Friday, December 31, 2010

healing garden

We have a small shower. I must admit I've thought of Super Man stepping into a phone booth as I've slid open its door. It was partly because of the space issue that a container of shower gel leapt off the shelf this morning. Employing some obscure law of physics, it flew in a perfect arc and landed at its narrowest, sharpest edge on my unsuspecting toe. Not my brave big toe, but my wimpy middle toe. I felt an explosion of pain. While I was thinking dark thoughts not lawful to be uttered, I bent to retrieve the offending missile. As my bleary eyes cleared, I could just make out the brand, The Healing Garden.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

drawing the line

Skunks are not big sellers at the road kill cafe. One Monday morning, I passed a fallen creature of the woods. A skunk had shuffled off this mortal coil, its life snuffed out by a passing car or truck. I must admit, I thought of Flower from Bambi. Poor little fellow. Tuesday morning, I thought, still there? Doesn’t anything eat skunks? Wednesday morning, I averted my gaze and held my breath. The following Monday arrived. Ahhhh, a new week, I would take a different route to work. Sadly, a detour led me in a loop and spit me back out at just the right spot to pass the skunk again. Absence had not made my heart grow fonder. In fact familiarity was breeding contempt. Aromatherapy and all things natural are well and good, but you have to draw the line somewhere, and the centre line of 88th Ave. is where I’m drawing mine.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

good sport socks

You win some, you lose some.
I had been teaching my grandson to play checkers. .
"It's important to be a good sport," I counselled.
"Oh, just a minute, I have to get my sport socks," he exclaimed, dashing over to the tree. He returned, his feet snugly outfitted in new socks.
The game continued with losses in both camps, but his eventual victory.
"These sport socks really helped," he enthused.

me, me, me

Regardless of my granddaughters mood, an offer to sing Patty Cake, draws her to my lap as surely as if the Pied Piper himself were piping.  I do a pretty jazzy version, sort of Motown meets Mother Goose. The song ends with one word joyously repeated, "me, me, me, me, ME!"
A word any two year old would love.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

oh christmas tree

My Christmas tree was raised by hand. It's a tame tree. Until a couple weeks ago, it lived on a farm surrounded by a tiny forest, all the same age and size in neatly planted rows. Its trunk is as straight as an arrow. Its branches are evenly spaced and full. We just brought it home and winched it into the tree stand. Presto, a perfect green triangle awaiting lights and finery.
Not so the trees of childhood days. My father began keeping his eye out for a tree as he graded highways and byways in the late weeks of autumn. Waiting until after the heavy snows of winter made choosing a tree a guessing game. Some years, we would set out into the forest with toboggan and toque and search until dusk and numb feet hastened the selection process.
Back home, measurements would be taken.
More sawing would be inevitable.
In Blue River, our tree stand was a galvanized CN pail filled with coal. This gave way eventually, to folding metal contraptions, like those found in castle dungeons.
Just getting a frozen tree wrestled through the door and into the stand was taxing work. Getting it upright and keeping it that way through the holidays, an amazing feat of engineering. More often than not, the tree would list abit to the starboard, as though leaning toward the light.
Little wild trees stretch toward the light under the shelter of giant fir and pine and spruce. Their branches are often widely spaced. This must have been perfect for clipping lit candles to the branch tips, and for hanging ornaments straight and true in the spaces between branches.
My mother remembers lit candles on the tree. The trees of my childhood though, glowed with multicolor bubble lights percolating among the branches. Nests of angel hair softened the brightness of rainbow light bulbs. Tinsel, chunky snowball lights, blown glass birds with fish line tails, and  magical glass ornaments trimmed in gold and silver decked the festal limbs. Nobody had a theme tree and color coordination hadn't met Christmas yet.
There has been a "less is more" approach to decorating in the last few years.
Elegance is found in simplicity.
Still, the trees of yesterday with their exuberant embrace of color and glitz glow warmly in my minds eye. They prove that beauty is found not only in the perfect, but in any expression of celebration, even if it leans towards the window.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

sweet relief

There is an old fashioned Christmas candy that reminds me of plump pillows. They are even striped like pillow ticking fabric. Old grandma Johnston always had a big bowl of them on her side board and this fact nearly killed me the winter I was five.

