How to Remind Yourself of Who You Want to Be

A sense of dread and awkwardness fills the van as we pull up to the reunion.

“Why are we coming to this thing?” one daughter asks, pulling suitcases from the trunk. “We should’ve stayed home or gone to Grandma’s house.”

“Yah, we’ve never even been to South America!” adds another one.

Our kids are here because we made them come. Stan and I are here because, along with everyone else at this gathering, we volunteered with Mennonite Central Committee in Bolivia. Some attendees overlapped with our terms of service (1999-2004) but many others are from different eras.

“This will be great,” I say halfheartedly, while sweat trickles down my chest. I push my sunglasses on top of my head so I can greet people in a few moments, but even I’m starting to wonder why we made the trip when I open the doors to the retreat centre. The lobby is full of people, most of whom I’ve never met, and our family of five maneuvers through the crowd to get to the registration table and pick up a key to our room as quickly as possible. It feels like we need to regroup already.

Once we unlock our door, the kids and I survey the space; worn grey carpets, thin mattresses, a bulky TV from the eighties, plain grey walls with no pictures and a line of cabinets, circa 1960.

“Mmm, this is authentic,” I say. “It’s hot out and the hotel is just a wee bit nicer than most hotels we stayed at in Boli.”

Susanna is checking out the linoleum tile and pokes her head out of the bathroom. “Well I never want to go to Bolivia then!”

After gathering to eat, after singing a prayer together (a doxology in 4-part harmony almost like this:) ), after group introductions and watching row after row of people come forward to talk about the small villages and cities where they volunteered in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s, after catching up with people I hadn’t seen in more than 15 years, memories begin to stir…

The setting sun throwing shadows on the San Juan mountainside; how the hills became a giant piece of emerald velour carpet, crumpled with canyons and creeks, vines and trees. The smell of baking bread in a wood-fired clay oven, a mix of yeast, hot clay and smoke. The fresh milk squirted straight into my cup under the cow’s teat–immediately mixed with a shot of alcohol and sugar. The nausea of 12-hour bus-rides; winding through switchbacks up and down the infamous Inca Wasi to get to our home in Taperillas. The kiss-and-hug greeting in the city, the traditional arms-length pat-pat in the villages. The red dirt in which we grew Lab-Lab beans and tomatoes. Making almuerzo with our roommate Juan, squatting on the cement floor slicing onions. The wild honey. The walking. And walking. And more walking. The women who became my mothers, sisters, friends and confidantes when I had never felt more alone. The chicha, oh the ubiquitous chicha–a sweet, fermented drink made of chewed corn and saliva. The horse races in the chaco. The day-trips to town for a backpack full of grocery staples.

The next evening of the retreat is filled with stories and Bolivian folk songs. “Viva Santa Cruz!” we all stand up and shout, while looking out at the Winnipeg river and the Canadian shield. Stan sings and plays his favourite taquirari, Sombrero de Sao. Rene holds his hands high and claps when Brisa and Helena sing the cueca Moto Mendez; another lady waves a white handkerchief to the rhythm. Later that night, while getting ready for bed, my three-year-old sits on the potty and sings earnestly. It’s all gibberish, with a rhyme or two, and a melody I don’t recognize. I raise my eyebrows and look at Stan.

“She’s singing in Spanish, just like everyone else,” he informs me.

By this time it’s beginning to dawn on my why we came to the retreat. We came because we need to remind ourselves who we are and what has shaped us. We came because we wanted to be inspired by the farmers, professors, artists, business people, kids and wanderers who landed up in Bolivia alongside, or before, us. We came because we wanted to speak Spanish and eat empanadas. We came because we wanted to rub shoulders again with adventurers, dreamers and doers who are willing to explore other cultures. We came because we needed to visit with people who are passionate about social justice. We came because we wanted our children to see that there is more to this world than the small, prairie town where we currently live.

And yet, when someone asks me if we will take our family to live abroad, I’m not sure what to say.

“Of course, that was the plan,” I say. “It’s always been the plan, but somehow it’s not happening.” I pause. “My wanderlust has a hyper-local focus these days.” It’s true that I’m more interested in the bacteria growing in my compost pile, or the neighbour who just immigrated to Canada, than moving across the world. In fact, it seems unlikely we’ll be going anywhere when there is so much happening right where we are.

The person who asked the question nods and seems to understands, even though he took his own children to live in Bolivia.

We need to gather in groups like this where it’s easy to understand and be understood. To find our people. Whether they be scrap-bookers, gamers, Young Living distributors or whatever. In fact, if you’re like me “your people” aren’t constituted by a single group. Some are likely family members or classmates from years gone by. Some might be work buddies or old friends. Where ever they are they remind you of who you are and what you want.

