09 December, 2008

~ Making a list ~

Three weeks, or thereabouts. I don’t know exactly how many shopping days that translates into, accounting for the Sunday closings and late night openings, but in the end it all amounts to three weeks.  Or thereabouts. During that time, I expect to accomplish an outrageous number of tasks, the listing of which is Herculean in order. I know this for certain because I created an actual list this year. Ordinaril
y I create a kind-of, sort-of, virtual list which I carry about somewhere in my head. The great thing about having a virtual list is that it can be modified with the greatest of ease. With a virtual list, I can add to, subtract from, shuffle about, and reorganise items so that the things I most enjoy doing (baking shortbread stars, wrapping presents, playing carols on the piano) become (coincidentally, of course) the items of Greatest Importance, and the tasks I am least interested in performing (cleaning the fridge, organising the back hall, not eating all the shortbread stars) become Things To Do Only If I Really Have Time.

I am a huge fan of Christmas - idyllic Ontario landscape, Norman Rockwell Christmas, with a healthy dose of Tasha Tudor thrown in for good measure. Because of this, my virtual list of Things To Do is somewhat idealistic as well. This is why keeping my list in my head is particularly beneficial. At a moment’s notice, laying the coffee table with a tray of artificial ice, studded with ivory tapers and sprinkled with gold snowflakes becomes infinitely more important than making sure the truck is filled with gas. Because I have an unfortunate tendency to get carried away (at least, that’s what my family tells me), I took a giant leap forward this year. I wrote my list out on paper.

That was a sobering exercise.

In order to make certain I would not be caught on Christmas Eve with five things left undone, I determined to make my list complete. I left nothing out, left nothing to memory. I wrote and I jotted, I noted and I scribbled. Somewhere around the middle of the fourth page I began to wonder if perhaps...perhaps I was not rather overestimating myself, my abilities, and my family’s tolerance for madness. Perhaps it all ran to excess.


I finished writing my list and set it aside with plans to review it later. Like, after some piano playing and the eating of shortbread stars. Although I am very good at making shortbread stars, I am less accomplished at playing piano. My enjoyment of each, however, rivals that of the other, though I do admit shortbread stars have a marginal edge, on account of I can drink scalding tea while eating shortbread stars, but not while playing piano. Who makes the rules around here, anyway?

Well-full and fortified, I returned to the sheaf of paper which had, by this time, assumed an identity of its own. The List lay there on my dining room table, heavy, weighty, full of obligation, daring me to take up the challenge. It was, I admit, a formidable adversary. I am not ashamed to say the part of me (the part that is not overly fond of bloodshed) blanched and reached to throw in the towel, ready to concede defeat without so much as a whimper. The rest of me must be made of sterner stuff, however, for I straightened my back, set my jaw and challenged, “Bring it on!”

I must have said it more firmly than I intended, because I startled the cats from their sleep. They blinked reproachfully before burying their noses in their paws and slipping back under the blanket of slumber. Foolish cats, they had no idea the precarious position their mistress was in. There I was, face to face with an evil entity, in grave danger, squaring off with The List, and the cats (thoughtless, thankless creatures that they are) trundled blissfully back to the Land of Nod.

I was alone.

I stared at The List. The List stared back at me. Neither of us flinched, neither twitched, nor gave any tells. Cue the theme from ‘The Good, The Bad And The Ugly’. Cue any number of Harry Callaghan lines - my personal favourite (and perhaps most appropriate), “You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”

I did.

In merciless Dirty Harry fashion, I tackled The List, striking blow after blow, crossing off duty after duty - for duties each listed item had become, morphing (thanks to The List’s dark powers) from Something To Do in Preparation for Celebration of Christmas into Something Horribly Twisted and Fundamentally Wrong. Such is the power of the written word. As long as it had all remained distantly connected to the virtual list in my head, everything had been fine, the world had been a safe and beautiful place. When I put pen to paper and created The List, I had unwittingly loosed A Terrible Thing. Yes, I take full responsibility for it. As creator of The List, I had no choice but to be destroyer also. Swinging my pen with battlefield precision (the pen is mightier than the sword, after all), I hacked at The List, driving it back, hammering it into inky submission. It was not a pretty scene, my friends, I am glad you were not there to witness it.

At last, exhausted, I emerged the victor. The List had been vanquished. As I dragged my battle-weary carcass to the kitchen in search or restorative shortbread stars and scalding tea, the cats slept...unaware of the life-or-death drama which had played out before their closed eyes.

A mistake is not a mistake if one learns from it. I have learned from my recent folly and have determined never (not ever!) to recreate The List, or anything like it, again. I am Wiser Now and More Humble.

Apart from the obvious benefit of doing away with The List, I find there are other benefits of returning to my former habit of carrying my To Do’s in my head. Now that The List no longer dictates every moment of my life, I find I actually have less to do. There are fewer unfinished tasks hanging over my head, there is less pressure, less panic. I feel a sense of well-being, and I am enjoying the peace of the season. I have presents to give, shortbread stars to eat, and carols to play on the piano. If the lights are never hung, what of it? I have arranged my ivory and gold nativity figures on a cranberry-coloured scarf that once belonged to my grandmother, I have displayed decorations made by each of my five children, and in three weeks, or thereabouts, it will be Christmas Day. Now, without The List, I am ready.

Peace ~

24 November, 2008

~ Conversation with my son ~

I was sitting in a big chair in my husband’s den, watching him play darts when the phone rang.

Me (having looked at Caller ID): Centre of the Universe, how may I direct your call?

Son: Um, WHERE have I reached?

Me: The Centre of the Universe.

Son: Oh, then I'd like to speak with Jesus please.

Me: I'm sorry sir, Jesus is unavailable at the moment. May I take a message for Him?

Son: Yes. Tell Him the King of Egypt called and he'd like his robe back.

Me: The King of Egypt called and he'd like his robe back?

Son: Yes.

Me: Alright, and would you please tell the King of Egypt he has a hair appointment on Monday at four o'clock?

Son: Monday at four? Sweet. I'll tell him. Oh, and one more thing ma'am....

Me: Yes?

Son: Would you please tell Jesus I can't make the board meeting, that I will be in a supper meeting with the people at Clairsville?

Me: You have a supper meeting with the people at Clairsville, right.

Son: Thank you, ma'am. Have a nice evening.

Me: You're welcome sir. Have a nice evening.

I wish I had captured the expression on my husband’s face after I ended the phone call. It was one of incredulous confusion. I smiled sweetly at him. He said, “What WAS that? Translation, please?”

Translation: Son won't be home for supper, he's at Clair's house, and Mum made an appointment for a hair cut, as requested.

I love that boy’s guts!

(still laughing)

10 November, 2008

~ Half An Hour ~

Half an hour. Not a long time, really...unless you are holding your breath, then half an hour is an eternity. Einstein was right about Relativity, you know. He was right about a lot of things, that's why they have called him a genius. I don't know that he was a genius so much as he was a thinker. He thought things all the way through. Too many people don't do enough thinking.

But that's just my opinion.

Then again, my family tells me I think too much. They tell me I ask too many questions, too. They ask me why I need to know so many things. I ask them how their questioning my questioning is different from my questioning everything else. They tell me they are late for something they forgot to do...somewhere else...somewhere I am not.


I had my coat on at 7:40 this morning, was headed out the door to collect the last of the Remembrance Day wreaths and poppy trays from local businesses before tomorrow's ceremony. About halfway across the front porch, I realised that none of the places I had to collect from would be open until at least nine o'clock...and some places not until ten.

(slap to the forehead)

Right then. Now what?