Blue River was a beautiful town with a jewel of a lake right at its heart. For several months each year, its surface lay still and smooth, under a thick crust of ice. As winter and spring collided, fickle winds blew, and  dark patches appeared as the ice thinned.
One afternoon, as the little neighbor boy and I played outside in the snow, our thoughts turned to candy. Directly across the lake lay the Johnston home. A course was set, our goal, the candy bowl. Down to the lake we trotted and out onto the ice. I remember water laying on its surface in translucent patches, and I recall stomping to make water bubble out at the edges of darkened circles. In the haphazard fashion of preschoolers, we meandered across the icy lake.
A distant commotion  caught our ears. Yelling from the shore. A cluster of family were waving and shouting. We couldn't hear what they were saying, and since no one came and marched us home we figured all was well. Of course, the ice would never have supported the weight of an adult and our parents watched our tortuously slow progress with pounding hearts and tight throats. Unable to tear their eyes from us until we reached the safety of the distant beach, we remained unaccompanied all the way to the Johnston doorstep. As we had suspected, we were graciously invited in and were just sampling the candy when our breathless families arrived, giddy with relief. Strangely, it's the giddy relief of my parents and the taste of the candy that have remained entwined in my memory, as though the two are somehow one experience. When I asked my mother if she remembered, she shook her head. She thinks it's one of the blessings of age to be free at last from dark recollections of the past, the upside of memory loss.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

grafitti guilt

Desperate artists heeding the call to create use whatever medium is at hand, and so my grandson drew on the bathroom mirror with soap.
A face.
His mother, discovering the graffiti, noticed that the mouth was turned down.
"Why did you draw the face sad?" she asked her little boy.
"I thought you would be mad," he answered.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Eeee End

"Would you like me to read about Winnie the Pooh," I coaxed.
"OK!" my little granddaughter chirped, her eyes brightening as she scrambled eagerly into my lap.
Turning a page I announced, "Winnie the Pooh and Piglet are digging in the dirt,"
"Ewww," my little granddaughter exclaimed.
Undaunted, I flipped to the next page. "See, so many stars in the sky.
"Night, night," she said briskly, closing the book with an air of finality.
"Eeee end."

How should a King come

Words and Music by Carol and Jimmy Owens

How should a King come
Even a child knows the answer of course,
In a coach of gold with a pure white horse.
In the beautiful city in the prime of the day,
And the trumpets should cry and the crowds make way.
And the flags fly high in the morning sun,
And the people all cheer for the sovereign one.
And everyone knows that's the way that it's done.
That's the way that a King should come.

How should a King come.
Even a commoner understands,
He should come for His treasures,
And His houses and lands.
He should dine upon summer strawberries and milk,
And sleep upon bedclothes of satin and silk.
And high on a hill His castle should glow,
With the lights of the city like jewels below.
And everyone knows that's the way that it's done,
That's the way that a King should come.

How should a King come.
On a star filled night into Bethlehem,
Rode a weary woman and a worried man.
And the only sound in the cobblestone street,
Was the shuffle and the ring of their donkey's feet.
And a King lay hid in a virgin's womb,
And there were no crowds to see Him come.
At last in a barn in a manger of hay,
He came and God incarnate lay.

And the angels cried "glory glory to God".
Earth was silent so heaven rang!
"Glory glory to God."
Men were dumb so the angels sang,
"Glory glory to God,
Peace on earth good will to men,
Glory glory to God".

Thursday, December 16, 2010

goats and other gifts

"Maybe we should give him a goat," I suggested. My co-worker looked startled. "A goat...." she said hesitantly. "I've always wanted to give someone a goat," I enthused. My co-worker nodded slowly.
"You know....a goat from World Vision. "You've heard the ads on the radio haven't you?" I asked.
She hadn't. "I thought you meant for his yard." she sputtered laughingly.

World Vision has given faces, so to speak, to donations, making it a very personal way to give.
Their catalogue is inspiring. Such photographs. So many gift ideas. Our boss has coached soccer for many years, so soccer balls for children seemed an obvious choice. Pharmacy supplies were another perfect fit and our shopping was done.
We needed a way to present the gift; to let him know what we had done, and why.
Poor Clement Moore. Twas the Night Before Christmas is such a lovely poem. It was the perfect one to rewrite, so recognizable, but that's why parody works I guess.
( a few adjustments have been made so that identities remain shrouded in mystery.)

Twas not long before Christmas and all through the store,
The phones lines were ringing with orders galore.
Decorations were hung in the window with care,
In hopes that rich shoppers soon would be there.

The staff were nestled all snug at each table,
With visions of Bethlehem, stars and a stable.
And a party was planned,  what fun we will share.
A party for all, now what should we wear?

And what should we give to our boss, we all chatter,
We want it to be something BIG, that will MATTER.
Away to the catalogues we flew like a flash,
Tore open the pages and gathered the cash.

