.

Some of the open-sourced seeds I got from the lovely folks at Seedy Saturday this year
(held in Dayspring at the Municipal Activity and Recreation Complex, aka the MARC, back in February).
The garlic I planted in the fall is several inches above the ground, so that's encouraging. I am planning to build many more hugelkultur beds in the next couple of weeks – some for veggies, some for flowers and herbs, some located along my driveway and others on the land that was cleared around the new cabin. 

I am also harbouring some nut tree fantasies. I haven't decided yet if those are in my budget for this year, but I expect you know the saying: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Construction: Weeks 18-22 (Including move-in!!!!)

Well, this is a much-delayed post.

My cabin got finished (YAAAAY!) and I moved in (YAAAAAAY!) in mid-February (YAAAAAAAY!)

I moved in the midst of an extremely large and demanding work project, which meant that my first several weeks in my home felt like camping. There was no time to get things organized and properly placed (tasks that are not my forte at the best of times and therefore would have consumed a lot of resources that I did not have available) and there was certainly no time for blog posts. But I have hot and cold running water, electricity and Internet, a bar fridge, an induction hot plate, a mattress and my awesome desk and kneeling chair and so I was good to go.

The last weeks of construction and first few weeks of living in my home felt surprisingly fragile to me. The pieces left to do in the last stages were very small, but they felt more overwhelming than many of the bigger elements that had been tackled toward the beginning of the process. I don't know if it was because I was tired, or had less time free from desk work, or felt daunted by the enormity of the transition facing me, or because of my erratic hormones and mood swings (most likely a combination of all of those things), but I felt delicate and teary.

Fortunately, I was able to feel the feelings and do the work and make it into the cabin. I love it and feel very contented and peaceful there. Which is not to say that I don't get tired and cranky and stressed or anything like that, but I feel like I have the space I need to be myself and feel safe in that, and that is an awesome feeling.

Having the floors stained and polished was a gift from my Mom. The floors are one of my favourite things about my house – handsome and easy to clean.

The amazing contractor who stained and polished my floors added a lovely rectangle at each door at my request. I don't know why, but for some reason, these boxes remind me of the department stores I went to as a child: Eaton's and Simpson's. I don't know why that should feel like a good and comforting thing, but it does.

And these beautiful stripes in my bathroom/mechanical room. 

One of my tasks was to sand and stain the material for the wood trim. I should have done it as soon as the trim material arrived, but I didn't and ended up having to rush it at the last minute before the carpentry crew came back in to install it.  

Painting the bathroom door

Forsythia: a gift of spring from a dear friend.

Getting so close! The trim and kitchen cabinetry got installed and only the electrical and plumbing finishing remained.

The bathroom door got hung with awesome hardware made by the blacksmiths at Ross Farm Museum. 
The back of the bathroom door – distressed.
The toilet and shower got installed. The tiling and the bathroom sink are going to have to wait until more money, time and energy are available. The water runs. Some of it is hot. This is more than good enough. (And yes, I do have a shower curtain now, I just don't have a photo of it on hand.) 

Everything including the kitchen sink! Complete with running water.

And the shelving unit on the reverse of the kitchen counter/shelves which serves my office space. Complete with an electrical outlet that was pretty awkward to install. My electricians had to do some super problem solving. They were very gracious about it. 
Move-in day! While I did spend a few nights at my house during the transition, it wasn't really home until Salinger moved in on February 15th. Here he is, settling in for his first night. It didn't take him long at all to adjust; he also seems to love our little home.
I had plenty more help during this transition. Help painting, help moving, listening ears and leaning shoulders.

On the day of my occupancy permit inspection, one of my tender-hearted friends helped me move some furniture from my tiny house and shed into the new cabin. We talked and cried and jumped up and down together. I could have hugged the building inspector when she okayed everything – no, wait, I DID hug her (with her permission). There were no snags and I felt again my deep gratitude to all of the dedicated and professional contractors who built my home as if it were there own, with care, precision and kindness. And I was grateful for the more-or-less successful job I had done impersonating a general contractor – I had acquired and supplied all of the necessary paperwork, we had ticked all of the necessary boxes and done everything we were supposed to do.

