Our drastically underused theatre

We don’t watch television. We cut cable a long time ago and never missed it for one minute. We do watch movies on Netflix (not TV shows, at least not for the kids – these are like soda for the brain, with similar effects), and I also have an old laptop hooked up to the TV so we can find documentaries or watch Crash Course videos on YouTube.

This place sits unused most of the time, and that’s just how I like it. The sunlight streaming in from the window just reminded me how much.

Today’s everyday poetry: the sun was red, the slug was dead

Hey, it rhymes! Isn’t poetry that rhymes generally better than the other kind?

Aw, that’s probably above my pay grade. My domain is closer to the ground. Like when the big red fireball lights up the corn fields and pierces the mist that had settled over the farm where I jog (cold air air + warm earth = eerily beautiful paths).

All this to say, it was dashed pretty this morning. And my timing was just right – I managed to see the red of the sun tint the clouds pink before witnessing the actual sunrise in real time. The pictures aren’t even half as cool as the real thing.

Got back home in good time and started my usual bit of early morning gardening. I’m a terrible gardener, but I keep trying. And I find that weeding helps, so I always keep 15 minutes or so every morning to do it, right after my run. I find it also helps me stretch my lower back and hamstrings, which got a little wound up during the run. (I do try to be efficient; it’s the only way I can make it.)

This morning it was time to do the border in the shady corner of the backyard. I ambled thither, bucket in hand and got down to business yanking unwanted green things in order to favour the growth and happiness of other, more desired, green things.

Smoosh. Gross slimy fingers, and the smell of death. I had just mortally squished a slug.


Whadayathink? It rained last night, you’re in the shady part of the border that has lots of river stones in it, of course there are slugs. Be careful, you big enormous oblivious biped!

That’s how I imagined the other slugs reacted to their fellow invertebrate’s untimely demise. I could feel their reproach. Here I was, top of the food chain specimen, killing other life forms without even meaning to. It gave me a chance to ponder the injustice of it all (from the slug’s point of view, I mean), before coming back in to cook my beans and prep the kids’ oatmeal.

The lesson? Wash your hands thoroughly after gardening.

Today’s everyday poetry: Rice + beans = happiness

This story is not a poem. But the picture rhymes, don’t you think?

I’ve become a bit of a vegetarian of late. Nothing against meat, but it was time for me to eat less of it, at least for a while. Because I train like a crazy maniac, I need protein, and not just a little. So of course I started looking for plant-based protein sources that did not contain soy (me and soy, we are not friends, but apparently now my sensitivity to gluten seems to have abated for reasons nobody can figure out so things are, on the whole, looking up, belly-health-wise).

Right. Plant-based proteins. The first thing that came to mind is beans. That’s great. I love beans. But did you know that whereas meat by itself is a complete form of protein (also true of dairy, yay cheese), beans aren’t? That if you want complete protein you need to combine rice and beans?

Me neither! I came upon this reference by chance in a book about the life force diet. I had no idea whether it was true or not so off to the Google machine I went to poke around some more, and sure enough, plenty of people agree. Try it for yourself. So I started combining rice and beans in meals together, such as the veggie/rice/beans stir-fry pictured above, and lo, I am suddenly less hungry two hours after a meal than I was when I was only putting beans in the veggie stir-fry. I’ve even started adding rice to my banana/berries/white beans/coconut milk smoothie in the morning.

Am I suffering from confirmation bias or is there something real behind this thing? Based on my own experiment, I’m going with the latter.

Helping kids enjoy history

Mortuary temple

Hatshetsup’s mortuary temple, one of the world’s finest buildings

You’ll agree it’s not every 6-year-old who can recognize Hatshepsut as the ancient Egyptian queen who pretended to be a boy (not particularly successfully, but still) so she could rule her kingdom.

I have one who does. My husband was watching the old Mummy movie, the black-and-white one with Boris Karloff (he’s on a classics binge, and so are they, like it or not). The movie opens with an archeology scene and her mortuary temple  is shown. That’s when middle daughter erupted (most gleefully) with her knowledge.

Do I sound like I’m boasting? I’m not, although I’ll admit her eruption caused a certain amount of fist-pumping on my part. But most of the credit goes to Susan Wise Bauer and her thoroughly excellent Story Of The World, which is the primary tool I used over the last year to cover the period of history that goes from the first humans to the fall of Rome. That’s the first of four volumes she wrote, dividing world history into chronological eras. I’ve also used other books but that one was the basis of my world history teaching.

And it worked. They’re not accomplished ancient historians just yet. The book is a survey for children (and their parents; I don’t mind telling you I learned at least as much as the kids did reading this book to them), not an academic treatise, so it doesn’t cover every single thing. But it does a fine job of giving a very good overview in a style that’s breezy, child-friendly (without ever being condescending or babyish), and most importantly, NOT BORING. Exactly unlike the history books they used to teach us back in the day, which explains in great part my current status as expert historical ignoramus.

So there. Now both the kids and I know who Hatshepsut was (roughly), and are able to recognize her mortuary temple. That’ll make those old black-and-white movies fly by…

Never forget to love

I confess I’m not an expert on Einstein. I think I understood the theory of relativity, once, in physics class, back in high school. That was in the 1980s. Not sure I could explain it now, beyond telling you what the letters stand for. Science just ain’t my thing.

But I know Einstein was brilliant. I mean, that’s what everyone says, so it must be true. But something else that’s true, if less talked about, is that without the love and companionship of his wife Einstein would not have been Einstein. (Even though the marriage eventually ended in divorce.)

This fantastic piece explains it all.