My people certainly aren’t perfect, and this particular reunion wasn’t even that long. And yes, the first few moments were painful. Yes, it took energy to meet and greet and reconnect. Yes, I got tired of talking. But it was worth it. I remembered again who I want to be.

An adventurer.

Passionate for social justice.

All because of Jesus.

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Taperillas community store, 2002; Don Pascual and I are helping with accounting.

Thanks to all of you at MCC who taught me and continue to inspire me!

 

 

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Do People Like Bugs in Their Hair?

I’m brushing through Vivian’s hair when I see it. A big, greyish-white piece of something. Is it a wood chip? It doesn’t move when I run the brush over it so I take a closer look. That’s when I see the bloated body lodged in her scalp. It’s a wood tick, swollen like I’ve seen before on cattle, but never on my daughters. We get them frequently but usually pull them out before they reach this stage of bloody gluttony.

“Oh,” I say, measuring my response, as if I had just noticed a piece of lint.

I call Stan at work for some moral support, give her a piece of chocolate to suck on and lay her head in my lap. I brush away her hair and slowly extract the bulbous insect with tweezers, taking pains to avoid injecting bacteria into my daughter’s body.

I drop the tick into the jar and cap it quickly. “Here, do you wanna see what was in your head?” I ask Vivi.

She picks her herself off my lap and peers into the glass. No reaction. Then her eyes meet mine.

“Mommy, do people like it when they have bugs in their head?”

“Um,” I say, stalling for some reason. Obviously, the right answer is NO but I can’t bring myself to say it. Maybe it’s because she’s so sincere, with her bobbing pig-tails, looking for a cue on how to respond. At this moment I am acutely aware of my responsibility in shaping her world and am almost scared to say anything at all.

“Well,” I say, “what do you think? Do you like bugs in your head?

In ten years, I won’t have this kind of power. I know this all too well. Then I will wish and hope and pray that my influence will be lasting. That everything I say, stand for and believe in will stick. If I’m anything like the mom I am today, I will get in her face, ask her questions when she doesn’t feel like talking and remind myself of a desperate boyfriend. Funny how life works like this. When we’ve got power, it makes us uncomfortable; when it starts slipping away, we grab on tighter. Even when we know we need to let go.

*

Some other stuff happening around here…

June beach day

swanky beehive box

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proof that Grandma from Indiana is here

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Dressing the corn with a bit of compost… Hoping for our first crop ever!!

Purple beans, garlic, brandy wine tomatoes, cukes and grapes in the foreground

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Major project of the week: 8-frame honey extractor made with a one-horse motor and upcycled materials, which my husband a father-in-law call “ingredients”.

Belén’s grade eight grad…

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Happy Canada Day!

 

 

 

On Jesus and Indoctrinating Your Children

An open letter/blog to any parent considering sending their child to Bible camp…

When the camp director asks me to speak for a week at camp this summer I am totally surprised. How did my name come up? And why would they want me to speak? My first inclination is to say no; partly because of the time it will take to prepare and partly because I don’t feel like I’m a good fit–you know, the rah-rah preacher raising the chapel roof. It’s not that I don’t identify with the core beliefs of the camp, but I’ve never been comfortable selling Christianity. In general, I can smell a sales pitch from a mile away and feel violated when someone targets me as a potential client, whether they’re pushing a political view, Tupperware or the Watch Tower. It all makes me want to run the other direction.

While on the phone with director, asking him about details, I’m also thinking about conversations I’ve had with multiple parents and their distaste for Bible camp. Particularly the emotionally-charged services where vulnerable children, many away from home for the first time, are subjected to religious manipulation. Now I was being asked to be a major player in this? To stand at the front of the chapel, preaching to the sunburned, mosquito-bitten, hyper children who come for a week of fun but go home indoctrinated?

***

I’m driving with 4 other teenagers in my car and listening to their animated conversation.

“She told me I was going to hell on judgement day! Can you believe that?”

A burst of laughter erupts in the back seat.

“Yeah, it’s just a bunch of rules. Outdated and boring.”

“I once had to say the Hail Mary, like, 59 times. I hated it!”

“Religion is so repulsive,” says another.

More laughter.

My hands grip the steering wheel and I bite my lip. I can see there has been a terrible misunderstanding. The programs, curriculum, traditions, institutions and well-meaning followers are eclipsing their centre, their very heart. Which is what happens when people see Christianity instead of Jesus. A religion, instead of a person.

Soon the conversation skips to another topic, but my insides ache while I process my unspoken response:

Have you read the book of Matthew lately? Or even just chapters 5, 6 and 7?

