December 30, 2013

What's in a Signature?

A few years ago I was with my kids in a music store which sold new and used equipment and sheet music, and smelled of musty basements, when I came across a paper-bound 1950 copy of The Trapp Family Book of Christmas Songs. I looked through it, noticing a signature on the inside front cover.

I asked the price of the book and the proprietor said I could have it for free. Surprised, I gladly took the book with me when we left the store. I was not convinced the signature was Maria von Trapp's but I rarely turn down a free book, especially one with beautiful arrangements of old European Christmas carols. Some years, I rarely sit down at the piano except at Christmas time when I pull out all the books of carols I have been collecting for the past twenty years.

A few months after I found the book, my mom, a historian and archivist, came down for a visit. She found it by the piano and began looking through it. She thought the signature might be geniune, but I still did not have a way of finding out - the internet had turned up nothing - short of researching and contacting hard-to-find experts. As far as I knew, the Antiques Road Show was not going to be visiting my area any time soon. As is common with me, after a short time I completely forgot about the whole thing until I was reminded of it this week. My fellow blogger Lucille posted about finding the English comedic novelist Barbara Pym's signature in a cook book she had acquired, and I thought perhaps I should try looking up the official signature of Maria von Trapp. Obviously, this time I had more luck. The signature was identical to the one in my copy of the book.

I then went on to see how much a signed paperback copy might be worth. I found one example selling for eighty-three dollars. Not bad, especially considering my initial investment of zero dollars.

The monetary value of the book is one thing, but the tangible fact of the flowing signature in plain blue ink of such a personality as Maria von Trapp of The Sound of Music fame is quite another. When I was a young girl my mom read me Maria von Trapp's autobiographies while I brushed her hair. When The Sound of Music was re-shown on the big screen in our town, she took my brother and me to see it. Every year between Christmas and New Year's when the film came on TV, my group of teenage friends and I would gather at one of our homes and have our own 'sing-along Sound of Music'. The character of Maria von Trapp has been part of my stock pile of childhood heroes for almost as long as I can remember. When examining the signature once again, I thought of the hand and the spirit that pressed pen to the paper in my posession. I read The Trapp Family Singers again, recently, and watched a biography of her on television. As an adult able to read between the lines, I realized that Maria von Trapp was not an easy person to live with. She drove her children very hard and had outrageous flares of temper - unlike the film, the captain von Trapp seems to have been the mild one who kept the family at peace. The von Trapps were immigrants to America after escaping the Nazi plans for the good captain to fight for their side - that part of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and film is true. Like many immigrants, they were determined to succeed and make a life in their new country - and Maria was their driving force. I cannot say I blame her. Immigrants must have felt a great deal of pressure in those days, and they must have also felt a good deal of fear at being aliens in a new country. One of her more sensitive children did run away and ended up having shock therapy - a favourite treatment in the 1950's and 60's to treat mental breakdown. The family made a living as a successful touring choir. The book I have would probably have been sold at one of their concerts. They also had a cottage industry in their home and everyone in the family used their considerable artistic talents to make objects for sale when they were not touring. The family carries on with their cottage industry today at their Vermont mountain resort Trapp Family Lodge.

My son Galen, a collector who frequents garage sales in summer came home with a DVD special edition of The Sound of Music and gave it to me last year to replace our old VHS cassette copy. Last summer, my youngest daughter wanted to watch it, so I watched part of it with her. Afterwards, she watched the special interview with all the grown up actors who played the von Trapp children, but when I said I was going to watch the biography of Maria von Trapp, my daughter asked me to please wait until she was either not at home or in bed. She said she was not ready to know the truth about the story and about the Maria von Trapp beyond Julie Andrews just yet. Perhaps she knew instinctively what is said about meeting your heroes -that you shouldn't, at least until you know more about the world and human nature, can look past your hero's faults and celebrate their successes and their contributions to human history.

December 23, 2013

A Christmas Greeting

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you tidiings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a  multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and goodwill towards men."

'And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.'

Wishing all my friends in the Blogosphere a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2014!


December 18, 2013

A Christmas Carol Day

I did not want to go with the school choir on their day tour of senior's care homes. I did not. I was tired and had a list of chores and errands to do before hosting Saturday evening's dinner party. The acappella group I sing with had worked hard for weeks to prepare for our own performance at the previous evening's choral festival. Our performance had gone well, but all during the night, my mind had sung our carol over and over without my permission:

Gaudete! Gaudete Christus est natus
Ex Maria, virgine. Gaudete!

That is always the way after a performance. Nevertheless, I had woken up feeling like something the cat dragged in. Ugh.

I had told my daughter's music teacher that I would come along on the tour only if not enough parents stepped forward, that I was really busy. She phoned me the day before the tour and asked me to come. I couldn't say no. The next day, Katie and I got up a bit earlier than usual, made our lunches for the day, and packed our bags with some activities to do on the bus between care homes. When we arrived at the school's music room we learned there had been a mix-up with the buses so we would have to walk to our first care home. It was a sunny, windless, brilliant day with frost on the rooftops and lawns, so I welcomed the walk of several blocks, and I think it was a good way to start the day for all the children, too.  With one of the parents carrying the keyboard, we paraded down the street in a long, jolly line. The first care home was brand new and quite elegant with chandeliers and Victorian furniture, high ceilings, sweeping staircases and lush carpeting. The choir performed a half hour set for a large group of residents in varying states of awareness and several cheerful and attentive staff members, and then it was time to leave for the next town. A bus had appeared out of thin air, it seemed, and we were off.

We visited three more care homes that day, none as fancy as the first. The children had been informed of the kind of audience they could expect, and were asked, instead of shaking hands with the seniors who were vulnerable to the kind of germs children are bound to carry, to go around and wish them a good day and a Merry Christmas after the set of carols. The choir did their best, but by the third care home the kids were visibly drooping. The rooms were overly warm, the air stuffy and they had sung the same set of songs all morning. The other parents and I made hand signals from the back of the room in an effort to encourage the kids to sing out, and at least cover their mouths when they yawned. Fortunately, the next item on the iternarary was lunch and a runaround in a nearby playground, which was most welcome for all of us.

I was moved several times that day by the reaction of many of the elderly audience members. While most of them merely listened or slept through the performance, there would always be a few singing along, usually quietly, but with sweet enjoyment. Most of the songs the choir sang were fairly typical choral arrangements of songs written for school choirs and not immediately recognizable to most people, but there were a few familiar verses like The First Noel, which the director would invite the seniors to sing. On the bus between care homes, the kids would belt out Santa Clause is Coming to Town, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Jingle Bells, and all those old favourites, but by the third care home their enthusiasm was waning for their prescribed set list. Another mom suggested to me that maybe the choir should mix in some fun carols with their set list. She must have said something to the choir director, too, because that is exactly what they did. The kids were delighted to mix up their last set with some new/old songs, and the seniors loved it, too. I particularly recall two elderly residents, who sang at the top of their voices whenever something familiar was sung by the choir. One was a lady who would sing loudly in between efforts to attract the attention of a rather severe looking care aide who would instruct her to 'sit down!', and the other was a tall gentleman in a reclining wheel chair. With his head dropped down on his chest and his eyes closed, he sang with the voice of someone much younger. Even during the unfamiliar songs he would find a single, repeated word and sing that word out whenever it came up. It was hard not to develop a few tears at such an endearing sight, and I found I was glad I had put aside my relentless to-do list and come.

