Work Like An Egyptian

I tried my darnedest to stay in the basement on Sunday as the temperature outside soared yet again. But Cindy was bound and determined to move our shed on the weekend, so we could start training our cherry tomato plants up the gazebo. The gazebo blocked the shed path and the tomatoes were in dire need of support, so the shed had to move, pronto. And if it was +35C outside, too bad.

Our shed’s had quite the history. We built this 4′ x 8′, half gable contraption from a kit purchased from Beaver Lumber more than 25 years ago. Before we were married even.

We built it out at the farm, because I was young and still held my father’s carpentry skills in high regard. Here was a man who, when I was a boy, finished his own basement, built his own garage and poured several driveways and patios.

On the other hand, I had made a knife block out of 2×4’s in Junior Achievement, which collapsed within months. Plus a wooden sign inscribed “DYCK” in wavy black letters, made in my high school shop class. Mom and Dad said the sign was too large to hang outside our front door, although my younger sister’s identical sign (made the following year) held a place of honour in Regina and later at the farm for decades.

After a few hours of shed building however, I started to wonder if Dad was out of practice. Ignoring the instruction sheet, he insisted in building the shed in exactly the opposite order. Cuts within an inch and a half of the line seemed just fine to him. So long as we reinforced everything with Dad’s favourite device, 3 inch spiral Ardox nails, he figured it would hold together.

Four hours into this two hour project, Cindy had enough, grabbed the instructions and insisted we start over. This time, by the book. Dad relented and followed Cin’s directions and the shed was complete before nightfall. Then we loaded it in the back of Dad’s truck and drove it to our the back of our rented apartment on Retallack Street.

(On the drive to Regina, Dad asked me why we bothered building the shed at the farm, because he was a “wood butcher.” It turns out his friend Bob was the true carpenter. I forgot how Bob was involved with Dad’s garage and basement projects.)

Because the shed fit between the wheel wells of an old half ton truck, we took it with us when we moved to Wascana Street. Cindy and the kids decorated it up and stored all the kid’s toys in it for a few years.

When the kids got older, we moved the shed to the back of the yard and put our garden tools in it. Then planted two apple trees around it and pretty much ignored it.

The mice didn’t ignore the shed though. Over the years we’ve been having a running battle over who gets to live in the shed. 20 year old particle board is pretty easy to gnaw through, I guess. It was time to either start using the shed again or get rid of it.

We’re going to take side wall off and turn the shed into an open air wood storage bin for the micro-bakery. But first we needed to move it closer to the oven. On Sunday. In the +35C heat.

Robyn invited two of her friends over with vague promises of ice cream and along with Cindy and myself, we got to work. Robyn thought we only had to move the thing two feet, so more promises had to be made once she realized the true distance. But she hung in there.

I told the crew that we were going to move the shed just like the Egyptians built the Pyramids – with lots and lots of leverage. And for the most part, we did. We laid a series of boards end to end, then levered up a corner of the shed high enough to slide round bars between the shed and the boards. Then pushed like hell and tried to roll this rotten, crumbly monstrosity across the yard.

It pretty much worked. Much of the underside of the shed was rotting away, so instead of rolling, the round bars would fall into a rotting divot. But we were able to roll it 1-2 feet before stopping and resetting the apparatus.

20 or 25 roll and reset cycles and the shed was in its new home. The only casualties were a branch from one apple tree, a bit of the lawn where the boards gouged a path and about 20% of the undercarriage of the shed, which tore off on the journey. Not too bad.

Well, my wallet took a pretty big hit too. Ice cream is more expensive than I thought. Must be the PST.

And I had to promise that this is the shed’s final resting place. Seems fair.

Resilience

My dad turned 79 years old yesterday, which is pretty remarkable. There’s not much more that can go wrong with his body; at this point in his life, he’s all bones and gristle. He’s had multiple bypasses, half a lung gone from cigarettes, a couple fused vertebrae, stomach surgery, hiatus hernia surgery, rotator cuff surgery and a stroke, but he keeps on going.

