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.

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?

Waiting and Watching; Advent 2017

It feels like we’ve been celebrating advent for awhile around here. The waiting part, that is. Susanna has been battling a lung infection for the last two weeks and we’ve all spent many hours rubbing her back, wiping her brow, giving her medicine, serving her orange juice, and waiting, waiting, waiting for her to get better.

A friend stopped by yesterday and when she saw Susie laying on the couch she exclaimed, “I knew something was wrong! I barely recognized her voice on the phone because it sounded so normal!” Instead of the usual fake accent and you’ve-reached-the-pizza-parlour, or some other crazy response, it was only a weak “Hello” that threw our friend off.

Waiting for Susanna to return to her exuberant self is a little like the waiting we do before Christmas. During advent we are waiting for Jesus, waiting for the Light to pierce the darkness, waiting for brokenness to be made whole, waiting for the restoration promised us by a baby born centuries ago. But advent (meaning a coming or approach)  is also about celebrating the arrival; that Divinity, indeed, has already come and is here with us.

I draw up a new chalkboard sign to remind me of all this, but I’m not sure it helps. I’m still trying to figure out presents and am worried I don’t have enough. I stress about coordinating holiday plans and dates and traveling. But I see a glimmer of hope. I don’t worry about the baking (we all know I’ve given up on that one) and I notice things. Like this…

*

I’m washing dishes when I overhear Vivian playing “refugees” for a second time this week. I dry my hands on a towel and walk over to watch her where she can’t see me.

“We have to go. Pack up every-fing” she says herding plastic figurines into a toy van. Ernie, Bert, Polly-Pocket and a pony, or two, are fleeing together. “It’s a new country,” she murmurs to herself and her toys. “You’ll be safe here,” she reassures them.

*

I’ve had a bad day and feel like crying. I call Stan to see when he’ll be home and if I have time to go for a walk. “I’ll be there in 15 minutes,” he says.  I decide to stay home so we can eat as soon as he arrives. A moment later he calls me back. “Don’t wait,” he says. “Go for a walk now. The sun is setting and you’ll like it.”

*

I take Belén home after a midnight pool party with the youth group. Instead of going straight to bed, we plug in the kettle and brew some tea. She looks at my literary magazine on the table, the one with the weird poetry that neither of us understand, and makes fun of it. Then she tells me about an image from her day that she wishes she could capture.

“Why don’t you write about it in your journal?” I suggest.

“Ugh! No way! That’s too much work. Besides, it’s frustrating. It’s like I’ve got all these words, but when I put them together they don’t hold anything. Like an empty box.”

“Mmm,” I say while sipping my tea, glad she’s not journaling after all. Glad she’s talking to me.

*

The Cree drummer and pow-wow singer invites everyone from the bleachers onto the gymnasium floor. He tells us to hold hands and dance in a circle. Slowly people get out of their seats and reach for other hands. The singer beats his drum and wails his foreign melody while we step in time. I see the Nigerian obstetrician, whose clinic is just down the street, and the Jamaican lady who works at McDonald’s. The politicians, who came to deliver their obligatory speeches, are now holding hands with mothers who have babies on their hips. The Indian dancers, dressed in white turbans and tunics, slide along beside old men with stiff legs and cowboy boots.

*

I’m not sure how, or why, but in these moments I feel Advent. I feel His coming. These random, mostly-normal moments in my mostly-normal week are reminders for me. God is here… in my three-year-old’s empathy, in my husband’s prompt to watch the sunset, in late-night conversations with my teenager, in a round dance, and in the waiting for Susanna to get better.

Let’s keep waiting and watching together.

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Resources: We watched this 2-minute video in church this last week and it got me thinking about advent again. Also, this post by Rachel Held Evans gave me some ideas that we will use this season.

 

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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Unwrapping

You’d think by now I would know my own family. Some of us have been together for 14 years (our wedding anniversary is today) and we’ve spent countless hours talking, working, laughing, fighting, observing, and sharing the same space. But despite the time we’ve logged together, I’m still surprised by them. Still discovering who each one is. Still trying to figure them out. Every day, if I’m paying attention, I find more clues as to who these people are, their gifts, what makes them tick, and who I’ll want to live with when I’m an old woman.

Belén and Susanna were designing their dream homes the other day when each tried to convince me to live with them. Belén showed me her piece of paper and told Susanna confidently, “Mom will like my place. She’s more like me. See? All I want is a tiny cabin with no electricity and a garden.”

