Saturday, December 15, 2012

Finding Christmas

In case you haven't noticed, Christmas is a time for kids. So the adult in you won't enjoy it at all without first doing what Jesus says. "Unless you change and be like little children, you'll never enter the kingdom of heaven." This very same season, when seen through the eyes of an adult, becomes so distorted that it takes on a whole other meaning. Joy is replaced by shopping, magic by the very fact of being the one responsible for all the decorating. It's easy to get bogged down by the relentless 'to do' list of this highly commercialized Season.

That's why it's imperative to connect with your childhood joy. Starting sometime in December, I play Christmas carols while I work, especially the artists that I listened to as a child: Bing Crosby, Julie Andrews, Mahalia Jackson. I let my spirit lighten until it floats, heading back to a time of magic and wonder. I believed in Jesus, as I do now, and I also believed in Santa Claus. My faith in both was unshakable, creating extra dimensions in the world around me.  Only a child could pass from one to another without skepticism getting in the way.

Children are almost bipolar in their emotions, and Christmas was a time of cheerfulness that bordered on the manic. The countdown to Christmas Eve would start with a trip to the bush for the perfect tree, something that my parents left up to my siblings and me. We all loved to do it but my sister Cindy and I were the true fanatics. We had a hack saw of my dad's that was all my mother would let us take. After we got it home and let the  tree thaw a little, we'd cover it with delicate glass balls, colored lights of green, blue and red, and enough tinsel to choke five dogs. Tree decorating usually took place just a day or two before Christmas Eve. My mother, a full time nurse with seven children, would find the time to bake and the house would fill up with the other true meaning of Christmas, sugar, chocolate and French meat pies.

On Christmas Eve, I like to remember how it felt walking out into a starry night, well past my bedtime, to attend Midnight Mass. Even the most casual families (ours) were dressed up and we'd all smile shyly at the other kids in our Catechism class, as if we were strangers. There was a strong smell of alcoholic beverages in the air, not masked by the incense the priest waved. It was not the teenagers present that were responsible and my mother would frown a little at the idea of grownups drinking before Mass. It didn't bother me, though. I couldn't keep my eyes off the creche with its sparkly gunmetal cloth and statues of Mary, Joseph and Jesus and various attendants. The angel perched at the top was always my favorite, her benign smile hinting that Christmas was her favorite time of year, too. (Angels, in my mind, were always women. Maybe it was the long hair.)

After Mass, we'd have a special meal and then head off to bed. Before going inside the house, I used to stand on the sidewalk looking up at the sky, my heart racing at the thought that maybe this time, I could catch Santa in the act of landing on our own roof. I'd go to bed and lie very still, listening for the sound of hooves. There was always that moment of disappointment in the morning, right before the excitement of the day set in. The realization that I'd missed seeing him again.Except for the time when my parents hired someone to come over dressed like Santa, but that was earlier and we hadn't been to church yet. Still, it kept me believing.

In fact, I was almost eleven by the time I found out that Santa wasn't real. It was crushing, and changed the way I celebrated Christmas with my own children, which was with more emphasis on the Jesus part. Still, I confess that whenever I stand outside on Christmas Eve, I just have to look up at the night sky. I want to see the stars, and picture the wise men searching through the darkness, finding the Christmas star and following it. I let my eyes scan the heavens, pretending to myself that I'm not looking for anything in particular. But I am, of course.

The child inside me still yearns for the magic, for a return to days where anything is possible, including a fat man in a red suit flying some reindeer across the sky.  I wrap the feeling around myself like a cloak and revel in it. The real Christmas story comforts me and brings hope and faith to my life. So this Christmas (and every other to come) I'm going to ignore all the hard work, even as I do it. I'll let my thoughts and senses wander back  to the days when I knew the meaning of real excitement. My parents took the time out of their busy lives to create a season filled with joy. At last, I'm old enough to look inside myself and say, "There you are, youngster! Welcome!" To my fellow grown ups, I invite you to come on in. Enter the Kingdom, revel in the bliss of favorite memories, and have the merriest Christmas ever.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I Saw the Sign

I'm a person who usually gets lost when I drive somewhere for the first time.  I have to pay attention to signs.  Some that I've wondered about, for which there is probably a scientific explanation,  are the animal warnings.  They seem so random, but also very specific .  'Deer Crossing, next ten kilometers.'  I picture a late night meeting between a man in an orange construction vest and a lone deer.  Hushed tones, one of the pair a trained linguist, they negotiate sign placement.   We're going to need one here.  Over there, you might want to put up a fence, since it gets a little busy.  The man tries to remember what he's been told, since its too dark to take notes.

It pleases me to picture it that way.  I like the idea of a team effort in animal and human safety.  Good sign placement can make all the difference.  But wouldn't it be great if there were signs for each of us that appeared at the appropriate moment?  Little flags or pieces of metal would pop up just when a person was ready to take a false step, or say the wrong thing. Like,  You're about to embarrass yourself, thought you ought to know. If several people were around for the pop up, there might be a little confusion as to who it was for.  Me? I thought it was for you!  Maybe there'd be an argument or two.  The signs would have to be specific to avoid all the finger pointing.

Even better would be signs that popped up before you climbed out of bed in the morning.  Your husband is in a bad mood.  Keep your head down and agree with everything he says.  Or, Don't drive to the store.  You're going to have a fender bender.  Best of all would be the ones that said, Don't get out of bed today, for reasons too numerous to count.  One could phone into work with this reasonable explanation.  It would work the same as 'verified by visa' but instead would be verified by God.  Who else would flash personal signs? 