He’s still living in the my maternal grandparent’s farmhouse on 10 acres south of Moose Jaw and he’s planting his usual 1/2 acre vegetable garden this year. (He doesn’t eat vegetables other than potatoes but loves to grow them all.) His only compromise to age is the rows get a little further apart, so he can better see the plants from the weeds. The stroke messed his eyesight up a bit.

My buddy Giacomo and I went out to see dad last week. Giacomo bought an old Chevy camper van last year for his cross Canada adventure this summer and stored it in dad’s Quonset for the winter. He and his partner Martina, who are immigrating to Canada from Italy, are selling everything they own and driving coast to coast this summer. They want to see as much of their new country as possible before deciding where to settle down. With the weather warming up he’s excited to get the van packed and hit the road right after Easter.

So we drove out to Moose Jaw and I did my best to give Jack a minor history lesson about all the times Saskatchewan got settled and what the Hudson Bay Company was all about and why he should check out Batoche and learn about the Riel Rebellion and what’s Treaty 4 and why we talk about it now when we never did when I was a kid. Lest he think Saskatchewan wasn’t as interesting as Tofino or Cape Breton.

When we got to the farm, dad showed Jack his arrowhead collection before we went out and started up the van. Dad was complaining about his shoulder though (the one with the rotator cuff surgery,) which hasn’t been the same since his neighbour’s cow yanked on it a couple of years back. It was causing him a lot of pain from mounting the birdhouse on Sunday.

The birdhouse, I asked? Yeah, the one on the 14 foot pole by the house. Dad built a new birdhouse with eight little entrances out of an old wooden crate after the old one blew down last year. It’s very fashionable, with the same flat roof that seems to be all the rage in Regina infills.

Well Johnny (the neighbour) came over with his front end loader and, since Johnny (who’s young, like 60) doesn’t like heights, dad climbed into the steel bucket and Johnny raised dad and the birdhouse up to the top of the pole. And it was hard driving four screws up from the plywood platform into the bottom of the house with his messed up arm. And, well, Johnny couldn’t level the bucket worth a damn so his legs were all buckled funny and they’re pretty sore too, what with dad forgetting to put his knee pads on.

Needless to say, with a dad like that, I feel a little awkward complaining about my sore shoulder from 30 minutes of woodchopping, or my sore knee from Sunday morning’s yoga class. I’m doing just fine, thank you. All day, every day.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you. I hope I inherited some of your resilience genes.

We Can Afford To Care For Each Other

The provincial budget was announced yesterday and it’s left me stunned and upset.  I can’t remember feeling gloomier about life in Saskatchewan since the droughts of the mid ’80s.

I mean, I literally used STC on Tuesday to send a birthday package to my niece in Prince Albert and now it’s gone.

Twenty years ago, my grandmother died so poor dad’s family got help with the funeral from social services. Now it seems that’s gone too.

The way I see it, everything we have in Saskatchewan we got by working together and working for each other. Have we forgotten that? Or is that a myth? I still remember in-school dental care and mobile libraries. When we were much poorer as a province it seems we all had so much more.

Nowadays our houses are bigger and our cars are shinier and our phones are magical, but public transport, public libraries and the like are things we aren’t supposed to want.

Is it selfish to want a service we all can use? Is it naive to want to contribute to services that help others, even if I don’t use it? Should we only care about the poor, the young, the sick, the elderly or the remote when times are good? I don’t think so.

But even I caught myself looking at the announcements through the lens of “how am I impacted.”  Look, aside from the tuition hikes, which impact my kids severely, the provincial budget doesn’t hurt me personally.  I’m a middle aged, healthy white man who owns his house and no longer works for a crown corporation.  I’m the ‘core’ and I’m not supposed to care about those who aren’t like me, I guess.