Half an hour on, I had checked my email, answered my brother, sent out a request, increased my eBay bid on a silk shrug, read several news articles, and swallowed a cup of tea before it was properly cool enough to drink.

Right then. Now what?

A call from work asking if I could come in early - I would, but there is the matter of the wreaths and trays, which I can leave to collect in about half an hour. The process of collecting the final few will take, perhaps, and only because they are located in businesses clustered together in the downtown core, about half an hour.

So you see where my Fixation o' the Day has risen from...this portion, this allotment of time. It isn't even a complete measure...no. By its' own admission, it is only half of the full, and no more. There seems, though, to be some pride taken in that. Then again, perhaps it is only my imagination.

Regardless, these half hours, these thirty minute blocks, seem to have already paced off the length of my day, seem to have marched in stilted, checked strides, the fun I am to take. Half an hour. Halfanhour. One half hour following another like footprints in a muddy garden, stepping off the length of this Monday just ahead of me, in no real hurry to get there first...if at all.

Perhaps we shall arrive together at the end of the day, all these half-hours and I. Or perhaps I will come in behind them. Perhaps I shall lose them over the course of the day as they become distracted, and find something more interesting to occupy themselves with than What I Am Doing Today.

Where are they going? What will they see that I am missing? Did they, I wonder, visit Albert Einstein one moody November morning and, if so, did they accompany him the length of his day? Or did they, rather, weary of his thinking, his questioning, and wander off to see what was happening somewhere else?

The heartbeat of the clock - tick, tock, tick, tock - listen...like the sound of footfalls....it is time walking on....I think I ought to follow...

Oh, look...the writing of this piece took half an hour. Whaddya know about that, eh?

Peace ~

22 October, 2008

~ There is a Moment ~

There is a moment, driving through the blackness of pre-dawn, when stars and sky and earth become one, where my headlights, or those of my vehicle, anyway, push forward into what seems like nothingness, illuminating the momentary existence of rock and tree, then sweeping past and on, returning those things, relegating them to the void once more.  

And so I press onward, forward, and ahead, until I reach, quite suddenly, that blueing space where definition begins, where form shifts and solidifies, where the upper becomes sky, where the lower becomes earth, and where the middle takes shape, becoming more something than nothing, less nothing than something.

The colours in this place have no name - not ink, not midnight (for surely it is not that), not even dawn, for the light has yet to break.  In this nameless place, this nameless space, my breath is drawn in more measured portions, my shoulders bear no burden, and my eyes perceive only beautiful clarity.  In this nameless space, this nameless place, I find myself smiling in the presence of God.  

It is at that moment the day, The Day, begins.

Peace ~

22 August, 2008

~ The Conversion ~

My laptop is ailing. Dying, in fact. It is struggling and groaning and is, I fear, not long for this world. I lamented (yet again) the impending demise of my trusty Wordsmithing anvil the other night, and my husband asked (yet again) whether I was finally ready to shop for a new one.

Finally, I was.

My brother has been trying for years to persuade me to make the move from PC to Mac. So far, I have resisted. My husband finally convinced me to take my brother’s advice, and so we went shopping for a MacBook. Online. On my old laptop. The bitterness of such irony, eh? We sat together for hours, comparing, learning, watching the tutorials I had already watched half a dozen times (but don’t tell my husband or brother), and at last, having made my choice, I was ready to place my order. “You should call your brother first,” advised my husband before disappearing to practice darts.

I called my brother.

My brother was excited to learn I had finally seen the light and was about to make The Conversion. My brother was not, however, excited to learn I had chosen the saucy black MacBook that is a step up from the one he has. We may be 44 and 41 years old, but the competition between the engine and the caboose has not diminished in our more than four decades together. Remind me to tell you about our cameras some time. (chuckle)

Anyway, I walked through the order process with my brother, ending up with free this and bonus that, and went to bed that night a little poorer, but all together a very happy girl. I had, after all, a shiny new MacBook on the way….a saucy black MacBook, no less, of which my brother was jealous.

Some moments are too perfect not to savour.

It turns out the items in my order were all shipped separately, so I clicked the various tracking numbers thirty times a day to see where my new toys were. Kanshun, Shanghai, Anchorage, Newark, Memphis, Mississauga, Edmonton…….and…..here? No. Everything sort of stalled once it hit Alberta. Except the mouse – the mouse arrived in record time…but just the mouse, nothing more. I stood in the Post Office staring at the little white thing in my hand and, the absolute picture of dejection, said, “A mouse? Just…a mouse? What’m I gonna do with a mouse??”

It was so sad.

Two days ago I received a text message from my brother: “Has it arrived yet?”

I responded: “Well, the website says they were delivered at noon yesterday, but I don’t have them. I don’t know where they were delivered, I just have a mouse.”

Now, you know that I love a good mystery - mysteries are intriguing and fascinating - but not, I have learned, when shiny new saucy black MacBooks are involved. Mysteries under such circumstances are neither good nor interesting. They are, in fact, not very good at all.

Finally, finally, finally, today I was able to send this text message to my brother: “It is very shiny and it is very black.”

He responded: “Did you hear the angels singing when you opened it?”

When I stop laughing, I will tell him that I did, indeed, hear the angels singing…and then I heard them laughing because they know I have commitments that will keep me from introducing myself to my shiny new saucy black MacBook until the day after tomorrow.

At the earliest.


Peace ~

03 June, 2008

~ 'Bye for now ~

My Uncle Lloyd was buried today.

At least, the part of him that most would recognise as my Uncle Lloyd was.

We know otherwise.

The man who was my Uncle Lloyd has gone on to other things, other places…and we have not. We weep, we keen, we sob until our bellies heave…and he remains gone. Will we ever run out of tears?

For as much as I understand these things, these life circles, these life cycles, I rage at them, they chafe. My aunt has lost her best friend. My mother has lost her hero. I cannot even say what I have lost the sorrow is so deep.

The kindest man, the most patient, the gentlest man, the most honest, is gone from the world. We are all poorer for it.

Thank you, Father, for the very great blessing of having such a man as an influential force in my life.

God keep you, Uncle Lloyd. In your words, the last words you said to me, “Bye for now.”

Peace ~

27 May, 2008

~ Of Diggers and Visiting Bees...and Tess ~

I am stuck. I am writing assigned pieces and I have gotten myself stuck. Can't go forward, can't go backward, I'm just sitting here, spinning my wheels, shifting gears, rocking myself deeper into the mire.

I am stuck.

What's a girl to do when she gets herself stuck? Well, if you're this girl, and you happen to have gotten yourself stuck in late spring, you go outside and dig in the dirt.

I have brand new diggers, fancy-schmancy stainless steel diggers received as a Christmas gift, diggers that came, as all diggers do, with the expectant hope of green and growing things…so…I take myself out to dig in the dirt, expectant and hopeful.

As I nestle our new lilies into the bed at the bottom of the garden, and wonder whether clover roots are knitted or crocheted (growl, scowl, frown, tug, pull, wrestle), a bee settles nearby, and a gentle commotion at the fence alerts me to the presence of Tess, our neighbour's dog.

Tess likes to visit while we garden. She leans through the small spaces between the fence boards and tells us stories, mostly about how lonesome she is and how many treats she has not had. We don't believe her for a minute (she shares her home with children), but she is so sweet and earnest that we humour her and tell her how sorry we are for the ill treatment she perceives she is subjected to.

Today, Tess pushes her nose through the fence and tells me a very sad tale of loneliness and woe. I have heard this particular story before, but I scratch her chin and try very hard to look in the direction of the visiting bee so she does not see that I am rolling my eyes.