The cabin is lovely to live in. It is warm. It is bright. It is airy. It is beautiful. It is simple. Everything works.

There are many finishing touches that need to be added. Now that my very hectic work schedule has slowed up, I need to move in properly. I need to move some pantry shelving and book shelves from my tiny home into the cabin. I need to figure out where things are going to go. I need to find the bag of hardware that will let me put my bed frame together. I need to apply linseed oil and varathane to my kitchen/office cabinets and a few coats of varathane on the window sills, too. I need to set up my turntable and move my records in. I need to make myself fully at home.

Salinger: showing his appreciation for the beautiful, wide windowsills (and not so much for the view of winter outside... )
Eventually, as time and money are available, I will have the shower tiled, the bathroom sink installed, and a deck built. This summer, I will try to do as much as I can to contribute to the healing process for all of the cuts and scars on the land that were caused by the construction.

In good time, I expect that the Crooked Wood, Salinger and I will all find our stride to integrate and grow together.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Random #banjoy

I came across this when I was Autoplaying my way around YouTube the other day. Some mean banjo from Mean Mary. Enjoy:

Sunday, February 11, 2018

2018 Word of the Year

***BLOGGERS NOTE: I wrote this post in December, but wasn't ready to publish it until now. It feels like my new year is starting a bit late.***

It's Word of the Year time again.

Last year's word was realization and I think I pulled it off – manifesting a cabin out of a vision.

The cabin is almost finished with the end of 2017. It's so close I can taste it.

The selection process for 2018's Word of the Year has proved difficult. I thought I had the perfect word and then lost it and I have had a hard time finding another.

There have been many contenders: recoup, recovery, grounding, presence, celebration, home, settle, joy, gratitude, shelter, safety, release, reboot, rest, solitude, anchorage, nest, peace, centre, lucky...

I've been on a streak of R words for the last several years, and I sat on the fence for a long time about whether I wanted to stick with R or if it is time move on.

After much thought, I have decided that my Word of the Year for 2018 is:


I have loved this word for a long time. As a teenager, I was a big fan Richard Lovelace's poetry. The final stanza of his poem, To Althea, from Prison reads:

Stone walls do not a prison make,
    Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
    That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love,
    And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above
    Enjoy such liberty.

A place of contemplation for an innocent and quiet mind.

A place for dreams and daydreams.

A peaceful place.

A safe place.

I have managed to have such a place built for myself. I plan to take full advantage of it this year, to transform my longing by recreating this spirit of safety within my own heart and mind.

With the companionship and inspiration of my fluffy, orange guru, of course.

If you are contemplating your own Word of the Year, or just hanging out while 2017 draws to a close, may I invite you do so while listening to the New Year's playlist I put together on YouTube? This time of year always gets me in a playlist-y mood. There are some old favourites, some of this year's new favourites and of course, some #banjoy! 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Construction: Weeks 13-17

If I thought weeks 9-12 were challenging, they had nothing on weeks 13-17. 

I can't even.

Here are some photos:

My clumsily but adequately installed slab insulation skirt (adequate was the engineer's word for it) 

With added Geotextile

Obstacle course. Crude but (hopefully) effective solutions.

December 17, 2017

The gravel pile.

Keep your powder (I mean, gravel) dry.

My beautiful furnace. I can't even say how magically, deliciously warm my house is.

Covering the skirt with gravel
Mudding and taping

Hieroglyphics (I loved all the bits of random math and cryptic messages I found on the walls of my home)

Making progress.

Coming along
Storm warning morning: January 4, 2018

This is the top of a tree that fell from a height of about 40 or 50 feet, fortunately onto the bare piece of ground next to my well – where it will aid the reforestation the process. The power lines are just about 20 feet to the left. 

