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What I Did On My Summer Vacation 2016

Early July Greg and I flew to Vancouver (on points in case you’re wondering how we managed that!) and I took a course at Regent College with Malcolm Guite. Here is a link to his blog which is updated regularly (unlike… AHEM…mine) https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/blog/

Can I just say – if you love poetry – or even just like it a little, you really need to read his …or listen to him read. Either way, you need to stop what you are doing now (reading this) and head on over via the above link. I’ll wait.

…..

Back? So very good right?! Imagine a week of a class with him! I took notes like crazy. Listened with my head and my heart and enjoyed every minute.

And also…didn’t hurt a bit that it was in Vancouver. Not any wonder at all that it costs you all the money to live there. Mornings (while I was in class), it was cool and sometimes a teeny bit rainy; by noon the sun was out, it was warm, the mountains emerged in all their splendor and we took full advantage. Greg and I walked over 20,000 steps/day visiting Granville Market, biking around False Creek and Stanley Park, taking the ferry over to North Van, walking the streets and beaches around Point Grey. It was exhausting and amazing together. We had such a good week.

What I am going to do – hopefully for a few days – is post some of the poetry I’ve been doing around that time and since.

I watch the boats on English Bay today
(and crabbers dipping nets)
fearless gulls hover
waiting a discarded feast
(not of their own making)

some paddlers, young and inexperienced
fight losing battles with ocean waves
and tiny windsurfer sails upended
their intended form
now salt-water flatten, shapeless, void

a boat moves in
a rope is thrown
a child
who’s cries have mingled with gull shrieks
is pulled from an unwanted baptism

Your Spirit too
Blows where it will
Moves this frail craft

I hold tight to my sail
Into these unknown, uncharted places
Brace myself for my own upending
water-washing
And then the bread and fish
That you provide

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Paying Attention

  Greg was leading a workshop in a little community near the Northumberland Shore of Nova Scotia. I had the better part of a day free to fill.  A very rare occurrence. 

I discover the Whirligigs Cafe in Wallace, Nova Scotia, Main Street just outside the front door, a wharf and water just behind. It’s eclectic  and lovely – bright colors on the walls inside; cornflower blue, deep mauve, white – tall and short tiled tables, leather and wood, art and photographs on the walls, pink and purple violets their open faces belying the browns and grey outside. Blue sky and sun keep edging round the clouds. 

Spring on the East Coast, oatcakes, cream and jam – another cup of coffee. Diana Krall singing an afternoon song. Bumblebee lobster traps stacked on the wharf against an azure and grey bay. Canadian flag, at attention in a brisk early May wind and in the center of the bay, a lobster boat drops traps and bright orange buoys then scuttles back, maneuvering skillfully into the dock.

The door bangs open as the lunch crowd bustles in. Beside me, three grown daughters (and their mom) change tables, rearrange the chairs for her comfort, pour her tea and talk of going to the market on their way home. Conversations rise and fall – I’m offered a fill-up on my coffee. The sun streams through white and black sheers in the front windows. Pastel paper globe lights are a pale replacement for the larger orb outside.

A family near the fireplace eats and leaves, their table awash with empty soup bowls and crumpled napkins. A beam of sunlight warms the wood.  Two grey-haired men murmur of the ice leaving the harbour to their white-haired mother, earnestly leaning in, their faces soft and smiling.

Dishes and cutlery jangle, chairs scrape the hardwood floor.

“How long have you been open” someone asks. 

A voice behind the counter – maybe in the kitchen, “This year we opened in February.” A smile, a nod.

“What part of the west are you from?”

“Winnipeg. But we’ve been here since 1970. 1970 we moved to Nova Scotia”

Diana’s piano takes center stage. A truck drives by. 

We on the East Coast emerge from this long winter of snow and shadows, a hopeful awakening. Dirty snow merges back into the land. I am not sorry to see it go. Winter coats are consigned to closets deep in the bowels of our windows-wide-open houses. We wear our spring jackets, light and hyacinth-colored, new leaves bright, regardless of the temperature. The calendar says it’s Spring and we declare it to be so.

The chef in sneakers and yoga pants emerges from the kitchen, chats politics and weather with the couple sitting beside the front window – sunlight blessing their bright green salad and cherry tomatoes. She gestures, he grins, they nod together, a dance of place, and comfort and companionship.

Anne Lamott says, ‘Writing is about paying attention. So is life. Wake up and look up, and then scribble it down. Don’t look at your tummy. Look at the sky.’ 

