The Bucket People

I snip a clump of grapes and the leaves shake, showering me with dew. My husband, Stan, kneels in the dirt beside me and buries his head in the foliage, pulling out more grapes and dumping them in the bucket between us. It’s Sunday, 8 am, and the kids are sleeping in. The sky is grey, we’re wearing toques and our fingers are freezing, but it’s harvest time. This is what we’ve been waiting for all season long; our garden darling—the grape vine–is finally ready. Dark purple fruit spill over our bucket like a Thanksgiving cornucopia.

“I’ll be right back,” I say to Stan, and return a few seconds later with a camera swinging from my neck. I take a few shots as quickly and quietly as possible. My husband is a practical man and has little patience for staging pictures and recording moments for social media.

“We need another bucket,” he calls from underneath the leaves.012

“Okay, just a second… this is so picturesque,” I say while tamping down weeds and thistles. That’s when I notice the bright red Canadian Tire logo and twist the bucket to hide it before snapping the last couple photos.

Soon we are are crushing the grapes in an applesauce press. The ripening fruit have fueled great debate on juicing strategies over the last few weeks as both of us are determined to do justice to the grapes.

“All I know is we can’t boil them. That’s what you did last year and it tasted like tea. We’re not doing that again,” Stan says.

“Well, what then? That’s what all the recipes indicate on-line.” I’m feeling defensive but he’s right. We’d even dumped some of the hard-earned juice down the drain because no one wanted to drink it after the novelty had worn off.

So here we are, running them through an apple mill, no hot water involved. Stan cranks the handle while I fill the hopper, but my mind isn’t on juice anymore. I’ve got an idea.024

“You know, we could use those pictures,” I murmur.

“Which pictures?” he asks.

“All the pictures we take with our Canadian Tire buckets… portaging them through the woods during canoe trips, loading them with broken concrete from our house renos, or filling them with liquid honey straight from the hive. I could write stories–like I’m already doing–and just keep the logo in the pictures!”

“Mmm… Here, try this.” Stan holds a cup under the spout where juice is flowing and then hands it over for a taste test. He’s ignoring me.

I’ve been reading about storytelling and how major brands are using authentic ways to promote their products through well-written stories that stand on their own; the product isn’t the focus of these stories but simply part of the narrative. I’m not interested in reviewing products on my blog for sponsors or cheating readers with cheesy advertisements. I want to write real stories, the best way I know how, and collaborate with Canadian Tire to share them with a larger audience. My mind hops around the possibilities. Do I need to book a flight to Toronto, right now, to meet with the executives? And would the top dogs of a huge conglomerate want to know about an ordinary family with a penchant for story, adventure and DIY projects?

“Can you humour me by posing for one more picture?” I ask my husband. I know it’s a stretch just getting him to look up for the camera. I probably wouldn’t even consider this—Stan is no showboat or salesman–but the fact is we have an awful lot of stories involving buckets. “And it’s not like we’d be selling our souls or faking it, we use them all the time,” I add. Although my husband makes many things from scratch, he hasn’t come up with an alternative to the five-gallon plastic bucket.

The first time I brought him home for Christmas, Stan shattered our regular way of doing things. My mom was dumping a package of seasoning mix into ground beef when she realized she didn’t have any tortillas. While she reached for her keys and wallet, Stan announced, “Oh no, we’ll make some.” The cheese was grated, lettuce shredded and the drinks poured. I watched them both from the dining room table–my mom still clutching her keys while Stan riffled through cupboards looking for flour.

“Why would we make them when we can just buy them?” my mom countered.

Stan’s motto has always been the opposite; never buy what you can make. Since then, he’s fashioned everything from our wedding rings to Halloween costumes, bunk beds, chairs, boats, pottery wheels and honey extractors. Even our children’s mouths haven’t escaped him as he’s attempted his own in-house dental work. In fact, nothing seems too overwhelming to tackle.025

I call my 12-year-old daughter outside. “Here, take the camera, we need a picture!” I demand when she opens the screen door, still in pyjamas.

“Huh?”

“Just do it. It’s for an important project,” I say, grinning and yanking off Stan’s over-sized plaid jacket to expose my better-fitting shell underneath.

“Maybe you should pick the black grape skins out of your teeth too,” Stan suggests while I pluck off his toque.

