May 17, 2017

The Food of Love

Ask a teenager or a romantic and they will tell you a successful relationship is all about the Grand Gestures: the poetic declarations of love, the surprise tickets to the ballet, the offerings of jewels, flowers, expensive dinners in dimly lit restaurants. I was once both a teenager and a romantic, and I will tell you here and now after twenty-five years of marriage, if I still believed grand gestures to be the food of love I would live a disappointed life. Grand Gestures are well and good but daily small gestures are what nourish and sustain.

My husband is not one for Grand Gestures. True, in our early days of courtship he brought me flowers regularly, but he also proposed to me over a paper bag picnic from the once-lauded Bread Garden while we sat cross-legged on the floor of my bedroom. No diamond ring was presented. I still said yes. After all, we had been dating a solid three weeks.*

My husband is not a composer of sweet nothings. Oh, he can talk, certainly, about any number of things, but when it comes to whispered poetic endearments, they are few and far between. When they come though, they are simply stated, heartfelt and treasured beyond anything. Where this man truly shines is in his rock solid support and care for me, and for our family, and in the way he can, like a well-aimed javelin, hit upon the truth of a situation. No one cuts the crap and gets to the heart of the matter like my husband. Time and time again, I have been more than grateful for this trait of his. When a certain small daughter was resisting her swimming lessons and I was at my wit's end trying to reason, cajole and practically bribe her into going, he took her into his lap and calmly said, "Now what's this really all about?" When a son wanted to quit halfway through university and I was caught up in the emotional turmoil of his situation, his dad got on the phone and calmly said, "Now what's this really all about?" Our son will graduate from university next week and our daughter knows how to swim quite well now. Of course, we've had our share of battles in the family. Doors have been slammed, voices have been raised, harsh words of scorn pronounced from time to time, but somehow cooler heads prevail and we figure it out between us and carry on stronger and better than we were before.

I remember talking with a group of young people at a lodge where we lived and worked as a family. They were curious about marriage, mine in particular. What makes a good partner? they asked. My response was immediate: A good partner helps you become a better person. They chewed on that for a bit and said, 'That's cool'. At the time of the conversation I was going through a lot of personal stuff. Twenty-eight years old with three kids and living in a rustic cabin in a remote location, I was being challenged on a daily basis. Basically, I was faced with myself and my weaknesses and limitations each and every day. I was not the best wife and mother I could be at the time, but my husband was so incredibly patient with me. When I resurfaced from my difficult stage I asked him how he could stand me during that period (It lasted about a year). "I knew you would come out of it, you just had to get through it." Perhaps that was the grandest gesture in the world, him waiting for me on the other side with open arms. "I don't deserve you," I said.

Of course, relationships are about give and take. I have supported my husband through many of his own difficulties and challenges. I have cheered him on at the soccer field, at the sidelines of cycling events, and of course acted as his sounding board and best friend. I am able to do all these things without hesitation for him because we have built a foundation of love and respect between us. Our foundation is built, brick by brick, slowly and steadily with time and care, laughter and music. I still have no fancy jewelry, and I am still waiting to be whisked off to Paris, but if those things never materialize I know the day-to-day gestures - the daily phone calls to see how my day is going, the appreciative thanks for a good meal, the efforts to get to every event of mine or our children's, the commiserating when things get crazy, the hugs when I am stressed - are more than enough to satisfy.

Happy Anniversary, my love, and thank you. Here's to the next twenty-five years.

*Although he proposed after only three weeks and I said yes, shortly after I freaked out and said, "I'm not ready!" It was several months before I said, "Ask me again."

