Snow Sculpture 2019

I’ve been wearing my toque for months. Seriously. It started snowing September 21 of last year and I’m not sure I’ve taken it off since. I know this because the other day, when I washed and brushed my hair–and let it dry without jamming a wool hat on my head, I was showered with compliments.

“Did you get your hair cut?” someone asked. “It looks so… so bouncy… or different today,” someone else commented.

On the other hand, I showed up at church this past Sunday wearing Nordic boots and ski pants and no one said a word. (I had come straight from a ski clinic and didn’t have the time, will-power or physical strength to change.) The marvelous thing about my outfit is that no one batted an eye. Not one person.Five months of winter will do that to a community. And I think it’s wonderful. Which is kind of what this year’s snow sculpture on our front lawn is about. The magic of winter.

Now, that last sentence might have made some of you gag or click the little “x” in the right-hand corner of your screen. Given the weather over the last half-year, that is a legitimate response.

But. If you’re still here, this snow sculpture is for you! You are the kind of person who would ski in a snow-covered ditch and talk about it as ebulliently as your last trip to Paris (Bonnie). You are the kind who would wade through snowdrifts with me for an hour, during a blizzard, just for a breath of fresh air (Shannon). You are the kind who grew up in the tropics but are teaching your kids how to thrive in what feels like the Arctic. (Anna Lissa) Here you are friends:

Stan does most of the work, the rest of us help shovel, carve a little and give a lot of critique from the curb

Don’t Got Time For That

“I am sorry to inform you that the jury convened to adjudicate the applications did not approve your project for a grant.”

I read the line over twice to make sure I understand it. Wonderscape didn’t get the grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board. The proposal I had spent days writing had failed! I had wondered, while crunching numbers, requesting testimonials and writing motherhood statements, is this worth it? Does it make sense to while away time when I’m not sure of the outcome? Shouldn’t I be working on my own writing projects, or something valiant like scrubbing the bathtub?

I call my sister, which is what one does in these kind of situations, when I find out about the refusal.

“Should I still try to form a non-profit now that the application has been rejected?” I ask her. “It’ll take so much time and paperwork,” I moan.

There is silence on the other end so I keep going. “Plus, I know nothing about bylaws or articles of incorporation.”

In the end I decide to incorporate. This means filing paperwork with the government, multiple meetings with the director of the local art gallery, writing articles and bylaws, finding board members, scheduling an AGM, printing financial reports and budgets and preparing agendas. It’s all overwhelming, mostly because I keep ruminating over the same questions: What’s the point? Is this worth it? Do I have time for this?

*

Anne Lamott tells the story of when she went shopping with a dear friend who was dying of cancer. The friend brought along her six-year-old daughter to help Anne buy a new dress. Anne stepped out of the change room, adjusting the neck line and pulling on the skirt, while the young daughter skittered and skipped around her mom who was in a wheelchair. Anne tugged on the fabric and complained about looking fat. She wondered, too, whether the dress made her arms look flabby.

Her friend, who would die three weeks later, looked at her from her chair for a long time. Then she said, “Anne, you don’t got time for that.”

*

A teacher from Susanna’s French immersion school emails us asking if Stan would be interested in making a snow sculpture outside the school for French Education week. I read through her note and think about all the electrical work in the basement, the flooring that needs to be installed and the ceiling tiles we ordered last week. We definitely don’t have time for that, is my immediate thought after reading her request, but I wait to ask Stan before responding.

I bring it up as soon as he comes home from work and he immediately says, “Sure!” without hesitating.

What one person ain’t got time for, the next person does.

*

The morning of the first Wonderscape AGM I wake up at six with a feeling of dread. I had been dreaming about Robert’s Rules of Orders and my inexperience chairing formal meetings. I get up and review the stack of papers I’ve prepared for the new board members. Some of them, who are coming from over 100 miles away, will soon be on their way.

Hours later, when we sit at my table, I remember how I had met each one of them:

I found Shannon in 2016 at the Kenosee Lake Kitchen Party, where I spotted her wearing her dark-rimmed glasses. I knew I had to get to know Shannon and had a hunch by the way she smiled, sang, talked and moved that she would know a thing or two about arts and connecting people. I asked her to meet me one afternoon outside my cottage in the forest where I had set up my laptop on a make-shift table to work on the first Wonderscape retreat. She listened to me talk for a long time. Then I listened to her. And I knew I had found exactly who I  needed. Now she’s here, taking minutes and reminding me what I wanted Wonderscape to be in the first place.