Days later I google Susan O’Brien, the VP of Marketing at Canadian Tire. How can I convince her they need high-quality literary content to leverage their branding campaign? Will she be moved by the fact my readers are sitting on pins and needles waiting for her reaction? Could the stories turn into a series with a name like “The Bucket People”? Which publishing platform would work best? And who will do the social media promotion?

Before the details bog me down and squash inspiration I decide to start writing. I close my lap top and reach for a pencil and paper, which is how all my stories begin.

As for the grape juice, it’s better than last year’s, just a little grassy from grinding the seeds. We forgot to take it to my mom’s for Thanksgiving dinner; no one was too disappointed.

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What do you think dear readers? Have I caught a bad case of pitching-fever? Does anyone know Susan? Or a friend of a friend of someone who might help? Are you curious about what happens next? Or should we just turn that grape juice into wine and forget I ever wrote this?

Figuring Things Out

Belén is putting on mascara and I’m standing behind her, looking at her new cross-country hoodie. The one with her name lettered on the back.

“I’m so glad they got the accent right! Isn’t your name beautiful, Belén?” I say to the back of my daughter’s head. She puts the wand back in the bottle and leans closer to the mirror.

“Like imagine if we had just kept calling you by your first name. Belén is different, Belén is Spanish and palm trees and the Southern Cross. Belén has a story behind it.”

“Mmm,” she says, continuing with her lashes.

Her response isn’t enthusiastic enough for me, so I keep going while I walk down the hall to wake up Vivi. “And no one else in your high school has that name!”

I turn on the light in Vivi’s room and she growls at the brightness. I back my way out and decide to make porridge instead. Besides, it will be easier to continue my conversation.

While I dump oats in the pot I twist my head towards the hall and Belén’s bedroom. “No one else in our whole town! There’s probably not even another Belén in our whole province!” I yell. (One of the advantages of a compact house is the ability to continue to talk, or argue, with someone at the opposite end.)

Belén runs past me and jams her feet into her boots. While she pulls on the heels she looks up. “Well, it would be even more awesome if people knew how pronounce it,” she says. I have to concede with her on this point. Despite explaining that it’s just like the French Hélène (eh-LEN), except with a B, people tend to come up with their own interpretations. “Belle-ZEEN”, “Bah-LANE” and “BEV-elynne” are a among our favourites. “It’s not that I hate my name,” she explains, “I’m just not as thrilled about it as you are.”

And that’s when I start laughing.

“Oh, I know… I get it now… I’m a four and you’re not!” I say, as if I’ve just remembered something as simple as my own name. “I’m motivated by the fear of being ordinary– being the same as everyone else–and you, you must be different than me.” I’m talking as it dawns on me. Of course I knew before that we weren’t identical, but all of a sudden it’s as plain as the sun rising across the street; she and I are wired differently.

I’m remembering the Enneagram graphic Katrina sent me a couple weeks earlier. The one I looked at for 90 seconds, then pegged myself as a number 4. Of all the motivating fears presented (anger, your own needs, failure, pain, uselessness, ordinariness, deviance, conflict, weakness), fear of being ordinary was the most relatable. Althought many of my friends have been talking about the Enneagram for the last 10 or 15 years, I’ve never looked into because there’s always something more pressing on my agenda. But let’s face it, the real reason is that everyone else is on this bandwagon so I’m certainly not jumping on because, of course, I want to be different.

My daughter looks at me strangely. “What are you talking about?” she asks as her backpack bangs against the frame of the kitchen doorway.

“Oh, I just figured this thing out. You and me? We’re different.”

Besides learning about the Enneagram (wait–is there a personality analysis that pegs people who write about the Enneagram without actually knowing anything about it?) there is more figuring out happening in our home. Figuring out how to throw a cup on the pottery wheel. Figuring out the right embouchure for the trombone. Figuring out how to spike and overhand serve a volleyball, figuring out which key words will award a grant for Wonderscape, figuring out how to purchase a new violin, figuring out how to play the cello, figuring out how to discuss the status of your relationship during a play-date and avoid you’re-not-my-best-friend-anymore antics, figuring out how to complete a paper route in record time, figuring out how to vent a fireplace, break up cement and move a bathroom.

Despite all the discovery happening around me, it’s not rubbing off in every area of my life. When it comes to hammer drills and busting concrete I have the opposite of a growth mindset.