May 1, 2017

Loss and Letting Go

After a car accident about eighteen years ago, I was undergoing massage therapy treatment. At one point in my treatment my therapist must have been frustrated with my lack of progress because she said to me, 'You have a hard time letting things go, don't you?' At the time, I was insulted. How dare she psychoanalyze me? I remember thinking, 'Just give me the massage, lady, and let me go home.' Her statement, for it wasn't really a question, wormed its way into my soul and stayed there, mostly because it was true. I carried a lot of stuff around in my muscle memory, old grudges, past hurts, much self-protection, and the enormous expectations of personal 'success' that came from, well, various sources, including my own rather self-punishing version of perfectionism. Oh yes, I had baggage. Carousels of it. Thankfully, I also had a sort of irrepressible optimism, a cheerfully sarcastic disposition, and a love of laughter to counter the weight of all that baggage. After ten months of therapy, and with youth on my side, I recovered from my injuries and joyfully returned to running, dancing, and living (mostly) without pain. I wish I could say I also started letting things go, but I can't. That process would take many more years.

Loss has featured largely in my life for the past couple of years. I have lost people, ideas of people, ideas of myself. Through loss I have shed several layers of my hard-earned sense of self, and the process has been both painful and freeing. Like the snake that wriggles out of its old, worn skin, a person who struggles through a period of great personal difficulty has the power to emerge shiny and new. I am not yet shiny and new, I am covered in post-rebirth gunk, but I have hope I will fully emerge in smooth and radiant glory, eventually.

I was texting with my niece the other night. She had posted something on Facebook about a young friend who had very recently died. She told me what had happened to him and three of his friends - a serious car accident in which the friend had died on the scene, two were critically injured and one walked away relatively unhurt. My niece said she had gained a newfound appreciation for the preciousness of life. I found myself texting her the words: 'We always, always learn a lot from loss.' When we lose someone or something precious we rage and ask why? why? The loss seems so unfair and so arbitrary. But, somehow the act of losing also gives us, dare I suggest it, an unexpected gift of a deeper appreciation for what is left. We often pledge to live better and more authentic lives.

I suppose that is where I am at now: trying to live a better and more authentic life. I have been saying 'no' more often, which is a challenge for a people-pleasing person such as myself. One of the hardest things for me to let go of is the sense of disappointing others. People pleasers need people to think highly of them, even love them, and they derive a certain amount of pride in achieving that love and approval from others. I have worked on developing something of a new mantra to help me in my aim to say no more often: They'll get over it. I've had to let go of the idea of success and replace it with doing what I love for the joy and satisfaction it gives me. ME. I've had to let go of my children as they grow into independent adults, forging their own divergent paths. I would not say I have been a helicopter parent, but I did exhibit some tendencies in that direction over the years. My youngest said at one point, "Mom, you're like the mother duck who has been leading her ducklings all over the place, and one day she turns around and they're not following her anymore." Ever wise, she said it with a mixture of pity and 'deal with it, Mom'. I have had to let go of my pride, the main thing which has held me back and held me in all these years.

Throwing bag after bag off the carousel of my life leaves me feeling raw and vulnerable but I am okay with this. Left also with a sense of lightness and freedom I can now embrace what is before me. I have little idea of what the years after my youngest graduates from high school will hold, but at least I know they won't have the endless nature of a baggage carousel going round and round carrying the same heavy stuff until someone claims it.



April 24, 2017

Noises Off

Last evening, about nine o'clock, we heard a light tapping on our apartment door. My husband, just having arrived home two hours previously from his new job in the mountains where he lives part time, answered. He stuck his head out the door and kept his body behind it, shielding me from view - I was sitting shirtless with a heating pad on my chronically sore back. I heard a light, female voice asking if we could 'keep it down a bit'. Keep it down? We were watching an Australian murder mystery on Knowledge Network and our fifteen year old was having a bath. I'm not sure how much more 'down' we could keep it. I heard my husband respond with as much, and then the woman's response, "Well, try to keep it down anyway. We don't usually mind, but we have a guest who is very sensitive to noise." My husband closed the door and came over to tell me what I had already heard.