Marea sits beside her. I met Marea on the side of the road. Well, not exactly the side of the road, but in her pottery shack, which runs on an honour-system, at the side of the road. She came out to meet us just as we were about to leave money in her cash box in exchange for a beautiful bowl. We started chatting and laughing, which is easy to do with Marea, and that’s when I felt another little nudge. Should I ask this stranger if she wants to come to Wonderscape? Finally, right before I left,  I got brave enough. “I’m trying this new thing,” I said, faltering. “A creative arts retreat… you might be interested?”

Rebecca is next to Marea. She invited our family over for a bonfire the first day we moved to Saskatchewan almost 10 years ago. We ate hummus and stared at the flames and I thought, What are the chances that someone who likes the outdoors and art and neighbours lives just down the street?

An acquaintance gave me Sarah’s name. They said she was an artist and even had her own TV show. I called her immediately and told her she had to come to my house. She did.

Twila and I spoke in Spanish the first time we met as she had recently returned from a decade of living in Guatamala. We’ve since become family friends and raise each other’s children.

Gillian is here because Sarah thought she would fit the Wonderscape team. She’s a pianist and vocalist and though I’ve only met her once before I already agree with Sarah.

These are the people who traveled through a January storm to get here. Who bring their experience and talent to the table. We establish quorum then spoon coconut chickpea curry over basmati rice. We make motions, second and carry them. We eat brownies. We talk about creativity and artists-in-residence and vision and values and fund-raising and nature and painters and writers and photographers. The snow accumulates on their vehicles while the candle flickers before us. Surrounded by these woman I am infected by their enthusiasm and decide it is already worth it.

*

Life is short. We may have more than three weeks left, but we still have to pick and choose how we’ll spend our minutes and our mental energy. The next time I look disapprovingly in a mirror I’ll hear Anne Lamott’s friend say “You don’t got time for that”. I’ll hear it when I wonder if I should do the dishes instead of write the next paragraph. When I languish on Facebook instead of going outside. When I stay on the beach instead of swim. When I organize my closet instead of planting my garden. When Stan rummages around for his snow-sculpting tools and I wonder when he’ll run the wires. When I start complaining about the hours I put into Wonderscape.

I don’t got time for that.

We don’t have time to pass up on the things that make us flourish. The things that might overwhelm us, make us cold, exhausted or even unavailable to do other things, but that make our life richer and wider and deeper.

When will you hear it?

*

Notes:

*Thanks, Katrina, for always being interested. I wrote this in response to your FB message asking me about the AGM.

*I heard Anne Lamott tell the aforementioned story to Kelly Corrigan on this podcast as I was priming our basement walls.

Why I Care About a Mouse Tail

The moon is a small sliver and the sky is overcast tonight. Stan is trying to back our small Saturn, and trailer, down a narrow alley that borders a park at the edge of the city. The trailer hitch is short so it’s incredibly hard to back up at the best of times, never-mind doing it in pitch darkness with soft snow ready to swallow the tires. He gets stuck so I get in the driver seat while he pushes. Then we try again; I call out directions while he maneuvers the trailer back towards the fresh snow. (This is the second night of shoveling so we’ve already cleaned off the stuff that is easy to access.) Finally we make it to our destination and I start pushing up piles with the snow scoop while Stan hefts it into the trailer.

I notice a home owner peek his head out of his garage to find out what the commotion is about. He stares for awhile and then retreats and I wonder if he will tell his wife about the crazy people shoveling snow off public land. I also wonder if we actually are a tiny bit crazy.

Sweat starts to trickle down my back–under my tank-top, tee-shirt, sweatshirt and winter parka. I can hear Stan grunting while he heaves snow at his usual frenzied pace. “I wonder,” I call through my scarf that is frozen stiff, “if we’ll be nostalgic about this when we are in the old folks home. Can you imagine sitting around and talking about the days when we used to steal snow for sculpting?”

When the trailer is piled high we lumber down the block-and-a-half to our front yard and half-empty wooden box. About 3 loads later, it’s finally full to the top and ready to sit for a few days while we wait for the snow particles to bond.