We actually have a form of signage already, that many of us tend to ignore.  I like to call it The Writing on the Wall.  Technically, there is no writing on any particular wall, but instead, an ability to read situtations wherever one goes.  Facial expressions, dark mutterings we often ignore, all these fall under the 'writing on the wall' category.  Some of us are so thick headed that we have to be given the news straight up, right in the face.  Even then, bubble headed optimists like me would probably ignore any indication of bad news.

Please read the lyrics to a song, Ace of Base's 'I Saw the Sign,' specifically written for this blog.  (Not really, but it fits nicely.)

I, I gotta new life, you would hardly recognize me, (cause you didn't read the sign.)
 I'm so glad How could a person like me care for you? (see, you didn't read the sign.)
 I, why do I bother when you're not the one for me? It's enough, enough (see what I mean?)
I saw the sign. (sure you did)

Don't be like the deer lying beside the road.  Watch for your sign, for all the signs, hints and warnings that the universe is trying to send you. Like, 'Bumpy road ahead.'  'U Turn.' 'Watch for Falling Rocks.' You never know.  The life, the day, and the feelings you save may be your own. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Poop Test

I had some routine lab tests done the other day.  When we were finished the tech handed me an envelope that said, Thank you for taking care of your health.  Since this is a priority for me, I was grateful for the sentiment.  I imagined the card inside saying something like this:

Congratulations!  You've taken care of your allergies, you're drinking slightly less and you're intake is down to three thousand calories a day. 

I smiled modestly and headed back into a busy day of writing, flogging the babyTrekker, and doing as little housework as possible.  The card sat on a book shelf  in the living room, unopened.   Later, my husband picked it up and brought it into the kitchen.  "You went to the lab today?"

I smiled, hoping he didn't feel too badly about not receiving a card of his own.  I made some comment about receiving a 'thumbs up' from the Northern Regional Health Authority.  He grunted something in reply.  As he left the room, he said, "Don't fail the poop test."  He waved the card at me.  "I'll leave it in the bathroom for you."

I was stunned.  Instead of a thank you card, I'd received yet another test.  This one, I had to do myself.  The directions seemed vague, as if the management details were up to each individual.  It was like two tests in one. I needed a whole new set of skills just to cope, like a better brain and some kind of Olympic level gymnastic ability.  Did I mention that it would take three days?

 I really wanted someone to talk with about it, someone who felt as insecure and uncoordinated as me.  This wasn't something I could post on facebook, either.  (Unless I was writing about it in a blog.)  Being a slightly anxious person doesn't help.  I kept wondering  how my result would compare to others.  Would I fail?  Did I have the right stuff?

I'm not someone who enjoys being tested.  This wasn't even something I could study for, not that I would have done that anyway, going by past behavior.  I felt as if someone had jumped out at me and started asking the hard questions.  "Are you successful?  Do you move through your days with a sense of optimism, or are you holding back on life?"
"I  don't know," I'd answer, probably tearfully.  "I thought I had been given a thank you card, and it was just another  test!  When will I be done with it all?  When will I feel that I've reached all my goals, crossed the finish line?"

I have a feeling that it's never going to happen, at least, not in this lifetime.  And when I'm dead, and meet Saint Peter at the pearly gates, he'll probably have a pop quiz or two for me as well.  I'll stare at him, slack jawed and vacant eyed, thinking, really?  If I'm truly blessed, he'll pat me on the back, open the gate and holler down the road, "She didn't really pass, but I'm giving her an E for effort."  I'm pretty sure that I'll take it. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Look at that View!

Here’s the thing about great scenery.  An amazing view can have a weird effect on a person. I’ve experienced pins and needles in my hands and feet, lack of breath due to extreme altitudes, and teary moments when the beauty of a place has been so intense, it's made me drop to my knees.  That was after walking thirty miles uphill.

Most of us aren’t very creative when sharing a view with another traveler.  A few ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ may be uttered, a couple of ‘wows.’  If it’s really amazing, we might say, ‘That's amazing!’  If I’m traveling in an area where the scenery constantly changes, I find it energizing; like five cups of coffee followed by a large piece of chocolate.  If the scenery is fabulous, but continues on the same, hour after hour, I’d rather just read a book.  This is very hard on my husband, who will ooh and aah his way through a thousand miles of beautiful scenery, growing louder as I ignore him.  He does this for one reason, which is to draw me back into The Club.  

The Club is made up of people who love to travel, and then discuss their journeys with other people.  We all have anecdotes from the road, even if we’ve only been to the town a few kilometres over.  Like the blog I wrote when I couldn’t find the recreation centre in Creighton, Saskatchewan, even though it’s the largest building in town.  But, I digress. 

 People in the club are different.  They live to talk about their travels, which is why they pay so much attention to the scenery.  My husband would rather be drawn and quartered than read a book while traveling through new territory.  Unless he’s seen the same thing a hundred times, he can’t be pulled away by anything.  The thing is; he has the right attitude.  I should want to stare at the scenery all of the time.  But I don’t, and I worry that my lack of enthusiasm shows weakness of character.

I’ve traveled a fair bit.  I’ve done my share of storytelling.  But I’m not a genuine member of The Club.  I recognize the glazed look listeners get when they’re extremely bored.   And I pride myself on being the type of person to whom they can just say, ‘enough, already.’  I appreciate candour, as my friends and family know.