“But Mom,” Susanna interrupted her. “I don’t want that much either. Just a five-story house–you’ll live on the top floor!–with servants, a pond, and a Ferris wheel. In New York City.”

Sometimes it reminds me of the shower game where you pass around a present, unwrapping it until the music stops. Living with other people is like peeling off layers of paper; each interaction a chance to get closer to what’s inside. Raising children is one of the quickest ways to strip your spouse and exposes things we might never see otherwise. With our third child, I’m seeing a different side of Stan. It was there all along, but it took Vivian to help me see it.

Not long ago we were at church and I decided to leave Vivi in the nursery so I could go back to the service. While I slipped into the seat beside Stan he mouthed, ” Where’s Vivi?” I whispered back, feeling proud of myself. Training our older daughters to stay somewhere without us had been such a trial, an epic journey wrought with comparisons (how do other parents do it?) and worry that we pushed through. Now, I thought, he would be pleased I was launching her towards independence, but his look was more questioning than congratulatory.

About ten minutes later I was called back to the nursery. Vivian was a mess. Her face was wet and swollen and she looked like they’d left her out in a violent rain storm. Her body shuddered with each ragged breath while the young volunteer explained how they couldn’t do anything to calm her. On the way home, I told this to the rest of the family and Stan surprised me with his response. “She shouldn’t have to stay with anyone else if she doesn’t want to. Why would we take her to the nursery if we can hold her? There’s no need for it.” After pulling our car into the driveway he got out quickly, making sure he was the one who got to unbuckle Vivi and take her out of her car seat. Making sure she knew he was her rescuer. Then he nuzzled her neck all the way to the backdoor. Another layer pulled back.

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And then there are some things that never change. We took Susanna to an orthodontist recently and afterward, while thinking about all the work that needs to be done and the resulting bills, I tried to look on the bright side.

“Imagine if we were living in a garbage dump with no opportunities?” I said. “No doctors? Or dentists? You’d be stuck with your teeth problems for the rest of your life.”

To which Stan replied immediately, “Well, now. That’s not necessarily true.” Then he said without a shred of doubt, “I would do it. I would fix her teeth.” And of course I know he’s right. I can picture him now, scavenging recycled metal and rubber to wire up our daughter’s mouth.

But he’s more than just our back-up dental plan; our family would be less, and certainly do less, without him. My daughters wouldn’t be running drills or jig saws, wouldn’t be veteran back-country campers, wouldn’t be talking about Gregor Mendel’s plant experiments, simple machines, how glass fares better under compression then tension, or, should they ever be in a pinch, how they might repair their boat with spruce pitch and bear fat. This isn’t to say they’re his little protégés, that they’re always enthused, or even listening to him, but that he makes them–and us–who we are. And I’m so glad I get to keep on finding out what that means.

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Looking for newborn calves at Michelle and Kevin’s

Happy Father’s Day everyone. Keep on unwrapping while the music is still going!

Tricia

Seven Good Things

It’s Sunday afternoon and I decide to go for a walk. All by myself. While the rest of my family plays a board game. I know, crazy isn’t it–going off on my own instead of spending quality time with my husband and children? But it gets worse (or better, depending on your point of view). I head to 7-11 and attempt to purchase a few chocolate bars before realizing I’d scooped up Mexican pesos from our change box. Because I don’t have enough Canadian currency for all the bars, I buy only one. The one I like best. On my way home I nibble slowly, face towards the sun, crunching on peanuts and sucking on caramel. I walk back and forth on my own block just so I can finish it before reaching home to dispose of the evidence. While the wrapper floats to the bottom of our garbage bin I slip in the back door and try to keep from smiling suspiciously.

***

The woman ahead of me in line watches while I nose my full cart into the cashier’s lane. It doesn’t take long before she meets my eye and launches into conversation.

“Did you hear about the baby that almost drowned? It was a car crash and the mother died but they found the baby, still strapped into its seat.”

I told her I hadn’t heard the story until now. Then she added, “It was alive,” as an afterthought. “How old is your baby?”

“Seven months.”

“Mmm… babies. So many things to worry about. Terrible things. The accidents that could happen… And then, when they get bigger–”

I’m not sure I want to hear more but I say, “It must get even harder as they get older.” I sense she’s just trying to make conversation, even though she sounds like a church bell ringing the death toll, because people do that. We say weird things, even offensive things, just because we’re clumsy at connecting.