"How old was she?" I asked. He said she looked about twenty-five or so, and that she lived in the apartment below us. My husband was quite angry by the intrusion and the suggestion that we were being loud. I was, true to form, upset and sensitive to the idea we could be bothering the people below us with our day to day activity. I consider us fairly quiet people, especially when most of the time it is my daughter and me alone in the apartment. I would never go upstairs, as much as I would like to some days, and knock on the door of the young couple's apartment above in order to say, "Hi, I was wondering if you could get a new bed. Your very squeaky love-making is keeping me up at night. Also, your singing and terrible keyboard playing in the middle of the night is obnoxious. I love children, so I don't mind your toddler running back and forth across your apartment, but I think maybe you should take him to the park more often." I would think such an action incredibly rude and insulting. Of course, if I had a legitimate problem with the level of noise I would contact the building manager and make a complaint.

We have lived in this apartment building in our mid-sized city for nearly six months now. The general noises of life are to be expected from our neighbours. We all live together in a sense. Why not live and let live? The Shoppers Drug Mart in the plaza next door sells ear plugs. I lived here only a week before I bought myself a couple of sets. I rarely use them now, except in extraordinary situations like when the beeping and scraping of the snowplow would start at 3:00 a.m. in the plaza parking lot over which our windows look out. One gets used to the ambient noises at night. Mind you, I am nearly twice the age of our downstairs neighbour. I have lived in many homes of all types over the years, in a diverse set of environments. Perhaps the benefit of my life's experiences gives me a more tolerant view than I may have possessed at twenty-five.

This morning, I got up and walked softly across the bare floor to our kitchen. I wrapped the coffee grinder in a blanket, as I do when others in the house are sleeping, and ground my morning coffee. I was aware of every step, every move. I know this hyper-sensitivity to my own noise-making will subside. Until then, I will miss the freedom of living life without worrying about the residents below me.



P.S. The photo is of our view of the plaza over which I gaze at the mountains.

P.P.S. I have returned to blogging after a two year hiatus. I suppose I have things to say once again.

April 9, 2015

Number 260: The Last Post

When something feels like it is naturally drawing to a close - I like that expression; I imagine a delicate hand drawing a curtain over a tall window as, outside, day fades to dusk over the distant hills - I believe in letting it.

For the past few months I have felt this blog pulling away from my reach. I have attempted to pull it in, to own it once more, only to have it pull away from me again. I am not one for forcing things, and so I think it is time to let it go for good.

I started writing my Letters online in September, 2009. Five and a half years and 260 posts later I find myself looking outward toward other projects. My life has changed, too, as have my areas of focus. Three of my four children are grown up now and I am somewhat less home-based. I am just about ready to begin the revisions of the novel I spent last year writing and I know the task will consume whatever limited creative output is at my disposal.

Allowing change is healthy although, admittedly, transition can be hard. I will miss the online interaction with other bloggers and readers. While it is a stretch to call these others in the blogging community 'friends', I do believe some genuine connections were made with people in the U.K., Colorado, Virginia, and other places closer to home, and I am grateful. The entire experience enriched my life and furthered my ongoing education immeasurably, but I believe I have exhausted the format I chose for my blogging project. I have tried to write Letters that anyone, young, old and in-between might enjoy reading. I sought feedback but grew uninterested in agressive self-promotion because it seemed to detract from the simple pleasure of putting together my weekly posts. I shared bits of my psyche, my interests, memories, my pursuits and passions with whomever cared to read about them. The number of readers was rarely high but I do believe I brought a bit of light and joy to some people, some of the time.

My friend Kate who has made several wonderful scrapbooks of and for her children once told me that my blog was like a scrapbook for my children, of our adventures together and of my thoughts on many topics such as marriage and motherhood, the arts and nature. I like to think that is true. At some point, perhaps, I will have a book printed of some of my more interesting posts for them.