  I’m convinced that members of The Club also see the glazed, almost panicked look of the truly bored. The truth is, they hope their desperate enthusiasm will encourage the listener into taking their own journey, telling their own stories. I too love to travel, but hate feeling guilty for reading or writing along on the way.   I’m actually writing this while traveling through the Rockies.  “Ooh,” I say, every time my husband exclaims loudly over the brush, rocks and water by the side of the road.  I look out the window from time to time, mostly to see if he’s driving too close to the edge. 

All of this leads me to the topic of mountains.  A family friend, Graham Shaw, has been known to say, “The trouble with a mountain view is that the mountains keep getting in the way.”  The truth of this statement strikes me to my very core.  When I’m in Calgary, viewing the mountains from a certain distance, I can appreciate their grand silhouette.  But when I’m right up against them, I’m not such a big fan.  They seem to loom over me, like bullies taunting a timid traveler.  This is especially true if I’m sitting in a Gondola, or, God forbid, riding a ski lift.  It feels like the mountains are gloating, because they hold all the power.  If they happen to contain a lake or fast flowing river, I appreciate them more.  The water creates a softer, more benign look.  Like a really huge guy whose frightening appearance is instantly altered by a handsome face or gentle smile. 

One of the things I appreciate about my age is that I finally have myself figured out.  I like traveling along the ocean, but don’t enjoy the wind, ever.  I love a lake, but prefer it in August when the mosquitoes have died down.  I’d rather paddle a canoe than ride in a motorboat, also a bullying issue.  I will not be pushed into going faster than is comfortable.  Just ask my husband.

I appreciate people who are very different from me, especially the traveling, story telling, speed loving, risk taking kind.  I watch them from a distance, appreciating their willingness to try anything once.  They inspire me to say 'aahhh.'  Maybe even, 'wow!'  You’ll know you’re one of those people if I look at you and say, ‘Youre amazing!’  You'll know I'm completely sincere if I’m not reading a book at the time. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Road to Whistler

The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I've seen that road before

The Beatles song, Long and Winding Road, might be about love, loss and loneliness.  But as I travelled from northern Manitoba to the town of Whistler BC, the title took on a whole new meaning.   I"m fairly sure that I have seen this road before, though its been awhile.  And it wasn't until we left Salmon Arm that the long and winding road became a bit of a nightmare. 

We spent the night in a small, privately owned motel in Bumcrack, BC.  (The name has been changed, for obvious reasons.) The building looked quaint, almost charming, on the outside, especially when compared to the rest of the town.

Our first clue regarding the accomodations might have been the shriveled looking creature curled up on a lawn chair outside the front entrance.   Think Gollum, with a tan.  Add in a can of beer and a haze of smoke to complete the picture.
There were no sheets on the bed in our room.  The guy at the front desk, (like George Carlin, but with bad teeth) gave us an aw, shucks grin.  "Gollum!" he called.   "You make up that bed properly!"  Turns out, Gollum was the chambermaid.  The little man loped towards our room, sheets clutched in his grimy claw.  I took them before he got in the door.

Did I mention that the sheets were made of a rubber, polyester blend?  The floor looked like it hadn't been vacummed in a while.  The walls were covered in bug carcasses and what looked to be bloodied hairs from a deer carcass.  At least, we hoped that's what it was.  The TV remote didn't work and George Carlin showed up to change the batteries.  Another aw, shucks grin.  On the plus side, the toilets flushed.  And the door locked, if you heaved your whole body against it while sliding the lever over. 

It was the next day that we found out the reason for the rubber sheets.  On the long and winding road from Cache Creek to Whistler, it's almost impossible not to piss yourself.  The narrow road shoots through valleys and then climbs up to impossible heights, twisting and turning like a roller coaster designed by a crack smoking engineer.  The lack of any kind of barrier inspires a type of exercise called keegles, which most men have never even heard of, followed by  bum clenches, thus ensuring that we didn't crap ourselves. 

While driving along this twisted, crazy highway, various signs would pop up in front of us. 'Danger of Avalanche.  Watch for wild horses.  Deer crossing.  Goat trail.  Loose cattle.'  All this, as we're crawling along doing our keegles, holding hands and saying goodbye.  By this point, we had knots our back so large, we looked like Quazimoto.

Mostly, we were travelling thirty kilometres an hour.  We kept trying to pull over, to let braver or more impatient drivers pass us by.  The road was too narrow.  There were a few viewing points, but if anything, they increased our exercise activities.  Clench.  Squeeze.  Lift.  Breath.  Whimper.  Begin again.

"But the views were beautiful!" everyone gushed, when we finally arrived in Whistler.  Thinking back on it, I guess they were.   But it's the last time I'll see that long and winding road.  We intend to go back, and we'll meet you at your door, Heather and Adam. But I'm pretty sure we'll take the long way around. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (with apolgies to John Berendt)