There was something Dickensian about touring those care homes and singing Christmas carols (the parents sang too) for the elderly and infirm. I sensed a warning to look after myself and my family well, to never forget that I, and my husband too, would eventually grow old and dependant upon others. I thought how important it was to treat others as I wished to be treated, and to always remind my children to be kind, caring, generous, tolerant and considerate of others. I am hardly an Ebenezer Scrooge, but I can learn, as he did, and pledge to "honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach."

"God Bless Us, Every One!"

The above photo was found at The above is a re-post of one I wrote last year. I wanted to share it again, because its message still rings true for me this year. Merry Christmas to all. 

December 10, 2013

A Country Mouse in Metrotown

Yesterday, my husband and I took our two daughters for our annual Skip-school-and-go-Christmas- shopping expedition. We made stops a some of our favourite places and ended our day by venturing into the final frontier of mass consumerism - the largest mall in the Lower Mainland. With three floors of over 400 shops, Metropolis at Metrotown is normally the kind of place I would avoid, but I have to admit, for the purposes of Christmas shopping, it works. For one thing, it has an actual store devoted to the sale of recorded music and movies. Our local CD Plus store closed down a couple of years ago and since then, it has been very hard to avoid ordering the more alternative types of music from Amazon. Most of us in our family have Ipods, but prefer the tangible quality of a CD when it comes down to it. Two of us even prefer vinyl records, and no, those two are not my husband and I.

When we arrived at Metrotown, we chose a spot a which to meet back, armed ourselves with the maps provided by the mall, syncronized our watches - well, not really, but it sounds cool - and separated. Our eldest daughter recently got herself a smart phone, so we decided to call each other if one of us needed more time. Our daughters went off together, and my husband and I began our search for a specialty item for one of our sons. We optomistically thought, in a mall of 400 stores we would find that special item our son desires at a price we could possibly afford, but after our search through at least ten shops we had to give up. We decided to move down our list and had much more success shopping for one of my sisters and her family. Every year my parents act as Kris Kringle Central and my siblings and I are each given the name of another sibling for whom we put a festive parcel together. We like to fill the parcel with locally made items, but there were a couple of things we wanted to give them that we could not make or find locally. While we searched for these things, we had our antennae up for inspired, affordable gift ideas for other people on our list, including our two daughters.

By four o'clock I was bleary-eyed and suffering from low blood-sugar. We met up with our daughters who led us, me practically by the hand, to one of the mall's two Tim Hortons for some sustenance. After a gingerbread muffin and an apple juice I felt somewhat revived. Our eldest daughter, Emma then went off by herself and our youngest, also somewhat revived by a 7UP and a doughnut, came with my husband I to find something for her brother.

Metrotown has a Chapters book store, which is fun to browse and has a fabulous selection in categories ranging from Literary Criticism to Manga. I had an idea of a book in mind, but not a specific title. I found the section I needed and began reading through a number of similar books. After about forty-five minutes I had my selection narrowed down to two choices. Emma came in to meet us, glowing with the success at finding some much needed shoes for herself marked down seventy-five percent as well as several other gifts for friends and family members. I appealed to her for help in making my final choice. She looked quickly through both books, weighed the pros and cons of both and chose the less expensive one. I, led by her confidence and youthful energy, took her advice and bought the one she liked. I had another book in mind and went off in search of it. By then, I was beginning to fall apart. My husband, ever sensitive to my moods - one of the many reasons we are still married - put his arm around me, saying, "It's going to be okay." I explained how I hated shopping when I felt pressured to find the perfect gift. On our budget, we have to make every purchase count and I wanted our gifts to be personal and meaningful. In that overwhelming environment full of masses of manufactured stuff, glittering and vying for the attention of masses of shoppers - and it was only Monday - I was finding it hard to see the value in anything. The fact was I wanted to go home, have a cup of tea and slip into a nice hot bath. Instead, I pulled myself together and found the second book. Our youngest had seen an obscure item we had wanted to find and we went off to get it, applauding her keen eye.

On the way home I sunk into my seat, grateful for the roads which cleared by the time we got over the Port Mann Bridge. For a lightly snowy Monday, the traffic was busy. By Langley we could breathe a bit easier as the traffic spread out a bit. We put on Emma's new Arcade Fire album and my husband turned it up. Just after Chilliwack the snow had started again and little darts of white came at us in the headlights. We made it home in good time and I put the kettle on. Emma had a shower, our youngest had a quick bath, and then I had my bath scented with lavender. My husband caught up with the hockey game on TV.  I climbed into bed and was asleep by 9:30.

Today I have a Metrotown hangover, but the layer of snow is brightening the world outside my window and it's almost warm enough to wear only one pair of pants today. Despite my sense of renewal after a good night's sleep, when I think about yesterday, This is starting to look a little more appealing.

December 3, 2013

Back from NaNoWriMo Land

No, I have not disappeared off the face of the blogging sphere, in case anyone was wondering. As I wrote at the end of October, I was signing up for National Novel Writing Month with a goal of writing 50,000 words of a novel by November 30th. Well, I am happy to report that I achieved my goal and earned the digital badge (above) and certificate (which I had to download and fill out myself), and watched the 44 second congratulatory video featuring the staff at the NaNoWriMo headquarters shouting "You did it!" and other such things. My husband took me out for lunch to celebrate and my kids, as well as my friends and family, cheered. I felt a goodly amount of satisfaction on November 30th, but the reality soon hit me and I still have about a third of the first draft of my book to write, without the motivational help of all the NaNoWriMo hoopla. I got back to my book this morning and slogged away for a couple of hours. It was as hard work as it was all November, even without the daily pressures of a certain word count to achieve, but just as rewarding, and I am determined to round out the plot and get the bones down at least, so I can start revising in the new year. The last thing I want to do is lose momentum. That being said, I also have to get ready for Christmas.

The reason I have not written on my blog, or read the blogs of my fine blogging friends at all since November 1st, is because after I spent two to four hours of my day writing, I did not want to look at the computer screen for any other reason than to catch up with family and my volunteer work colleagues via email or Facebook, and even that I kept to a minimum. I still had to cook and bake and talk to my family. The house was somewhat neglected as was my exercise routine. Writing a novel is very absorbing work. I spent a good part of most nights lying awake in the wee hours of the morning, working out my next scenes before I could go back to sleep. I drank a bit more coffee than usual, but I was honestly high on writing for the entire month. I was as happy as a pig in mud. I have no idea if what I wrote will be appealing to anyone else but me, but I admitted to myself that I am loving this time when it is just the book and me, working together to reveal the characters and the plot. I know I will want to share my book with others at some point, but I am not there yet.