My head is in the rafters as I hoist the heavy tool above me. Dust clouds my safety glasses and my shoulders vibrate as the metal bit attacks the concrete while I brace my body against the step-ladder. A tear rolls down my cheek. But I’m not sad, I’m mad. Mad it’s so hard. Mad I have to do this. Mad at the renovations. Mad I didn’t realize how much work it was going to be.

I release the trigger, pull off my ear-muffs and head to the workshop. On the way I rehearse my statement. Nothing too emotional or inflammatory. When I open the door Stan is bending over the vice. He looks up and raises his eyebrows.

“I’m not doing it,” I say as evenly as I can, trying to contain myself. “It’s too hard and too heavy. I’ll do grunt work, haul, carry, shovel, dig, but I will not use the hammer drill.”

I’m done with power tools. This is number three on my list of Things I Don’t Have To Do Anymore*. Because with all the improvement and learning going on around here there are still things I’m giving up on, things that make me throw up my hands and throw in the towel. This is where the learning-buck stops. For now, anyways.

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Belén has started learning cello (after being inspired by a very cool cello teacher at Kenosse Lake Kitchen Party)

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so many new sounds at our home…

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We’re hosting a pottery workshops at our place in exchange for some wheel instruction with Marea (of Freba Pottery)… This is the wheel Stan and his dad fabricated last Christmas. It works!

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*Things I don’t have to do anymore: 1. Drink alcohol (in spite the fact my husband brews beer, cider, wine, mead and schnapps) 2. Perform musically 3. Use power tools

Wonderscape the Teenager

Bill Bunn stands beside the whiteboard and waves his coffee cup in the air. He’s talking about following our joy, about ideas as balance beams that support us if we keep one foot in front of the other, about falling off when the idea gets flabby and soft and about finding our way back to the beam. The metaphor sings to me and I scribble notes, like everyone else around me in the circle. Next, he invites us to do a six-minute free write.

I asked Bill to lead a writing workshop at Wonderscape precisely because I wanted to participate in a writing workshop at Wonderscape. But now that it’s time to participate, I can’t do it. I’ve got nothing. I hear Marea’s laugh in the hallway, the cooks preparing lunch, people breathing around the room and pencils marking paper, but my pen is as heavy as a mule that won’t budge.

It gets even worse when I consider handling clay, picking up a paintbrush or plunging fabric into natural dye. Producing anything creative seems about as preposterous as launching a kayak and rolling it in the icy lake outside the lodge. Although I’m the organizer and facilitator of this arts retreat I have never felt like more of a poser. About halfway through the weekend it dawns on me;  I’m too consumed with watching it come to life to do anything else. Like a mother gawking at her beautiful teenager coming into her own–all limbs and taller than she’d ever dreamed, with a distinct and separate personality–I can’t stop staring at what’s happened to my baby.

This mix of awe, surprise, confusion and curiosity visits me before the weekend ever begins, when registrations roll in from across the country, and continues right on into the retreat. While I listen to the writer, the journalist, the potter and the painter confess their failures and share their successes with the group, while spontaneous, late-night jam sessions by the fire send everyone to bed humming “Black Bird”, while artists bring dazzling pieces to show and sell and while strangers recognize kindred spirits.082028046

I try to capture it, try to document it all on my 195-dollar Canon point-and-shoot, but I can’t get close enough. I wish I could get right in Sarah’s face as she lectures about horizons and painting and depth. I wish I could capture the rainbow of speckles on her black apron, her jiggy dance and how it feels to watch her pull oil landscapes (painted in the Arctic) out of her hand-made wooden box with the leather strap.058065069080

My camera doesn’t record Marea’s generous laughter and her even more generous instruction. The way she shoves her feet, covered in plastic grocery bags into her Birkenstocks, to walk through the snow to her hand-building session. And it certainly doesn’t record the absence of complaints about the weather in general. How I apologized to Micheal in the breakfast line, knowing he’d driven for hours from northern Saskatchewan to attend the retreat for the first time.

“I’m sorry you can’t see how pretty it is here,” I say. “If it weren’t so foggy and snowy you’d see the water, sand and rocks—all just steps away from where we’re standing now.”

