August 26, 2011

Other People's Words

I came across the above quote in my new day planner, just before I sat down to write my last post. I still use a book style day planner as I have neither a Blackberry nor an iphone to keep track of my life for me. I still like to write things down with a pen on paper, make lists, and cross off tasks as I complete them. Call me old fashioned.

I use student planners because they go from August to August, tracking the school year, just as I, the mother of school-aged children do. They are also reasonably priced. My newest planner, created by the fine company Polestar Press has a quote for each week of the year, meant to inspire the student, of course, but I find the quotes work just as well for me. I'm often looking for little ways to keep motivated and organized. Call me human.

Being a words person, I've liked quotes since I was a young teenager. I remember suggesting to my family that we put a small chalk board by the telephone (the center of the house) and take turns writing funny or inspiring quotes to live by. "Wouldn't that be great?" I said with all the conviction of youthful enthusiasm. My dad looked over his glasses at me and cocked an eyebrow. Okay, maybe not. We did share quotes from time to time, and put funny comic strips on the fridge. Close enough.

Some of my favourite quotes are from artists, like the one above. I was given a gift certificate to a book store as a prize in my last year of school. I bought The Book Lover's Birthday Book from the Metropolitain Museum of Art to keep track of the birthdays of my friends and large family (eighteen nieces and nephews at last count). The book, which I still have and use is full of illustrations from a great variety of classic books, birth dates of writers, and a great quote from a writer for each day. I still enjoy all the quotes, many of which are not commonly known.

Facebook seems to be a haven for quote collectors of all stripes. I've read quotes by everyone from the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa to the boy band The Jonas Brothers, thanks to my diverse group of Facebook friends. The quotes range from extremely cheesy to funny or inspiring. Most recently, fifteen Facebook friends posted the last hopeful message from a popular Canadian politician who was dying of cancer.

Why do people love quotes so much? Not long ago The Bible was the most quoted book in the Western Hemisphere. Nowadays I'm not sure if many people realize that many of the things they say are actually quotes from the Bible. "To everything there is a season," for example, is from Ecclesiastes. After I saw a production of the musical Godspell, I heard the people sitting in front of us remark on all the great lines in the play. My mom leaned over to me and said quietly, "Well, it's hard to get better quotes than from Jesus himself." I think people are searching for words of insight and wisdom all the time, words on which to hang their hat and make sense of our common human plight.

One of my favourite lines in the Steve Martin film, Roxanne, is actually a mis-quote spoken by Roxanne's dimwitted love interest, Chris. Chris is being fed whispered lines from Steve Martin's much more brilliant and eloquent Cyrano de Bergerac-type character, from his hiding place in bushes. Chris is repeating those lines and calling them up to Roxanne who is leaning starry eyed over the balcony rail above. At one point, Roxanne asks Chris why he hasn't spoken so eloquently in person before. Steve whispers from the bushes: "I was afraid of words, Roxanne, words!"

Chris gives Steve a baffled look, then calls up to Roxanne: "I was afraid of worms, Roxanne, worms!"

I have many favourite quotes, but here are ten off the top of my head:

"We read to know we are not alone." C.S. Lewis

"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." The Beatitudes

"Sometimes you're the Louisville Slugger, baby, sometimes you're the ball." Mark Knopfler

"Don't borrow trouble 'till trouble borrows you." A well known saying that originated from 'The Sermon on the Mount', I believe.

"We learn from history that we don't learn from history." Bishop Desmond Tutu

"You must be the change you want to see in the world."  Ghandi

"You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you get what you need." The Rolling Stones

"If we have a natural disaster and everything is destroyed, it will be the Third World that has to show us how to live." My younger son

"It's a dog-eat-dog world and I'm wearing Milkbone underwear." Norm Peterson

"It's not the mountain ahead that wears you down; it's the sand in your shoe." Robert W. Service

Have a great weekend and please share a favourite quote if you have one!