Then the man in front of her jumps in and the next moment we’re not talking about tragedy anymore, but curling. The cashier gives her opinion on the Brier and the conversation veers again while the gentleman tells us exactly what he thinks about “those Albertans.” By the time I have my bags packed I feel like I’ve been at a local coffee shop. In the parking lot I see the man who was ahead of me in line and he waves and nods. Friendly places are like this, I think, where goodbyes are needed after standing in line with strangers at the grocery store.

***

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***

The meeting is getting long and there are no windows in the room. I’m wondering if the sun will still be shining by the time we leave when a man gets up to speak. At first I lean forward to pay attention and then I realize he’s not like “us”. Not normal. I try to appear engaged but inwardly I lose interest. His gestures are getting bigger now and he’s repeating his spiel for the fourth time. I look around the room and see some smiling patronizingly; others are starting to fidget. How long will they let this guy keep going? Who has the nerve to interrupt him? His words tumble out fast, like a train building momentum–unable to stop itself even if it wanted to. Then someone else clears his throat and without pausing starts speaking over the first guy. Immediately I feel uncomfortable, dreading the public awkwardness sure to follow. But it doesn’t. The new speaker directs his words to the one he just interrupted and they come like a long, cold drink of water. What you are saying is important. I understand you. We appreciate hearing this. Thank you for sharing. Everyone relaxes. Then we are clapping. A bit of grace.

***

These books:

  1. The Story-If you think the Bible is just for little girls in pretty dresses to carry under their arm on their way to Sunday School, read this. It’s all about bloodbaths, cowardly men and woman, feuding tribes, supernatural powers, and the ancient culture that still informs the lives of millions of us today. As I’ve read I’ve laughed aloud, cringed, and most of all, wanted to know more. Was Ruth’s heart pounding when she sneaked in to wake Boaz on the threshing floor? What exactly was Saul thinking while he cowered in the supplies closet to hide from those who wanted to crown him as king?
  2. Animal Dialogues-Beautiful essays that will make you want to trek in the wilderness for days on end.
  3. Bread of Angels-More Christian stuff that’s well-written enough you might enjoy it even if you’re not Christian. I’m reading it slowly, hoping I don’t reach the end of the book.

***

Before the girls leave for school they get the birthday chair ready for their dad. Presents are wrapped, balloons inflated, and seats are lined up so the audience can watch Stan’s expression as he opens each gift. He does not disappoint. The mushroom farm elicits smiles and curiosity; the pair of chopsticks, a bear hug; the four Coffee Crisps, many lavish thank-yous. It was just what they hoped for.

***

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A pleasant moment during a photo session in which I managed to bring at least two of my children to tears.

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Be well,

Tricia

 

Wild Roses and Holland

While I write this we’re actually inside, escaping the heat. Crazy, I know. It feels down right ridiculous to run for cover from the sun–the very thing we’ve been lifting our snow white faces toward, closing our eyes and craving, for the last nine months. The girls are reading their books, but I’ve given them a time limit. It’s either that or banning the printed word and it’s pull all together. If it were up to them they’d melt into their books for days at a time, which sounds okay in theory, I mean, they’re quiet and certainly less needy in the clutches of The Babysitter’s Club, but it doesn’t feel right. Especially when I have to cajole them to come outside and play or pick wildflowers.

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cake covered in edible flowers (rose, mint leaves, and chamomile)

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We dug out the middle of the cake (to save a piece without out lactose/icing for Uncle Derek) and filled it with petals.

It’s wild rose season here. The fragrant blooms of the Rosa acicularis can be used to make tea, creams, or floral oils, but this year we just ate them. Belén also confirmed they work as “bush bandages” and help soothe mosquito bites (Beverly Grey’s advice). The petals are perfectly shaped to cover irritating welts and reduce itchiness; simply moisten the petal and stick to affected area.

Some not-so-wild flowers are the blooms on my snow pea plants. I sowed the heirloom seeds in May and the vines are are already up to my neck. (They grow 6 feet tall.) They’re a robust plant, matching the vigor of the Russian Mennonites who brought them over to Saskatchewan. I bought my first packet a few years ago from Prairie Garden Seeds and even if I didn’t like them I might feel obligated to save seeds from year to year, if only because they reflect my own heritage.

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Russian snow pea

***

Lately I’ve been thinking about expectations, and what happens when life doesn’t go as planned. I was visiting with a woman I’d just met when I asked her the kid question.

“No, I don’t have any, ” she replied. “But I wanted four.” She went on to explain more; about cancer, the unsuccessful adoption application, and their cross-country move.