The thaw after the storm let me move a lot more gravel

Sunny skies after the storm

Up on staging, priming the walls

Painting in the bathroom

Fresh and clean

Dusty and paint-spattered – and satisfied and tired – at the end of a long day.
Another thaw and this is all that's left of the gravel pile – I shoveled in my T-shirt sleeves in +15 Celsius weather on January 12, 2018. 

It was too soggy to manoeuvre around the house, so I spread the gravel on the driveway, where it was just as badly needed. 
This colour was called "Unforgettable" by the paint company. Which is, let's face it, a pretty forgettable name. My friend who was helping me paint that day (Thank you!) won the renaming contest with "I'm Lichen It" (my suggestion of "Chartresque" received an honourable mention).

I had my first ever exciting interior decorating idea for the bathroom. Here is the first stage – one and a third walls painted grey...

I don't think there is any way I can put together a literal narrative of this segment of the project, so here are some (mostly short) poems which attempt to capture something of these past five ineffable weeks:

Power outages

No back-up heat
Only questions
How soon–?
How long–?

Will it–?


Forest-caught wind
Throat-caught heart

rock solid
in the howling


I heard the SNAP
at two in the morning

Dawn cracks on
torn and twisted

One top dropped
from fifty feet or more
Onto the bare ground
next to my new well

The first step 
in the reforestation project


Frustration met with anger
Anger met with fear

Straight back to the old times
the bad times
the worst times

Always with me


The bite of the
into the big pile
of Class A

The shuddering of
each landing
against the bottom of 
the wheelbarrow

My newfound
favourite meditation



London Road
Milk Mustache
Pink A Boo
Lemon Ripple

Pink A Boo
Was a mistake
I swear
I handed in the wrong card
At the paint counter


With luck
It will be done
next week

at least
before Christmas

No luck

Perhaps January first
Definitely January third

Or not


You'd think
it would get easier
After learning
so much
Figuring out
so much 

The confidence
of accomplishment

It's done!
A building
Warm against the cold
Solid against the wind

But it is not done yet

More interlocking tasks
More deadlines 
to be hit or missed
tasks to be scheduled 
and/or re-scheduled
hit and miss

And I am tired.

Physically tired:
From painting
losing sleep
from surprises
and adjustments

Mentally tired: 
from learning
from failing 
and succeeding
from surprises
and adjustments

Emotionally tired:
from feeling
running on empty
trying to ask for help
managing disappointments
and surprises
and adjustments

I have sometimes thought that 
are the most delightful thing
about having a human brain
And I still think that
But I have learned that
surprises are more fun for me
when I am playing tennis
than they are when I am 
trying to build a place to live

In real-life terms
surprises can be

And so
instead of feeling
like this is getting easier
I'm battling fatigue
and an overwhelming desire 
for this to be over

I promise myself that
I will 
to this place for several years
at least
except for gardening

And maybe 
just a little

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Construction: Weeks 9, 10, 11 and 12

I have been struggling to write this blog post. It has been postponed from week to week.

I have been busy, doing a lot of manual labour out at the site and a lot of desk work the rest of the time. And these weeks have felt challenging; I have been frequently overwhelmed.

Rather than not writing a blog post about these weeks at all, I am resorting to a classic cheat borrowed from William Goldman's A Princess Bride:

What with one thing and another, four weeks passed:

I had some trouble finding someone willing to dig my well and install my septic system, but fortunately, my plumber was able to recommend someone excellent. We walked the land and he recommended the place for the well, very close to the massive felled maple log that was dropped when my power lines were installed last year. It was going to need to be cut up and moved. So, I boldly set about cutting it into shorter logs with my small chainsaw. At one point, I pinched my saw and had to free it with a hand saw. One of the joys of being a rookie... 

A rare view of the low side of the cabin.

In Week 9, the cabin was wired
Roxul insulation getting stockpiled

Week 10: Excavator, on the job!
The septic tank
The septic field
The septic system covered with fill, seeded with clover and covered with hay.
Guess what got dug up? Rocks! Now placed aesthetically along my driveway
Meanwhile, in the house, the interior walls were being insulated. 