If you are reading this last post I want to thank you for providing me with a treasured audience, whether this one time or all two hundred sixty times. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing to you, wherever you are, and send you all my best wishes. Please have a listen to this lovely song, for it sums up my thoughts so well:

The Parting Glass

Sincerely and with love,


Sunset on the Fraser River

March 6, 2015

Making Time for Signs of Spring

"You find time the same place you find spare change: in the nooks and crannies." Austin Kleon

Since I landed a job in early February at a local cafe my life has become more full and I must make the most of the days I do not work, to make time for the things I enjoy, like walking and running, writing and reading, hanging out with my family, and volunteering. My weeks are framed and more structured now and I find I am enjoying life more. This winter has been a time of growth for me personally in many ways, some of them difficult, and I am happy that spring is just around the corner ready to welcome me with its floral fragrances, warm sunshine and birdsong.

We on the fondly named 'wet coast' were neither very wet, nor very stormy this winter. Our winter has been the complete opposite of the Eastern parts of the country which all but disappeared under umpteen layers of snowdrifts. The blooming began here in mid-February (when Halifax was being buried by yet another storm) and if I turn my head away from the computer screen to look out the living room window into the front yard I see a star magnolia nearly in full white bloom, baby narcissus, and swelling buds on the rhododendron bushes. The snowdrops are all but finished blooming, the daffodils are out in sunny spots and the tulip leaves are six inches above the ground. When I go for a walk I am generally hatless and glove-free these days, and a light jacket over a sweater is plenty warm enough for morning and too warm for the afternoon. When we watch the weather report on the news we cringe with guilt at what Eastern Canadians are enduring, but I think we also get the sense that many of our fellow countrypeople are making the most of this hard winter and will come out swinging while we sort of sashay sideways out of our easy winter into our early spring with self deprecating, embarrassed jokes about not being Real Canadians. Not that we have not had our turns other years. A couple of years ago we endured a two week snow and wind storm so severe it was broadcast on the news across the country - although I am sure many Easterners said 'it is about time they had some real winter over there.' We would have welcomed some real winter in the mountains this year. The ski season was a complete bust in the North Shore mountains of Vancouver, at our local ski hill and some others around the province. These mild winters have their downside. And, what's that about something not being over until the fat lady sings? March came in like a lamb and it still could go out like a lion. We have to enjoy it while we have got it.

I had not taken my camera out for a while and on Monday morning I decided to take it along to my appointment at the chiropractor. I planned to photograph signs of early spring on my walk home. I found many signs I was looking for except one. I had hoped to find a Tim Horton's 'Roll up the Rim to Win' cup discarded on the ground - a sure sign spring is coming. And what do you know? Not a single cup did I see on my walk. Quite shocking, really. Most days those things are all over the place, especially now we have a Timmie's right across the bridge.

A daffodil outside the chiropractic office

Lovely Japonica


Heather in full bloom

No idea what this plant is in front of the museum

Streetlights bathed in blossom

Akebono Cherry tree in the town park looks wonderful even without leaves

Time to think about getting the kids outside!

Magnolias hang heavy on young branches

Forsythia is a favourite against a blue sky

A neighbour down the street provides for the fairies

Another sign of new beginnings for someone

Ornamental cherry or plum on our street

Baby narcissus and the last of the snowdrops in our yard

Our star magnolia

Honestly, I do not mean to gloat. Look what the rest of you have to look forward to?

Cheers, and happy weekend,


February 16, 2015

How to Land a Job in Thirty Seconds

I had been looking for a few months, casually, mind you. I was not confident that any business would be able to accommodate my offered limitations. I only wanted to work a couple of days per week; I could not work weekends; I wanted a job I would not have to take home with me.

Two of my children - college students now - have spent their holidays working at a busy cafe-bistro in the nearby resort village where their dad also works as a manager at the main resort hotel. My kids have often expressed their gratitude at working for such kind people as own the cafe and the owners never tire of telling me how appreciative they are of my children's good work ethic and attitude.