“Ah, it’s okay. I’m just happy knowing that it’s there,” he says, and goes on to talk about the jam from the night before. “Besides, I’ve found my people.”049

Before we all leave on Sunday we gather for the Artist Blessing. Usually this is my responsibility. In the past, I’ve thought about it for weeks, even months, ahead of time. I’ve laboured over each word and written a verse we all stand up and speak to each other. This time is different. Today, Shannon takes inspiration from the “Blessing Board”, a place where participants were encouraged to add their own phrases, thoughts and drawings. It’s more of a wild card this time. Will people write down anything on the board? Will Shannon be able to shape it into a song? Will this work? Will my baby fly?

Shannon sits down at the keyboard and reads us the words to the chorus. Something from nothing is now a song; ideas that were loose and wild are now held tight by chords and notes. She plays it slowly and we practice. Then we repeat it. Only this time it’s a performance, a performance just for us. She sings the verses alone, the ones she’s just composed, and we join her on the chorus. Well, mostly everyone joins her, except for the ones like me whose emotion seizes their voices.

When the last note is played I don’t want to clap. Don’t want to break the spell. Neither does anyone else. The room is silent. And still. I stand to face the group. It’s my job to facilitate, to hustle them through the lunch buffet and to wrap this thing up, but it seems impossible.

“Food,” I say, “there is is food. Food downstairs.” Still, people remain in their seats. No one responds. No one even looks like they’re considering moving.

I understand. I feel the same way.

And then comes the flurry of packing, of gathering surveys, of emails and phone calls full of feedback and more ideas. We brainstorm about how it could be better and what it could become. I jot down notes. I can feel something happening; this isn’t Tricia’s baby anymore, it isn’t toddling around my knees, grabbing onto the hem of my pants. Wonderscape is stretching out, like any leggy teenager, growing into her place in this world.IMG_5333

If you still want more of this, check out Wonderscape Retreats on Facebook or Instagram. The venue is already booked for the next gathering: September 27-29, 2019

 

Notes on Generosity, Writing and Change

I’m wearing gloves and wielding a knife. Jalapeños litter my cutting board and papery garlic skins float along the counter. My mom is dumping a bowl of green peppers into the food processor when the phone company technician opens our back door and sniffs.

“Mmm, smells good,” he says with an accent. Indian, maybe? He nods appreciatively and  heads down the basement stairs, pulling wires behind him.

“It’s a lot of garlic and onions,” I say. “We’re making salsa.”

Each trip he makes to his truck in the alley he inspects my yard with interest. When he comes back in he asks me about the raspberries, plums, grapes and other plants. Then, just before he leaves I hand him a plastic grocery bag, throwing it into the air to puff it out. “Here. Do you eat tomatoes? Hot peppers? Take all you want!”

I turn around and get back to work. For the next 15 minutes I’m in a dark corner of my basement, sorting through canning jars and looking for lids. At the same time he is stuffing the bag I gave him, harvesting every ripe and juicy tomato on the property. His shopping bag bulges to overflowing with produce. When I come upstairs with my load of jars he is gone.

“Well he certainly took your word for it. He grabbed as much as he wanted,” my mom comments while looking out the kitchen window at the garden.

The heirloom Brandywine tomatoes I was waiting for, heavy on the vine but not quite ready, are gone. As are the romas–the ones destined for another batch of sauce and the beefsteaks. “Mmm,” I respond at first, not too bothered. But then I start thinking of all the hours of labour, of starting seeds from scratch in my window, gingerly handling the transplants, mulching with last season’s leaves, of watering and tending. That’s when I get a little ornery. I had, after all, expected him to say “Oh thank you so much” and take a dozen or so back to his wife in Saskatoon. I had not expected him to ravage every last plant.

I’ve been reading Braiding Sweetgrass  by Robin Wall Kimmerer and loved her essay on generosity and gift economy. It gave me such warm fuzzy feelings in my armchair. I had murmured in agreement and savoured every word. Obviously, the philosophy of lavish generosity is easier for me to swallow than the practise.

The earth on the other hand, especially at this time of year, seems to stick to the “no holds barred” motto. We spin out honey, stuff moose sausage, make wine, dry garlic, catch fish and yet we still can’t keep up to her. Gifts spill over and around us.

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plums, melons and grapes are now in season on our lot

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PREFACE- Six days. Three boats. Four adults. Six kids. Five portages. Three bears. Zero attacks.

On the way to meet my sister and her family for our adventure I say to the kids, “So there will be more portaging on this trip than we’ve ever done before but we’ll just enjoy the hiking. Maybe stop for snacks, you know, or sketch wildflowers…”

Stan shifts in his seat and reaches his hand to adjust the rear-view mirror. “Well, we don’t want it to be too easy do we? We still want it to be character-building.”