World Vision has gifts to make any heart glow,
And give the lustre of heaven to objects below.
Now, what to our wondering eyes should appear,
But a gift, picture perfect for those we hold dear.

We could give soccer balls, so lively and quick,
That’s the very first thing we easily pick.
More rapid than eagles the next choices came,
And we whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now pills, now injections, now ointments, and potions!
Some bandages, pain relief, eye drops and lotions!
To the top of the list! to the top of them all!
We’ll send a whole store full, now Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
World Visions has cargo and mounts to the sky.
So up to the house-top the airplanes they flew,
With bundles and boxes and packages too.

And then, in a twinkling, it was party night,
We headed for Newlands, with eyes shining bright.
As time came for gathering, and milling around,
Down the hall came our boss and his wife with a bound.

They were dressed for success, from their head to their feet,
And their clothes were all lovely for Christmas and neat.
A stack of gifts they had flung at the back,
And they looked like St. Nick, just opening his pack.

Their eyes-how they twinkled! Their dimples how merry!
Their cheeks were like roses! Their nose like a cherry!
Our boss and his family we honour tonight,
With a gift in their name, it feels somehow right.

The ripple effect of a generous man,
Can encircle the globe like a strong, helping hand.
When we think of this family, and what they all treasure,
A gift to World Vision is a gift you can’t measure!

So we wish you the merriest Christmas in sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Monday, December 13, 2010

ghost of Christmas Past

Some mornings I begin work quite early. The neighborhood I work in, and darkness of that hour tend to make me look over my shoulder, and keep doors locked. As businesses open one by one, a trickle of staff enter the building.
This morning, a voice some distance down the hallway called my name.
Three times.
I opened the door and called out, but no one answered.
"Did you hear that? Did you hear my name called," I asked my coworker.
We stared at each other.
He had heard it too.
"Maybe it's the ghost of Christmas past," he suggested.
I gasped with delight, "I'm being given a chance to change and do some good." I laughed.
The chance to change and do some good is so appealing. It must be universally so because A Christmas Carol, propelled Dickens into the limelight.
What has always amazed me in the story, is not Scrooge's transformation, but the fact that he was so readily forgiven. Forgiving and being forgiven. Good starting points for change, and doing some good.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

high and spry

I love dusky, shadowy barns, particles of hay suspended in the golden light.
Sheep make my heart beat faster. I love the sound of bells and the constant clamour of lambs calling to their mothers in the cool, mountain air.
And I love how water color can capture light like no other medium. How color mixes and runs in surprising, spontaneous ways. The hard part is knowing when enough is enough.
I had a lot of fun painting this picture because it seemed that layer after layer of color disappeared into the shadow. I think I tried almost every color in my palette, and the picture just became more and more muted. I'm sure muddy would be the technical description but it really seemed to me to capture the dimly lit interior of a barn. I read once that you have to make a thousand mistakes to become good at something, but making them can be fun too.


At meal time, we always head to the same spots around the table, like goats in a barn. My father's stall was directly across the table from me. It seemed each evening, that a combination of weariness and bad manners would contribute to a shift in my centre of gravity. Slowly and inevitably my feet would extend under the table beyond my personal territory into his. A meal wasn't complete without my toes tapping his and his mock surprise and horror causing us all to laugh. The daily rituals of life shared are a comfort, grateful memory a gift.

starting small

One year, my husband gave me Water Color classes as a gift. The instructor was a school teacher who had an alternate life as a painter. She had accumulated a cluster of devoted followers, who gathered to paint with her, and I felt awed to be able to "watch and learn." Her method of teaching was really not unlike the process of osmosis. Put someone thirsty to learn beside someone plying a brush, and nature will take its course. Amazingly, it seemed to work.
The other women in the class were comfortable, confident returning pupils. I was a timid beginner.
They took full sheets of water color paper and splashed paint and water on with reckless abandon.
I took little rectangles and squares of water color paper and hunched over the table, my brush in a death grip.
They were thinking big.
I was starting small.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

suddenly silenced

My mothers has always thought "green." Unfortunately, fruit flies think green as well, and they had gained a toe hold in the ecology of her kitchen. She appealed for help, and I consulted the source of all information, the Internet. There we found not only information on fruit fly traps, but also several methods of catch and release. Catch and release!? For a fruit fly??!!!
I've practiced catch and release while fishing. We use the term as a euphemism for fish that shake the hook free when they spot our boat.
Mind you, I once caught and released a mouse, and I have to admit, spiders and bumble bees have been spared, and lived to see another day.
My husband once made the mistake of stepping on an ant while my grandson was with him. I rushed out to sobs. "It was my favorite ant," the little boy offered by way of explanation.
There's a scene in Star Wars. A planet has been obliterated, and a Jedi, sensing tragedy says ominously, "It's like a great many voices cried out in terror before being suddenly silenced..." This is how I sometimes view the insect world. I wish fruit flies no ill, I just wish they weren't in my mother's kitchen.