Before long Tess’ account has ended, the lilies have been settled, the knitted (or maybe crocheted) clover has been eliminated from one corner of one bed, my diggers have been properly dirtied., and the visiting bee has moved on to someone else's garden. I scoop weeds into the barrow, slap my gloves together, pull several thistle prickles from my wrists, scrub my hands, and return to my assigned pieces, which I had abandoned in the mire an hour previously.

Curiously, the mire seems to have receded. I sit down to my assigned pieces and find that while I was out digging in the dirt, all trace of ‘stuck’ disappeared…and I write…

Peace ~

21 May, 2008

~ Hunting with The Big Gun ~

Hornets make poor photography subjects.

I know this to be true because I followed one around my back yard last night for more than five minutes, fancy new camera at the ready, eye to the viewfinder, hand on the focus ring of The Big Gun, my fancy new 300mm lens. The hornet tested my crabapple blossoms, he tested my dianthus blooms, he tested my bergenia flowers, he tested my patience. He lit long enough only for me to locate him, never long enough to capture his fearsome image.

Still, he was lovely after his own fashion, with his fierce white brows knit in a ferocious frowning ‘V’.

Lovely, if ill mannered.

The impression he left was rather less than stellar.

My daughter says perhaps he would have been better behaved had he been wearing his yellow jacket, a dinner jacket. Perhaps. All I know is that, arrayed as he was, he behaved very poorly indeed, rather like a wayward child, like a primadonna – spoiled and indulged.

Not like tulips which are far better behaved, far more civilized, and which make marvellously compliant subjects for a gal itching to test the features of her fancy new camera and, especially, new Big Gun.

Plus, as you may see for yourself, tulips do not frown.

Peace ~

15 May, 2008

~ Mmmmmm ~

Chop a red pepper into a bowl, drizzle it with extra-virgin olive oil, crush a little black pepper and a little sea salt over it, take it to the garden and snip fresh chives over the top. Eat it in the sun.


Go sit in the sun and eat anything, anything at all, doesn't have to be red pepper with chives. Close your eyes and let the flavours fill your whole body.

Let the wind play with your hair.

Let God whisper in your ear.


It is a day for such things, for whisperings, for secret joys, for hugs of the spirit.....

...a day where dreams become tangible....

....one can dip one's fingers into them......

....and roll them from one's skin.....

....to keep for another time.....

06 May, 2008

~ Dibs ~

Our home is filled with the things most homes are filled with – family pictures, well-loved books, Grandma’s Bible, Granddad’s wood planes. Our home is also filled with odd treasures - hand-me-down furniture, rescued chairs, auction riches, and I could never have guessed some of the things my children would become attached to.

One of my sons has called dibs on the old restaurant dishes we use every day. One son wants my typewriter, another wants the clock, one daughter has claimed the photographs of her great-great-grandparents, and the other has laid claim to certain books. Who knows why certain things are important to each of them?

We used to take road trips. We would load up the Suburban (or, many years earlier, the much-despised minivan) and trailer and we would head out across three provinces, singing songs, playing games, lifting our feet as we crossed every railway, ducking our heads as we passed under every overpass, holding our breath as we crossed every bridge, stopping every thirty-two miles because someone had to pee. We kept large scrapbooks, some of them old-time scrapbooks with black pages, in which we made Dear Diary entries every night before bed. We (well, I) wrote out what we had done that day, where we had gone, whom we had seen, and so on. We included ticket stubs, postcards, brochures, till receipts, maps, and all manner of good stuff. The day's entry always ended with everyone's favourite part of the day. Sometimes instead of telling every story, I wrote something like, "Remember Finnegan doing acrobatics and getting caught up in the tree?" or "Remember putting David's snakes in our pockets?" or "Remember the dead fox on the railway tracks?" which sparked memories and encourageed the kids to tell the stories themselves.

These summertime journals become bedtime stories, generally somewhere around the middle of January when tales of bright, sweltering summer days were a welcome distraction from deepest winter. The reading and storytelling usually took us way past bedtime, but what of it? We were reliving the memories we had created together – who could send children to bed in the middle of such moments? The scrapbook journals, fat and bulgy, frayed, stained, several even smeared with bug guts (Manitoba mosquitoes are the worst!), are some of my children’s most well loved treasures.

My kids aren’t shy about putting dibs on whatever it is they want from the house after I die. They have no problem calling the blue jug, or my typewriter, or my red gloves. Sometimes they ask if they can have certain things before I die. The one who gets my engagement ring once said, “Hurry up and go so I can have my ring”. Little brat. (grin) Oddly, my kids don't fight over who will get the fancy scrapbook albums with their pretty layouts and carefully protected pages…..but there is an ongoing battle over who will have custody of the holiday journals. Ü

Really, knowing my brood, I ought to have seen that one coming.

19 March, 2008

~ Buried Treasure ~

Looking outside, it seems rather incredible that it is actually spring. The accumulation of snow on our sheds and the great white mound which is all that remains of the four majestic poplars we had to have removed from our yard last fall (the only good wood remaining on one of them was the bark, which is not actually wood at all...our insurance company ought to be quite relieved!) indicate winter has no intention of releasing us from its hold quite yet. The annual Tulip Appearance Bet between my husband and myself is being reconsidered. Ordinarily, we place our stakes (always a pizza and Cokes) on the date the tulips down our front walk poke their tiny green and maroon heads through the soil (he always chooses 15 April, my date varies from year to year). This year, however, we are considering betting on whether the tulips put in an appearance at all. One of us remains hopeful (albeit, guardedly so) while the other has surpassed pessimistic and has become downright negative. According to the negative one among us, not only will the tulips not flower, their foliage will not grow above a hand-span, barely a few sad inches. Further, according to the nay-sayer, there will be no peonies, no lily of the valley and—especially, worst of all—no sweet peas.

Well! That’s enough to make a person cross.

One particularly warm week in January, my husband brought me a willow branch laden with dozens of furry little catkins. I stuck it in water, just to see what would happen. Today, it has lovely, strong roots and any number of sweet, lacy green leaves. Even some of the kids are excited about planting it out in the yard...if the ground ever thaws.

In an attempt to placate ourselves, to quiet our jitters, since we cannot take coffee cups in hand and wander about the garden, poking at the soil to see who survived the winter and who was not so fortunate, who has put out new shoots and who requires a trimming back, we cleared the dining room table, gathered together peat pellets (totally magic, if you ask me), plant cells, cell trays, the ingredients for light and tender starter mix, the baby bath we use as a potting tray, two spray bottles, a length of plastic (which, in former lives, has protected shop equipment from dust and travel abrasions, kept paint spatters off furniture and contained a few stray batts of fibreglass insulation), saw horses, plywood and the big wicker basket containing absolute treasure in the form of thousands of seeds.

I must admit I am an obsessive seed-gatherer. I wander the garden deadheading like a good girl, but I always leave one or two flowers to wither and die and set seed which I drop into little home-made triangular packets, dated and labelled. These I place carefully into the Treasure Basket. My horticulturist husband shakes his head in despair at my slap-dash system of labelling. As he sorted through the Treasure Basket the other day, he was forced to comment, “Honey...you have convolvulus, ocimum basilicum and myosotis seed in here. You also have bachelor’s buttons, love-lies-bleeding and Manitoba tomatoes.” At this point, I looked sideways at him, waiting for the question I know will next escape his lips. “But tell me,” he asks, his brow furrowed (that’s a gardening joke!) in puzzlement, “what does ‘f. bed und. delph nana’ mean? What do you have in this packet?” He rattled the packet at me, his eyes narrowed (unfairly, I think) in suspicion. For, despite our blessed compatibility, we have very different ideas about what form a garden ought to take and what ought to be contained within it. He is a fan of soldierly rows of plants, well-spaced, well-mannered, well-ordered specimens, in front of which are stuck little signs listing genus, species, origin, common name and plant habits. I favour looser, blowsier, more relaxed plantings, reminiscent of an abandoned-and-newly-rediscovered farmhouse garden. I adore cosmos, he calls it “a weed, and an ugly weed, at that!” And I don’t like signs. He insists on sticking those infernal little signs into the soil near our plants and, while I completely respect his right to have the signs, I also exercise my own rights…..by flipping soil (quite accidentally of course) at them until they are covered over...and effectively eliminated.

