This Week

On Monday I email my mentor with the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild to update him on my situation. Instead of having two days a week to myself for the apprenticeship, I now have four girls sharing 1140 square feet with me, indefinitely. Belén and Susanna are confident the school cancellations will not get in the way of my writing routine. “It’ll be no problem, Mom. You’ll probably get twice as much writing done as before because we’ll be here,” says Belén. I appreciate her optimism but I’m not sure she’s right.

Lists start blooming everywhere: taped to the wall in the dining room (What would you like to eat? Corona Virus Meal Schedule), in the hallway (Quarantine Home School Schedule), on the chalkboard (To learn and Do), and on scrap paper (To Clean and Organize). Remarkably, I haven’t written any of them. Although I love lists, it’s the older girls who have taken the initiative to organize and brainstorm. In fact, the night of the school cancellations there was only heady excitement around the kitchen table. What will we all accomplish? Learn? And make? “We’ll be geniuses by the time this is over!” one of them shouted.

On our way back from our last trip to the library

“We’re making history,” I tell them on Tuesday morning, borrowing a line my sister is using with her kids. I am still buoyed by the potential of our time together. When I hear Susanna blasting Csardas on Youtube, sitting in front of the speakers with her violin in one hand and turning up the volume with her other, trying to learn it measure by measure, I am thrilled. And when Belén takes a stack of books on wild edibles off the shelf and sketches plants it feels like we are living on the set of a modern-day Little Women movie.

But my expectations rise and fall quicker than a roller coaster. At first it’s the food. So much food. It feels like we are consuming about twice the amount we normally do. Our caloric needs haven’t changed so why am I chopping, stirring, slicing, boiling, eating and then washing every day away? Our diet is going to have to accommodate my schedule but I am not sure how that is possible.

At lunch time, on Wednesday, one of the girls sneezes and showers us all with her saliva. Chunks of ground beef and cheese fly across the table into someone else’s plate. People cringe, yell and stomp away. By mid-afternoon everyone is lethargic and there are horizontal bodies everywhere–on the couch, in beds and on the floors. This was all right for a while after lunch, but suddenly I can’t stand the the lethargy. “We’re not going to lay on the couch all day,” I announce. “So here’s a new rule: everyone gets out for at least an hour a day.” One of them snuggles deeper under a blanket, another pretends she doesn’t hear me. “Up, up, up!” I continue. “I don’t care what you do. Get exercise, get cold, get bored, just as long as you get out!”

On Thursday morning, Belén spends two hours teaching Saron and Vivi about animal tracking and hibernation habits. They read books, look for tracks while cross-country skiing, and dig under the snow to find the subnivean zone (the space between the snow pack and the ground). After they come in it is time to make the dioramas that Belén had prepared earlier by hot-gluing boxes together out of old CD cases.

When I come upstairs, from my makeshift office in the basement, I can see the situation is deteriorating rapidly. Dirt is all over the floor and their winter jackets. Vivian and Saron seemed more interested in defacing the models on the magazine pages, that Belén had put down to protect the table, than finishing their chipmunk tunnel models.

“Wow, tell me what you’re learning about,” I say, crouching at their level. The younger girls cackle and point to the pigtails, tears, beards and crowns they’ve added to the women in the photos. When I ask Vivian what animal they are studying she is unsure. “A groundhog?” she says, looking at Belén for confirmation.

“You mean chipmunk,” Belén says.

“And what are the chipmunks eating?” I ask.

“Stones,” says Saron.

“No, it’s seeds,” Belén corrects her, “sunflower seeds.”

Vivi and Saron pick up a magazine page, sending another pile of dirt to the floor, and start laughing again. Belén looks at her students then at me. “Frankly, I’m disgusted,” she mutters, referring to their behaviour.

They’re not the only ones who are having trouble focusing. My writing mentor responds to my email with some advice regarding my added responsibilities at home: “Tell your children that your bossy mentor wants you to get in four hours of writing each day and you are not to be interrupted during those hours unless someone is injured or in some kind of danger.” He is trying to be helpful and, at first, I am bolstered by his suggestions. Yes, I think, this will be no problem. We just need a routine and then I will continue with the apprenticeship like normal. But by the end of third day I look back on the last 72 hours and wonder where they all went. Divvied between porridge and reading and lasagne and groceries and bleach and five other bodies, I suppose.

This morning I wake up before my children, sit down at the kitchen table in my bathrobe and open my notebook. Last week I knew exactly where I was going with my mentorship. Now I re-read the outline of topics that I made so confidently, only days ago. The first on the list is spirituality and I wonder how, exactly, I was planning on tackling that one. I feel so discombobulated at the moment, I can’t remember having any shred of wisdom that would be worth sharing. I note 6:56 on my page and start writing anyway. Minutes go by without stopping. By the time I get to the bottom of my third page, my hand is moving so fast that my letters are big and sloppy. It doesn’t matter. It feels good to practice forming sentences this morning despite the fact it won’t “count” towards my project or constitute something I can work on with my mentor.

My friend, and writer, Kristen Krymusa, just told me she is giving herself a poetry challenge. She plans on writing one poem a day for the next week. The poems might turn out to be astonishing works of art, or they might be awful. She says she doesn’t care as long as she’s writing them. I think I want to emulate her. In these days of abrupt and unexpected transition I can’t tackle a masterpiece on God. I have to practice the small things first. Things like making my bed, braiding hair, chopping an onion, and picking up a pen. Even if it just turns into a blog post.