The whisper runs through the garden like a faint breeze, lightly masked by the nighttime serenade of frogs and insects.  It begins with the frantic mumbling of the smallest beet at the very end of the row.  "The dandelion!" it cries, in a tiny, frightened voice.
"Dandelion!" mocks a tall bean plant, its tone scornful and defensive.  "Try growing next to a wall of  stinkweed." 
Laughter from a multitude of weeds adds to the growing storm of whispering voices.  To the beet, the sound is enough to freeze the scant water trembling within its tiny stem.  'It's leaning over me," it cries again, faintly.  "I won't be able to grow."
"Pick on someone your own size," begs a voice from the row of peas planted nearby.
'Fat lot of good the peas are," murmurs another bean plant.  "They lie there all day, and we're left to fight the enemy."
"Like we have a choice?" whines yet another pea plant.  'If the farmer was paying attention, we'd  have a fence to climb.  Then you'd see what we have to offer.  But where is the farmer?"  The voice overflows with cynicism and despair;  it's question rhetorical.
"Sitting on the ledge of her dwelling, drinking that strange water that makes her laugh too loudly.  It makes her step on us when she comes down into the garden, late at night."  It is the delicate fringe of a carrot planted at  the far right of the garden that speaks.  It has the best view of the house, and is considered to be an authority on all things 'farmer' by most of the other vegetables.
The small beet ventures a fear filled glance at the tall Dandelion looming over it.  "I didn't ask to be put here,' the dandelion protests in a voice not unlike James Dean, if he were an effeminate weed.  "I should be on the lawn with my friends, but I got stuck here instead.  Just wait until my hair changes, then I'll be seen in all kinds of places."  The dandelion laughs hysterically and the plants nearby shiver in silent protest.
One of the beans sends a silent creeper that wraps around the stem of a chickweed plant which seems to have sprung up overnight.  "I've got one!  I'm holding on!  It's going  to be okay, everyone!  Its going to be...!"  The voice is snuffed quickly, without the slightest sound.  A shudder ruffles the leaves of every vegetable in the garden.
We must not give up hope,' cries a tomato plant.   "I can see the farmer from here.  I think she's getting out her weeding tools!"  The plant swings its leaves toward a cluster of foxtails creeping into the soil behind it.  "You'll all be gone before you know it!"
"Yaaaaay! cry the vegetables, the little beet in particular cheering as loudly as possible.
"Unless she decides to weed tonight."
"No!" cry the others.  "She learned her lesson the last time!"  More voices chime in as the the fear spreads.  The  smallest beet cries one more time and then collapses to the ground.  "Tell the other seedlings that I tried to hold on."  It's voice is very faint.
"Don't give up," urges the giant bean plant.  "Morning will be here before you know it.  The other farmer will return, and all will be well."  Cries of 'the other farmer!' ring out around the garden, but are drowned by laughter from the various weeds.
"Laugh if you must," cries a cucumber plant, desperately trying to lift its tired leaves from the dry ground.  "But we will prevail.  The farmer always come through, in the end."  A hushed silence falls after the cucumber's words.  It might be out of respect from their fallen comrade, the tiny beet.  Maybe its a truce, after a long, hot, and unwatered day in the sun.  The vegetables sigh, the weeds chuckle, and the garden is quiet at last.  "The farmer," is the last words heard from the smallest beet.  "Amen," says the tomato.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

May I Have This Dance

Every morning, for at least the past six weeks, a cheerful little robin perches on the high wire above our back alley and sings its little heart out.  This tiny harbinger of spring puts everyone in the mood for summer.  A friend who knows about birds told me why they sing so hard, and why you don't hear them in the month of August.  The male robins go through puberty every spring of their four year life, and sing to attract females. 

I swear that its the same robin up there every single day.  He puffs out his fluffy red breast, tilts his little head and starts to whistle.  He's been doing this for so long, I'm becoming a little anxious.  My husband, and at least one of my sisters,  would say (with a certain amount of eye rolling) that not everything is about me.  Somehow, this feels like it is.  Here's why.  The plucky little robin who tugs on my heartstrings every morning is bringing back bad memories of my first junior high school dance. 

I know I'm not the only one who shudders a little when they recall this particular ordeal.  And it's true that I had girl friends to dance with.  But every boy that did NOT cross the floor, tap me on the shoulder and invite me to dance? Well.  It felt like the whole gang of them was sending me a message.  In my crazed and pubescent brain, the lack of invites meant there must be something seriously wrong with me. 

Maybe it was my clothes, a real possibility when I remember the new striped tee shirt and matching green cotton pants from our local Robinsons store.  It might have been my hair style, which resembled that of a prison camp inmate, thanks to the local barber.  Perhaps it was my shy manner, my way of literally running from the room if a boy I didn't know walked toward me.  Mostly, though, deep, deep down in the depths of my twelve year old heart, I knew that it was my complete and utter lack of coolness.  I was every awkward, clueless girl you've ever met  A Jethro Bodene in a vaguely female form, but with less self confidence and enthusiasm.  Even while married to the man who loves me, I still carry the sneaking suspicion that the first time he asked me out, it was motivated by a mixture of pity and arm twisting by my girlfriends.  He reassures me that its not so, but any man will say the right thing when its two in the morning and he wants to get some sleep. 

It's my tender heart that takes me out to the deck each morning to holler at the female robins.   To ask them to give this guy a chance, for God's sake  Because, underneath that tiny bird brain, cheerful song and fluffy breast lies a wonderful personality.  But its also that small, awkward, insecure girl hiding in the corner of my amygdala, who knows that puberty is hard enough the first time.  That first dance is agony for almost everybody.  Now imagine if you had to stand there and whistle. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Regrets, I've Had A Few

There are some things I've discovered over the course of my life.  Some, I've known for a while.  Other are just becoming  apparent to me.  Maybe life has to slap you around a little before you discover the truth about yourself.  Like the fact that I'm a slow learner.  And that I'll never skate in the Olympics.

I will never fold laundry like my mother in law.  I don't know if its an eye-hand coordination  thing, or if it involves math.  What I do know is that I suck at folding sheets.  I've tried using a table, the sofa, the bed and the floor but nothing seems to help.  I end up with a sad little pile of wrinkled bedding that makes me feel like taking up antiquing.  I shove them into the linen closet where they sit beside the wrinkled napkins and badly ironed table cloths.  The door stays firmly closed.