I wanted to tell her I understood, that I’d tasted the bitter drink of wanting something and not getting it, but I stopped myself before I went too far. I knew I couldn’t continue, not with my belly busting out of my pants. But it was difficult because I feel for her, and all of us, who think we have control over what our families will look like, who our children turn out to be, and the direction of our lives, when there are so many surprises along the way. Hard surprises.

My friend, Shalain, forwarded this poem to me a few years ago. (I wish I could copy and paste it here but I didn’t get the author’s permission.) Emily Perl Kingsley wrote Welcome to Holland as an explanation of what it’s like to raise a child with a disability. I’ve thought of it often since my first reading, and not just in the context of kids with special needs. I cried when I read it after my miscarriage. I thought of it when I saw Shalain’s brave and beautiful daughter learning to walk, again, after one of many major surgeries. And I looked it up after my conversation with the woman who wanted four children, but has none.

We can pack for a trip to Italy, spend months or even years poring over guidebooks and looking at other people’s photos of their own Mediterranean vacations, but what happens if we never land up in Italy? What happens when our husband dies the year he retires, our kid’s spouse has an affair, or we don’t get the family/job/friends/life we imagined? What happens if we land up in Holland instead of Italy?

The poem ends positively, encouraging us to see the beauty in unexpected circumstances, but I think I like the darkest part the best. It’s the second last line that acknowledges how hard reversals can be.  Resilience, marbled with courage and bravery, is often the result of intense pressure and circumstances we rarely choose for ourselves.

***

On a more practical note, here’s a Daddy/daughter team making a trailer to haul canoes and cargo. As Susanna walked around with her finger on the drill trigger I heard Stan comment on how important it is to to handle tools to understand how they work and to “get a feel for them”. I’m not sure how much progress they made on the trailer but I’m certain she cultivated some of that tool intuition her dad was talking about…

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Thankful for wild roses, Russian seed savers, poems, and girls with tools,

Tricia

 

 

 

 

Your Marriage is Like a Fingerprint

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Year 3 of marriage–taken in Santa Cruz, Bolivia

I’m watching my girls at the pool when I start eavesdropping on the couple sitting next to me.They’re laughing and talking about their day, people they know, what they did last weekend… and it all seems terribly interesting. To them. Both are engaged in the conversation and instead of long silences or nagging questions, their conversation is injected with with laughter, eye contact and affirmation.

I’m so impressed with this husband and wife team and their animated communication, I decide to compliment them–it’s not often I see middle-aged partners exerting so much effort to connect–but before I voice my appreciation, they leave. The next week I find out I was wrong: the bubbly woman is divorced and the man whom I’d assumed to be her husband, the one who was so eager to hear what she had to say, was a new romantic interest. Of course they’re not married, I told myself, surprised I’d been duped, that’s not the way spouses act… as if they’re actually interested in each other.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the thick of anniversary season right now. A couple weeks ago Stan and I completed thirteen committed, sacrificial blissful years years together. Tolstoy wrote that “happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, but he was wrong. Happy or unhappy, every relationship is unique. The problems Stan and I have might be easily recognized by millions of other couples, but the details, the slivers that get under our skin, are wholly ours. Fortunately, it’s the same at the other end of the spectrum. What makes our marriage work might be summarized in a few lines, but the joy in our marriage also comes from the subtleties in our relationship that are as individual as our fingerprints. Sometimes these particulars make me shake my head, or grit my teeth in frustration, but they often produce a sense of gratitude and awe that make me say, “I can’t believe I found you.”

Although Stan and I don’t usually exhibit the keen interest the couple at the pool had in each other, I’m perpetually amazed by my husband because he is so, well, interesting. Who else makes their own home brew, prays passionately for their children, designs jewellery, pretends to be a luthier–and pulls it off, never leaves home without tools, likes hunting and musicals, has a heart for social justice, can sew, sing and scale mountains?

Just last week, Stan rushed to Canadian Tire at 9 pm to buy a security camera. He’d spotted a robin’s nest in one of our trees and wanted to stream a live video of the mama bird tending her eggs so our girls could keep tabs on her. While he shimmied up the tree in the dark, securing wires, I knew it was just as much for him as it was for our daughters. And it made me feel lucky. When I watch him strumming his guitar alongside Belén, coaching her on rhythm while belting out Let it Go or Katy Perry’s Roar (these two titles pretty much exhaust our pop-culture knowledge of the new millennium) and then, in the next moment, try to explain the concept of thermodynamics to Susanna, it makes me smile. I’m reminded, too, that because I married Stan, because I got him–with all his quirks, talents, and passions, my life will never be boring.