One Wednesday morning, which happened to be my husband's day off, I was struck by an idea out of the blue. I wondered aloud to my husband whether the cafe might be an option for me. I love cafes. I have worked in one before and spend much time in them, and know how busy they can be. My husband thought it was worth a try. That same morning I had to go to the resort village to take care of something at the art gallery I help to run. My husband had to drop in at work as well so we decided to make the ten minute trip to the village. I had phoned the cafe in question earlier, even before I was struck by the idea of working there, and one of the two owners answered. No, they would not reopen until the weekend - they take the entire month of January off like many businesses in the tourism dependent village - but they were in the cafe painting and cleaning and she had said, "Come by, I will make you a coffee!" A good opening line if I ever heard one.

My husband and I took care of our errands and then stopped by the cafe. The owner made me the promised coffee - my usual small Americano (espresso topped with hot water) - and we chatted about our college kids, the owners' time off and whatnot for a few minutes.

"The thing is," I said, "I am looking for a couple of days per week of work. It has been a challenge because I cannot work weekends."

It is difficult now to describe exactly what transpired in those seconds between my statement and success. The owner's eyes opened widely and she made the following points in some order: We have been so worried about reopening so short-staffed. I would love another adult working here. We have been waiting.

I responded with something like: Really? You have? I love cafes and cafe culture. I'm so glad. And then we hugged.

Even more simply put, they needed me as much as I needed them, which in my view is a great way to start a working relationship.

Back in January when I was working backstage for the musical my youngest was performing in I thought, 'When this is over I will enjoy all my free time.' When the play ended its run, however, I found I did not enjoy all that free time. I found it hard to get motivated. I was increasingly lonely and isolated. Almost all the work I do throughout the year - my volunteer work, my writing - requires self-motivation and often a mental workout. I realized that in January, even though I was so busy the structure of my days helped me get things done at home. I appreciated my time more. I did not feel quite so adrift and my days and weeks had a form and shape beyond getting up and seeing my daughter off to school and occupying myself until she returned at three o'clock in the afternoon. Although I did not want to be running off my feet as I had been during the play I did want more structure in my life. I needed it. Perhaps my life at home would suit an introverted person but I am not an introvert.

I worked my third shift at the cafe last Friday. There is so much to learn and I am absorbing everything with my eyes and ears at every minute. The cafe is a hopping place. The food is excellent and I find I am proud to make and serve it. We make most of our menu from scratch and plate it prettily. Our coffee is very good and roasted locally by people I have known for many years thanks to my other roles in the community. I have to work hard but the job is never boring; there is always a sauce to make or something to chop or clean. I am comfortable in the kitchen and feel at home in the physical and social nature of the work itself.

What do my children think of me working at their cafe? My youngest is happy. "This is good," she said decidely, after I assured her I would not be working on weekends or full time. She will also begin working a little at the adjoining ice cream parlour this summer. My older children, who will work at the cafe again when they return from college in the spring were happy for me, too, especially after I assured them that if the question came up of who would get hours in the summer they would always take precedence over their mother.

On Friday, many people I know came into the cafe. One person who works for the village's tourism office and whom I know through the arts council of which I am currently president said to me as I served him his lunch, "You are doing this, too?"

I said in response, "Yes, part-time, but this I get paid for."

He smiled and said, "Yes, this is true."

Note: I typed this post from the handwritten version I wrote in, you guessed it, a cafe this past weekend. The photo above is of the view from the resort village in question. 

January 29, 2015

How Much do I Love Camping?