Would I recommend NaNoWriMo to others? I would, but only if they have the basic elements of a novel revving and raring to go on October 31st. On Halloween night, between answering the door to trick-or-treaters - there were so many cute little kiddies at my door this year - I worked at my outline, fattening it up and fleshing it out. I am so glad I did. If I had started the month with no real idea of where I wanted to go with my novel, I may not have gotten as far as I did. Every writer is different, however. Some just need one character in mind to get started, but I am not one of those. I have to 'feel' the novel, and the whole idea of it has to stick and have traction. I did surprise myself on more than one occasion. I would intend for a scene to go a certain way, and the characters would take it in a different direction. I would finish the scene and think, "Now where did that come from?" That is a good feeling, because I was doing as Hemingway advised, which was to let your characters speak for themselves - if you force them, they end up as caricatures. Every second day the NaNoWriMo website would post a pep talk from a published author. I found most of these talks helpful and encouraging, as well as relateable which was encouraging in itself. When writers talk about the inner workings of the job of writing and you relate to it, it makes you feel like a writer, too. Sticking to my goal was a bit gruelling at times, but it was all worth it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I will visit all my favourite blogs over the next week. I won't hope to catch up, but I am looking forward to reading what everyone is up to. 

November 2, 2013

All Souls Day, 2013

Today is All Souls Day, a day to remember those who have gone before us, those who have shed the old and heavy coat of this life on earth. Four years ago I was inspired by the glory of the fall colour to write a poem about All Souls Day. I have re-posted it each year and today, I will share it again. It still resonates with me. Perhaps when you read it, you will insert the names of your own loved ones and those who have inspired you and are no longer with us.

All Souls Day

Today I am taking some time to remember
 all those souls I have known
who have moved on from this mixed bag of beauty and sorrow: 
Lea, Peter, Nana and Grandad, Granny and Grampa,
 Grampa Warren, Great-Grandad Matthew, Nana Brown,
and schoolmates 
Pat, Laurel, Jason, and Rodi
For whom we now pray.

Also those souls I did not know but think of nonetheless: 
my brother Michael who was born and died long before I came along,
(Would I be here had he lived?)
various ancestors whose DNA I share with my children
 and authors and artists who filled the treasure chest of thought and vision
I look to for inspiration and comfort -
'We read to know we are not alone,' says C.S. Lewis' student in Shadowlands

And then there are those with no one to remember them
in November we look upon the trees
singing their swan song in ruby red dress
Spirits waving in the fields
seem to say 'Vanity, vanity, all is vanity,' 
'Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die' 
My heart reaches out to lift them up and set them free
to the place where I hope to go
someday long from now
if only someone will remember me

Empty swings on  the Harrison beach lagoon

The above post is an edited and updated version of my post from 2012. I just wanted to share it again.
I hope you are having a good weekend. 

October 28, 2013

A Novel Idea

So, I've gone and done it. I've signed up for NaNoWriMo, which serves as a catchy and much shorter way of saying National Novel Writing Month. For the month of November I must, if I am to achieve my goal of writing 50,000 words, write an average of 1666 words per day. I have registered with the website, written my novel-to-be's summary and provided an excerpt. I have subscribed to the Facebook page and disregarded anything to do with Twitter. I don't do Twitter. This coming Friday, day one, I will take a deep breath, trust in the process, and dive in to a solid month of typing out the story that has been building in my mind for over a year.

I first heard about NaNoWriMo a few years ago at a writing workshop. At the time I had no concrete ideas for a novel and shelved the idea until now. I wrote my first novel years ago after the idea for it was inspired by a painting I had done a few years before. Over a few weeks I wrote the entire thing in long hand when my kids were napping and then typed it out, editing as I went, over the next year. I tried to get it published but gave up after a while when I took to heart a couple of friends' opinion that the novel had a point of view problem. The thing is, when I read the novel again I enjoy it, even though I know it has its faults - a fact which encourages me to try writing another one.

A couple of weeks ago, when I announced my plans to my husband and daughters one of them said, "That's okay, we're used to being ignored." I am shamelessly guilty as charged. I have become quite good at ignoring everything going on around me when I am in the writing zone. For years I have been the butt of many family jokes starting with something like, "Have you ever noticed that when Mom is writing and you ask her a question, that when she finally answers you it's always, 'Mm?' I think, in some ways, I have had to fight for my right to write, mostly with myself. I only started taking myself seriously as a writer a couple of years ago, even though I have been writing since 1996. I finally had to accept the simple fact that 'writers write' and that is that. The more I write, the more seriously I take myself as a writer, and the more seriously my family takes me as one. We all now accept that writing is simply something that I have to do.

If I am already writing regularly, why take part in NaNoWriMo? Because I see it as both an opportunity and a do-able challenge. I have a novel concept ready and waiting, and if I do not make time to work on it and get the basic words down, it will not be a priority. So many other things in my life are vying for priority and notice, but for a time I have chosen to shove these aside for a couple of hours per day. I do not see my participation in the event as really any different than my husband's training for his 100 mile race back in July. We all supported him as he ate, drank and slept everything-to-do-with-cycling in preparation for his event, and in the end he was very successful and happy with his results, finishing somewhere in the front-middle of the pack. I'm hoping to feel the same way at the end of November. I realize that what I end up with may very well be 50,000 words of drivel, but it's a risk I am willing to take. What I am hoping for is what writer Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird affectionately calls 'a shitty first draft,' which may just be enough to work with to make a better second draft...and third draft...

Wish me luck?!

P.S. I'm not sure how the event will effect my blogging for the next month. I'm not making any decisions about that right now. I'll just see how it goes.

October 21, 2013

A Beautiful Time of Friendship

A multitude of platitudes and cliches exist about friendship. Just look in your nearest gift shop where these truths grace everything from coffee mugs to calendars. I happen to like John Lennon's simple words on the subject: "I get by with a little help from my friends." I have been thinking a lot about a particular friend, lately, for whom that quote certainly applied when we were both living in the same small resort community. As my mind turns toward the Holidays, ie., Thanksgiving, now passed here in Canada, and Christmas so does my heart toward those who figure largely in my memories of Seasons past. We shared several Holidays with this dear friend and her family, and as she shopped and planned and cooked and decorated her home for the various feasts she pulled me into her world of Polish-style celebration and hospitality, and I loved every minute of it. Halloween was new to her, but she embraced it in the name of 'something else to get excited about' and never looked back.

Agnieszka came to the Lodge a few years before my family and I did. While I had moved to the lakeside wilderness location from a small city about 90 kilometers down the road on Vancouver Island, she had immigrated there directly from Poland after meeting and marrying her German-Canadian husband. They had met at the home of her husband's brother, for whom she worked as a nanny in Germany. While I was mourning the loss of my convenient town life and feeling quite sorry for myself, she was mourning the loss of her life among family, friends, and familiar surroundings not to mention a familiar language. Agnieszka's husband had built a three storey cabin on a property next to the Lodge with a beautiful view of the lake, a garden in front and back, and fitted it with the basic necessities. Agnieszka set about decorating it with cheerful curtains and pictures. My husband and I, with a little help from our new friends, renovated a rather decrepit cabin on the Lodge site. It also had a lovely view from the deck, and I began to settle in with my three small children.

