All winter long we slide across our backyard ice-rink

then trek through the snow, past the naked raspberry canes,

to dispose of our garbage.

Orange peels,

mouldy spaghetti sauce,

used coffee grounds,

rotten potatoes,

and eggshells

create a frozen palette in our compost bin.

When the geese return

and the snow shrinks to reveal the muddy,

beaten grass,

it’s time.



Shalain calls to tell me her 44-year old friend is gone.

They carried her body,

piled with flowers her children laid on her,

out of her home where she died.



The pitch fork stabs through the kitchen slime and

and pulls out a tangle of last year’s tomatoe vines.

I dump in dry leaves, then stop to moisten each layer.

A season’s worth of waste begins to heat.


Five days after I mix the beastly pile

I check for signs of life,

plunging my hand into the rank darkness.

The deeper

I go

the warmer

it gets

until it is

not only warm

but hot

and I squeal at the same old miracle.

From the broken, discarded, trampled and rotten

springs potential.

Billions of microbes pulse with new life.



Sandy’s funeral was last week.

She was too young, too vibrant to go.

Death came anyway.

She smiles in her memorial photograph

with her arms raised triumphantly.

I wonder if any embalmer has arranged

a body in the casket like that.



Six weeks after tackling the pile

I wheelbarrow the fresh compost to its new home.

I would carry it teaspoon by teaspoon if I had to.

When I transfer it to the garden box

not a single crumble slips off my spade.


Everything discarded has become precious.

Bacteria sings the chorus of resurrection.

Easter hums through creation.

Death is not the end.

It never is.

Not even in a pile of garbage.

*Photo credit:

Arms Wide Open


Arms Wide Open

On Monday I walk with Meredith, who is angry and lonely
On Tuesday I listen to Steve tell me how his son tried to kill him in his sleep
On Wednesday I pray for the father who watched his daughters suffocate in canola
On Thursday I hand Justine a hot casserole while her husband rages, unaware I’ve come
On Friday I cry because Jason is dying

This road is too long
this listening too hard
this prayer too small
this food too little
these tears too late
to mend the crack

It would be easier to curl up, cover up, and shut up
than let in the Light
To turn away from the pain
instead of look it in the face

But every mile, word, tear, and crumb

until I hear the wingbeats of the bird who flies steady,
balanced by sorrow and beauty

Until I see Him hanging,
the One who bears the wounds of the world,
arms wide open


Last week was hard and I am not sure how to write about it. In the meantime, there is this poem. I couldn’t have written it without Kirsten telling me about Ettie Hillesum and Hildegard of Bingen, and of her own experience of thin places and the cross.


Today’s Top Ten

Golden leaves litter the grass; wind whips at pony tails; nerves wait for the gun; calf muscles tighten; hundreds of shoes pound the ground; parents whoop, holler and even jump over fences–in suit pants and dress shoes–to keep up with their children and cheer them on. Yep, it’s cross-country season. I’m always mystified why it’s such a big deal here (three different meets for young elementary students) but I’m not complaining. Running is more accessible than many other sports; you don’t need special equipment or hand-eye coordination, only a pair of legs that work and a bit of spirit. In honour of the season I’m handing out ribbons, in the shape of sentences, to the ideas racing around my brain. They aren’t necessarily my favourite things in the whole world, rather, the top ten things I feel like noting today.

Eleven-year-olds… This is the bi-lingual age; of picking up the accent of adulthood while still fluent with childhood, of friends with cell phones and tree forts, of babysitting jobs and bedtime hugs, of sarcasm and silly dances, of looking adults in the eye and tag with two-year-olds. I don’t find myself coaching Belén on how to “look at people” when they speak anymore, as much as I watch her talking with adults and children alike and act the proud-mama part in secret. Inside my head I’m shouting, “See her over there? That one who stands tall with the wide smile? She’s my child! That’s my girl!”


One moment, during Belén’s birthday party, I’m having a serious and meaningful conversation with the girls, the next moment they’re all off playing tag.