Have you watched him turn water into wine? Water to wine! Not the other way around.

Have you listened to his stories of mustard seeds and outcasts and rebel sons who return home?

Have you seen him bend low to draw in the dirt to save a desperate woman?

Did you hear his whisper at the cross, his compassion for the criminal hanging beside him?

You can complain all you want to me about religion and I will probably agree with most of it. But show me Jesus and I come undone.

***

I decide I will speak at camp. Every hour I spend drafting and researching, I get more excited. I still couldn’t care less whether your children go to church every Sunday or have never sat in a pew. Whether they Muslim or Christian, cynics or charismatics. I’m not in the business of selling Christianity, nor of converting, convincing or conniving. That is impossible. And as absurd as forcing someone to feel the rhythm of a song, gape at the northern lights or fall in love with a person.

You can sell things or even ideas, but you don’t sell people; you introduce people, you connect people, or maybe even match-make people. So dear parents, don’t worry about me indoctrinating your children. I’m not the least bit interested in that. My only agenda is to show them Jesus. And, if you’ve ever heard music, looked at the night sky, or felt the spark of romance, you’ll understand that most of this has nothing to do with me anyway.

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Propaganda

I’ve been trying to come up with a story or something meaningful to blog about so I can sneak in propaganda* about Wonderscape. The problem is I don’t have anything funny or thoughtful that I can spin into Come to Wonderscape. Especially not before I have to get off-line and pick up my three -year-old from her play-date.

So there it is. Come to Wonderscape. Sign-up before Friday (the early-bird deadline). Sign up before it fills (less than 10 spaces left). Sign up if you want to talk about success and failure and how it affects our artistic journeys. Sign up if you like autumn, lakes and prairie skies. Sign up if you want to create, eat, then create and eat again. Sign up if you’re a professional artist. Sign up if you are an amateur. Sign up if you live across the country. Sign up if you live next door.

Okay, tired of that?

Wait, here’s more propaganda…

On the way to school this morning I told my daughters I was doing a radio interview today on Wonderscape.

“Really?” Susanna asked. “They can’t find anyone else to talk to?”

Luckily for me, they slipped me into their schedule! Thanks to Jordan at the Rock 98.5, you can listen to the conversation here. Or watch another interview on CTV News if you’re still curious. (I come on at 16:33 minutes.)

wonderscape 2018 general photo

*Propaganda is the Spanish translation of “advertising”. It doesn’t carry the same negative connotations as it does in English (which might be why I get funny looks when I use it) and is more fun to say.

…And then some things never change

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I will always be a mother. Even when we’re out of pink rubber boots and sparkles. Even when my kids are 43 and 51 and 53.

Stan heard this song on the radio, on his way home from work, and made the girls listen to it. They learned it a couple days before Mother’s day, and instead of breakfast-in-bed they sang it while I was still in my pajamas. I made them repeat it at least 4 times. I’ve since played Brandi Carlile’s video over and over, and requested they perform the song at an upcoming coffee house. Both of them think that would be weird, since they are 11 and 13 and neither are mothers. I told them it doesn’t matter and please sing it and play guitar and fiddle and harmonize and make me cry! They are not convinced.

Here’s the official video since you might never hear it from them.

The Mother
Welcome to the end of being alone inside your mind
You’re tethered to another and you’re worried all the time
You always knew the melody but you never heard it rhyme
She’s fair and she is quiet, Lord, she doesn’t look like me
She made me love the morning, she’s a holiday at sea
The New York streets are busy as they always used to be
But I am the mother of Evangeline
The first things that she took from me were selfishness and sleep
She broke a thousand heirlooms I was never meant to keep
She filled my life with color, canceled plans, and trashed my car
But none of that was ever who we are… (see video for more)
Songwriters: Brandi M. Carlile / Phillip John Hanseroth / Timothy Jay Hanseroth
Ps. This post is an addendum to the previous post, titled Change.

Change

I’m packing lunches at 7 am when Susanna picks up her violin and starts playing Air Tune. She’s practising for an upcoming recital, but even if there were no recital, this is the song she’d be playing. She’s been playing it for the last 5 months–ever since she started in the back of our van, fiddling her way through Manitoba, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, on the way to Indiana for Christmas.

“Wait, wait, let me try the harmony,” I call from the kitchen while I butter bread for her sandwich. I grab my violin, sit on the piano stool and tune to Susanna’s instrument. Something’s not quite right, but I’m not sure what.

“You’re G is off,” says Susanna.

“Can you play yours again?” I say, plucking, tuning and plucking some more.