Agnieszka's English was not well-developed when I first met her, but we could carry on a basic conversation. She mainly spoke German with her husband, Ralf, but she had recently been engaged as a nanny for the first daughter of the Lodge's owners. The first daughter was soon followed by a second, and both of us surrounded by little children day in and day out, Agnieszka and I soon pooled our resources and became fast friends. I made many other good friends at the Lodge, but Nieszi, whom we all called her, became like a sister to me. We knew a kindred spirit when we saw one and saw each other nearly every day. Her English got better and better. I, having been an English as a Second Language tutor in my college days, could not refrain from helping her along by obnoxiously and continuously correcting her grammar and usage.

I love to hear people's stories and I asked Nieszi so many questions about her life in Europe. She missed Poland and Germany very badly, and missed her family very badly, but we, along with other parents at the Lodge formed a good little supportive community. I had begun homeschooling my first-born and we formed a sort of communal pre-school where each parent - and Agnieszka - took a turn providing a story and a creative activity for a morning session each week. We held these sessions in the Lodge library, and when the session was over we would go outside and play in the rain, snow or sunshine depending on the season. Our children enjoyed a healthy lifestyle exploring every pathway and beach, every tree and berry bush in that beautiful place.

Countless days, however, were spent in Nieszi's tiny kitchen, sitting across from her at her table drinking coffee and nibbling European cookies and other delicacies which she was overjoyed to be able to find in the town nearest the Lodge. The children would play happily with her Lego collection, her dolls, and her pail full of Kinder Surprise prizes, and try to climb the fireman's pole which led up from the middle floor to an opening in the floor of the upstairs bedroom. Nieszi was a wonderful nanny. She treated the kids like her own. She loved them and spoiled them, solved their little problems, broke up their quarrels, and handled nearly every situation with humour and tickles. Spending so much time with her made me a better mother, too. I thought that if she could treat those children who were not her own as beautifully as she did, I could surely treat my children with at least as much positivity and care. Many good friends have come into my life over the years, but Nieszi is one of the most generous friends I have ever known - generous materially, but much more importantly, generous in spirit and in love. I was humbled by her friendship and her faith in me and I still am.

Agnieszka and Ralf, after a good pregancy but a very difficult birth, had a son whom they named Jan. Jan was born eight months after my fourth and youngest child came along. Jan became one of the pack, as had a third daughter for the Lodge's owners, and three more children belonging to another family that recently had moved to the Lodge. Before long we had enough school aged children for the school district to assign us a teacher three days per week. My older three along with five of the Lodge children began their studies with Kim, a wonderful teacher. Nieszi and I and our two babies enjoyed some quieter times together. Our friendship deepened with our shared experiences. Her first year as a mother was very hard work, but also full of joy, and I was happy to give back some of the support she had so generously given me.

Sadly, like all good things, my own family's life at the Lodge came to an end. After five years years of significant growth and rich experiences it was time for us to move on. Our children were growing up and my husband was offered another job on the Mainland. We would be closer to our families and be able to enjoy the conveniences of town life once again. I went alone to break the news to Nieszi. She made us some coffee and we sat down to talk it over. It was very hard to leave my beautiful friend, but she and Ralf understood why we needed to go.

Agnieszka, Ralf and Jan came to visit us in our new home a couple of times, and we went back to the Lodge several times and had wonderful visits, my daughter Emma erupting into tears each time we had to say goodbye. We kept in steady contact over the years, sending messages and cards and letters. The need for a nanny at the Lodge gradually waned as the children there grew older and were able to be more independent. Nieszi's life began to revolve around Jan and his soccer and swimming and schooling. Last year, she decided to take Jan back to Europe for an extended stay. For all the years she had been in Canada she had only seen her family for two, maybe three weeks at a time every year or two. I am not sure when I will see her again, but in the meantime I know that we will always have those memories of spending time together in her cozy well-kept home at the Lodge. Of new curtains made just for Christmas-time, of almond cookies and Polish coffee. Of Ralf filling the wood stove and heating the house to be warm enough for bare feet in winter, of Jan sleeping in his swing hung from a beam in the ceiling and the swarm of children heaped on Nieszi's bed watching Tom and Jerry cartoons or parts of The Sound of Music. Of family meals shared and the sparkle of small crystal glasses of sweet Reisling. Of love and sweet friendship and enough laughter to echo down the years.

October 11, 2013

Harnessing Technology

I grew up in the 1970's and '80's when electronic technology was just starting to exit the highly specialized environment and entering the mainstream. I remember when Xerox machines replaced the mimeograph machines that our elementary school's newspaper was copied on, and when VHS machines replaced the reel-to-reel movies we watched during assemblies. I remember the wonder of the cassette tape and how blanks could be purchased and recorded on to make the fabulous custom mixed-tapes of my generation. I had a friend who was lucky enough to own an Atari game system, and I spent many quarters in an effort to perfect my games of Pacman and Donkey Kong down at the mall arcade. Personal computers did not enter my classroom until high school when I took a course in Word Processing. 'Computers have a language that is completely based on logic,' our teacher told us. If memory serves me right I did not do particularly well in that class, computer logic was indeed an uncomprimising new language, but I learned a lot. The '80's were a time of major development in technology, but as we now know, it was just the beginning of a brave new world of gadgetry previously only thought of in Science Fiction.

I heard a story the other day about a dad who decided to ban from his home for a year all devices that were invented after 1985. He claimed that smartphones, ipods and laptops were taking over the life of his family and causing them to lose the ability to communicate. As a result of the ban he said his family now talked to each other, had more fun and got more exercise. He decided to embark on the experiment in order to get his children to appreciate their family more and keep their digital devices in perspective. When my kids were little we participated in a 'no TV for a week' event annually, which was great, but I'm not sure I would want to force my family to go cold turkey on post '85 technology for an entire year. Mind you, none of my kids have had their own computers until they entered their last year of high school or their own cellphones until they were old enough to sign their own contracts. I did ban video game systems from our house until my kids were teenagers. They could play video games on the computer, but the time available to do so was limited due to all six of us sharing one computer for many years. My youngest daughter inherited an ipod Touch last year from her brother and she began to spend a lot of time on it. One day I found her playing a game on it in the bathtub. After lecturing her about how electronics and water do not mix, I took the ipod away, put it in a drawer where we both forgot about it. I found the ipod months later and gave it back to her, but she didn't want it anymore. Perhaps separation did not make the heart grow fonder in her case. I suppose the aforementioned dad is hoping his experiment will achieve similar results.

As I sit here at my desk, writing this piece on my Gateway PC with its beautiful big high definition screen, I am inclined to think rather favourably of the digital age I am living in as an adult. The other night, my husband and I drove to Vancouver to hear our son play in his first concert with the UBC symphony orchestra. The Chan Centre was packed with people, and I am willing to bet several of them had heard about the free concert via social media. I, myself, had spread the word on Facebook and by email and so, beside and behind me sat several Vancouver members of my family. The concert was being recorded and transmitted by livestream audio. Across the province in Nelson, my mother was listening to the first half of the concert on her computer before she went to bed. She would listen to the rest of it the next day. She sent a message to her grandson via Facebook to tell him how proud of him she was and how much she enjoyed the concert. Some day we will take this sort of thing for granted as our children do, but I still marvel at such magical invention.