EPILOGUE – I lay in bed for 2 days after the trip. I thought I had maybe caught a bug–my whole body ached and my fingers felt arthritic. Turns out I was just recuperating from all the character-building portages.

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before the launch

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Tara and I paddled with 4 kids. Our canoe was dubbed the “voyageur school bus” or the “party canoe”.  The men and two other kids traveled with the gear.

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totally posed at the beginning of an arduous portage

In a few years those delicate bodies pictured above will be strapping young men and women able to shoulder most of our weight. What a day that will be! They owe us a canoe trip or two.

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Day 6

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Back to school. Back to routine. Back to sticking around our home. Summer is fast, furious and fleeting like the heat. “You can sleep in winter; we don’t have time for that in summer,” I tell the kids when they tire of our pack-go-unpack-repack routine. With all of this going it has been hard to squeeze in writing. I still want to find words for speaking at camp, kitchen parties and growing food but am not sure when it will happen. I have started an essay about canoe tripping and listening. I will submit it somewhere eventually, because that’s writers do.

That’s when a writer is successful–when she is submitting, not when her article is accepted, not when she’s long-listed for the CBC non-fiction prize (which I wasn’t, Kirsten) and not when an agent hunts her down. She is successful when she cracks open her laptop. When she punches out a jumbled paragraph, when she lands on a metaphor in the shower. A writer is successful when she’s writing.

Can you tell I’m getting ready for Wonderscape? And can you guess what the theme of the retreat is?

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Coming up in 10 days…

Success, Failure and YourCreative Journey(1)

Can’t wait to gather with strangers and friends from around the country. Every year it’s been magical. Hopeful this year will be the same. (There’s been a cancellation; check out this page for your last minute chance!)

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Change is a constant around here. Changing shoe sizes. Changing instruments (cello and trombone have been added to the mix). Changing heights. Changing accents. (Vivian has been experimenting with articulation, specifically her hard Rs. I try to remain non-chalant every time I hear it, but it’s about as sharp and conspicious as a machete.)

One thing that never seems to change is the big girls’ devotion to the little girl. I smile when I remember the well-meaning visitor who came to visit two days after Vivi was born. She watched Susanna and Belén flutter around the baby, sighed and commented knowingly, “This won’t last long. Give them two weeks and the novelty will wear off.”

Well, it’s been four years and here they are, fighting at the table, each older sister desperate to show Vivi how to draw an uppercase E at the same time. This is a kind of bickering for which I am entirely grateful.

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I’ve written so much. Thanks for reading.

T

 

 

A Moving Hallelujah

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In the months following the birth of my first child my own mother made me walk. When I couldn’t see through the thick fog of postpartum depression she took my hand and led the way. The instructions she gave were simple: eat, go to bed, and let me hold the baby. But the most important direction was Go for a walk. At the beginning I resisted. My shirt was wet from leaking milk, the baby was crying, and I didn’t think I had it in me. She told me I did.

Just go around the block. All you need is a few minutes to get outside and breathe.”

Because I didn’t have the energy to fight I would schlep myself around the block and this feat would take me all of seven minutes. These walks didn’t make everything better, they didn’t make my baby stop crying or transport me back to my old life, but they became a key part of my routine. And although I’ve been following my mother’s instruction for the last 13 years, it’s only recently I’ve realized that walking is not just a tool in my self-help kit. Walking is one of my most important spiritual disciplines.

I’ve always longed to be a woman of prayer. I am awed by the privilege afforded us to partner with the Creator to effect real change in our world. The problem is, I can never seem to find enough time, or muster up enough focus, to do it in a way that seems world-changing enough. Whenever I resolve to sit and pray, for even ten minutes, I disappoint myself. Two minutes in and I’m suddenly noticing how heavy my head feels, at six minutes I’m humming along with my 10-year-old who is yodelling in the shower, and by nine minutes I’ve shifted to the reclined position, convincing myself that rest is also an important spiritual discipline. To those of us who struggle, sage prayer warriors often suggest dedicating a specific space for prayer. A special room, chair, or even a closet may be just the thing that fuels your prayer life, but it hasn’t worked for me. My home is too small and my walls are much too thin, but I’ve found something else to house my prayer life: a mile-long stretch of ground.