My mother in law made Martha Stewart look like an Appalachian hillbilly.  No matter what was happening in her life, her house always looked its best.  She could whip up food for forty people in under an hour and keep her cool when visitors turned up out of the blue, expecting to stay for two weeks.  I learned a lot from her over the years, but that kind of graciousness is not in my DNA.

I'm never going to be good at yoga.  It would probably help if I took some classes, but still.  I'm just not that bendy. Ten years of ballet and I never mastered the splits.  I will never dance with the Stars, or be one.  No one will ever think that I can dance.  Especially me.  But still.

Somehow I've managed to end up with people who love me.  I have children that I respect and adore, a mother I cherish and a husband who still makes me laugh after thirty-six years.  My sisters and brother will always have my back, even when I drive them crazy.  And what I've realized is, its never too late to learn something new.  Okay, too late for skating, but Yoga is a strong maybe.

Like Frank Sinatra, I've had some regrets.    Unlike him, I'm completely comfortable mentioning them.  Now I'm going to follow the rest of his well sung advice.  I'll continue to fold sheets, take classes and move my life forward.  I'll just do it my way.   

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Balancing Act

About a week after my dad died, I felt the  Earth tilt.  I stepped out of bed one morning and fell toward the ceiling.  My whole world was upside down and spinning.  It was like riding a tilt a whirl at the fair.

  I am living with Vertigo.  It's often connected with blurred vision or earaches.  My sight has been a little smudgy since dad passed on.  I'm okay if I stare straight ahead, don't tilt my head up, down, or to the left.  Lying down is the worst. When I get into bed at night, I hold  my pillow close, thereby ensuring a soft landing.  Then the room begins to spin. The child in me enjoys this part, even as the adult feels like throwing up.  In the daytime the vertigo catches me unaware, like a surfer being overtaken by an unexpected wave.  Its weird.

One of the things I've  learned about myself is that I don't handle change well.  I enjoy a boring life.  (Not that I have one, in spite of it.)  But I like a  routine.  I like eating regularly and watching the same television shows.  If I enjoy a certain book, I'll read it again.  If I really like it, I'll read it thirty times.  Same with movies.   I've watched 'You've Got mail' once every couple of months since it came out in the early nineties.  I don't even know why. 

When my mother in law was dying, I started experiencing chest pains.  I actually went to emergency twice.  The second time it happened, a nurse very tactfully told me that when your heart is breaking, it can feel a lot like a heart attack. Aahhh.  So now, I wonder about the timing of this vertigo.  Not that its a figment of my imagination.  It's very real.  But maybe it has something to do with the fact that my whole world is off kilter.  My dad is gone, my mom is a widow, and the world as I've known it is changed forever.

So If you see me staggering around town, please know that I'm not drunk.  And I'm actually doing very well.  Because my sadness about dad is tempered by my faith.  I believe that he's having a well deserved jam session with all of his musical heroes.  He's harmonizing with Frank Sinatra and playing clarinet with Benny Goodman.  So he's fine.  But until I get used to the fact that he's not here, holding up his corner of my world, then I'm going to be unsteady on my feet.  Getting out of bed in the morning will require some concentration.  My world will spin out of control for awhile.  But it'll stop eventually.  I'll regain my footing and carry on.  I just need a little time to adjust to the change.

Monday, April 30, 2012

I'll Be Seeing You

Last night I dreamed about my dad.  He passed on a week ago, Saturday.  For the first moments when I wake in the morning, I forget that he's gone.  I feel the weight of something pressing on my heart, and I wonder at it.  That's when I remember.  I lie there, feeling the loss of him.  Knowing that I will never hug him again in this life.  I'll no longer wheel him to dinner in the nursing home where he lived.  I won't  attach his bib, organize his cutlery.  I won't tell him that the lift in his bedroom is a really cool ride and that he would have loved it when he was a kid.

 I won't get to stroke the soft gray hair away from his forehead, or fetch a facecloth to wipe his face. I can't kiss his cheek, so carefully shaved by my mother, or turn my face so that he can kiss mine.  I'll never hear him say, 'Love you, dear.'  Not in this life.

 He's free from his wheelchair.  No more blood sugar checks, no more insulin.  No more eating pureed food and drinking thickened coffee.  Imagining him in heaven with God and family gives me comfort .  I know that I will see him again.  But for now, it doesn't take away the pain of his absence.  I feel like a five year old who has let go of her father's hand in a crowd.  A panicked, worried child.   

To a certain extent, our roles had reversed.  I took care of him in the way that he used to care for me.  But he remained my father to the very end.  I remember being sad about something terrible that happened in our community.  I went straight to the nursing home, and over to the table  where he was seated.  I pulled my chair close to his and laid my head on his shoulder.  As I cried, he patted my hand, making those reassuring sounds that parents do.  Itt was so comforting,  like a blessing from God.

My dad was kind.  He was considerate and thoughtful.  He has helped so many people, friends and neighbors, because he always cared how people were doing. His life was hard when he was young.  Raising seven children, six of them girls, cannot have been easy.  He made mistakes.  But he never complained, even when life got more uncomfortable at the end.  He had the gift of gratitude, and he's done his best to pass it on.

I'm grateful for you, dad.  I'm proud to have been your daughter. I'm so happy that you're in a better place. I know that you'll always be there waiting for me, for mom, and all your children. In the meantime, you go on ahead.   Have a visit with Count Basie and Oscar Peterson. Listen to some Stan Kenton in the jazz room.  Have a wonderful time in heaven, and don't forget to give Uncle Walter and Grandma Ann a hug.  I'll be seeing you again.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Aging Games

In the movie, The Hunger Games, the main characters spend a lot of time running for their lives. Its a little like the game of Survivor, except the voting is done with weapons and its not just your torch that gets snuffed. For thousands of years, human kind has loved a good contest. Think gladiators. Think Olympic curling. Different events but for both, an enthusiastic audience.