I am continually amazed at the rapidity with which we humans are changing our world, and I believe it is a good thing, for the most part. Certainly we are experiencing growing pains. When I see all those people with their heads bent over their smartphones I cannot help but think negatively about spending all that time with a device which both connects them to the world and isolates them from their neighbour at the same time. On the other hand, my sister, a journalist, delightedly uses her phone on the job to take photos, type text and send the story instantly to her editor. I have also heard plenty lately about how ipod earphones are hurting the ears of an entire generation, but my husband certainly enjoys listening to his playlist while he rides his bike. Facebook has recently been proven in one study to cause happiness and in another, feelings of isolation and loneliness. Youtube has a lot of garbage on it, but the site is also home to thousands of helpful how-to videos on everything from the various methods of cutting a mango, to the correct way to wrap a sprained ankle. My violinist son learned many techniques from masters on the internet, which aided him immensely in learning a difficult Bach fugue. My own 77 year old dad is beginning work on a series of instructional videos featuring his unique and proven method of teaching music. Filmed in the comfort and convenience of his home studio, he will be able to share his research with anyone who has access to the internet.

I suppose the key to technology is to use it, not let it use us. Perhaps like the dad who has taken his family back to that age of relative technological innocence, we all need to take a step back - okay, maybe not all the way back to the 80's, but you get the idea - and assess our own relationship with technology. Scientists are now questioning the health of our airwaves and the effect on our brains in this Wi-Fi world, but their findings have not lessened sales of the newest $700 smartphones. Thinner gadgets are more difficult to repair and must be thrown away more often. Even the recycling of electronics is not without controversy due to the heavy metals used to create them. And those are just the physical effects. The effect on the psyche can be just as serious. I once had to back off Facebook for a good long while. I was starting to engage in conversations and even arguments (with people I never saw in person) that were making me miserable and taking far more energy than they warranted. I no longer 'go there' on Facebook. I now see Facebook as a 'take it or leave it' sort of thing, and I am much, much happier. I know that if I wanted to make a career out of blogging I would have to spend hours a day networking and whatnot, and I am not, at this stage, prepared to do so. The relationship I have with the world wide web is rewarding and figures largely in my life, but it is not dominating. That being said, as a child of the 70's and 80's I am often tempted to think that I, not to mention my children, spend far too much time looking at a screen as it is. However, as much as I can relate to the motivation behind 'back to the '80's dad' I would much rather embrace the future and make it work for me and for my family if I possibly can.

October 4, 2013

Sisters, Sisters

I have three sisters and two brothers. I am the youngest and my sisters are all older than me by four, five and nine years, respectively. As we grew up I certainly felt like the youngest by far, especially when my sisters were teenagers and I was still a little kid with no fashion sense. I was still wearing baseball shirts and cutoff jeans when my sisters were taking disco dancing lessons and donning sequined tube tops. Until sometime after my eldest sister moved out, I shared a room with my brother, Stephen, who was two years older than I. Steve and I would lie in our beds talking about what we'd do with a million dollars and what we wanted for Christmas. He built model cars from kits at his desk and painted them with toxic smelling high gloss paint. Our room's walls were yellow and the decor was basic and boyish, but I didn't mind at the time. Our mother read to us from Little House on the Prairie while we listened from our bunks, but other than sleeping and preparing to sleep, I spent little time in that bedroom.

And then I moved into the girls' room. The girls' room had blue patterned wallpaper and clothes all over the place. Makeup and mirrors and perfume and pretty pictures on the walls. I slept on the bottom bunk and Pauline slept on the top bunk. Clare had her own twin bed across the room. When my sisters thought I was sleeping they would gossip about the boys in high school. By the time I was thirteen I saw our small-town boys in a whole new light. When I was older and met one of these notorious males I said to him, "Oh yes, I've heard all about you."

"All good I hope," he said, grinning arrogantly.

"Hmmm...not completely good, no," I replied, grinning mischeviously.

Pauline sometimes sang to me before I went to sleep. Often she sang me a few verses from Blondie's song 'Sound Asleep'.

Close your eyes and you will see micro flashing neon lights
Open your eyes and you will see it still looks like the same thing
Lie and wait for sleep and listen to your heart beat too fast for sleep

I remember her voice, quiet and sweet floating down to me from the top bunk, soothing away the 'bad thoughts' I was often plagued with in the silent darkness - terrible imaginings that my mother was going to die or I was going to be kidnapped by a vampire or a dirty pirate. Other times she made me and Clare giggle with her hilarious parodies of popular songs. We Lamb girls were famous for our late night fits of silliness.

My eldest sister, Monica, was out conquering the world, or at least Middle Canada by then. She had moved to Winnipeg with a friend and before long had met her future husband. When Monica got married, all her sisters were bridesmaids. I had begged to be included in the wedding party, although I was only thirteen, and she readily agreed, not wanting me to feel left out. Eventually, Clare moved out to Winnipeg to join Monica, and also met her future husband in the city. Pauline tried Winnipeg, too, enjoyed it and then came back to the mountains of British Columbia. I went for one wonderful summer, but then came home to attend college. Monica and her young family moved back to B.C, and within a year or two all my sisters were back living in our home province. I went away to university and lived with Clare and her husband, who was working on a Master's degree at UBC. We had a great time together, attending aquafit classes at the local swimming pool, cooking and going out on the town on weekends.(I did study a little, and Clare worked full time.) Clare and her husband moved back to Nelson when the year was out, as did I, to take up my summer job once again. I maintained the idea that when I finished my education I would move back to my home town so I could live near my family permanently. That dream was not to be. I met my future husband and after living in Vancouver for a year we moved to a town about 300 kilometers east of Nelson. I was still able to see my sisters often and I fell in love with the Rocky Mountains and the East Kootenays. My life was changing and expanding, but it was good.

The happy close proximity of my family members was not to last. Within two years my husband was transferred to Vancouver Island, Monica's family moved way up to the North Coast town of Prince Rupert, and Clare and her husband moved back to his home province of Manitoba. Pauline stayed with her daughter in Nelson where my parents and eldest brother, Francis still lived with his family. Stephen was in Vancouver and before long would relocate to Calgary with his family. In typical Canadian fashion, we all moved to follow employment in our chosen fields. Nelson would continue to be our meeting point, usually in summer, but it seemed we were destined to live much of our lives apart.

Two years ago, Monica and her family moved closer to us. We can now drive five hours north and visit for a weekend, and vice versa. I am over the moon to be living so much closer to her now. We are nine years apart in age, but the gap closes as the years go by. Facebook and email helps to keep the communication going between all of us in our large extended and ever growing family, and I am grateful for the ability to share photos and stories about our children and our activities. The sister relationship can be a complex one at times, but our shared history and our deep love for each other continues to see us through.

After I had my third child, who was a longed-for girl after two energetic little boys, I needed a bit of a break. After three years or so, however, I began to long for another child. I made a deal with God: I would have another baby if it could be a girl, a sister for Emma. I got my wish and Emma got her sister. At first, Emma, who was almost five years old at the time, was not overly impressed with this 'thing' that usurped her position in the family, but within a short period of time, the girls became very close. Sometimes I wish I had had them closer together, but I know that as they grow older the gap in their ages will cease to matter as it did with my sisters and me. And if they end up living miles apart like my sisters and me, the distance will only make them appreciate their times together all the more.