My favorite place of prayer isn’t a location but an action. As one foot moves in front of the other, my body relaxes into a rhythm my spirit remembers. Like a skilled musician whose fingers carry the muscle memory of a sonata, so my entire body opens itself to the Divine invitation. My flexing calves, rotating ankles and expanding diaphragm coordinate with nerves, synapses and that part of me which can’t be parsed into cells and tissues—my soul–to answer His call with a resounding “Yes”. Yes, I am ready for you Jesus. Open my eyes, ears and heart to your gifts. Teach me today.

Occasionally, I take a slip of paper with a verse written on it to guide my meditation, and recently I tried to follow the acronym ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) to make sure I covered all my bases, but most often I lace up my shoes, get moving, and give up control of the whole process. Much like a conversation I might have with my sister, my prayers usually don’t follow a formula or a linear time-line. For example, I see a flock of chickadees trying to perch on a tree to face the setting sun. About 150 of them fly around, land, switch places, face the western horizon, switch places again, then re-settle into their botanical theatre to watch the show. While observing the whole charade, praise surges through me. I am in love with this comical and beautiful world and its Creator! In the same moment, I continue to pray for my friend Jacquie, that her vertebrae would miraculously shift to make room for her nerves and that she would be permanently healed of her searing neck pain. My thoughts tumble around, as thoughts tend to, and while I plead for Jacquie I am also aware of God’s great care, beauty and humour, all manifested in a flock of chickadees.

The astounding thing about this approach is that it works. And it’s not because God decides to show up, He’s always already there, but because I am in a posture where I can recognize him. Although I don’t hear a booming voice from the sky, I still hear Him speak. Sometimes I get ideas for articles I’m in the middle of writing. Other times I feel a clear call to action; to check-up on someone with a phone call, to apologize to my daughter for my harsh words, or to introduce two people who need to know one another. And every single time I manage to inhale and exhale, which is a holy “word” from God in, and of, itself.

Interacting with my Designer in this visceral way is as natural and intimate as catching they eye of your lover across a crowded room. He understands my intentions, and laborious explanations are unnecessary. When I walk with Him I am spending time with the One who knows me best and there is nothing contrived about it. In fact, my recent awareness of this discipline is thrilling because it feels exactly the opposite of a pious act. I don’t have to sit indoors, close my eyes, and will myself to focus, focus, focus. I just move my body and that, alone, is an amazing hallelujah.

It’s not a new trend either. From Adam and Eve, who walked and talked with God in the garden, to pilgrims around the world, his followers have been doing it all through time. I am merely another in a long list of devotees who has discovered that my Maker meets me in this kind of moving meditation.

Perhaps all of this sounds too easy. Where is the discipline in this open-ended approach? Shouldn’t a spiritual practise involve more rigour than simply going for a stroll? Although the discipline of walking has become a joy, and something I crave, there are a few guidelines I follow:

Walk regularly. If you don’t have time to walk for an hour, start with 15 minutes. If you think it’s too cold, too windy, or too hot, dress appropriately. I walk in all four seasons, in the giddiness of spring and in the languor of summer, when fall leaves turn bright as mango flesh and when the snow crunches underfoot.

Walk alone. Although I have occasionally gone on prayer walks with other people, my conversation with God is more stilted when I am with a group. Unless you have no social filter, or are never self-conscious, it’s best to do this on your own.

Walk where you won’t be distracted. Choose a route you are familiar with, preferably on a quiet street or trail where you won’t have to interact with a lot of other people.

Expect God to join you. Don’t worry about an agenda or try to force your prayer. Begin your walk by asking God to give you an open mind and heart. Take a slip of scripture in your pocket if you like, or start by praying for the people and houses you pass, but most of all remember that God is as near as your breath and promises to walk with you whether you notice him or not.

These days I don’t need my mother to tell me to get outside and go for a walk. I know when I hear the wind in the long grass, feel the sun on my face and stretch my legs that I’m doing exactly what I should be doing. I am listening and responding to God with all my muscle, mind and spirit. I am praying the best way I know how.

Note: This piece was published by David C Cook in Power for Living earlier this year. I’m sharing it here today to celebrate fall and routine and that I’m back to walking… It’s been a wonderful summer but I’ve only had time to write blogs in my head. Looking forward to coming back here soon. As always, thanks for taking the time to read. -Tricia

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!

 

 

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.

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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!