But I do care.  And it pains me when those who most need our help have to pay so the rest of us can maintain the status quo.  That’s not how this province was built.

The problem is the lack of a long term, cooperative vision for all the people of Saskatchewan.  It’s a classic dilemma: in boom times, we don’t need a vision because hey, things are great as is!  And in bust times, we can’t afford something as frivolous as cooperation.  We gotta take action and hey, poor people don’t really need funerals anymore do they? In good times sure, but even the poor need to get realistic here, right?

Let’s keep talking and working together. Talking about the kind of province we want to live in.  And working for each other, serving each other and building lasting institutions for all of us, even when times are tough.

How to Meditate with a Golden Retriever

It’s a challenge. But I’m breathing my way through it.

Buddy, in a state of mindful relaxation.

I have wanted to meditate for several years now. My thinking is getting more and more scattered, and my self talk more and more negative. So better relaxation and focus could really help.

But the Resistance is large with this. It’s as if it knows that better calm and focus will make its destructive job harder. So I thought about it but never started.

Last week I went for my regular long walk around Wascana Lake and listened to the audio of “Real Happiness” by Sharon Salzburg and for whatever reason it got me jazzed to try again. (The reason: it’s a 4 week program so there’s actual things to do. Oh do I need prompts!) So I’ve made a 20 minute meditation session part of my routine.

First thing in the morning I get up, feed the animals, let them outside, then head downstairs for my meditation time. My back’s too tight to sit cross legged for 20 minutes, so I lie on the floor instead.

Just lie there and focus on my breathing. Start thinking about work? Go back to breathing. Relationships? Back to breathing. Past failures and future worries? Breathing. The fact that my back still hurts? Breathing.

Then Buddy, our 10 year old golden retriever, barks to come inside. Breathe. Bark! Breathe. BARK!

Ok, I’m coming.

Back downstairs, and back to breathing. Now he’s beside me. He wants me to pet him. Just breath. He inches closer, (breathe), closer, (breathe), closer, until he’s leaning against my right arm and chest. Now I’m breathing while petting him.

It worked! He’s gone now. Back to breathing.

And he’s back with a toy. Plop. He drops it beside me. Breathe. Plop. He drops it closer. Breathe. Keep breathing and throw the toy. Bud’s a golden retriever but he doesn’t retrieve. He’s got his own Muse.

But this time he retrieves! Breathe. He’s back with the toy. Breathe. He lies down with his toy. Ahh…breathe. Across my feet. Breathe.

Ding! Time’s up. Good session today, Bud. I’m feeling relaxed, focused and strong.

Same time tomorrow?

The Resistance Won A Battle. But I’m Still Fighting The War.

There’s reading about it, and then there’s living it.

I’m a big fan of Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art.”  The book is a kick in the head for all creative people, including writers and entrepreneurs.   It both names and to helps fight the Resistance, that shitty part of your brain that stops you from doing the (seemingly) risky, scary and essential creative work you were meant to do.

I’ve read all of Steven’s non-fiction work and it helps.  But oh boy it’s not helping this month.  The damn Resistance has me hard.  It’s clawing at my brain stem right now.

Some may call it a migraine, but I know exactly what it is.  You don’t just get a migraine when you sit down to write.  But I’ve had three over the past week. Each time it takes me three days to get the courage up to write again.

I tried to trick it, by painting or recording a video instead of writing.  Smart, eh?

Well it wasn’t me that was being smart.  It was that f’ing Resistance again, deflecting the whole time.  Don’t create!  Research a new medium instead.  Look for tripods.  Adjust the lighting.  Watch yourself umm and ahh on video instead of writing clearly like you can.

It took a ‘knock me in bed’ migraine today to finally get it.  I See You.  You prick.

I’m writing about you now, Resistance.  Then I’m hitting Publish.

Then I’m finishing my article.  And starting another one.

You won for the last three weeks.  I won today.