He was still rattling the seed packet, awaiting a response, somehow knowing he will not like the one I’d give him. It was my turn to shake my head, lovingly of course. “Silly!” I said, “ ‘f. bed und. delph nana’. Those are seeds of that little short thingie with the pinkish flowers that we planted under those delphiniums that were mislabelled,” I looked at him hopefully, “Remember?”

He didn’t.

He tossed the seed packet disdainfully onto the table, selected a fresh, brightly coloured, store-bought packet from the Treasure Basket (store-bought seeds are always his contribution to the Treasure Basket...he has this thing about wanting to know what to expect, about not wanting to be surprised by what grows...I don’t get it). I rescued my grubby little triangular packet (my own dirty fingerprints are all over it) with its unknown contents, determined to plant the seeds anyway.

He pretended not to have noticed.

There is something therapeutic about digging about in the dirt, even if the dirt is contained within a baby bath on the dining room table on a sub-zero afternoon in the middle of March. Plunging our hands into the soil, loosening it, fluffing it, breathing in the loamy goodness, we set about to fill hundreds of cells with soil. Then, we fill hundreds of soil-filled cells with seeds, perfect little promises. Buried Treasure. We create a nursery table in the sun room, mist The Babies (as I am now calling them) and cover them over, clipping the edges of the plastic to keep in the moisture and to keep out the cats. Our home smells wonderfully of moist soil, of wet dirt, of spring. We scrub our nails, reluctantly removing the dirt that has reminded us of the garden, a place we are both blissfully happy. We put on another pot of coffee, we turn the TV to a gardening show where everyone is wandering about in hiking boots and shorts and we try not to notice the snow falling just outside our window.

10 March, 2008

~ Risk N' Hope ~

Perhaps people are like salmon. Perhaps the area in which we are born marks us as indelibly as a badly healed childhood wound. Perhaps moving away from our beginnings becomes our badly healed childhood wound. Perhaps, like salmon, we spend the rest of our lives trying to return to what we first knew, trying to recreate the atmosphere, trying to ‘go home’.

I was born to farm people. I was the fourth generation of my family to live in the two-storey, Dutch-gabled, white and green farmhouse on the south half of 7-13-22, near a tiny village in Manitoba. My first memories are of that house and of events transpiring within it. The smell of lilacs will still send me reeling through time to land on the front lawn in the heavy-scented shade of a lilac hedge planted on the east side of the house, now nearly seventy years ago. Last time I checked, the hedge was still there.

Some people paint flowers or wildlife or the sea. Some people paint mountains or hearth scenes or fantasy worlds. Fields and farm buildings form the subjects of most of my paintings and drawings. Like salmon, I have spent most of my life feeling the murmured lure of ‘home’.

A movie I am very fond of tells of an aged woman, living with her son and daughter-in-law who do not, cannot understand. Our grandmotherly woman runs away from home and makes a long journey by bus to ease her longing to return to the place of her childhood. It is—and is not—everything she expected. That is as it should be.

Somehow, I have become the repository of family memorabilia. Somehow, I have become the dumping ground for all those things found in chests and drawers and boxes by my aunts and uncles, things which would be of absolutely no worth to anyone who did not have the happy accident of being born into our family. I have received photographs, brittle and yellowed newspaper clippings, school reports, scribblers filled with the daily musings of my grandmother, bundles of greeting cards given and received five decades ago, envelopes full of postcards picked up during road trips through the northern states, decorative plates commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of this church or the seventy-fifth anniversary of that settlement, a number of community history books and even a portion (just a portion, mind you) of a watch which once belonged to my great-grandmother. Amassed, these items would be of laughable value to anyone who did not know the land and people whose artefacts these are. My children, a generation removed, have been to the farm, have seen the house, have wandered through it, but it was unlived-in and contained, to their eyes, nothing more than a few dishevelled remains, the detritus of a family long moved on. A generation removed, my children never knew most of the people whose well-loved images appear in the photographs on my piano. A generation removed, my children have lives shaped by different forces, different faces, different places. This farm in south-western Manitoba with the two-storey, Dutch-gabled, white and green house, is, to them, nothing more than the stuff of legend, for truly, that is what a family history becomes.

Treasured among the goodies passed to me for safekeeping is a cash book for the farm, kept the year I was born. Written across twelve pages in this blue-covered, coil-bound volume, I see evidence of the successes, the disappointments and the struggle which characterised farm life in that day. Then, as now. I see that the hired man’s name was Mervin and that he was paid wages of two dollars; I see that a trip to the city meant paying for a meal (forty cents) and parking meter (one cent); I see that a hair cut set you back a dollar and each visit from the vet (twice in one week during June) was a six dollar touch. The ledger records that a tractor could be obtained (from Ed Hare) for $25, and a truck could be bought for $35. A sow sold netted $47.65 while a sow bought cost $65. Cigarettes cost fifty cents and bars were a nickel. The cost of a dance plus lunch was $2.55 while the same evening out including a sitter for me, was $5.50. After totalling the receipts from hog cheques, premiums, cattle cheques, baby bonus, et cetera and deducting the costs of feed, seed, gas, veterinarian, barn spray, insurances and machine parts, et cetera—oh, wait...deduct the payments made to my grandfather, with whom the farm was operated in partnership (though my grandfather lived in town) - and the year’s profit breaks down into a monthly income of approximately $55, from which must be deducted groceries ($8-$12 every two weeks), hydro ($6.05 per month), telephone ($6 per month), fridge payment ($13 per month), prescriptions and clothing/shoes/diapers for two adults and a baby. Is it any wonder the words my father penned on the front cover of the ledger are “RISK N’ HOPE”?

Someone tucked a store receipt inside the front cover of the “Risk N’ Hope” cash book. It is a receipt for coffee, sugar and milk from Glinz’s Solo Store, total cost: ninety-three cents. For the record, Glinz’s Solo Store features “nationally advertised merchandise: groceries, dry goods, fruit & vegetables”. If you found the need to contact Glinz’s Solo Store by telephone, you would, as directed by the notice at the top of the receipt, “Phone 9”.

I received a call the other day. Someone found some old photographs they had forgotten about and they are forwarding them to me to do whatever it is I do with them. The current owner of the vacated, family-less farmhouse has offered me the great gift of both coloured glass windows from the front room. Curiously, it seems that ‘home’ is slowly making its way to me.

I have placed the three-column cash book on my bookshelf between “75th Anniversary History of Blanshard Municipality, 1884-1959” and “History of Blanshard Municipality, Volume II, 1884-1970”, produced for Manitoba’s centennial celebrations. I know that whatever spiritual connection remains between me and my Manitoba farm, I am beyond fortunate to live, as I do, on a corner lot in an Alberta town. My house is white and green, but it is only one storey and there are no Dutch gables.

I have, however, planted lilacs on the east side of the house. Perhaps in seventy years, someone—a grand child or great-grandchild, perhaps—will come reeling through time to land on the front lawn in the heavy-scented shade of my lilac hedge.