The competitions we watch entertain us. They also distract us from the biggest reality game on the planet. While we're busying ourselves with school, work, children, parents and (for Clarence) shopping, we're all racing along a path toward death. Yep. At some point, we'll all be D. E. A. D. Drop everything and die. Do everything and die. Don't even argue... Well. You get the picture. Leaving out the whole life after death thing (which I totally believe in, thank you God!!) it still means that our earthy form will expire. But while there is no way out of the death race, there is still a way of winning.

Welcome to the Aging Games. Each contestant in this race has only one goal, and that is to make it to the finish line in the best shape possible. There are a few things that will help you along. A few obvious ones are:

Don't smoke (or quit. Quit right now!)

Eat sensibly...overdosing on vegetables is always a good idea. Drop the sugar habit.

Keep moving. Obviously, we'll all approach this differently. Some will jog, lift weights and engage in iron man triathalons well into their seventies. Others (like me) will skip and do light aerobics while watching television. The point is to keep moving as much as possible.

Enjoy yourself. Be with people that make you laugh. Do what you want with your spare time. And when you meet up with a senior, appreciate them for the warriors that they are. Every single one you know is struggling in some way to keep it together, to live their lives, and to make them count until the very end.

They may be in pain. They might be having memory problems. But they are in the last push of their lives, the hardest part of the race. I salute them all, and I salute you, future warrior. Fight to the finish. And if you believe in life after death, then I'll see on Redemption Island.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Show Me The Way To Go Home

Now that I'm spending more time in Winnipeg, I've been struggling once again with an inability to find the way to and from...anywhere.  It's like someone has taken a sponge and wiped out parts of my brain.  A number of years ago, I couldn't find the Sport-ex in the town of Creighton.  I had to go home and admit to my husband that, no, I would not be picking up our daughter from skating.  He thought I'd had a stroke.

I would have loved to have had a good excuse for embarrassing myself that way.  I don't know what's wrong with me, that I have such a hard time getting from one place to another.  I also struggle with guessing distances and height, so maybe its a spatial thing.  Whatever the cause, I've discovered a few helpful tips.  I try to look around more  when someone else is driving.  And I use map quest a lot while I'm in the city.  Our next vehicle will have a GPS, but for now, map quest does the trick.  Except.

The other day I carefully and successfully navigated my way down Pembina to a second hand book store.  Something that I hadn't  counted on, though, was finding my way home.  Because (and perhaps you already know this, dear reader) the street names change.  For example, Osborne, depending on where you are, is also called Isabel, Colony, Memorial, Dunkirk and Dakota.  For someone who gets lost a lot, this is a nightmare.  I didn't know about this little complication or I would have map quested my way home.  Since I didn't, I ended up someplace downtown during rush hour, where the traffic was basically stopped.  That didn't prevent me from lurching into another lane. I would have been proud of my move if I hadn't scared the crap out of a pedestrian.  I was at least eight feet away from him, but he obviously felt threatened.  He shook his fist and yelled so loudly that I banged an elbow in my haste to roll up the window and lock all the doors.

Stalled traffic also presents an opportunity for homeless people to make a little extra cash.  They hold up signs saying things like 'have no work or food.'  The jury is still out on how to handle this one, but I have a hard time saying no.  So in between trying to get in the right lane, avoid hitting pedestrians and still the panic building inside my chest, I had to roll down the window and hand out loonies.  I had quite a few, since I'd been planning on washing the car.  For some reason, I didn't feel I could stop until the coins were all gone. 

Once the traffic started moving again, things didn't get much better.  I kept circling the same block over and over again, until finally I cut through a parking lot and temporarily derailed my driving purgatory.  It started up again, though, when I found myself shooting down Main Street in the wrong direction.  How I finally found my way back to Osborne Village, I'll never know.  The good news is, I haven't been lost since.  Scaring the crap out of myself had some valuable side benefits.  Now I always make sure that I know how to get there AND back again. 

A positive side to all the driving mayhem was my realization that every journey, whether physical, spiritual or metaphorical, needs a destination.  Never mind the saying about the journey being the thing.  Yes, we're supposed to enjoy the ride.  Take in the scenery.  Pull over every once in a while to eat some lunch, or pee in the bush.  But overall, we want to be headed somewhere.  Maybe the most important thing to ask ourselves is this.  Where do we want to go?  Which is another way of saying, what do we want to be when we grow up?  Some of us are still trying to figure it out.  The next time I'm lost, I'll remember to ask myself the big questions.  Where am I going?  And how do I get there?  Hopefully, I'll arrive at an answer.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Uphill, Both Ways

      Its been creeping up on me for a long time.   I finally have to acknowledge something that my children have known about me for awhile.  Like my father before me, I've begun whining about How Much Things Have Changed.  Sure, I never walked five miles to school, uphill both ways, in 40 below weather with a lunch bucket frozen to my hand.  Dad, you win that one.  But!  Brace yourself for this, and Clarence, thanks for bursting my bubble. I just found out that there are hotels in the Himalayas on the way to Mount Everest.  Hotels!!  Nothing else could signal so well the collapse of the world as I knew it.  Next thing you know, people will be driving around the golf course in cars.  Wait.  They do that already.  But back to the Himalayas.