Maybe interesting isn’t how you would describe your spouse. Maybe he’s as dull as a doorknob, but gentle and patient when it comes to your screaming children. Or maybe she’s charming, charismatic and knows how to work a crowd when you’d rather shrink into the wallpaper. Likely, what makes you weak in the knees isn’t the same as what works in your best friend’s marriage. And, like the rest of life, any energy you spend comparing your relationship is probably a waste of time.

This is easier said than done. While I listened to the couple beside me at the pool I wished Stan and I were like them, with endless enthusiasm for daily conversation, broaching each new topic with  more excitement than the last. But we’re not. Admitting this doesn’t mean I don’t feel lucky. In fact, sometimes I feel sorry for other woman, knowing there’s only one Stan, and he’s already taken. He’s no chatter bug, but after thirteen years I’m still fascinated by the man I married, and this amazement makes for a deep contour in the fingerprint of our marriage.

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October, 2013

What is your marriage-print like?

Wishing you eyes to see the details that belong to the two of you,

Tricia

Be Careful

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rehearsing Minuet in G

If you’ve ever played at a music festival (the classical kind) you know how it is; the hushed whispers, the lady putting up program numbers for the next musician, the expectant waiting for the adjudicator to address the still-jittery participants, the polite applause. It’s all nerve-racking. Of course, I didn’t tell that to Belén and Susanna last week when they were getting ready to perform in the festival for the first time.

“We’re going to listen to stories and advice from another music teacher,” I said, not wanting to make them anxious. “It’ll be fun.” Important lesson: never trust another person’s definition of fun.

I fed them several other lines like these and maybe it was more for myself than for them. I wasn’t playing, not even accompanying them, but I was still nervous. And when Mamas get nervous it’s never good for anyone. Add to the nerves a little hustle and you’ve got the perfect atmosphere for saying and doing things you wish you hadn’t. Getting the rosin, guitar picks, instruments, music, and extra dress shoes into the car before 8:30 am was proceeded by a lot of barking. And we don’t have any pets.

I think The Rush is what does it most often. The other day we were hurrying to a hockey game–we thought we’d walk instead of drive–but it wasn’t the lovely stroll I’d had in mind. The side walk was an icy canyon, with mountains of crusty snow on either side, making it impossible to share the goat path with anyone else; especially my own daughters who kept jostling in front of me and then halting 2 feet afterwards. But that didn’t stop me. No way. We had somewhere to be, someplace to get to. I barreled forward, tired of accommodating, and kindness in general. Another important lesson: when being kind seems too demanding it’s best to pause, pull back and let your child walk at least 10 feet ahead, or as far away as safely possible. I pushed and elbowed my children out of the way so I could keep up my momentum undisturbed. Fed up with lurching forward on tiptoes whenever they decided to stop in front of me, I let them know it while shoving them aside, ranting about how they needed to get out of my way. Yes, that’s right, I shove small children into snow banks.

Their tears were dried by the time we made it to the game.

It’s hard to be congenial with family; the ones who are supposed to love you through thick and thin. How unfortunate the ones closest to us take the brunt of our anxiety, stress, disappointments and pressures. And how pitiful that little things, like getting to a music festival or hockey game, become ways to terrorize our children… and that it’s only normal. Unfortunately it’s not just our children who view candid clips of our worst selves, but our spouses have front row seats, too.

“Be careful,” my mom said once, after she heard a comment I made to Stan.

Be careful.

It’s not a natural impulse to be careful at home. After all, it’s supposed to be a place of refuge. A place to let your hair down. A place to be yourself and loved for who you are. And yet, the words “be careful” keep ringing in my mind. (Thanks, in part, to this Patty Griffin song)

Be careful.

When marriages are over a decade, or many decades, long it seems excessive to talk about being careful with someone who knows you so well. When children are old enough to let their mother walk in peace, being careful might seem synonymous with coddling. But being kind to those who are most vulnerable with us probably isn’t a bad idea. Yes, the human spirit is resilient but it’s also precious, and it’s best to be careful with our most precious things. I wish I could remember that all the time, not just when sitting quietly at my keyboard.

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Be careful how you bend me
Be careful where you send me
Careful how you end me
Be careful with me

…And the fun part of the festival? Well, if you ask them I think they’d say it was fun. But then, maybe they’re just remembering the ice cream treat afterwards.

-T