August 19, 2011

A Week Away

A few days ago I returned from a week away. 'A week away' has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? It just rolls off the tongue like 'Back in a minute,' or 'Make yourself at home,' and opens up vistas of possiblilty in the imagination. A regular week around here goes by in the wink of an eye, and is usually made up of a list of Monday to Friday chores, weekend activity, and whatever is good on TV. A week away, however, is a completely different thing: another place, a different scene, another schedule entirely. A week away from being in charge of things at home is a real vacation. For seven days I stayed at a house where someone else thought about watering the garden, someone else made the coffee and asked me if I would like tea, and where someone else did the majority of the cooking. Don't get me wrong, I did plenty of dishes, helped with the cooking and with the entertaining of the many cousins who congregated there, but that is not the same as being in charge of it all. For a whole week I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that the end of summer was coming with its back-to-school shopping, its recommence of volunteer and paid work, and fall cleaning, but I could cast those cares aside for later. I was on holiday.

Earlyish on a Monday morning three of my kids and I threw our bags, coolers and pillows in the back of our minivan. My husband was not able to join us and our eldest was in Europe, so we were able to spread out and be comfortable travellers, each with their own bucket seat complete with arm rests and adjustable back rests.  We stocked up with cold water, music, snacks and a packed lunch, and hit the road. We drove up through the twists and turns of Manning Park, our first mountain pass. The air was cool when we reached the summit, fragrant with the scent of alpine trees and flowers. Once in Princeton, we drove alongside the shallow ripples of the beautiful Kettle River, through ranchland and fruit-stand territory. We stopped for lunch in Osoyoos, which is in the northern part of the Sonora desert. With irrigation, Osoyoos has become a fruit and wine-grape growing hub dissected by a long, warm lake for swimming and boating. We sat in the shade on the beach just below the tourist strip and a couple of us went for a swim in the mid-day heat. I thought about what my friend had said a few days before when she had returned from a trip across the province. She said that every two hours of driving brought her to a completely different geoclimatic zone, and how fascinating that was. I agreed.

One of the many Osoyoos wineries

Stopping for lunch in Osoyoos

We continued on through the dry sagebrush country, following for a time a rather uncertain recreational vehicle driver pulling a boat that wove back and forth, and passing him at the first opportunity. We picked up fresh peaches for my parents along the way and refreshing drinks for ourselves, and after a few hours the scenery became green again and we began another climb up into the mountains to the Blueberry Paulson - a destination for backcountry skiers in winter -  and down the other side. Finally, we arrived at my parents' house in my hometown in time for supper. I was offered a stein of my dad's homemade beer, chilled and with a large head of fluffy foam. It was delicious and most welcome after a full day of driving.

Comfortable beds had been set up for the girls and I out on the porch, the place I slept with my sisters and brothers all summer long when I was a child. My son slept in the attic which my parents had converted to a sleeping/storage loft a few years ago. The nights were cool and scented with the herbs of the surrounding gardens. We kept my parents' hours, retiring early and rising early, too, enjoying the effect of a second cup of coffee on the energy of the conversation around the breakfast table. Nelson has a downtown full of interesting shops so the kids were eager to go most mornings, and since my parents' house is only a few blocks up the hill, I could help clean up the breakfast dishes and relax a bit before I walked down to meet them. My son bought several vinyl albums at second hand shops and enjoyed the chocolate mousse cake at one of the fine bakeries.

My kids' favourite bakery cafe
My teenage daughter shopped for clothes and found some unique pieces, and also enjoyed buying treats she couldn't find at home. My youngest shopped for books with her savings, and bought a bizarre foam substance that bounces whatever shape she moulds it into. I didn't shop much. I was there to visit family, to talk, to share stories, go for walks up and down the numerous hills and to see a couple of old friends.

My brother arrived on the Friday with his boys and the next day he took them and my son for a hike to the brand new cabin in Kokanee Provincial Park, where a celebration was being held for the 100th Anniversary of British Columbia Parks. My mom was also at the cabin providing historical information to the visitors. I took all the girl cousins and my sister to a favourite beach for the day.

My teenage daughter would have liked to hike with the boys, but she had forgotten her sturdy shoes. I promised her a hike up the the top of the town the next morning. "Can we come?" said the girl cousins. We ended up taking the boy cousins, too.

The view from our hike to the top of the town

A few more beach days, a few more walks and visits, a morning of shopping for a few presents for my husband, and it was time to pack up for the return trip home. Tears from my youngest - "I want to go home and see Daddy, but I don't want to leave Grandma and Grampa" - and a promise from Grandma to come and visit us, and many hugs later, we began the journey homeward. We stopped in the orchard country again and picked up peaches for home this time. We ate lunch in the car and stopped for ice cream instead. We drove down from Manning Park into the Fraser Valley in the late part of the day, shadows of the forest stretching across the ribbon of highway, and the sun low enough to shine into my eyes.