The door again – two friends greet each other, hug, laugh, exchange pleasantries. More food appears from the kitchen. My pencil etches more than remembrances of this place; gratitude, spring-like expectancy. And in all these transactions in this day a revelation, a holy communion here in the uncommon common. Pay attention.  Wake up. Scribble it down.

And I am.  

Straight Lines

There was a trick to ironing the crease in the pants of his dress uniform – wax paper – it set the straight line that started just above the tip of the mirror polished black boots and ended at the waistband of the blue then green standard air force issue. Mom ironed everything else in the house; sheets, dresses, shirts, blouses, aprons, the rain or shine laundry every Monday washing away the previous week. Every Tuesday creaking up the ironing board, pressing heavily, hotly down on cotton shirts and pleated skirts, a damp cloth to erase unwanted lines and tame our clothes, and hopefully us, into a kind of submission.

But never Dad’s uniforms. Ever. They had to be just so and he had learned to do them right in basic training, a wild young man tamed in every way into the straight, straight lines he lived/s by ever since those early days I only faintly heard of.

‘There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything’, was something of a code for him. And every wrong way a deliberate act against the right, and inevitably against him.

I hate being melodramatic. My memories are just that – mine and memories – filtered through my admittedly hazy reflections. I cannot and do not speak for anyone else in my family. I need to be very clear about that. They have their own stories and I will not – no – I cannot be their voice. They will find their own.

What I do know is that I had a foolish boldness that couldn’t be suppressed; a need to have my opinion heard in the face of what I never seemed to learn was an uncommon rage that I interpreted to be directed at me. I also had/have a gift for losing myself constantly in a dream world, ‘Wendy would do better at school if she would pay attention’ – ‘She should be tested to see if she is capable of academics’ (general surprise all around when the testing revealed a high IQ) coupled with the audacity to at least verbally leap headlong into the constant ‘walking on eggshells’ situations – it led me into SO. MUCH. TROUBLE. ‘Don’t upset your Dad’ was (is) the soundtrack for my life, in all its various incarnations.

Oh yes – and park your emotions at the door ‘Wendy, don’t wear your heart on your sleeve’, and no hugging ‘We’re not that kind of family’, two other important rules although there were a thousand more. These are only blurred scenes – faint and fading memories – I’ve spent a lifetime of my own Mondays trying to scrub away the deluge that has re-emerged lately.

Why now?

Stripping the house bare, handing over the shell to someone else, it’s dredging through those hidden places again, at least for me. But I think for all of us because we’re all angry in our own way – and we are all taking apart these pieces of our selves, of our own lives as we dismantle the visible expressions of his.

The great fading is occurring for him now, the straight lines of his world collapsing. We talk about the weather, the birdhouses outside the window, the World Cup. I answer the same questions he poses, two or three times, ‘How are the kids? What are they doing now? What grade is Molly in?’ He is perpetually surprised that she is in university. A shocking truth that newly amazes him during the hour or so we are with him. I have learned never to ask about Mom, never to ask how he is doing. He has developed his own story, told in simmering indignation that fits where truth has no place. I want to ask a hundred things, I want there to be transparency, and a kind of open-ended, borderless love. No lines, no disgust, no conditions. When we leave, I feel sad.

And I know that what I’m really asking, after all these years of feeling the press of the iron to ‘straighten up’ my life, what I’m still trying to say – will you see me – when will it be enough for you – can’t you just put the iron away.

“All I want for Mother’s Day is…”

Well, here it is, Mother’s Day eve and I’m finally going to answer the question that has been asked of me every Mother’s Day since my children could talk, “Mom, what do you want for Mother’s Day?”

Every year my reply has been either, “Nothing, I have everything I want,” or most years, “I just want obedient children!” (spoken while under some duress no doubt).

This year, however, I have compiled a comprehensive list to answer that perennial question so here, in no particular order, is a list of the absolutely perfect presents for my Mother’s Day (get out your pen and paper – you’ll need to take notes).

I really, really want:

1. a clean microwave.  Can someone tell me why after scrubbing every square inch of the microwave, inevitably the very next time I go to use it I discover that it appears a cat or some semi-small rodent has exploded inside, a fact that seems to be a total surprise to the rest of the household, as in “Oh, would you look at that!” and “Apart from my science experiment and warming up last weeks leftover spaghetti, I NEVER use the microwave so it can’t be me.”