     Way, way back, in 1979 to be exact, Clarence and I were hiking to the Everest Base Camp.  Those of you who know me well will understand that this was not my idea.  On the other hand, being only twenty-four at the time, I was eager to take part in it.  I mourn that change as well.  But anyway.  We walked about 250 miles over 24 days.  That's two hundred and fifty miles! It was mostly uphill!  There were no hotels, per se.  Instead, we stayed with the Nepalese people in their homes.  While this was a rich cultural experience that I in no way regret, it probably explains my tendency for intermittent coughing.  The people built huge fires in their small huts, and at night they closed all the windows and doors.  There were no chimneys.  So the smoke just built up until you couldn't even see the person lying next to you.  On the other hand, it helped hide the rats that lurked in every corner. 

     On second thought, they didn't lurk.  They gamboled around the room, having an especially good time on top of my sleeping bag.  Then there was the food.  It was mostly rice and dalbaht.  (I may be spelling it wrong, but I can't find my diary.)  There was no butter.  No salt and pepper.  Just rice.  The chai was good, though.  We stayed one night at a monastery and bought a wheel of yak cheese so large, it would have looked comfortable on a tractor.  We could barely carry it between four of us.  Still,  we ate it in three days.  Now, I know what you're thinking, but don't worry.  Nothing gets plugged up when you're walking for eight hours a day, uphill.  Its an impossibility.  (Side note: when I came back to Canada I searched everywhere for yak cheese.  Apparently, they don't export it.)

     Rats.  Plain white rice.  Two hundred and fifty miles uphill.  To make matters worse, Clarence lost thirty pounds and I gained five. I could go on (and  will, if someone asks me to.)    But my point in all the whining is this.  What's next?  Sliding floors that help you move faster?  Wait.  They have those in the airport.  You get my drift, though.  Why does the next generation have it so much easier?  And will they at least appreciate the hardships we suffered?  I'm begging all the baby boomers who read this to take up my cause.  Whine to the next generation.  Carry on the grand tradition of belly aching about change.  After all, I'm only one woman.  I can't carry the load alone. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Sound of Your Life

     I am aware of the fact that I have a good life.  This is true for most of the people I know, though all of us face adversity from time to time.  Still, I'm going to whine a little about something that my life is  missing.  In order to have it, Apple would have to figure out a way to make  life apps.  Wouldn't that be wonderful?  I know which one I'd want, though yours might be something different.

     I would like my own personal soundtrack.  Don't get me wrong, I don't want to live in a movie.  I like making up my own dialogue, thank you very much.  And I like being surprised by life, and also appreciate not knowing when the end is coming.  So, no script app.  But a soundtrack is a completely different thing.  Wouldn't it be wonderful to meet a friend on the street and have just the right kind of music playing lightly (or not so lightly) in the background?  If the conversation was intense, there might be a pulsating undertone.  Or maybe just a poignant violin, depending on the topic.  If one of you was having a bad day, the other would know it instantly.

 There might be some downsides to it, like if you were planning to kill somebody and everywhere you went, violins were shrieking like they do in horror movies, right before the monster appears. However, I'm a pacifist, so I don't think it would be a problem.  Some of our family dinners might be a little crazy, but that would just be business as  usual.  We usually have music anyway, come to think of it.

     For my personal, every day life, I want the music to swell for me, like it did for Scarlett O'Hara in the movie, 'Gone With the Wind.'   When I dig in our garden,  I want a whole orchestra backing up the flow of my tears as I hold up a shrunken vegetable and cry "As God is my witness, I'll never plant potatoes again."  So much more satisfying than just whining to my husband about it when things don' t turn out.  And relationships would reach a whole new level of interest.  Especially the sex part.  (Forgive me, my children, but its true.  Parents have sex.  And yes, they would like some music, too.) 

     A soundtrack would be especially useful when times are tough.  When my self esteem is circling the toilet bowl with all the other crap, I'd like a little music to mark the pain.  Maybe our soundtracks could be programmed to gradually get more upbeat if we're wallowing too long in our self pity.  It would drag us right out of the doldrums and have us marching to a whole new tune, feeling great about life again.  Most of all, I want a soundtrack that, like Mary Tyler Moore,  gives me permission to just go ahead and throw my hat in the air.   Because, if I do it to music, then I'll know for sure.  I'm  going to make it after all. (drum beat and cat meow)  Sigh.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Love Story

This is reprinted for Connor and Cheyenne, Susan and Brent, and for baby Mason, the newest addition to the clan.

February is the month for stories of the heart.  If you’ve ever set sail on the ship of love, you’ll recall the intensity, the pain and the wonder of it all.  Yet ask any new parent about first holding their newborn, and they will tell you of a connection so deep, it makes everything else pale in comparison.  And so nature planned it.   

Why else would we willingly deprive ourselves of free time for the next decade, face an avalanche of poopy diapers, or walk the floor at 3 in the morning while singing old Barry Manilow tunes, which is the only thing your tired brain can produce and which strangely enough seems to help.  This is truly God and biology at work.  It amazes me even now how those tiny dictators have us hopping to attention, all the while keeping a firm grip on our hearts.

          And how does this explain that other love story; the grandparent?  Just when the kids have left home, the dog has gone to doggy heaven, and retirement looms like a sweet promise on the horizon, along comes the first grandchild.  Even if a parent is unprepared, and the grandparents are in shock, still, a new chapter in the book of love is written.  And this one is a blockbuster.  Plans fly out the window in the face of this new being.  Grandparents are as helpless as parents in resisting this tiny force of nature.  I hear grandparents say all the time, “You enjoy them, and then you send them home.” 