Happy to reach home at last, we unpacked the van and put the organic peaches, the Nelson Chocofellar chocolate, the Nacho chips we seem to only be able to find in Nelson, and an edition of Kootenay Mountain Culture magazine on the table for Dad to find when he came home from work.

We came home on Tuesday. Today is Friday. With my head still full of the doings and enjoyments of 'a week away' I am reluctant to pick up the threads of all there is to do here at home. Sure, I've done laundry and the cooking, read my emails and even answered a few, but a part of me, a big part, is hanging on to that holiday mind space. Everywhere I walked and ran in Nelson there was a view, of mountains, of the glacier, of the West Arm of Kootenay Lake.

I was so impressed with these gardens in Lakeside Park.
They are like a painting.
Nelson, already full of natural beauties, is also a place which honors its past and celebrates its culture. Old houses and buildings are renovated and restored, and art is everywhere you look - starting with my parents' front hall:

Food and healthy living are major focuses of both my family and the community at large. One day we had Florentine paninis for lunch with homemade foccacia bread and homegrown spinach. Another day I cooked the organic roast I had brought from my own freezer and my mom and I made a potato salad and a green salad with all the ingredients harvested from their wonderful garden. The kids and I know how good it was to be away, but we aren't talking about it much. I think we are all still there for a few more days, in our hearts anyway. Nelson will always be a part of us, and we a part of it. We don't have to live there to know that.

So much of who I am is explained by the way I was brought up and by the place I was fortunate enough to be brought up in. I love to go to my hometown to reconnect with that place and those people I love so much. I enjoy every minute of it. But then, after a while, it is time to come home and dig in generously. I try to take some of what I am and spread it around in the place I live now. I hope I make a difference, even if it is small (which it undoubtedly is), to the people around me.

August 5, 2011

More Postcards From (nearly) the Edge

I once met a CBC national news reporter in my cousin's Vancouver backyard. His daughters were friends with my cousin's daughter, and he pushed a jogging stroller with a new little boy in it. The mother was not there; perhaps she was at work. We were all assembled, along with a lot of other parents and children, in order to partake in the annual Easter Egg Hunt put on by my cousin and his family. When we were introduced by my cousin, he asked if we recognized the news reporter.

"Yes, of course! I've seen you on TV," I exclaimed.

The news reporter (who shall remain nameless) was quite friendly, in that reserved kind of way that many people of notoriety have, and he asked us where we were from. When we told him he asked, "Do you have horses or something?" as if the only reason to live out in the country was if we had several acres of land at our disposal.

"No, no," we said, and explained about my husband's job as a manager in a large hotel in the nearby resort village.

We could tell he found it all a bit puzzling, people choosing to live in the country without being able to call themselves farmers. We told him our daughter did ride horses at a nearby stable. "Ah," he said, and relaxed a bit.

I changed the subject and admired his baby, the product of his second marriage. The baby smiled at me. Most babies do, I'll admit. That's how I ended up doing daycare, but that's another story.

"How many children do you have?" asked the news reporter.

"Four," I said.

"FOUR?" Wow, you must be really busy!" he exclaimed, eyes widening at the thought.

I smiled wryly. "That's only one more than you have," I said.  He laughed and had to agree. I wondered silently how he thought 2 tween girls plus one baby, one ex-wife and one present wife who was a step-mother to his first two, was so much less than my four.

Probably with the same line of thought that wondered how on earth we could live so far from the city (an hour and a half's drive), and still look content and sound reasonably well informed. The next time we met for the annual Easter Egg Hunt, the news reporter remembered us and we talked at length about the school system, while we kept the now-toddler out of trouble in the garden.

So, Mr. News Reporter, I am thinking of you as I send out some more summer postcards from our part of the world. I suppose, in a way, we really do have several acres at our disposal out here.

To bee in paradise

Taxpayers Gardens (not their real name)

Hats on the Beach

Our favourite local spot in summer...up the mountain road and turn right

Shade in the afternoon, and lovely water for swimming

I will be away next week with my kids (their dad has to stay here and work), but may be able to read and to post if time and distractions of friends, family, and my beautiful home town permit. Have a wonderful week wherever you are!