04 March, 2008

~ Necessary Losses ~

The thing about loss is that it brings with it some measure of pain. It seems that when it doesn't, it isn't counted as loss. It's a curious set-up. Curious, too, is the fact that a loss seems all the greater when it is sudden or unexpected.

Like most people I know, I have had my share of loss. I have been force
d to let go of people, places, lifestyles and even beliefs I have loved and been comfortable with. Some of these losses have proven to have positive outcomes. They have cleared the way for new and unexpected things, things I had not dreamed of for myself, things which became, eventually, loved and comfortable in their own right. In terms my gardener husband would use, those losses were hard prunings.

Some of my losses have shattered me, have shaken me to the centre of my being. Some I have never recovered from. They have left huge and gaping holes in my life, holes in my heart. Some day I may heal from such losses, but I have not done so yet. However painful they are to live with, I am certain they were necessary. That doesn't make them any less frustrating, of course, and it doesn't make them any more bearable, but I have learned to live alongside these losses without making friends with them. I have learned to give a little when it is necessary and I have learned that it is sometimes necessary to give a little more than I think I can.

Most of the time, I am not impressed with this set-up. I'm okay with learning from the experiences and I'm good with the growth that invariably springs from loss. I am fine with having to let go of one thing in order to be able to receive another, What I am not so calm and even about is that it is necessary for letting go to happen in the first place.

I am letting go again today...this week...last week, too. I am preparing for growth...trying to remain focused on the horizon while extracting my boots from the mire of pain and loss where I now stand.

Moving forward. Moving ahead. Moving on. May I always remember that a hard pruning is sometimes what is called for and that some losses are indeed necessary.

Peace ~


14 February, 2008

~ Something I did not know about Jell-O ~

I know a lot about Jell-O, but something I did not know is that a ramekin, just a 1/2 cup ramekin, falling from the second shelf in the cupboard (I swear it leaped!), will strike a bowl (actually an 8 cup Pyrex measuring cup) of Jell-O (quantity of four cups at that point) at the dissolving-in-boiling-water stage, with enough force to: a) shatter the ramekin; b) empty the bowl of more than one full cup of liquid (so said the measurements on the side of the cup); c) spray that more than one full cup of liquid a distance greater than four feet in all directions. Including up.

Did you know that?

Until this afternoon, I did not know that. Good thing I was wearing a black shirt.

I did not take pictures because: a) the Jell-O was running everywhere and, as it was not yet dissolved, it was drying and hardening in seconds; b) Jell-O stains light grey countertops (which I have)....especially when it is cherry-grape Jell-O (which is what I was making); c) having just had a Jell-O shower, I was too drippy and sticky to run through the house to get my camera bag; d) and was WAY too drippy and sticky to handle my camera.

My youngest son heard the noise and came to see what was going on. "What happened, Mum? OOOooooohhhh! Whoa!" This brought his next older brother to the kitchen asking, "What's going on? Holy crap, Lois! Gross! What is that?" They're such helpful boys. (rolling eyes)

My light grey counters are stained, but my walls, cupboards, floor, cannisters, oil bottle, toaster, taps, kettle, stove, bla, bla, bla, are clean and de-stickified. I have a suspicion I will be finding Jell-O spots for days.

Peace ~

11 February, 2008

~ Lessons in horse sense ~

I share this today because Kate loves horses as much as I do.
Peace ~

I have spent three days trying to accomplish what normally takes less than two hours. Ordinarily, I have a thought in my head, I have an idea, a phrase or a sentence, I sit down with it, hand it over to my Muse and, before a hundred and twenty minutes have passed, something approaching a column has been written. That’s how it works ordinarily. This week, as though to illustrate to me that I am not on the road to mastering the principles of my craft (moreover, that I may have wandered completely off the map), all of my sitting down and handing over has come to nothing. I have spent hour after tedious hour playing with words, coaxing them, manhandling them, trying to turn them into something resembling a cohesive expression of thought. They have fought me every step of the way. I have no less than five arrested attempts to prove it.

It’s curious how every day, from the very moment we are born, we are presented with opportunities to learn lessons and life skills. In today’s fruitless battle with words, I had forgotten one of my greatest lessons. In fact, this one has been absent from my mind for a long time...perhaps this literary frustration was just the event needed to remind me of what I knew as a child.

When I was nine and ten years old, my horse Pebbles (no, I didn’t choose that name but because she had learned to answer to it, I kept it...rather, she kept it) and I spent every possible waking moment together. To my everlasting delight (also, I expect, to shut me up), my father had traded our VW van to a local farmer for a miserable, cranky, neglected old nag, prone to biting, kicking and balking. Somehow, the total adoration of the child that was me loved her back to kindness.

In 1973, a VW van could buy a horse, but not the saddle that went with it, so I rode bareback. I did have a bridle (purchased from the Co-op in the next town with my bottle-picking money), but tended not to use it once Pebbles had become more docile—I had once slipped the bridle over my own head and taken the bit in my own mouth and decided that, because it was disagreeable to me, it must be disagreeable for my horse as well. I would clip a lead (or sometimes just tie a bit of twine) to her halter, haul myself up on her sun-hot back and be gone. “Stay where I can see you,” my mother would say and, because we lived on the prairie, I could wander miles from home and still be seen.

Because I trusted her, the day Pebbles stopped short in the empty field behind our house, and refused to budge, I knew something was truly wrong. What I discovered was a coil of barbed wire hidden in the long prairie grass. The wire had curled up and around her legs, was pressing against her belly and was tangled in her tail. Pebbles and I were trapped in a barbed wire snare. I called for help, but who is there to hear in the middle of an August afternoon in a town of only 82 souls? Everyone with any sense was over at Wood’s Garage sipping Cokes in the shade (that would be the kids old enough to drive—all three of them) or down at Eldon’s Meat Market smoking pipes and drinking coffee (that would be the men) or over at Helen’s General Store smoking cigarettes and drinking tea (that would be the women) The kids (including the teenagers, there were only 14 of us in town—and six of them were from the same family!) were headed home for snacks of Freshie and Rice Krispie squares, just like I had been. With no aid forthcoming, the only thing for me to do was to slide off Pebbles’ back into the barbed wire nest, bare legs, yellow thongs and all, and go for help. So I did, first explaining to Pebbles how important it was that she remain perfectly still so as to avoid slicing open her pretty legs. She blinked her long, black lashes as though in understanding.

There were no adults about our house—as I say, they were at Eldon’s or Helen’s...or maybe even Wood’s – so I found the biggest pair of wire cutters on the property and headed back to extricate my entangled horse who, I discovered, had not moved so much as a hair. It had not occurred to me to change from shorts to jeans, nor had it occurred to me to trade my thongs for runners, so before five minutes were up, I was covered in scratches, cuts and pokes. As I struggled with the wire, Pebbles kept careful watch. When at last I freed her left front leg, she lifted it gingerly and stood, balanced on three legs, until I had cleared a safe space for her to set it down again. We worked like this for over an hour, ten year old me bleeding from dozens of minor wounds, fourteen year old Pebbles watching intently, helping as best she could and occasionally licking a particularly sore cut on my leg. By the time I had cleared away the last of the wire and freed my horse, my hands were blistered and cut, my back was sunburned where my shirt and shorts had not met, and I was bleeding from my shoulders to my fingertips and from my thighs to my toes. I couldn’t heave myself onto her back, so Pebbles and I walked home through the long grass, avoiding the thistles and gopher holes. The whole interminable way, the horse that had once nipped at everyone just for the sheer pleasure of it, rested her head on my shoulder and licked my arm. I carried pail after pail of cool water out to her for drinking and pail after pail of Dettol water out for washing her legs. I couldn’t actually see any cuts, but I figured it was the right thing to do. Besides, she had earned a wash and a rubdown.

