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.  

January 21, 2015

Neighbourhood Games

I was reading a post by one of my very favourite blogger friends, Lucille over at Useful or Beautiful, when I was struck with an idea for a little post of my own. She was writing about all the shoes she wore when she was a child growing up in England. She mentioned a pair of fabric party shoes that became worn out in one wearing due to the energetic nature of the party games: Squeak Piggy Squeak, Blind Man's Bluff, Oranges and Lemons, Musical Chairs and Musical Statues. I am old enough, and Anglified enough, to be familiar with a couple of the games she mentions playing in childhood. I am not going to write about my girlhood shoes, which, besides one pair of super-trendy white canvas Nike runners with the blue swoosh and my first pair of platform sandals, were unremarkable. I am going to write about the games we played in my neighbourhood because, friends, those were some very good times.

My neighbourhood on Silica Street was a lot like many other neighbourhoods in the world at that time in the century, I am sure; it was full of families. On a good night we could have fifteen kids playing outside after supper. The only reason to stay inside on a non-rainy night was a case of the flu or too much homework. The other kids we played with on those nights did not have to be necessarily approved of/interviewed by our parents. We did not even have to like each other all that much. The games we played demanded numbers to be successful and fun, and numbers we could provide simply by showing up. The sheer joy and enthusiasm we had for the games was generally enough to carry us through any personal conflicts with other kids.

In summer we played Hide and Seek or Sardines. In Hide and Seek, boundaries for hiding were agreed upon and one person who was 'it' counted to fifty before beginning to seek for the rest of us. The boundaries included anywhere within our block, including the alley. In Sardines, only one person hid somewhere within the boundaries and everyone else separated to look for them after counting to fifty. The hiding spot had to be large enough to accommodate each 'finder' who would join the 'hider' once he/she was found. We would be packed into the hiding space like sardines in a can, trying not to make any noise whatsoever, and the last person to find the 'hider' was 'it'. We also played a game called War, which involved painting a chalk circle on the street and planning various manouvers to take over portions of the circle. When fewer of us were available to play we relied upon Four Square, Hop Scotch and various skipping games. On summer days we played in the shady public wooded area on the north side of our street. We built treeforts which were taken down by the city only to be rebuilt by us at the first opportunity. During the fall we collected glossy brown horse chestnuts from the same wooded area and kept them in paper bags. Someone among us convinced her dad to drill holes in her chestnuts so she could make a necklace, but other than that, chestnuts were greatly averse to being made into things. We often threw them at each other instead, used them for made-up games, or when some of us were really bad, we threw them at passing cars from up in the canopy of the trees that overhung the street.

In winter, when the snow fell fast and deep the city closed Cedar Street, which was so steep drivers had to put their cars in the lowest gear to make the descent. Then, word would spread quickly and we would all jump into our snowsuits, boots, mittens and touques, grab our Crazy Carpets and go. Cedar Street was long and if we did not bail off our Crazy Carpets after the first long block we would have to climb up an extra-long way. By the end of the night, discarded, snow encrusted mittens and touques littered the sides of the street while we, red cheeked, hot and sweaty, climbed up the hill to race back down once more before we were called in by our parents to get ready for bed. When we got older we went further afield for tobogganing. Queen Elizabeth Park and Trafalgar Junior High had grassy slopes on which to sail down into the sports fields. The golf course way up at the top of town provided perfect tubing - people, including my elder teenaged siblings, drove up there with inner tubes and made wide tracks on the rolling slopes that seemed to go on for miles in the moonlight.

While my own children enjoyed playing outside daily with other children when they were small and we lived in a small resort community with other like-minded families, it took a little while before they found children to play with in our own neighbourhood in the town we currently live in. While we did see children riding bikes around our neighbourhood and were heartened when we saw groups playing road hockey or basketball in the park up the street, we could not help but wonder why our neighbourhood was not teeming with kids playing games of all sorts outside together. My children, however, played outside our house all the time and soon attracted a few others from the neighbourhood to play road hockey, ride around on bikes and skateboards, and play various games as well. Now that my children are grown, I still wonder, when I am out and about why I do not see more children out playing - school and organized sports are not the only places to learn social skills and fair play. A few years ago our neighbourhood school built a hill in the center of the fields and also more recently installed brand new playground equipment thanks to a large donation from NHL hockey players Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The Sedin twins have set up a fund to encourage families in small communities to play and exercise more. The hill and equipment both get a fair bit of use from young neighbourhood families, which is encouraging. Various movements, such as Bring Back Play, encouraging healthy, unscheduled play for kids are happening in Canada as well. We forty-somethings know what our nation's kids are missing in modern life and are trying to reinstate some kind of desire in families to get outside and play on a regular basis.