My girls

My girls like to sing this old song from the musical, White Christmas

The top photo is of my sister Monica (on the left) and me, taken this past weekend at her home. 

September 26, 2013

A Change of Seasons

'To everything there is a season, (turn, turn, turn)' goes the song sung by Pete Seeger and also by The Byrds. I know it is a verse from Ecclesiastes set to music, and because I am musical I cannot quote it without singing Pete's version. And I quote it often, for I tend to see my life and the lives of the people around me as a series of chapters or seasons, now as much as ever.

Last week was 'a time to refrain'. Every once in a while I have one of those low energy, bordering on hibernation weeks, one that involves early nights and afternoon naps, careful caffeine consumption and plenty of reading. I have learned over the years that these weeks are often my body's way of either fighting a virus or conserving energy just after or before a spell of intense productivity. Often, I spend a few weak moments during one of these low times wondering if I am doing enough with my life, but nearly every time I entertain these thoughts something occurs, usually in the form of someone I know contracting a terrible virus or infection after they have spent an extended period of time burning the proverbial candle at both ends, to remind me of the importance of taking time regularly to relax and rejuvenate.

I have always had a body that talks to me through little signs like sore ears or a headache wherever my glasses meet my face. If I listen and act accordingly I can almost always fight off the virus by slowing down for a few days if possible. When I do not listen to my body telling me it is feeling overwhelmed, it tends to shut down in the form of intense fatigue or illness as a form of payback. My body's messaging system has been a blessing and a curse from day one, but mainly a blessing. From a young age I knew I had to regulate my energy. I had quite a bit of energy, but it certainly was not endless. In high school I would often take on too many roles, too many projects and inevitably through tears and figuring things out with my mom I would have to let one or two activities go. Eventually I learned how much I could realistically take on and realized that saying 'no' once in a while was being my own best friend. Admittedly, in my twenties, I would sometimes take on too little for fear of losing my precious life balance, but life, in the form of three children born in three and a half years, had an undeniably effective way of rectifying those phases of excessive self-preservation.

In my thirties, and once I had school-aged children I began to have more energy. I also discovered I could suddenly tolerate coffee, something I could not when my children were very little and I was chronically sleep-deprived. When I was still a daycare provider, I was the arts council secretary and the children's day coordinator for our local Festival of the Arts. I cooked and baked from scratch daily for my growing family, I tried to stay fit by running, I helped my kids with their homework and music practise, counseled them, and volunteered at their school, taught catechism and acted as chauffeur. I wrote when inspired and joined a book club.The Supermom gig was actually great while it lasted, and it taught me how to organize my time and focus on the task at hand. I enjoyed the flexibility of my homemaker role, but I think I was trying a bit too hard to prove to the world, and to myself, that there was much more to me than baking cupcakes and mopping floors.

Turning forty was a pivotal point in my life, and marked the beginning of a new pattern for me. I began to take my writing much more seriously. In my fifth year of coordinating children's day I developed a sinus infection. I took it as the final sign of many indications that I needed to give up my position. I was simply trying to be too many things to too many people. I knew that I needed to stop doing so much and concentrate on the parts of my life that really mattered to my soul: writing, promoting the arts and looking after myself and my family. As I took steps to simplify my life I noticed that I performed each of my fewer roles better than before. With less clutter in my brain I could think things through and come up with increasingly creative solutions to problems. I developed more patience and deeper focus. And I liked it. I was still busy, but in a healthier way for me and for my family.

Lately it seems like 'the stripped down life' is the plan for me. Several of my outside activities have ceased by the mere fact of my children moving on or moving out as they grow up and rely less on me (and my car). The singing group I was with for a year disbanded recently and the on-call secretarial work I enjoyed has dried up as well. Almost entirely without my orchestration, it seems the winds of change have blown with gusto through my life in order to de-clutter my days and free me up mentally and physically, not to mention creatively. In some ways I feel like an innocent bystander watching all of this busy-making stuff in my life melt away. I find it fascinating, and wonder what it all means in the short and the long term.

I do know two things: 1) that I have rarely been ill in the last few years, and 2) I have begun writing a novel that I am cautiously optomistic about. The rest, as they say, is mystery.

Photo thanks to

September 13, 2013

Another Letter to the World

I began to write this blog in September, 2009, the year I turned 40. Back then I was beginning to think that if I found any more excuses for not writing more regularly I might explode. I had written a novel, a handful of stories and poems, and a small number of personal essays, and fairly satisfied with the results of my efforts, I believed that I was finally getting to a place in my life where I would have the confidence to present my writing to an audience beyond, but not excluding, my immediate circle of friends and family. Blogging was new to me, but a format I soon learned worked very well to help keep me motivated. Feedback from readers was a gift and it is still integral to the process of my slow growth as a personal essayist, for essays are what I seem to create week in and week out on this blog. I read several other people's blogs and enjoy the online community we seem to have created -writing is lonely work and I am in need of companionship just as much as the next person. I would not call this community a writer's group; we do not critique each other's style but merely read and comment, sharing thoughts on the subject at hand. I would not mind critique, in fact I would welcome it, but no one besides myself seems to want to give me any at this point.

While visualizing my blog - before I embark on something requiring a fair amount of effort I have to be able to see myself doing it - I came up with a name for the whole project: Letters to the World. My thoughts and perceptions would come together and be presented as personal essays, but I would think of them more as personal letters, a form of correspondence between me and anyone out there in the world who cared to read my fledgling creations, and one being lost in this age of instant digital communication. (Thinking of my posts as letters also took the pressure off me to present academically acceptable essays.)

Soon after I began my blogging project, I Googled my blog to see if it would appear. At the top of the list of found items under my search for 'letters to the world,' was a poem by the Massachusetts poet and recluse, Emily Dickinson. I felt a sort of kinship with Emily through her poem, and I could sense her reaching out to the world from which she hid for the most part, but touched in a way perhaps not possible through any personal interaction. Although Emily could be speaking on a number of levels at once, I believe that in her poem she embraces all of us writers, more than a century later, sitting in front of our computer screens attempting to do the same.

THIS is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,--
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.

Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

Emily published only seven poems in her lifetime. After her death, her family discovered 40 handbound volumes of nearly 1800 of her poems. She and Walt Whitman are paired as 'founders of a uniquely American poetic voice.' (

Over at Stella's Virtual Cafe, there's a little story and a great recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Snacking Cake.

September 6, 2013

Climb Every Mountain - or at least one

Last Friday as I was running around like the proverbial headless chicken, helping my son get packed and organized for his move to the university on Sunday, I made the decision to accept the offer made earlier by some friends to accompany them on a hike to the top of our local landmark, Mt. Cheam. Our packing was well underway and the chance to go up the mountain may not come our way again for a long time, so, I decided to risk the strain on my recovering knee and go with the two other members of my household who would have Saturday off: the university bound son who could really use a stress-buster like climbing a mountain, and my youngest daughter.

The next morning the three of us arose at 5:00 a.m. We had prepared our lunches the night before, that is, after I had shown my son how to do his banking online, and laid out our clothing. All we had to do in the morning was eat, make some go-mugs of coffee, and wait for our ride which was due to arrive at 6:00. At 5:30 my husband got out of bed and brought me some assorted ski poles. He said that using them would help me keep the pressure off my knees when hiking. When we found the right-sized ones, our ride arrived and off we went into the silvery grey dawn to begin our adventure.