Under the tyranny of our present productivity-fetishism, we measure the value of everything by the final product rather than by the richness of the process — its rewards, its stimulating challenges, the aliveness of presence with which we fill every moment of it. In contemporary culture, if a marriage ends in divorce — however many happy years it may have granted the couple, however many wonderful children it may have produced — we deem it a failed marriage. What is true on the scale of personal history is triply true on the scale of cultural history, and few public marriages have been subjected to a more unnuanced verdict than that of Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić. The twenty years between the time they met as first-year university students and the time of their final legal separation get compressed into one blunt word itself emptied of dimension: divorce. And yet those were the years in which Einstein did his most groundbreaking work, forever changing the course of modern science; years which produced the only progeny of the quintessential modern genius; years filled with enormous, all-consuming love, which comes to life in Albert Einstein / Mileva Marić: The Love Letters (public library) — a collection of fifty-four missives exchanged between the beginning of their romance in 1897 and their marriage in 1903.

The lesson? Never forget to love. Give of yourself freely. Share your thoughts and discoveries with your loved ones. And write things down.

Today’s everyday poetry: brush clearing 

This is my husband. He’s a historian in private practice. He’s got a PhD in history. He’s a real intellectual.

Right now he’s also quite dirty. And as happy as can be. He’s spent the hour before this photo was taken clearing up brush around our cottage. It’s all about mens sana in corpore sano – even when the corpore in question starts to pong.

Everyday poetry: The year of the moth

What a summer! So far we’ve seen three Luna moths (they are apparently quite common but it is nevertheless considered rare to see one), and today this.

We think it’s an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. I don’t remember seeing any like that before. It’s quite pretty. But there’s more wildlife poetry. Literally, I mean.

We were having lunch today and heard a funny bird cry. High-pitched, hawk-esque, very different from our usual feathery friends. I couldn’t see the one making that noise, but in the distance, circling, was what I wanted to believe was an osprey.

Now. Ospreys are cool and beautiful birds. I’ve always wanted to see them. Local birdwatchers recently assured me I had some on my island but every time I saw something that might be an osprey it always had that red thing on the beak that screams turkey vulture at you.

I do not wish turkey vultures ill. But they’re not my favourite.

Anyway, hoping the cry I was hearing and the light-coloured bird circling meant ospreys, I googled “cry of the osprey” to see if I could find a recording of same to compare it to what I was hearing.

Here’s what I found instead. “Cry of the ospreys” is actually a poem! That got me quite excited. I’m weird that way.

And yes, it turns out what I was hearing were indeed the sounds of ospreys so I’d say my wildlife day is going splendidly.

Unionism, the right way

If you know anything about me, you know how much I dislike unions. I even co-wrote a book about their many evils. Chief among them is the mandatory payment of union dues, whether or not one wishes to be covered by the union, and the complete lack of flexibility unions typically bring into a workplace. They also reward longevity at the expense of talent and effort, with predictable consequences you can see for yourself at your nearest public school. And that’s to say nothing of their use of dues money to finance political causes that not every member agrees with.

To be clear, not all unions are equally bad. But as a rule, they are pretty obnoxious and spectacularly ill-suited to today’s economy, and have been so for many long decades.

But this. THIS. Now, that’s interesting.

When Sara Horowitz founded the Freelancers Union in 1995, there was already evidence that the structure of people’s work lives was changing.Publishing and media jobs had started to move to more project-based work. Horowitz, a union organizer and labor lawyer by training, assumed that other industries would follow. As an expert in labor unions, she thought “it was really important to start thinking about how people [can] come together” to change laws and public policy, so that freelancers can obtain job-related “benefits—and community.”

Today, the Brooklyn-based Freelancers Union boasts nearly 300,000 members, having quadrupled in numbers in just seven years. Freelancers in the union include technology consultants, copywriters, Web designers, visual artists, business-development consultants, journalists, and professional coaches. They live all over the country, with concentrations in New York, New Jersey, and California.

Besides offering freelancers a sense of camaraderie, the union offers: its own health-insurance plan; networking and education events; free advice on the freelance business, dispensed through its blog and social media; and discounts on dental, disability, and life insurance, through vendors vetted by the union. For New York City members, the union also runs two primary-care health clinics—requiring no co-pays—and community spaces with free yoga classes. Best of all, membership is free; the union supports itself with a fee on health insurance and other services it provides.

The intention is to give freelancers perks they’d receive if they held full-time jobs, which fewer and fewer workers do, sometimes involuntarily. Rather than mourn an era’s passing, Horowitz says, the Freelancers Union has tried to forge a new way to think about supporting workers in the gig economy.

I love it. Personally I don’t miss the camaraderie of a job in an office so much (I’m notoriously anti-social, that’s why I became a writer), and since I live in Canada I don’t have the problem of finding health coverage because I get “free” access to “health” “care” (provided you don’t mind paying for it with your taxes or waiting many months before you can see your doctor, assuming you have one – but let’s not digress, since here in Canada I cannot legally opt out of that system and buy myself access to a separate private system).

Where was I? Oh yes.

I love this kind of new union because face it, a lot of the workforce is going into this gig economy, Hillary Clinton notwithstanding. It’s the best way I’ve ever found a way of getting a little bit of work-related fulfillment as I care for and homeschool my children. There just isn’t a job for me in the traditional market. I’ve had to carve mine out all by myself.

Which is great. And since I’ve lived with the inherent risks of the gig economy for many years, I’m used to it by now. But I can see how I might be interested in joining a union like the one described above, if I had any need for the services they provide. And the beauty of it is, since union membership is free, the union has to provide services its members value if it is to survive as a union on commissions from the sale of said services.

It’s a thoroughly free-market-friendly form of unionism that respects individuals’ rights to choose the level of protection and services they want without forcing them to belong to any group or finance, however indirectly, political causes or candidates with which they profoundly disagree.

I’d call that win-win.