About a week later, after Stan has taken the wood form apart and finished 95% of the carving, we spend a couple evenings taking care of the last details. He’s working on the mouse’s nose and teeth and I’m on a step ladder, shaping the feet.  It’s dark and quiet enough to hear the scraping sounds our tools make against the snow. “Just so you know,” I tell my husband, “I would never be doing this if I hadn’t married you.” I’m not unhappy, or even complaining about the -30 temps, I’m just stating the obvious. How marriage affects us in ways we never would have known when standing at the altar. The next night this truth becomes even more apparent.

We’re laying in bed, and just before falling asleep Stan comments, “I think the tail is too wide for the body. It would look less reptilian if we narrowed it.” I agree and roll over. Hours later, in the middle of the night, I awake for no reason. I toss and turn and think about all kinds of stuff, including the mouse’s tail. Suddenly it’s all I can think about: how I’ll need to get the saw out in the morning and shave off the sides, how the mouse’s hind legs are curved, and how the buttocks should partly cover the tail. And then I think, why on earth do I care about a mouse’s butt at stinkin’ four o’clock in the morning?

But I do care. I care because we’ve invested so much time in it already. Because snow is a beautiful thing to work with. Because people like to drive by slow and crane their necks and take pictures. Because my girls look forward to the sculpture on their yard every year. Because creating something–anything at all, even a mouse’s tail–is the opposite of apathy; it affirms that there is meaning and that we have a reason to care. And I care because I married Stan, of course. Which is the main reason why I’m worried about how a mouse’s tail comes out of its butt.

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Stan cuts off a lot of snow blocks when he starts carving–they girls love to use these in their snow forts

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Saron and Free help us pack the snow

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When Heads Roll

When heads roll is a better forecaster of spring, around here, than any American groundhog. All season long the kids (and their friends) await the annual destruction of our snow sculpture and the beheading is always the highlight of the event. While I can’t say it feels exactly like spring (it was almost -30 yesterday), we know it’s on its way. In fact, we’ve probably got only few weekends left of good snow. What will you do with them?

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The whole process is not as easy as it looks; the sculpture is always more sturdy than they expect. They persisted with their feet, a machete, butcher knives, and a saw made of barbed wire, for at least half an hour, to take it down this year. It made for a nice little play-date.

***

Last weekend we went cross-country skiing all together for the first time this season. We told the girls to be quiet so we could see the local moose family but Vivian didn’t listen–she kept hooting and chirping happily. Perhaps she’s been feeling as cooped up as I have and was too relieved to be out that she couldn’t stay quiet. On the way back, after a fire and snack at the warm-up cabin, she fell asleep. Still didn’t see any long-legged mammals except for these….

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Enjoy this one coming up!

T

The Only Princess He’s Willing to Carve*

Every year our daughters pitch their ideas for our annual snow sculpture and most years their list starts with a Disney princess. This year was no different. Susanna requested Anna and Elsa, but her daddy made Elizabeth instead. If you’ve read this book by Robert Munsch you’ll know why.

After many days of helping shovel, pack, measure, saw, dig, slice, and whittle, I’d like to write a philosophical essay on snow sculptures and their ephemeral quality, or something that sounds deep while including witty quips from the carvers, but it’s late. And my fingers are still stiff from the cold; it only reached -24 C today. Here are some pictures instead.

Until next time,
Tricia (for the carving crew)

*Other than Princess Auto. But how would you carve that?

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Belén helped more this year than ever before.

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Susanna, carving one of the very IMPORTANT parts

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Stanley, the genius behind this all. Or as he says it, “The crazy fool who squanders thirty hours playing with snow.”

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the back view with dragon wings

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We call this part the “Bravinder Tail”. Thanks Derek for shoveling!

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A Patchwork Post: Scraps from an ordinary week

Nothing proves neighbourliness like a lion’s head rolling off. After the massacre, acquaintances and coworkers approached me with concern, wondering who was responsible for such a thing. When I told them our household was accountable they almost seemed relieved, as if we were having another unspoken conversation. Yes that’s right, we live in a place where people wouldn’t dare vandalize a snow sculpture…and isn’t it a fine little town?