She doesn’t say anything, just leans over–fiddle under chin–turns my fine-tuner between her forefinger and thumb, then steps back. I pluck it again. It’s perfect. For nearly seven years I’ve been tuning her fiddle (even though she has better pitch than me) because that’s what moms do. Now she’s tuning mine.

We start playing the piece and I scramble to keep up. She stops mid-way through and looks at me. “I don’t think you should slide into that F,” she comments.

“But you do,” I say. “I love it when you slide into that note!”

“Yeah, well, you go too far,” she says grinning. “You have to stop right here before it gets too sharp.” She grabs my finger and places it on the finger board. Like a teacher with her beginner student.

*

We come home just before six, pull the barbeque chicken out of the grocery bag, and sit down at the table.

“When I’m in university I’m going to invite Belén over for bought chicken every Friday night,” announces Susanna.

“What if we don’t go to the same University? What if we’re not living in the same city?” Belén responds. A heated conversation ensues about who’s going where. “What if I want to go to Montreal? To study law at McGill?”

“Mmm,” I say, chewing my chicken, “that sounds nice.” I think of the concert we took the girls to on campus a few years ago and climbing Mont Royal…

“I just looked it up last week,” says Belén.

“You what?” I say, putting down my fork.

“I looked it up online,” she says, as if looking up universities is something we do in this house. As if university is a pressing concern or even something we talk about regularly.

Suddenly, I am no longer Tricia who toured through Europe, worked in the NWT or hitch-hiked in South America. I am my father.

“Montreal! It’s so far away. What’s wrong with Parkland College? You could live at home, save some money and get just about any degree you want!”

“Ah, mom, that wouldn’t be any fun,” says Belén.

“But you’ll marry some crazy French guy and never come home,” I say.

All I can think about is the Bible college on Hwy 83 on the outskirts of Swan River, where I grew up. The one with the green, corrugated metal siding, the one that seemed only to attract eastern Europeans who wore funny clothes, had funny hair and spoke a funny language when they walked around town together. My dad thought it was a perfect fit for me. You should go to Living Word, then settle here and marry a nice farmer he always suggested.

Now I know exactly what he meant.

*

Every time we go to the fishing spot something is different. Sometimes the water is high, other times we have a wide beach to build a bonfire. Sometimes we get 30 ticks each and sometimes there are none at all. Sometimes we catch only a handful of fish and sometimes we get enough to feed a hungry crowd.

I’m hooking a minnow through it’s eye and back, when I look up and scan the shore for Vivi. I see her holding a walking stick and hear her faint melody. She’s humming Jingle Bells and wandering alone. “You know, this is the first year I’ve been able to relax, and fish, in a long time,” I tell Stan and Shelly. It takes me about three years, after having a baby, until life gets back to normal–or a new normal. Which explains why this time feels different.

But it’s not the only change I notice. Of course, Jason’s not here, not fishing beside us. But we talk about him; we drive his truck and park it in the same place he always did; we fillet fish and reminisce about the time we caught 70 walleye and perch; we rig our lines with nuts the same way he used to. We remember.

And the fire. The fire is always the same, but the conversation is different. This time the kids are more chatty than the adults. They outnumber us tonight. We listen to them talk and laugh, and join in occasionally. The flame illuminates faces then flickers. Bright one moment; throwing shadows the next.

Always changing.

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Handwritten

If gardens were letters, mine would be handwritten.
Crooked and sprawling into the margins,
with looping curves that won’t stay in lines.
Handwriting takes time;
last night I planted a paragraph of snap peas,
and covered it with compost,
tonight will be a sentence of cilantro,
for tacos and Thai noodles
but mostly for bees and butterflies.

“Does gardening save us money?
Does it make sense?” asks my daughter
with the pruning shears.
I know what the answer should be
but I’m not sure it’s true.
Yes, we harvest all the garlic we need
Yes, organic produce costs money,
but honestly,
my grape juice is sludge-y,
the kale hosts worms,
my salsa tastes acidic,
the lettuce turns bitter
and raspberries rot because
we’d rather go to the lake.

But gardening is less about economics,
and more of a love letter.
To dirt.
To rotting food and leaves turned to soil.
To May evenings.
To seeds.
A love letter to Beauty.

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I’ve got strawberries under our saskatoon bushes, but am trying a few in pots this season. People say they do better in pots, is that true?

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Garlic always reminds me of marching soldiers

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Planted a bed of spinach around this clump that self-seeded last fall.

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We have to be creative with space in our yard; the new shop displaced the trampoline, which now displaces some of the garden. The jury is out on whether the sari compensates for the loss of space.

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