We drove in two vehicles to the bottom of the forestry road which would take us up to the trail head. We left the car in a clearing at the bottom of the road and all climbed into the 4x4 truck, the only vehicle that could handle that particular deactivated forestry track. The three adults and the dog sat in the cab and the four kids made themselves comfortable with blankets and pillows in the back - they had a hay bale to sit on and a rope to hold onto when the going got extra bumpy. Our driver picked his way up the fifteen kilometers of one of the roughest roads I have ever been on. By deactivated, the sign meant 'full of huge ruts where culverts used to be'. We would enter these drainage ditches on an angle so as not to bottom out. Slowly and with the truck in extra low four-wheel drive, we climbed and we climbed and we climbed, and as the sun rose on a perfectly clear day we pointed out creeks and mountain peaks, wildflowers and stunted fir trees with huge cones sitting like birds on the perfectly perpendicular branches. We chatted cheerfully in expectation of the glories which awaited us at the top. By 8:45, we had reached the parking lot. Six other trucks were already parked, but there was still plenty of room for us. We gathered our backpacks, refilled our water bottles and leashed the dog. We visited the outhouse, tightened our shoelaces and put on our caps and sunscreen. By 9:00 we were off on the trail, its sides a three dimensional tapestry of late summer wildflowers.

The trail started gradually until we reached tiny Spoon Lake which, aptly named, was shaped as if a giant had taken a spoonful out of the earth. The water was that strangely beautiful turquoise colour one only sees in the alpine. After the lake the climbing began. The path was well used and solid underfoot. We climbed switchback after switchback and soon the kids were well ahead. I began to see and feel the benefit of the ski poles and I silently thanked my husband for what was to be the first of many times during the two and a half hours climb up and the two hours back down the trail. Every so often we would stop and turn to take in the ever-changing view. Each time we stopped we could see new peaks in the beyond and new shapes below: trucks climbing the top of the road to the parking lot far below, hikers making their way up the path behind us, and folds and folds of green and blue treed hillsides.

Spoon Lake from above

Some of our group looking toward the Southwest

At one point we stopped to let some faster hikers pass. They all had the same large, nylon backpacks and I wondered if they were going to camp overnight at the top. About three quarters of the way up we met two young men who had spent the night on the top. They were grinning ear to ear and exclaiming about how the entire milky way had been visible the night before and how the experience was like being in a planetarium, only better, of course.

Before long, we had reached the plateau before the final short climb to the peak. We had hiked in the wonderful coolness of the morning and although tired and in need of lunch, none of us was suffering. The kids went straight away the very top of the peak above me. I stopped to rest and take in the incredible and vertigo-inducing view of our home valley below to the north and the sharp and splendid peaks of the Cascade Mountains to the South.

Snow-covered Mt. Baker on the far right

 I began to climb the last bit of the peak when my youngest began to make her way down. "It makes me nervous to be up there," she said when she reached me. I asked her if the view was different up there on that narrow peak with the sheer drops on all sides, and she said, "No, no different at all, and the shale makes it quite tricky to come down." I had still to climb down the mountain, which I knew was often harder on the knees than going up, so, I decided to stay put with her on the plateau. As we ate our lunch and put on some more layers of clothing to combat the cool wind, we watched the group of nylon back-pack laden hikers just below us in a small meadow. Another hiker came up the trail and told us that we would soon be treated to a wonderful show, thanks to the group below. One by one, the hikers who had passed us earler opened their nylon packs to reveal parachutes, and one by one they attached them to harnesses, checked them for safety and then jumped off the cliff below us into the blue. I thought of all the times we had watched them from far below, rising with the updraft that came up the north face of the mountain, drifting and falling with the air currents and taking their sweet time in landing. Often they would land in our high school field 2100 metres below from where we were sitting at that moment.

I had left my heavy camera at home. I wanted to concentrate on not injuring myself more than anything, and my kids were both bringing their cameras. After about an hour at the top the plateau and the pathway to the peak were getting crowded. Everyone and their dog had decided to climb Mt. Cheam that day, or so it seemed. We began to make our way down the mountain, but we took our time. To be eye-level with Mt. Baker, a snow covered dormant volcano, as well as the other peaks we had admired from our home way down in the valley was a wonderful thing and we were reluctant to leave the views behind. Of course, the kids were much quicker down than we adults were with our much older knees. We asked them to wait for us at Spoon Lake. On our way down we frequently had to step aside to make way for all the hikers making their way up. The sun was high by that time of day and many of the ascending hikers looked hot and thirsty. Some were improperly dressed for hiking a steep trail. We even saw one girl in bare feet carrying flip-flops. The black flies were coming out in droves and were nipping at our legs, and by the time we reached the lake, a helicopter had landed nearby with a wedding party. Our peaceful wilderness experience was coming to an end

By the time we reached the parking lot it was packed with vehicles. Trucks and SUVs spilled over onto the roadside below. After rehydrating with a whole lot of water and some juicy peaches, as well as a little coffee brought in a Thermos by our forward thinking driver, we climbed back into our truck with one very tired little dog. Going down seemed a little quicker than the climb up the road, but it was still a labourious process. Our driver moved over several times to let those in a hurry leave us in their dust. By the time we were near the bottom we were surrounded by all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes, their engines whining insistently, their wheels kicking up dust. A system of trails for such a purpose must be in the area, we figured.

Back in two vehicles we made our way into Chilliwack to go for some well-deserved ice cream. Tired, but elated, we sat in our Dairy Queen booth talking over the day. We discussed how every high school student should have the chance to go up Mt. Cheam, and about how the view gives, not only a geography lesson on our area, but also a lesson in wonder and awe, a lesson in the 'big picture' of our existence on the earth. I said that once a person goes up a mountain and sees the world far below from a completely different angle, something in her changes. And then I thought silently, that when she is down in the valley once again, she can look up to the peak she has climbed and say, "I have been all the way up there. I have seen all of this as it really is, from a bird's eye view." She will keep that picture in her mind and refer to it often. She will soar up to the peak again and again in her imagination and may never quite come down again.

Mt. Cheam from down here - in late March

Thank you to my children for taking such terrific photos! Have a wonderful weekend, whatever adventures await you.

August 29, 2013

Many Milestones to Go Before I Sleep

Our daughter lighting the birthday candles

This week my husband turned 50. This weekend our second son goes off to university. Next week, our eldest daughter enters her last year of high school, and our youngest will enter middle school. I am slightly overwhelmed by it all. I reflect on the fact of my husband turning 50 and think, whoa - my dad used to be 50; when I was a kid life seemed like it would last forever and anyone over 40 was practically ancient. Now that I'm in my 40's, Whoosh! is the sound the years make as they go by.

However, I like being in my 40's. I like how calm I am, and how generally patient I can be. I like my kids being at the age they are at, still young enough to be fun and fully open to life, yet old enough to have meaningful conversations with. Sometimes I look at mothers with young children and think, Oh, I remember that feeling. You are so tired and earnest, and everything your child does now seems so important to his future. I say 'his' because my first born is a boy. I remember with some guilt how much I expected of him at the age of two. Cringe.