When the adults came home, it was my turn to be washed with Dettol water. My mother bandaged the deepest gouges on my legs and wrapped my hands in gauze before I walked (wearing jeans and runners) back through the field with my father to gather up all of the barbed wire for safe and proper disposal.

I don’t know what happened to Pebbles. We moved the following winter and she was sold for $35 to a farm family with three children. I hope they were good to her. I hope they loved her as much as I did. As much as I still do. I hope she loved them in return. My father told me he had looked for her once, many years ago, when I was again keeping horses and would have had a place for her, but she was gone.

Over the past three days, I have tried too hard to write what I had to say. I didn’t stop to realise that, sometimes what I have to say and what needs to be said are not the same thing. I had forgotten the lessons I learned that scorching, summer afternoon on the prairie—lessons of trust and tenacity, lessons of patience, lessons of gratitude and of love.

The last line of one of the books I loved best when I ran barefoot on the prairie seems particularly appropriate today...even if I must misquote by changing the horse’s gender. “If there’s a hoss heaven, please God, rest her soul.”


Amen to that.

05 February, 2008

~ Becoming a Wordsmith ~

Before I even understood them, I was fascinated by written words. I did not know the names of the individual letters, nor the sounds of any of them were meant to make, but I knew that whenever these figures were strung together in particular combinations, they represented communication. I knew that one person could set down a series of these figures which another person could look at later….and understand. It was magic, and I wanted to know how to do it.

They tell me I was speaking in complete sentences by the age of twenty-two months. They tell me I would ask to have new words, long words, complex words repeated until I had learned them for myself. They tell me I would ask the name of everything I saw and ask the meaning of every word I heard. I must have been particularly insistent (read: annoying) about my desire to learn this form of magic, because I was taught to read when I was four years old (I would be prepared to bet it was so my mother could have some respite from my endless questions and my unceasing requests to be read to) and they tell me that, once I had been taught to read, I also wanted to know “how do you spell that?” They tell me I announced, at the age of five, “What an extraordinary day I’ve had!” They tell me (and I well remember) that at the age of six I announced “When I grow up, I’m going to be a writer!” Shortly after this pronouncement, our neighbour (an artist of considerable talent, prone to tragic bouts of depression and occasional self-mutilation...a perfectly fascinating man for a child to know!) made me the gift of a 1928 Underwood typewriter. “If you’re going to be a writer,” he told me, “you’re going to need a writer’s tools.” At about the same time, my grandparents gave me a set of encyclopaedias which had been published before my father was born. They fed my addiction. My obsession with words grew, quite naturally, into an obsession with books.

I read everything I could get my hands on. When there were no stories left to read, I read the dictionary, studying language origins and root words, looking up the definition of words within definitions, and flipping to every “see also:”, using pronunciation guides to figure out how to wrap my tongue around polysyllabic words with seemingly too few vowels or an excess of consonants. I was positively beside myself when I discovered a thesaurus. The rules of phonics intrigued me, especially the exceptions to the rules, which appealed to my abstract sensibilities.

The library my mother used to take me to was one of those beautiful, nineteenth-century stone creations with hardwood floors buffed to a high shine, and ceilings that stopped somewhere just short of the sky. It smelled gloriously of floor wax and wood polish and books. On hundreds of dark shelves stood thousands of books—new books with colourful jackets and crisp pages, old books with gold-stamped leather covers and heavy linen pages cut with paper knives; there were thin volumes to fit easily in one hand and massive tomes which had to be heaved onto one of the elaborately carved tables for inspection. I would sometimes (out of sight of the severely disapproving, birdish librarian who wore her spectacles on a beaded chain and who never put her arms into her cardigan, but wore it over her shoulders with the top button fastened under her wattled chin) reverently extracted one of the greatly worn books from a shelf, held it to my ear as I opened it, hearing the arthritic complaint of the spine. I would fan the pages carefully, bathing my face in wafts of its’ cool, musty scent before burying my nose in the book, smelling dust and paper and ancient ink, almost believing (and fervently wishing) I could draw the story into myself. In a carpeted and brightly lit room in the basement, the children’s books waited in bright rows on white shelves. My favourite (borrowed at least a dozen times) was an alphabet book which began, “A—acrobats eating asparagus…” Once home with my armload of treasure, I would hurry to my room and throw myself across the bed to lie belly-down under the window, reading. And reading. And reading. An adult of whom I was not particularly fond once shook her head at me—the child with her nose buried in yet another book—chiding, “You’re going to ruin your eyesight with all that reading!” I worried about that for a while, until I discovered the story of Louis Braille in one of my encyclopaedias. I felt reassured knowing that not even ruining my eyesight to the point of blindness could stop me from reading.

When I was small, we had no television. Most of the people my parents knew lived in television-free homes, as well, but however many toys and puzzles and games there were, I was always drawn to the books. I learned more about some people from their bookshelves than I did from conversations with them (or from eavesdropping on my parents’ conversations with them). I still feel uncomfortable in homes where there is no evidence of reading material. My own bookshelf residents (there are books in absolutely every room in our house) have been grouped according to subject, in an arrangement loosely based on the Dewey Decimal Classification System. The shelves are full—overfull—and I have boxes of books stored away in the basement. I need more shelves. My husband says I need fewer books. I offered to make a trade—I would reduce the number of books I harbour (“After all, how may books can you read all at once and do you ever actually LOOK at most of them?”) if he would reduce the number of vintage wood planes he has gathered (“After all, what do you actually USE them for? Don’t you have two routers?”).

We are currently in a position of stalemate.

Though he does not share my passion for the written word, my husband does pander to it. On gift-giving occasions, I almost always receive a certificate from one of my favourite book stores. Other people give me these, as well (My favourite people!), and I hoard them away in a Very Safe Place until it is Just The Right Time. There is a tremendous thrill in walking through the doors, knowing I can have any book which catches my eye, any book which feels right in my hand, any book whose prose fills my mouth with the round resonance of its’ vowels or strikes my tongue with the staccato sharpness of its’ consonants. My family knows that once I enter the temple of books, I will be lost to them for an indefinite period. One of my children once resorted to lying (tugging on my coat and entreating, “Mum! Dad just answered the cell phone and he says we have to leave right now!” The cell phone was, at that moment, in my own pocket) in an attempt to prise me from a display of out-of-print books.

Once, for no reason at all, my husband bought a book he “knew I would love”. I don’t remember much of the plot, but the cover is embossed with medallions and scallops and scrolling which feels marvellous under my fingers—a tactile delight! He’s right, I do love it.

He once made a four hundred kilometre trip to an antique shop in order to surprise me with a century old edition of a favourite Mark Twain volume (how wonderful is that?). He may not share my passion, he may not understand it, but he encourages it and, it seems, has resigned himself to living with it.

My latest favourite quote reads, “The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones.” Quite so. But let me have a try at them all, anyway.

30 January, 2008

~ Doubting Thomas ~

My husband is a Doubting Thomas. He is sceptical and difficult to convince. When I try to impart some Fascinating Bit Of Information, he closes his ears, his eyes and his mind, turns his head away from me and says, “I’m not listening to you!” which is not at all the most friendly thing a husband can say to his wife.