         But they don’t!  The grandparents that I know, including my own parents and in-laws, give up many weekends to care for their grandchildren, and most seem happy to do it.  It’s like an angel appeared with a trumpet and shouted, “Let the endless giving of time, love, and energy begin again!” But that's not how it feels, because love never drains your batteries.  It charges you up instead.

          I remember when our oldest was a year old, and she threw up in the middle of the night.  I immediately called my parents, who came running over (though my mother is a nurse and should have known better.)  We all watched over Hilary like she was a time bomb ready to go off, and when she simply fell asleep on the living room floor, we all breathed a sigh of relief.  “That was a close one.”  No, it really wasn’t.  And of course, it happened time and again, though we all learned to panic less often.  The love was there, always, and the time given, with my mother taking turns walking the floor with her 16 grandchildren, and even traveling with my sister to conferences, walking around cities wearing her grandsons in the babyTrekker.  When I was feeling overwhelmed, my parents and in-laws would come over and hold my babies while I did housework. 

Love signs us up; we have no choice in the matter.  So this February, which many consider the month of love, I salute and give thanks for grandparents, who give their hearts over and over again, along with their time, energy, and money passed under the table to grandchildren. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Why I Love the Walking Dead

I don't like horror movies.  I don't like the news.  In fact, I dislike violence  of any kind.  So my fascination with AMC's 'the Walking Dead' has taken me completely by surprise.  I got hooked watching the season one finale and was utterly compelled (almost against my will!) to follow it from the beginning.  To say this in writing is like admitting that I get up in the middle of the night to eat, or that I like the Lawrence Welk show.  Damn you to hell, blog, for making me reveal  my dirty little secrets.

I've been trying to figure out the appeal of  this post apocalyptic drama.  Its not the zombies, that's for sure.   Its not the suspense, which actually makes me a little crazy.  Would you lie down in an abandoned pharmacy and have sex on the floor if there was even a remote possibility that a dead person (who is biologically programmed to bite you) might be lurking in the dark?  No.  Me either. 

I couldn't sleep last night, which was bad.  But I figured out the appeal of the show, which was good.  Its this.  The people who are still themselves, ( ie: not dead, yet still walking around) have one job to do.  Stay away from the Zombies.  Sure, they still need to forage for food  and supplies in  dark abandoned stores.  They need medicine, and sometimes even sex (or a combination of the two, as previously mentioned.)  But that's about it.   There are no dentist appointments.  Maybe even no dentists.  Nobody  shovels snow, or goes to see their lawyer about making up a will.   There are no parent teacher interviews.  Instead, parents huddle under their cars, hands clapped over their children's mouths as the zombies trudge by.  They're all just running for their lives.

The characters don't care about global warming.  Nobody is trying to track down organic food.  They just don't want to be food.  Nobody mentions getting a hair cut, or highlights.  Supposedly no one wears make up, though they all look great.  It's easier to be thin and fit when you're running all the time. In the middle of all the horror and fear, there must be some comfort in that.

Besides a plan, a post apocalyptic survivor  needs a gun or a bat.  (Only a direct head shot takes out a zombie.)  A car is also important, though a convoy of cars is best.   My heart is in my mouth during the whole show, though the parts where they're all driving is when I feel safest.  You know where everyone is.  And zombies can't run that fast.  On the other hand, you never know if one has hitched a ride on the roof.  I sit on the sofa, a pillow conveniently close by so I can use it to block the screen from time to time. 

The unspoken question posed by the show is this.  How do people behave when the world as they know it ends?  When we're all in survivor mode, which one of us will shoot a guy in the leg so that he has to remain behind, thereby drawing all the zombies that have previously been dragging themselves in your direction?  Who among us is a hero, bravely rescuing others and putting themselves in harms way?  I have a sneaky suspicion that its not me.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm a nice person, but in this case, I think I'd be more than a little self serving.   In other words, bang!  Here, Mr. Zombie, have a serving of him. 

We're probably all better people when we're not running for our lives.  Fatter.  Maybe more self indulgent.  But most likely, a lot nicer to our neighbors. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Best Year Ever

2012.  Two thousand twelve.  It doesn't matter how I write it, I love the look and sound of the new year.  Never mind the Mayans or anyone else who has a bad word to say about it.  I have a good feeling about this one.  For the first time ever, I've been able to write cheques and letters without putting the wrong year down. 

I've  got my resolutions in order, both personal and business.  This year, we'll celebrate our 23rd year in business.  That's a lot of babyTrekkers.  Thanks to all our former and present customers for your letters, photos and funny stories.  I've been blessed by all of you.  There is something wonderful about having a business that connects a person to others around the planet.  I love that fact that people on every continent have worn and loved the babyTrekker.  For those of you unfamiliar with our Canadian carrier, let me give you a few facts.

The babyTrekkers  are made with love and care, one at a time.  We purchase our organic cotton through an American company, use American made buckles and foam.  Everything else, including the manufacturing, comes from Canada.  We pay attention to the details, and we like to get things right.  If we don't, we  make it right for our customers who somehow, over the years, have come to feel like old friends.

This is the year that I celebrate, you, the customer.  I salute you, my friends, for undertaking the precious, overwhelming and ongoing task of parenting.  I honor your quest to be the best mom and dad you can be, and for making a place for the babyTrekker  in your family's story.    I pray that this is the best year ever, for you, for me, for all of us who share this amazing planet.  God bless you all and have a great 2012.