A friend of my sister's recently posted a photo on Facebook of their high school senior band enjoying a summer picnic at someone's lakeshore property some time around 1980. The photo included about twenty students. Not one teenager in the group lacked the appearance of great health and physical fitness. In fact, they looked like a bunch of young movie stars or professional athletes by today's standards. Unlike the kids of today, they had no Starbucks White Chocolate Mochas, Tim Horton's Ice Capps or Monster Energy Drinks to pile on empty calories back then. A sedentary lifestyle was unusual for a teenager and engaging in some risk-taking behaviours like cliff-jumping was the norm - at least where I grew up. Parents are fed so much fear these days about what 'could' happen to our children we are afraid to let them out of our sight. I am not saying it is easy for me to let my thirteen year old waif of a daughter walk downtown by herself, or ride her bike to the swimming pool alone. I have been fed the same fears for her safety, but I make myself let her go because she is learning to trust her instincts, to discover her own boundaries and get some exercise in the process. As a forty-something mom who values the outdoorsy, independent childhood of my own generation and the good seeds it sowed for a healthy adulthood, mentally, emotionally and physically, I owe her that much.

This is not my sister's band class. It is the cast of Freaks and Geeks, a
show my kids and I have watched and enjoyed. It is set in the 1980's and honestly
represents high school at that time, and to some extent modern times, with uncanny accuracy. 

January 8, 2015

Learning to Fly

My youngest daughter is deep into rehearsals for a production of a family-friendly version of the Broadway hit, The Addams Family. The musical is based on the original American comics by Charles Addams about a fictional family who, according to Wickipedia, 'are a satirical inversion of the ideal American family; an eccentric, wealthy clan who delight in the macabre and are unaware, or do not care, that other people find them bizarre or frightening.' The comics were published at intervals in The New Yorker between 1938 and 1988 when Charles Addams died. Films, TV series, video games and the above mentioned musical have all been based on the comics. Charles Addams said of his created family: 

Gomez and Pugsley are enthusiastic. Morticia is even in disposition, muted, witty, sometimes deadly. Grandma Frump is foolishly good-natured. Wednesday is her mother's daughter. A closely knit family, the real head being Morticia - although each of the others is a definite character - except for Grandma, who is easily led. Many of the troubles they have as a family are due to Grandma's fumbling, weak character. The house is a wreck, of course, but this is a house-proud family just the same and every trap door is in good repair. Money is no problem.

My daughter is double-casted (meaning she shares her alternating roles with another young actress) as Grandma and as a 1960's flight attendant, or stewardess as they called them in those days, in the chorus of undead ancestors. The production is on a large scale and will have a two week run in the new, and quite swanky, cultural centre in our nearby, mid-sized city which is also home to the school of performing arts which she attends for classes and rehearsals. I have not read the script, but I have a skeleton of the story thanks to my daughter's general enthusiastic chattiness, as well as a good idea of the various songs and dances - she practices in the house, of course. We have, thankfully, a room with a door on it downstairs where she can feel free to make all kinds of delightful vocal noise, and a large square of plywood on which she hones her tap sequences.

When our girl first began to practise her parts she would only do so when we were out. She has come a long way. Now she gleefully shows us videos of her and her castmates working on their routines which the director has filmed and posted on a secret Youtube channel, and eagerly demonstrates her dance moves. The school of performing arts is her second home and she loves everyone there and everything about it. Kids aged twelve to eighteen attend the school's Mainstage program and kids from tiny tots on up take all kinds of other classes and programs. Our daughter started with a couple of summer camps and then took two year-long programs before she asked to join the Mainstage program. Even though the program is a huge commitment from the kids and their parents, we agreed. Her sister was leaving home last September to attend college and our youngest would be the only one home during the school semesters. In order to help her forget how much she missed her siblings we helped her with her audition for the musical and enrolled her in the program. Little did I know how much I, too would become involved.

No, I will not be acting, singing and dancing in The Addams Family. I will be helping backstage as part of the production crew. I am learning new words like 'fly system' which are weighted ropes that are pulled with a certain amount of skill and muscle to move the set pieces up and down on horizontal pipes hung from the rafters above the stage, and 'main rag' which is the big, red velvet curtain which can be used to hide more involved set changes or to indicate the opening or closing of the performance. Tomorrow evening I will be learning what I need to do backstage for the entire show. I will have to be up past midnight many nights from now until the end of the show. Considering I am generally in bed by ten o'clock I will have to drink some extra coffee in the afternoons so I do not nod off in the cozy dark of the backstage area during the show. Then, we have 'cue to cue' rehearsals on the weekend, followed by two dress rehearsals on Monday and Tuesday, preview shows on Wednesday and Thursday, and then opening night on Friday.

I am glad I am not one of the performers. During our safety tour of the backstage area of the theatre the other night, I faced the rows and rows of seats from the stage and imagined them filled with people awaiting and expecting the performers' best. I confess I gasped at the thought. But the kids? They seem fearless. Those who catch the acting bug seem to thrive on performing in front of crowds. My daughter has certainly caught the bug, but even she has confessed to being a little scared and nervous. She has never performed for such a large audience, not since her elementary school choir shows when the audience was filled mainly with parents. She is also tremendously excited to take the past four months' practise and rehearsal and preparation and throw it at an audience. For my part, I merely hope I can support her and the other kids by doing whatever it is I have to do backstage properly. I will take a break to watch at least once from the audience, though. My husband and I are going to attend the opening night performance and gala.

Watching this video from the original Broadway production has stirred the magic for me and I can't wait to see my daughter and all her friends in their roles. As we say in the theatre biz, 'Break a leg!'