My grandson is a very sociable fellow. I suppose this is why he loves to visit in the kitchen while I cook and sometimes helps out. He likes to pretend to be Chef Pig.
More than a year ago, I had been surrounded by bowls and spatulas. As I poured and strained, liquid suddenly overflowed and rushed over the counters edge and onto the floor. "Oh no," I moaned. There was a gasp from my grandson."What happened Grama," he cried, rushing to my side. "This has spilled, see," I sighed. "And now I've made a big mess on the floor." As I crouched to mop up the mess, he crouched right along side me til we were nose to nose. "These things happen," he said kindly. "It was just a little mistake," he added soothingly. He had obviously heard these words himself, offered as comfort, and he was able to give them as a gift to me.
It's one of the blessings of trouble, to be able to,"comfort another with the comfort that we ourselves have received." II Cor. 1:4

Friday, December 10, 2010

holding my breath

I've been looking forward to renewing my driver's license. It's worth $75.00 to get rid of my mug shot. Or mugged shot. It made me look like a victim in a police report. A bad hair day, the mandatory no smile policy and my own lack of photographic charm had conspired to give me the haunted look of a homeless woman with a criminal past. I was determined to raise the bar.
I hadn't counted on the Deli affect.
Halvah for my husband was on my Christmas list, and what better place to get it than a German Deli. A quick detour on the way to the Motor Vehicle Branch couldn't go wrong I thought. Into Doris' Deli I bounded.
The glass fronted cases held every imaginable, indigestible delicacy. Wonderful worst, lovely liver sausage, the sweet, the spicy; Cheeses and chocolates. Pyramids of fruited cakes and crisp cookies towered over marzipan animals. The rare, the exotic, the imported, the foil wrapped, it was all there in dazzling variety.
I found my thoughts turning to my father. He loved those kinds of treats. As age and health limited the things he could do and enjoy, edible treats became a favorite gift.
I felt a longing to see my father's eyes shining with pleasure again.
I knew a growing desire to tell someone, anyone, that my father would not be here for Christmas this year. I quickly made my purchase and dashed out to my car with the sweet notes of a German Carol clinging to my heart.
I cried so hard I had to mop up the tears at the next red light. And the next one too.
I pulled into the Motor Vehicle Branch with red puffy eyes and a pink nose.
Fortunately, there was the usual wait. Waiting and watching can be a very pleasant way to pass time and I found myself recovering.
I eventually stood on the orange spot on the floor and stared benignly at the camera, although pleasantly and with an aura of mustered dignity I hope. In a week I'll know for sure. I'm holding my breath.

Monday, December 6, 2010

won't they be cold now?

My brother raised a flock of enormous turkeys one year. The bell eventually tolled for them, and my mother and I were plucking them, up to our elbows in feathers. My little daughter had been playing with her cousins and wandered past. "Won't they be cold now?" she asked. Not where they're going, I thought to myself. I don't remember how I answered, only that I murmured something vague and reassuring. Ahh childhood, when the simple is complex, and the complex, simple.

bibbidee bobbidee boo

We were visiting at Grandma's house. My daughter, a tiny toddler, had finished her snack, and asked for more. "What's the magic word," my mother coaxed. My little girl hesitated and then brightened.
"Bibbidee bobbidee boo." she answered confidently.

after dark

Wild creatures roam after dark. Even in the city.
I came noisily up my driveway this evening, slamming car doors and chatting as I crunched up the walkway. Light from the windows above cast a silvery fan on the lawn. Suddenly, my eyes focused on a small wild rabbit, silent as a statue, crouching on my lawn. A little brown bunny. It seemed to be holding its breath. In a moment, it whisked away into the darkness. Maybe it has a warm nest somewhere in the tangled edges of my backyard. If rabbits come, can spring be far behind.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

suddenly awake

I once had a profound thought in the middle of the night, but by morning it had evaporated like mist.
Those fragments of time between sleep and wakefulness, when the mind is accessible by both memory and the moment, can yield surprising insights, or gibberish. Gibberish is the more likely default for me and I've laughingly recounted dreams and fragment thoughts alike to my patient husband.
Yesterday, a sinister virus laid me low, and I spent the morning and afternoon fitfully sleeping. As I rose and fell between wakefulness and slumber, I found myself remembering my father's death, and was trapped by thoughts whirling in a circle, ever sadder and darker. I knew I must somehow break free and in a moment, words came to me, scrolling across my mind like the news on CNN. "Man cannot thwart the purposes of God."
I was suddenly awake.