2. my house to shift by approximately a meter or so.  I think this is the only explanation for why coats are never put in the closet but thrown on the bannister just beside the closet or why dirty dishes are left on the table or right on top of the empty dishwasher or why towels can’t seem to make their way to the towel rack but are found crumpled and damp in the bed/basement/kitchen/under the current paint project or on the floor immediately beneath the towel rack. And some rooms, judging by the mounds of what can be both clean and dirty clothes (who can tell which are which – I swear some weeks I wash just as many clean clothes as not), look like about 74 people were vaporized.  I think it’s just like adjusting the screen resolution on the computer.  The house is clearly at fault here and needs to be tweaked by a few feet or so, then everything would shift those few inches/cms and fall into place – I know it would.

3. a toilet paper manifesto.  Various anonymous family members can lean the new toilet roll on top of the empty cardboard roll but can’t figure out how to take the old roll off and put on the new one!!!  Seriously!!!  People, people, people – this is definitely NOT rocket science!  Do you need a tutorial, a YouTube video perhaps, a powerpoint presentation?  I could fly in an expert – well, no I couldn’t, but seriously.  And the very worst is when I am racing into the bathroom and onto the toilet and I glance over at the toilet roll and SURPRISE, there are the two tiny squares at the end of the roll that are super-glued to the cardboard, and that’s it. But no worries; surely the three extra rolls of TP in the cabinet beside the toilet that I just replenished two days ago are still there.  Revelation #2:  the monster that lives under my bed and eats extra socks has clearly branched out and is now devouring the TP.  That’s the only explanation for why the cupboard is totally devoid of toilet paper.  And it seems my housemates are as shocked as I am as in, “There was lots there when I last looked,” and “I never use THAT bathroom, well only in emergencies.”

4. a repeal of the meal embargo that seems to have been part of my marriage vows. In my perfect world, a person, maybe that guy from the Old Spice commercials, would occasionally prepare an interesting, tasty non egg/tomato soup/Kraft dinner/hot dog from Costco, meal.  Is it too much to ask that literate, seemingly intelligent individuals with education, sense and reason(this is sounding like a Jane Austen novel) who normally figure out new electronic gadgets or computer programs or the mysterious world of Manga, read and then prepare a recipe?  Oh and don’t leave the kitchen looking like it’s a candidate for a government disaster assistance program.

I could go on, but I think I’ll leave all the other ideas such as – making AK-47’s legal for mothers, having a hormone-free zone, or banning any music that quadruples my heart rate without exercise – for next year.  It’s a start though and should be enough for those of you who are interested in making this the “Best Mother’s Day Ever” for me!

Oh, PS – I also really want my girls to know that I am the most fortunate Mom in the world.  Laura, Amy and Molly I am proud of the women you both are and are becoming – I couldn’t ask or want for more.  I love you all and nothing you can ever do or accomplish will ever change or diminish or make you more or less worthy of my love.  And it’s not earned by filling the basket with the above mentioned items…or any other thing.  It just is.  Because I’m your Mom – and I love you to the very center of who you are – no strings attached, no conditions.

Really.

Except for the toilet paper…

Waiting for Baby

It’s 2:15 am.

I’m wide awake.

Outside the window falling snow swirls around puddles of light made by the streetlights. The room is dark and mostly quiet. There are murmuring conversations, doors thunking, a faint, distinctive cry of a newly birthed child, the gentle swoosh of air from heating vents.

Another hospital room. A happier occasion than the last – this time I am waiting for a beginning. It’s hopeful, happy, in spite of the current pain of Amy’s contractions, we have all eagerly anticipated this day with her.

But now, a catch.

This tiny child, yet to be born, is in distress. Heartbeat from a heart no bigger than a quarter likely, is frantically sketching Mount Everest hills and Grand Canyon valleys across the hospital monitor.

So we acquire a new line of thinking about your arrival while a team of Doctors and operating room staff abandon the safety and warmth of their beds and home and brave the storm outside, slicing first a trail through snowy streets and now a second through our precious daughter’s tired belly so you can feel safe too.

And so I cry and pray and pray and cry for you our unknown second precious grandchild and for your dear and absolutely courageous mother who has climbed her own Mount Everest today and for your Dad who has been such an encouragement and strength.

This night dear God
Please keep those safe I love and know
Guide surgeon’s hands
Keep tiredness at bay
May each one in that operating room in the early hours of this day, know their job, and do it to the best of their abilities.
Comfort Amy. Reassure her that this is not a surprise to you. Love her as I know you do.
Thank you for David. Help him be your man – first as husband – then as Dad.
And may this little one we have all anticipated and don’t yet know
(already known, loved, formed by You)
Enjoy a lifetime of discovering your love and purpose….
While I wait
In this holy, quiet place
For You…and you.