The girls had been planning to destroy the sculpture for months. They finally waged war against winter, rallying forces with Jack, Ainsly, and their mom, Shelly. When Belén cried out, “I call the machete,” and Susanna yelled, “Dibs on the saw,” in front of our company I was glad for a friend like Shelly. She didn’t blink an eye.

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Ready to fight with warrior paint

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Unfortunately, the task was harder than they anticipated…

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Stan had to make a notch in the neck so the girls could fell the massive head with their barbed-wire saw.

Shelly also didn’t blink an eye when I told her what we’d be having for dinner. I’d been experimenting with a gluten-free sourdough recipe I’d left on my counter for 4 days and was hopeful that this time would finally be the time–when the stars would align and I’d discover the traditional, wheaty-tasting sourdough I was after. (Gluten-free bakers have a lot in common with gamblers or gold diggers.) I should’ve known how it would all play out; I’ve been doing this for about 10 years–getting my hopes up and then seeing them crumble, quite literally, before my eyes.

When I piled the cracked, oblong rocks (aka my sourdough baguettes) on the table Shelly said, “Oh, I see you’ve made pocket buns.” Pocket buns, a term coined by her husband, are the kind of rolls you can put in your pocket, and after a full day of hunting in the woods, take out of your pocket and observe no change. The pocket buns will look just the same, and as hard, as they went in. Regrettably, I foresee the title, Pocket buns, getting a lot of use around here.

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I was so optimistic I even took this picture before they went in the oven to document my impending success.

Susanna had a friend sleep over at our house for the very first time this weekend. She decorated the whole house in advance, taping ribbons to the walls and strewing other bric-a-brac around our living room. When her friend, Kirsi, arrived Susanna led her to a homemade pinata–constructed feverishly, only minutes before, with a cardboard box and masking tape. After the whole thing collapsed, Kirsi pawed through the shredded newspaper for treasures and found a lonely pack of gum.

“It’s half-eaten,” she observed while holding it up to Susanna.

Stan, having just retired the broomstick after the event, responded cheerfully for Susanna’s sake, “But it isn’t pre-chewed now, is it?”

I’ve read a few books lately I’d enthusiastically recommend to the right kind of reader. The first is The Hundred-Foot Journey and if you are interested in cooking, India, or France, this novel will be like a birthday present for you. And I am the child who hands over the present and wants to you to open it RIGHT NOW and tell me how much you love it. But don’t read it too fast… the author’s choice words and sensual descriptions are too rich to gobble down quickly. Another one is Pastrix, a spiritual memoir which will either offend or delight. Then, Stan suggested ordering this book for the girls, which entertains them in short bursts. Tonight, at the dinner table, after Susanna involuntarily growled at the back of her throat trying to eat my soup, I read this quote about a degustateur from the book:

Julia Rogers is a taste educator whose specialty is cheese. If you offered her a piece, she might say: “In this cheese, you can taste brown butter and nuts.” Or: “This cheese smells of ripe cream and melted butter, with just a hint of white mushrooms and earth.” … Julia believes kids are the perfect taste education students. “Kids are especially good at this because they don’t have any preconceptions about what food tastes like,” she says. “Kids don’t hesitate to say it smells like crushed rocks or it smells like poo!”

I continued reading how tasters describe sensations and smells using images unrelated to food and it somehow got us through the meal. Susanna closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on the qualities she was tasting. She borrowed “the wet spot in the basement” from the book, but then came up with “the broth tastes like wet construction paper and the scent of pine needles” all on her own. I was impressed with the pine needle comment because I did add rosemary salt for seasoning!

Lastly, we continue to pray for our niece, Lucy. I am amazed at the strength and faith of her parents, especially when I get cranky about it all. Just lately, after talking about the situation, I protested to no one in particular, “Why do we keep praying? What does God need from us? Hundreds and thousands of the same prayers? Can’t He just do something? Now?” I felt testy, ignorant, and impatient at the same time, as if I could thrash around with God like Jacob did–a story I love from Genesis 32 where Jacob is renamed “Israel” or “one who has struggled with God… and overcome.”

Belén and Susanna looked up at me and Stan took them both on his lap. After a moment Stan said, “God doesn’t want us to quit. He wants to change us. And Philip and Anne… and Lucy.”

And so we prayed again for change. For all of us.

Thanks for reading through the patches of our week,

Tricia