Friday, December 3, 2010


My mother has discovered the Food Network.
I found her happily watching Ricardo mince, slice and dice.
"It's eveything we love about cooking, without the work," I observed.
"And without the dishes!" she laughingly added.

frosty the snow midget

I had a Currier and Ives moment. Early last Thursday morning, I was drawn to the window, tea in hand, to gaze out over a white, white world. Snow had fallen through the wee morning hours and was still silently and steadily falling.
My morning brain jolted awake.
Grandchildren. Quick. Snow. Play.
We bundled up and rushed out the door. Our watches must have been synchronized because as we pulled into their driveway, out of their house they tumbled, like miniature Michelin Tire Men, roly poly and ready to go.
We exhausted the possibilities of snowy fun and the mitten supply, and then headed back to Grandma and Papa's house. A virgin lawn lay before us there.
Neighbors were working on a snowman. The giant snowball base could hardly be pushed, and was pulling up snow right down to the grass as it rolled slowly forward. We were inspired.
We formed the starter snowball and pushed. The snow was so dry. We tried again. And again. Advice was called across the chasm between the front yards.
They completed their snowman base and added the middle ball.
We packed the snow tighter. We rolled with a lighter touch. We rolled with a heavier hand. We rolled in deeper snow. Our starter snowball remained the size of a baseball.
They added a head.
We took to the side yard for fresh, unsullied snow.
Our ball grew to the size of a basketball. Perhaps we could push it back across the driveway before it got too heavy. Snowmen should be on the front lawn.
The snow had gradually been getting finer and the driveway was wet. As the basketball of snow was pushed across the long expanse of pavement, it diminished rapidly down to the size of a baseball again.
The neighbors snowman had a hat, and arms, a scarf and a face.
Not one to admit defeat, I rerolled a basketball sized base and added a baseball sized head. No middle, just a very small, very time consuming snowman.
"What do you think," I asked my grandson.
"Can I smash it Gramma?" he asked, his eyes sparkling. "Can I jump on it?"
"Sure, jump away,"
I noticed the next morning, that the warm wind and rain had slain the neighbors snow man. Or else he was suntanning, it was hard to tell from a distance.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

past tense

"Poo, poo, poo," chanted my little granddaughter. The man at the table next to ours gave her a side long glance. Their eyes met, and she made her "surprised" face. "Poo, poo, poo," she sang out. Her big brother giggled. Six adults consulted amongst themselves. My daughter glancing about suddenly exclaimed, "Oh, she sees a little picture of Winnie the Pooh. She's saying Pooh, Pooh, Pooh." "Ohhhhh, ahhhhhh, well then," we all chorused. The English language is so ambivalent.

"What do you say for rice," my coworker from Vietnam asked. "When it cooks, do you say it blossoms?"
"We say blossom for flowers, because they open up. That's sort of what happens to rice. That would be poetry though. You're a poet." I crowed.

"I don't knit," I had confessed. "I hold the needles too tight. I have tension issues." Boy do I ever.

Several meanings for one word, and that ever changing. Cool.

common crow

The gray winter skies are full of birds. They are silhouettes on power lines, and framed in the naked branches of Alder and Maple.
Yesterday morning as I toiled along Fraser Hwy. to work, the line of cars ahead slowed to a crawl. In the distance flashed the unmistakable lights of a police car, strobing blue and white.
As luck would have it, a cluster of crows were gathered right across the road from me, like street entertainers. Two crows bobbed forward, fanning their tails and cawing on the power lines above. They soon spread their wings and drifted to the ground to join the others. Elaborate bowing followed. One crow had a beak full of food and the others begged shamelessly. The begging and bowing clinched it. These crows were family.
There are certain rituals in crow family circles, and I suppose any family circle for that matter.
Sharing respect and food are as common as a crow.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

the refuge of silence

I'm losing my voice, and it's just as well.

"Good grief, why am I whining like this? That's it, I've used up my quota of complaints for the week." I decared. "Is that all," my husband asked ruefully. "For the month then, Ok, Ok, for the rest of the year." I declared sweepingly. Now how many weeks are left til the New Year?

A cold had me by the throat, literally and my voice was the voice of a stranger. "It's a nice voice though," a coworker had kindly offered.
Silence is the universal refuge.... a balm to our every chagrin,  ~Henry David Thoreau