Last week, I wandered into the front room where my husband and one of my children were sitting in front of the television. “What are we looking at?” I asked as I settled myself between them. They informed me it was some home video program. “Oh”, I murmured as we watched a goat bound away, then suddenly grow rigid and fall over. “What was THAT?” my husband laughed. “A fainting goat” I replied, very pleased that I was being presented with an opportunity to impart a Fascinating Bit Of Information. The Doubting Thomas To Whom I Am Married closed his ears, his eyes and his mind, turned his head away from me and said, “Yeah, right….whatever you say, Aesop!” I protested (as I always do when I know I am right), “No, really! It’s true! I’m not making this up!” and I tried to explain that I had once watched a program about these goats and that the narrator had explained the physiological process of the ‘fainting’ and said researchers suggest the goats appear to have developed this ‘fainting’ as a defence mechanism against predators who prefer to kill their prey rather than have it fall dead at their feet. It was too little, too late. The information I was so willing (and eager!) to share was being refused.


My husband maintains I have earned his disbelief. He says my actions over the years are proof positive that I am not to be trusted. However strenuously I may object, I cannot change his stubborn mind. “Look,” he argues, “would YOU believe you?” He then lists all of the times I have taken advantage of his good nature, all of the times I betrayed his trust, all of the times I shattered his innocence (yeah, at that point my stomach always starts feeling a little queasy, too). For example…

Sitting in the restaurant, waiting for our breakfast to arrive, I watched a carpenter-type gentleman as he made his way to the table opposite us. This gentleman is wearing very wide, very red braces. “Wow, look at his braces,” I said cheerfully to no one in particular, then I leaned over and, in a conspiratorial tone, informed my Best Beloved that firemen wear braces like the ones on our fellow diner and asked if he knew why this is so. When my husband replied in the negative, I let him in on the secret, “To keep their trousers up!” (insert much laughter here) I was delighted with myself for luring my husband so easily into my trap and doubly delighted that the trap was such an old and obvious one.

Not many days afterward, my father called to say he would be passing through town over the weekend and would like to meet us for coffee. “I have a great joke,” he told me, and we made plans to play this joke on my unsuspecting spouse. All week I waited for an opportunity to bring our conversation believably around to the subject of grey hair and when it happened, I pounced on the opportunity to sow the seeds. You might ask my husband about it some time...the story involves grey hair, a hay rake and a bolt of lightning. He may tell you the details and he may not, but he is certain to tell you how horrible both his wife and his father-in-law are for conspiring so fiendishly to trick him.

Then there was the afternoon he mused, “You never hear of anyone having a mule ranch. I wonder why?” I started out to explain the donkey/horse cross-breeding that results in a mule and that a mule is born sterile and so on. I hadn’t travelled more than two sentences into my explanation when I was shut down. I was brought to a complete stop. I was completely and unceremoniously stifled. My helpful, educational words fell upon intentionally deaf ears. I was not insulted so much as I was reminded of my husband’s similar behaviour on the day I attempted to disclose the utterly intriguing success of the lion/tiger cross-breeding I had read about years ago. The resulting cub was promptly named a ‘liger’. On the ‘liger’ day, however, my husband did challenge the validity of both the information I was presenting and the newspaper I was quoting. He actually went so far as to suggest the newspaper was of the tabloid variety. I was completely insulted.

Admittedly, I am descended from a long line of storytellers. Perhaps it is because of the Irish blood flowing through our veins that my family believes there are few truths so perfect that they cannot benefit from a little…..judicious embroidery. If you ask him, my husband will tell you he married into a family of cheats and liars. (I think he’s still sore about the red braces and the hay rake.) With such an attitude, it is small wonder he dismissed my ‘fainting goats’ story without even a moment’s consideration.

This past weekend we were out of town visiting with my brother-in-law and his wife. At one point, my brother-in-law asked if we had watched the home video program last week. I wonder if you can imagine the expression on my husband’s face when his brother laughed and said, “Did you see that ‘fainting’ goat?”

22 January, 2008

~ The age of wisdom ~

When I was half my age, I couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t think as I did. I had everything figured out—well, nearly everything...everything that mattered, at any rate. I figured that what I hadn’t figured out was either beyond figuring or was not worth figuring. Now that I’m twice my age, I cannot imagine how I could have been so incredibly naïve. Or stupid. Or arrogant. I figure it was the ignorance of my youth.

I found a veritable cache of photographs not long ago, an entire two-drawer cabinet filled to the brim with packages of pictures from before. Before what? Well, before I had some sense, I guess...before I had lightened up...before I had calmed down...just, you know, ‘before’. At first, I was thrilled to have discovered this long-forgotten treasure, but the further I went into the packages, the less comfortable I felt. Although I recognized the places, the faces, the events, it was as though I was somehow eaves-looking (it’s a word...really Ü) into someone else’s life. There were pictures of children who looked very much like my own children did when they were younger, and pictures of a woman who looked very like I might have when I was half (or even three-fifths) my age. It wasn’t so much the fashions of the day I had trouble understanding (though I cannot believe I spiral permed my bum-length hair and wore a braided terrycloth headband – ack!), it was more that I had trouble with the expression on the face of the woman who resembles me. She looks, more than anything, terribly unhappy, and old behind her eyes.

When I was just out of school, I had Big Plans (don’t we all?). I was going to Go Places and I was going to Do Things. I had been accepted at the college of my choice and I had made ten thousand arrangements for ten thousand different things. Then I changed my mind, cancelled it all and did something entirely different. I took a different path and I became a Mum.

It isn’t that I regret my decision—quite the contrary. I’m certain that where I am is where I’m meant to be. I’m equally certain that the people I have been were important too, that I had to be who I was to become who I am. I like that. I wrote it out and pinned it to my board, in fact: “We had to be who we were in order to become who we are.” There’s some wisdom in that, I think. It may only be my own wisdom, but it is wisdom, nonetheless. Perhaps it is useless to anyone else and contains wisdom only for me. Perhaps, at the end of it all, it is only our own wisdom which counts. Perhaps it is What We Learn which matters.

I have learned something from everyone I’ve met, everyone I’ve loved, everyone I haven’t. I have learned to listen and I have learned to speak up. I have even learned to speak out and how to recognize when speaking out is necessary. I have learned to walk a little slower and think a little longer. I have learned to hear what is really being said, what is not being said, and what needs to be said. I have learned to be more kind. I have learned to be more accepting and more trusting. I have learned to be more real. I have learned that when the pain of holding on is greater than the pain of letting go, it is time to let go.

In a few small ways, I have gained wisdom. Not as much as I ought to have done, perhaps, and certainly not as much as I would have liked. Still, I know more now than I did when I lived the life of the woman with age and sadness behind her eyes.

There’s a difference, you see, between knowledge and wisdom. One can know many, many things and still not be wise. Knowledge is little more than Memorisation of Stuff. Wisdom, on the other hand, is Something Else Entirely. I have had the very great blessing of knowing people who have had deep and abiding wisdom. Some of them have had very little in the way of book-learning but they were wise. Such people don’t simply know things in their heads, they understand things in their hearts. Knowing is easy. Understanding isn’t.

I’ve birthed enough children to know that babies come here knowing ‘way more than we give them credit for. They arrive bearing a wisdom we ought to pay attention to. It is unfortunate that babies arrive unable to speak our language and even more unfortunate that, rather than learning to communicate with them, we immediately set about teaching them to communicate with us. Sadly, we also set about teaching them everything we know, forgetting that they know things, too. As we teach our children, and as they learn from us they also un-learn their own wisdom.

It’s quite tragic, really.