Salsa verde… Made from tomatillos, this green sauce for enchiladas fits my favourite cooking category: the one where you don’t need a recipe. Of course, there are plenty on-line to follow but as long as you have tomatillos, peppers, onion, garlic and salt, it will turn out fine. I don’t add any extra water, but let it all simmer slowly before liquefying with my immersion blender.


I’ve never cooked with tomatillos before growing them this summer but will definitely plant them again next year.

Neighbours with garbage… Thank you Rebecca for sharing your wealth. The rotting broccoli, over-ripe tomatoes and wilted lettuce is much appreciated. When I see you coming up the walk with a full bucket I get excited just thinking about the nitrogen, carbon and microbes that will work together to make the most precious of gifts. Dirt. Now that’s neighbourliness.


I have 2 compost bins; one for collecting and one for curing. (It takes about 2 months once I start turning/watering/tending it.) The one on the right is finished and I am shoveling it out here.


Instead of pulling my bean plants I piled fresh compost right on top (and spread it out later). The nitrogen-rich plants should decompose in place and be ready to host tomatoes next spring.

Wild goose meat… “You’ll need your knives for this kids,” Stan announces as he brings the grilled meat to the table. “Just pretend it’s jerky and you’ll be okay.” It’s true, the leg meat is chewy and tough but the breasts are different. Juicy and barely pink on the inside, they resemble steak and taste just as good. “It’s the rib-eye of the sky,” he tells us. We all agree, chiming in with compliments for the hunter.

Watermelon packages… I tell her it won’t grow; she doesn’t listen. I tell her it’s too late, too shady; she plants it anyway. I tell her the vine is too spindly; she calls her grandma to tell her there’s a blossom. I tell her the fruit will never ripen; she takes every visitor back to the garden to see it. If watermelon could grow on faith and loyalty alone, this one would be a prize winner. When her cousins from Ontario come she gives them the tour and leaves the best ’til last. Her dear watermelon, no bigger than a tennis ball and mostly white with a greenish hue, elicits sufficient praise. Matteus even asks for a taste.

A week later we scramble to bring in the garden before the first frost and Susanna picks her precious fruit. She slices it up and gently places one half on a square of plastic wrap while informing her father she is sending it in the mail to her cousin. He shoots her idea down; she hums and keeps working. The next day I ask about the piece of rind wrapped up on the counter.

“It’s going in the mail,” she responds.

“No, it’s not,” I say. “You can’t send a drippy, moldy package of watermelon.”

Susanna looks at me, smiles sweetly, and continues on.

It’s still there, awaiting its final destiny: compost or Canada post. Who will win?

This book… If you share my reading taste you will love Tattoos on the Heart written by a Jesuit priest who lives in gang territory in L.A.

And this one: Good God, Lousy World, and Me. It’s another spiritual memoir written by a human rights activist who comes to understand God is present even in in the filthiest, darkest, and most violent of places.

Deception in the name of cleanliness… We have a house cleaner. She comes once a week. We don’t know her full name because of her company’s privacy policy, but we know we all have to tidy up the night before so she can deep clean without the clutter. Everyone is very impressed with her work. I don’t think we pay her enough.

Orca beans… Dry beans are the middle child of the garden; they get on quite well with almost no attention. I planted a tiny corner of my garden with these and basically forgot about them until today, when I harvested enough for a few meals and next year’s seed cache.


Sunsets during supper

The rice is cooking, so are the beans
My kitchen window glows neon
No time to cook
Pull Vivi from her highchair, buckle up, squish in, head out of town
Find a prairie,
a gravel road,
a place to smell the harvest dust
The sky blossoms purple and orange and makes this field a ballroom
This stubble our dance floor

This is 37

It’s getting harder and harder to blog lately. And it has more to do with the eight and ten-year-olds, than the five-month old. I drafted a piece last week that I thought was inspiring, hopeful, and honest; some truly magnificent writing. 🙂 I read it to Belén right after she got home from school and while she peeled off her parka and finished her snack, her face grew still and sad listening to my words. I knew then, I wouldn’t post it. I thought the salient points were positive enough to justify the honest beginning, but she disagreed.