I have been thinking a great deal about going back this coming summer to a favourite spot of our family's. We used to go there every summer for a family camping trip, but with all our children working and growing up and dispersing, the last time we were able to go to the spot in question was late in the summer of 2010. Below is my post written shortly after our last trip there. I do hope, if we go this year that the sun will shine more warmly upon those of us able to make the trip and, most of all, that we will be allowed to have a campfire. It really does make all the difference in the cool evenings. Even without a fire, however, our spot is beautiful almost beyond belief. There is a sense of being on the edge of the world there without it taking more than a day's travel from our home. The ocean seems bigger there and the shoreline wilder than any spot near here. I love the ocean and have been missing it as of late. The waves are calling me in the dead of winter and I long to answer their call - when summer comes.

I believe I am now completely thawed after camping for five days on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island with a complete campfire ban in effect.  We are experienced coastal campers but nothing could have prepared me for camping in damp windy conditions without the benefit of a fire in the evenings.  I wore all the wool I brought and went for many walks on the beaches dressed like it was January.

My husband and children did not seem to feel the cold nearly as much as I did.  They dressed warmly, but were not desperate about it.  One day found me pacing around our campsite with a wool blanket tied around my waist like a sarong.  My husband took to calling me 'Nanuk', but by the end of the week, even he said next time we camp at French Beach we should come earlier in the summer, when the possibility of a campfire ban has not yet taken effect.   The forest floor of the campground was littered in gold and brown leaves from the overnight fall-like temperatures, but we were mercifully cozy in our tents and sleeping bags at night, and slept well, looking forward to hot chocolate and coffee made on the Coleman stove in the morning.  We had glorious days on the beaches, hunting for tidal life, scanning the horizon for dolphins (we saw a group of three) and whales (we were blessed with a visit by a grey whale feeding in the kelp beds just off shore at Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew), and warming up on the sunbaked stones littering French Beach and China Beach.  At one point I sat on French Beach, picking up warm stone after warm stone to hold in my frigid hands.

We played round after round of badminton and tossed the football, and no one complained about taking their turn to do the dishes after every meal in a pan of hot water.  We were gratefully distracted from the wind on our second afternoon with a visit from my brother, his family and a couple of nephews, and enjoyed showing them around China Beach - a long stretch of fine sandy beach accessible only by boat or by a short hike through a forest of huge arrow-straight Sitka Spruce trees once used for masts on tallships  - which they thought was truly beautiful.  We had brought a gas lamp with us and after we found it emitted a generous amount of heat we joked about it being our impromptu campfire, placed it on the fire grate and gathered around it every evening just to stay somewhat warm while we sat and talked about the day and shared stories and favourite scenes from well-loved comedy programs.

The last day we hiked into Mystic Beach and enjoyed the sheltered bay there.  We lingered in the warmth, exploring the caves created in the cliffs by the tide, and visited the waterfalls.  I was clicking away with my camera when a fellow hiker offered to take a family photo, and I think it will make a great Christmas card this year.  Soon after, our daughter Emma stood on a rock near the shore.  The tide was coming in then and my boys thoroughly enjoyed watching their sister get soaked by a large rogue wave that hit her at chest height.  Good thing I had packed an extra jacket.

New wooden steps down to Mystic Beach

The last evening after supper was cleared away we walked on French Beach and remarked on the darkness of the clouds heading toward us.  We decided to string up a tarp over the picnic table in case of rain, so at least we would have somewhere dry to cook and eat in the morning.  We were so glad we thought of it, because it rained fairly hard all night long.  After breakfast we packed up the wet tents cheerfully, anticipating the dry warmth we would return to here at home. 

Do I love camping?  Not necessarily in the aforesaid conditions.  But what I do appreciate about camping is the unobstructed family time, the simplicity of choosing meals suitable for cooking over a two burner camp stove,  the 24/7 outdoor living by the briny fresh sea, the inaccessibility of technological gadgets, my husband being well out of cell phone range so he can't be bothered with work, and the appreciation it gives me for the simple things of everyday life - like a hot bath and a solid roof overhead.

The painting above of the large piece of driftwood on French Beach is called 'West Coast Wanderer' by Victoria, B.C. artist Jeffrey J. Boron.  More of his work can be found here.