And I drove to Ross Farm museum to pick up the barn door hardware they had made for me.

Here's the hatch for my firewood pass-through.

The excavator, resting after its labours.
I take a time-out to appreciate the beauty of a wee, still-red oak
Over the weekend between Weeks 10 and 11, the house sees its first light dusting of snow
Week 11: The well gets dug.

 They went down about 14 feet and there was so much water that the excavation crew could hardly level the first crock before the water was threatening to come in over their boots. Here is the well after the concrete apron has been poured. (The next day the water rose up over the apron!) I feel like I have won the rural home lottery! 

My awesome plumber comes and installs the well-line and pump
Bright blue well line for the water and rainbow electrical wire for the pump – pretty! 

Next, the trench was dug for the well-line. We hit a snag here, but I don't want to talk about it. Suffice it to say, we got through it. 

Guess what else got dug up? More rocks! Including some really, really big ones.

Meanwhile, I was working on augmenting the insulation around the slab, having fun with an exacto knife and a pickaxe.

And inside, the insulation and vapour barrier were complete and the drywall was delivered and stored ready for the following week.

Week 12 began with the site in a great big mess.

(Trenches can be beautiful, though).

With the trench for the well line dug and filled back in, next was the trench to bring power from my shed to the house. 
The electrical cable and the conduit containing my internet cable had to be seated in sand and inspected before the trench could be filled back in.

Where the electrical service enters the cabin.

In the cabin, the drywall was going up.

Outside, I was unearthing some pretty big rocks in the process of regrading the land around the house to lay insulation out two feet from the slab at an angle of 4 degrees (or more). Some of the rocks were too heavy for me to move. Fortunately, my stellar carpentry crew helped me roll the biggest ones out of the way.

Here's one corner of the insulation around the outside of the slab.

On the last day of the excavation work, my well and septic contractor brought me a load of Class A as a bonus – I will use it to backfill against my house, over the slab insulation. 
While putting together the photo essay portion of this post, I think I have found a few words to say. 

These four weeks felt intense. I was on-site a lot. On the one hand, it was lots of fun to be at the heart of the action. I really like all of the people working on the project, so it was great to hang out and indulge in a little banter.

At the same time, though, I was working hard: digging, digging and more digging. It was good for me, but at the same time exhausting and hard on my joints. (I've started going to see a chiropractor again after a 7-year break and it is rescuing me from immobilization).

While it was physically grueling, it didn't require any particular skills. It was a part of the job that I could do, and I needed to invest all the sweat equity that I could because somewhere in these four weeks, I ran out of money. Which is to say that I ran out of my money, money that I had or had access to on my own responsibility.

This project has been more expensive than I hoped. That is always said of building projects and that's because it's probably always true. There is so much to do, especially so much infrastructure to establish for a rural house.

Fortunately, I have friends and family to help me out and they have encouraged me to keep going. Many have provided moral support and encouragement, some have loaned tools and equipment, others have given their time to help, some have loaned and some have given me money to help make it possible for me to complete this project. I feel very, very lucky and very, very grateful.

And at the same time, I'm pretty stressed. I didn't want to take on this much debt. I foresee some austerity measures and as much desk work as I can get my hands on for the next 3-5 years.

I do feel, though, that it is worth it. I have such a longing for a home of my own. It is starting to feel very real; I am getting to the point where I can visualize living in my home: reading, doing jigsaw puzzles, having dinner parties and summer visitors. Having a place to be myself, to be content, to be free and safe and peaceful.

And what a place it is. The Crooked Wood continues to provide me with a blessed sense of belonging. Each time I arrive there and breathe that first breath of forest air, I feel something sacred fill me: mind, body, heart and soul.

The thought of being able to live in my own home, cozily, year round, is worth the debts and the stresses and the challenges of this process.

It's simply where I feel I'm meant to be.