I didn’t know any of this, of course, when I was half my age. I refused to learn from Those With Wisdom when they spoke to me, all the while teaching—and un-teaching—my children. If I had it to do over, my initial declaration is that I would do it differently. Upon giving it thought, though, I am not certain I would change anything. An understanding has arisen from what little wisdom I have gained in the years since I was half my age. Perhaps this is as it ought to be. Perhaps it is The Point. Perhaps we are meant to know less the more we learn. Perhaps we are meant to understand more the less we know for sure.

I’m much cleverer now. I now understand that it would be wretched for everyone to think the same way I do. I now understand that the tenuous balance of opposing forces which keeps the Earth orbiting the sun is the same as that which keeps my life in what passes for order. Now that I’m twice my age, I know less and understand more. Now that I’m twice my age I understand much of what caused the sadness behind the eyes of the woman I was, and I give thanks for the opportunity to have been her.

Once, during one of those marvellous, accidental Conversations of Importance, the ones which just sort of blossom from nothing, my children asked if I wasn’t a bit sad about giving up my plans of Going Places and Doing Things in favour of having “lots and lots of children.” They waited only a moment before I gave them the answer I saw written in the five pair of eyes watching me. “Not at all,” I told them, giving silent thanks for the ignorance of my youth. “If I had gone off to do those things, just think what I’d have missed.” They didn’t even notice Wisdom as it slipped into my heart.

17 January, 2008

~ Thursday ~

I feel badly for Thursday. Thursday kinda gets overlooked, y'know? No one ever says, "Hey, it's THURSDAY, let's celebrate!" No, weekends get all the fuss and bother, Monday gets the 'oh, yuck, here we go again' comments from everyone, Tuesday seems to be when everyone picks up speed and gets back in the groove, Wednesday is right there in the middle, being the hump, the mid-point goal, and then everyone whizzes right through Thursday, all eyes fixed on superfantastic Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Does no one ever think how that makes Thursday feel?


Poor Thursday.

Peace ~

14 January, 2008

~ Consider the lilies ~

January. The dead of winter. The Great Darkness. The Deep Freeze. This time of year is all that, and more, for the people in our house. While The Man Of The House, the one who spent the first half of his life in England and Australia, grouses about the place, complaining that we live in the most inhospitable climate on the planet (I rather doubt this is true, but I have learned not to argue with an Englishman who has a burr in his boot), others of us are happily curled up by the fire reading seed catalogues and garden supply catalogues and lily catalogues. Most of all, lily catalogues.

Lilies have stood front and centre in my life. When I was small, lilies were what you grew when nothing else would grow. I believed, when I was small, that lilies were what you grew when you wanted to frighten small children into believing plants retained some sort of prehistoric memory and were just waiting for the unwary small child to pass too closely by so it could be gobbled up as a tasty, crunchy, yet juicy sort of snack. I can’t remember the origin of that terror, but it was a terror, nonetheless, one I am very glad to have outgrown. No gardening pun intended.

The lilies of my childhood were towering creatures, alive with colour and scent and movement. The sister of some relation or other had dozens of lilies flanking a narrow sidewalk bordering her house and it was both terrifying and exhilarating to risk life and limb running the length of that lily walk. Very Brave and Adventurous Children, that’s what we were. It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned to appreciate lilies properly. Perhaps it was because I had grown to be taller than the severe stalks and could look down into the up-facing blooms and no longer had to stare up at the down-facing blooms, so they all appeared far less intimidating. Perhaps it was simply that I had never actually been assaulted by the lilies, and so relinquished my fear of them in favour of admiration. It’s a much more peaceful way to live, really. However it happened, I’m glad it did and I blame my Great Aunt Lillias for it.

Great Aunt Lillias had lilies in abundant profusion. Her back yard was bisected by a stone walk and from that walk to the fence on either side of the yard there stretched a bed of lilies as dense as the lawn it replaced. She couldn’t remember how many varieties of lilies she had planted, for the garden had evolved over several decades, but she knew without doubt that certain of the lilies which had been planted had shared illicit relations with certain other lilies which had been planted, resulting in offspring which had not been planted, but had somehow managed to join the family. Because Great Aunt Lillias is a kind woman, she accepted these illegitimate children and welcomed them to the fold. It was in the lily garden of Great Aunt Lillias that my affection for these flowers budded. Gardening pun intended.

So the love affair with lilies had begun.

As with any obsession...that is to say, hobby...it is always good to have someone to share the passion, so with very little difficulty I recruited my husband. As it turns out, he had already been smitten. Neither of us can remember who first proposed the Lillias-esque lily bed, but it took root in our imaginations. We began with ten lilies. Ten, we reckoned, was a suitable, if slightly modest, number of lilies and from the day we ordered the lilies in the middle of The Great Darkness until the day they arrived by mail, we were as giddy with anticipation as kids on Christmas Eve. It was a great day when I was at last able to tuck them into their new beds. When they finally poked their little noses out of the ground, we celebrated in much the way parents of any newborn would. Because I have a tendency to name things, I promptly named the little reddish nubbins collectively ‘Babies’ and have continued address them as such, no matter their size. I like to think they flourish because of the attention lavished upon them, but I know that lilies grow in spite of just about any ill treatment. In fact, it has been suggested that lilies thrive on neglect, though how one could neglect lilies is beyond me. Either way, the lilies put on a show. Naturally we ordered more lilies the following winter. We ordered even more lilies the winter after that, all the while maintaining that we would abandon our ideas for a Lillias-esque lily bed on the grounds that it really wasn’t practical. The following year when the lily catalogue arrived, the flirtatious maroon-spotted, lime-faced beauty gazing beguilingly up at us from the cover completely shattered all our resolve and we ordered it. Plus half a dozen other varieties, of course. We are helpless, completely bewitched.

It is once again January. The dead of winter. The Great Darkness. The Deep Freeze. After spending several evenings choosing the lilies which would make up my annual ration I wrote out my lily order on the weekend while curled up by the fire. I had each of my kids choose a lily as well. Some of them took nearly as long as I did in the choosing, reading every description and studying every photograph. Some of them chose lilies because they liked the name. One chose a species lily, a plain, old-fashioned, been-around-a-hundred-years variety. Everyone had a favourite and it was interesting to watch the decision-making process. Three and a half months form now, the folks at the lily farm will nestle our new adoptees into boxes to send them off by post and we will greet the newcomers with the delight of kids on Christmas morning. I will take joy in tucking them into their new beds and I’ll whisper their new name to them, ‘Babies’.

We’re nowhere near the point of taking up the lawn to make room for lilies the way Great Aunt Lillias did, but I can see how it might someday happen. Entirely by accident, of course. When my kids chose their lilies this year, they also let me know which ones they want me to order next year. I’ve used the word before...perhaps it is appropriate after all: obsession. .:shrug:. Might as well call it what it is, eh?

Matthew 6:28-29 reads, “And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed as one of those.”

It is true. Even here, in what some husbands call the most inhospitable climate on the planet, it is true.

Peace ~

08 January, 2008

When I was 19, I saw the sexiest woman in the world.

I was sitting on a Mexican beach in my little red bikini, when up the sand strode an absolute vision. This woman was probably 75 years old, with wrinkles, grey hair, stretch marks, and saggy bits. She also had scarlet nails, crimson lips, a toffee-brown tan, rhinestone sunglasses.....and a leopard-print bikini.

Man, that broad owned the beach!

We all watched her as she passed. Young men were whistling and cat-calling....she was smiling, waving, blowing kisses, and lifting her glasses to wink at them. It was one of the most powerful, most beautiful things I have ever seen.

In that moment, I realised that beauty has no age limit, that age has no beauty limit, and that sexy is a state of mind.

I lost sight of that for years....until I found a picture of me taken that same day on that same beach.....yeah.....

Peace ~