“Why can’t you write, ‘It was hard at first, but I got over it. Now it’s good? Leave out that stuff at the start and it will be okay.”

I sat for a moment without saying anything. I really wanted to share this piece even though parts of it made me sad, too. I thought it might be worthwhile even if just one other person read it and felt less alone–and isn’t that why we do all of this reading and writing anyway? To feel connected and reassure ourselves we’re not the only ones facing the unpredictable world out there?

“Mmm…” I started slowly. “If I leave out the details, and only share the good stuff, it won’t be very interesting anymore. Telling the hard things makes the good stuff make more sense.”

She resisted, and I left it alone. I thought about a book I’d read recently and how the author, Krista Bremer, took me from mountain trails (where she met her husband) to the dusty villages of Libya (where she met her husband’s family), straight into the heart of her marriage. It’s one of the most well-written books I’ve read in a long time, precisely because she doesn’t say, “It was hard at first, but now it’s good.” Her words are sharp and the images vivid. It’s a beautiful, raw story, but I wonder: what did her husband think of it all? And her children? How do you write any kind of memoir, or even an amateur blog like this one, and respect the ones who are living out the stories with you? It’s dangerous territory, this writing hobby, and I’m not sure one can ever do it well and be safe.

So what do I do now? Turn this into a sewing blog? That would be great if I had more patience for following patterns. A foodie blog? Not likely. I’m very insecure about my kitchen skills lately; the accumulation of complaints from my children over the years is taking its toll. Besides, I’d have to type out recipes and that wouldn’t be fun at all. A photo blog? My camera is too cheap and the thrill of blogging comes from creating pictures with words, not just uploading them.

Maybe I’ll have to make it all about me–I’ve never been one to bother much with privacy anyway. It might be boring, but certainly not as risky. Here, then, is a poem to start with. It was an “assignment” for my writing group. All of us–from our early thirties into our sixties–did a piece explaining what it’s like to be the age we are. It was fun to write and I loved reading the others’ too.


This is 37

Unwrapping baby gifts billowed with tissue paper,
opening my front door to a friend trembling with a new diagnosis,
pretending to be the tooth fairy–but failing,
praying and explaining, but never understanding leukemia,
cheering for smiles and poop, coos and farts,
new lines under my eyes,
in between birth and death.
This is 37.

Cradling my baby to my breast,
peeling the fuzz and dust we slough from the lint trap,
dipping fingers into coarse salt and sprinkling it over roasting potatoes,
heaving half-rotten compost from one pile to another,
reaching under sheets, tracing the body pressed next to mine.
My arms are strong.
My hands are full.
This is 37.

Arranging after-school sledding dates,
hoping my college friend will notice my facebook post,
waiting for book-club night,
calling my sister three times a day,
searching, always searching, for community.
Then Friday night comes,
lights are out at 9:30.
This is 37.

Skating on an outdoor rink for an audience of two
listening to my daughters cheer from the snow-banked sidelines,
springing off toe picks, bunny-hopping more like a groggy bear than a limber rabbit,
The crowd jumps to its feet and roars with approval.
“Did you see that?” one daughter gasps to the other.
I sing the last note till it goes flat,
jazz hands still fluttering.
This is 37.


What’s it like for you at 28? or 45? or 67? And how honestly could you write about it? Please share.


Good words: the beauty of innuendos

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.”

-Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

When I saw the picture below, I thought of Stevens’ poem right away.  The first stanza starts like this:  Among twenty snowy mountains, the only moving thing was the eye of the black bird.  The poem also ends with a snowy image… but it’s really not about snow at all.  (I’m not totally sure what it is about, I just know I like the fifth stanza.)

Susanna took this photo on Wednesday, from our back step.  The snow was falling thick and heavy–the girls were ecstatic, of course.

*My own end of the week tradition: words in song or story that move me in some way.  I might type my very favourite parts in bold text, and I’ll always try to post a link below the quote so you can get more if you want it. Enjoy!