When I met my husband, I was nearly 21 and he was 27. While apparently quite opposite in our interests, his being sports and business, and mine being the arts and literature, we fell in love over our shared taste in music, our love for nature, and the British comedy shows like Black Adder introduced to us by our brother-in-law, Brent. In fact, it was Brent and his wife, my sister Clare, who introduced us to each other at the Elephant Walk Pub in Vancouver. When we parted that first evening, and to paraphrase Ring Lardner, we gave each other a smile with a future in it and never looked back. When my mother heard we were dating, I am sure she thought he was too old for me. But when she met my new boyfriend, she told me he was very young at heart. And he still is. He says he certainly doesn't feel 50, except for this past Monday night when he had coached soccer for two hours in the pouring rain. He came in the house looking like something the cat dragged in. And we don't even have a cat.

We had a great party for my husband this past weekend. Several of our friends gathered at our home for an evening of friendship, food and good cheer. My husband was so touched by everyone's generosity, and was thrilled that our eldest son could come home for the event. My husband is having a good year. Besides reaching the half-century mark with great success and blooming health, he trained for and completed a 160 kilometer cycling race in July, knocking a full half hour off his personal best time. He looks and feels great - except when the invisible cat drags him in - and I am proud to be his partner in life, cheering him on. Quite a goal driven person all his life, my husband is mellowing, as I am, with age. He is more concerned with the quality of his life, and his family's life, than the visible achievements he may gain, although he was pretty darn happy to kick that road race's backside.

Speaking of goals, I thought this would be the summer I would train for a half marathon, but no. I injured the inner tendon on my right knee early in July and have only been able to walk. No hiking, no running, all summer long. I've made the most of it, though, enjoying many an evening walk-and-talk with my daughters. Although my knee is greatly improved and I plan to introduce running back into my life this fall, it is still giving me some minor pain now and again. That patience I mentioned earlier is coming in handy. There is always next year, I tell myself. Life is long, and yet it is short, too. We must make the most of it and be true to the gifts we've been given, and that includes the loved ones we have been given. I look forward to life unfolding as my family grows and develops. It is a new stage we are entering, that is certain.

When my husband and I were first married we listened to a lot of Neil Young. One of our favourite songs, 'Harvest Moon' seems apropo to the moment. The video is, too. Enjoy!

The title of this post is adapted from the last line of Robert Frost's poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Have a lovely weekend, all.

August 20, 2013

Dog Days with Bella

Ever since my parents gave away our dog-that-would-not-be-leashed to some farmers when I was little, I have never had a dog of my own. A cat adopted our family when I was eight years old and my parents never looked back. They soon realized that cats are more independent than dogs and do not, in general, require walking in all seasons or hours of chasing a tennis ball thrown for them, nor do they chew shoes or the TV's remote control, but they are comfortable companions and a good family pet. Although I love dogs and have made friends with many, including both the labrador retrievers, Cash and Buster, owned by my aunt and uncle, my husband and I never got around to acquiring a pet, besides a few fish for our eldest daughter, which she tired of fairly quickly. My husband dislikes cats in general, although they seem to love him, but he does like dogs. He has resisted the urge to get a dog because he believes that unless a family genuinely has the time and the energy to care for a dog properly they should not own one. We have been a busy family all these years, coming and going to lessons and soccer practise, and so I had to agree with him. Although I have often thought a pet in the house would be fun and have said so, I decided that unless he was also invested in the idea it would not be worth pursuing. Our two eldest children who are boys, did not ask for a pet. Our eldest daughter did but she was fulfilled by her relationship with various horses at the stables where she rode for several years. Our youngest daughter is a different story. Rarely a day goes by when she does not ask for a cat or a dog. And I think she is beginning to wear her father down.

Last Thursday, our friends on the farm asked us if our youngest would consider looking after their little Jack Russell terrier for the weekend. Of course, she said yes and her dad said yes, so Saturday morning, our little friend Bella came over to stay the night. Bella is one year old and is the friendliest, sweetest, jauntiest little pooch. When we visit the farm where she is so lucky to live a wonderful life she trots up to us, her little pointed tail wagging like a windshield wiper, and her funny pointed ears on high alert. She loves to play and chase and jump, and she is a very social little creature who will jump right into our car and make herself at home. She did the same at our house, sniffing every corner, eating every crumb on the kitchen floor, and testing us to see which pieces of furniture we would allow her to jump up on. Well trained by her family, she listened to 'no' when she tried the coffee table and was ecstatic when we said yes to the sofas. She did not damage anything except the plastic milk jug and the old stuffed animal we gave her to wrestle with. Our youngest looked after her every need, taking her outside to play, feeding her at the appropriate times, making sure she had fresh water in her bowl, and giving her affection and care every minute. We accompanied her on her walks with Bella, but other than that our daughter took full responsibility for her little charge.

By the evening, our daughter was exhausted, and the pair, dog and girl, went off to bed. A little after 10 o'clock, they came back upstairs to the living room. "Bella woke up and now she won't settle". I sent the sleepy girl back to bed and kept the dog who promptly settled in beside me and fell back to sleep. After a while I went to bed, and she did not follow me. When my husband came to bed he placed the sleeping dog back with the girl and all was silent until midnight when a neighbourhood dog began to bark. On the farm where she lives, there are no other dogs, so Bella is not used to hearing barking at night. She has incredibly sensitive ears, which perk up at the slightest foreign noise. By one o'clock our daughter was in our bedroom. "Bella woke up because that stupid dog is barking and she won't sleep." I knew that Bella slept with her two adult owners, and before I could say 'leave her with us' Bella had jumped up on our bed and settled down next to my husband. The neighbour's dog barked for two more hours, and sleep was sketchy the entire time as Bella found it hard to sleep. She kept poking my husband with her claws and whimpering slightly in response to the constant barking from across the road. I took her from him about three o'clock and she settled in finally, burrowing down into the blankets and snuggling next to my thigh, where she stayed until the morning. The experience reminded me of sleeping with my children when they were babies and the nights could be long ones, but sweet with the warmth of a little creature appealing to me for security and comfort.

Bella and I settling in for a good read - she was soon asleep

The next day was spent similarly to the first day of dog-sitting, except for a long afternoon nap for all concerned, and for the fact that my husband was home from work. I had a meeting in the afternoon so I was not included in the siesta, but coffee kept me awake enough. I was relieved to know that I would be able to sleep through the night later on when the dog would be at home on the farm. Later, after her owners had fetched Bella and I was saying goodnight to my daughter, she said almost weepily, "I'm happy in some ways that she has gone home because I am so tired, but sad, too because she was so much fun to take care of." The next morning after a great long sleep for all of us, my daughter and I admitted to each other that we missed the perky little thing nosing around and jumping up on our laps for a morning snuggle and a good petting. "She is a lot of work, Mom, but she pays you in cuteness," she said. Then she turned to me with those big brown want-a-puppy-dog eyes and said victoriously, "And Dad had fun with her, too, I know he did!"

The top photo is a meme my daughter put together for her Facebook page. She took a photo of our little friend Bella and paired it with something I said when I was sweeping the floor under the table and pretending to be the voice of the dog.