Improbable

I went for a walk last summer, then came home and scribbled my impressions in my notebook. In November, while flipping through my “vomit drafts”, I found a few of those images and strung them together to write a poem.

It was a hot July morning
but my three-year-old insisted on wearing snow boots.
She settled into the stroller, still in pajamas,
for our normal spin through the prairie.
I didn’t stop until she begged to get out,
to step off the path
to grab a handful of Saskatoon berries,
to stand by the pond and yell
over the deafening chorus
of red-winged blackbirds,
to pinch off wild chamomile flowers and stick them up her nostrils
like an old woman inhaling smelling salts

Near the end of our walk we went through the cemetery.
A truck was parked in our path…

Literary Mama published it this week. Click here to read the rest.

DSCN2058_The most delicious thing about being published is that a stranger thought my work was worth sharing. It means that it is somewhat accessible, even if you don’t know who Spunky was (my childhood dog) or anything else about me. I’ve submitted other pieces to Literary Mama, but for some reason this one made it. And today I’ve got an extra lilt in my step!

 

Influence

So.

Susan didn’t bite on my proposal.

The day after publishing my previous blog post I called her on the phone and got as far as her administration assistant, a nice lady named Thao. Thao thought that Susan, the Senior VP of marketing at Canadian Tire, would indeed like to review my pitch. I started calculating, right away, how much I would charge for each article, how I might have to re-arrange my writing priorities and how my life would change as the author of “The Bucket People.”

When I tell my older daughters that Susan was, in fact, not interested in my stories, Belén is relieved. She wasn’t keen on being branded as a bucket person anyway. Susanna, on the other hand, is miffed. Hours later she’s still mulling it over and while we trudge through snow, delivering her papers, she comes up with a new plan.

“I know! How about Belén and I–and Rebecca!–start writing horrible stories about Canadian Tire buckets. Awful stories! The quality of our writing will be so poor that Canadian Tire will be desperate for someone to counter it with great writing. That someone will be you!”

I smile at her thoughtfulness and then share what I learned from my friend Kirsten who once attended a Very Important Writing Conference with Very Important People. During a brief appointment with a Very Important Editor, Kirsten learned more about what kind of writing attracts publishing houses. The Very Important Editor told Kirsten it didn’t matter whether her manuscript was the most brilliant, astonishing piece of literature he’d ever held in his hands. What mattered was the size of her following. The Very Important Editor said they were only willing to work with Very Important Writers who had Very Important Audiences.

“What’s a Very Important Audience?” Susanna asks.

“Hundreds of thousands of people you influence on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and who knows what else.”

“Oh,” she says.

We split ways. She keeps walking on one side of the street and I cross over to the mailboxes on the other.

I think about the wise people who had suggested I build a presence on Instagram to interest Canadian Tire in my platform. They were right, of course. Except that I hate Instagramming. For one, my thumbs are too wide. By the time I enter all those crazy hashtags I may as well write an essay on a real keyboard. Instagram, in itself, isn’t bad. It’s a wonderful way to share and connect for many of you, but it’s not the way for me to hustle right now. Even if that’s what it takes to sell my writing to Canadian Tire.

The next Sunday we visit my parents and the church I grew up attending. I remember sitting in the pews as a child, staring at old men and the backs of their necks, fascinated by the criss-cross of wrinkles and diamond shapes made by the folds of their skin. Especially if they had brush-cuts. I do the the same this morning, like I did when I was six-years old. Then, when the offering plates are passed I study the ushers walking down the aisles and look around the small sanctuary.

Over the years I’ve attended all kinds of churches; some with professional music teams and fog machines, some with liturgies and traditions as awe-inspiring as their ornate ceilings. The church I’m sitting in right now, is neither of these. There’s no hype, no grandeur and no hoopla. And yet, it is one of the most authentic and transformative communities I’ve ever been a part of.

I remember how my mom used to worry about its future, wondering “if the church would die” as farm families retire and children look for work in urban areas. It seemed like such an ominous thing and I tried to imagine what a church gasping for its last breaths would look like. But the church never did die. People grew up and left the valley farmland and spruce-covered hills, but others stayed. And still others came. Today the church is full of life. And the growth isn’t just church-y people moving from one congregation to another, it’s because of people who were searching. Who start attending and brought their children. Then their siblings and their siblings’ children. And their parents.

I think how David Johnson, the pastor for over 20 years, has been instrumental in this vitality. He’s not loud or flashy, I’m not sure he’s got a Twitter or Instagram account, and his weekly audience hovers around 100, rather than 100 k, but he is a powerful influencer. Not the kind of influencer that would make a Very Important Editor blink an eyelid, but the kind of influencer that changes lives and generations. He’s doing the work he’s called to do and he’s being faithful.

People make it to the padded orange-fabric pews on Sunday mornings not because their grandparents did or because they were brought up in church, but because Pastor Dave invites them to look at Jesus. They come because he asks questions instead of forcing answers. They come for the same reason I consulted him, years ago, when I felt caught in the throes of a moral decision. I emailed Dave with the specifics and although I felt silly bothering him with my conundrum I was curious how he would advise me. Always err on the side of grace is the only line I remember from his response. I’ll never forget it.

When he hands communion bread to the congregation I see regular people with complicated stories at the table. Not a bunch of parishioners pretending to be religious. This is what influence is like, I think. Hundreds of miles away from any mega church or Important Publisher, this man is making a difference. This is how I want to be faithful.

This doesn’t mean I want to become a pastor. (Please God, no!) But it speaks to me on a very practical level; I realize I don’t need to give more time to social media than I already do. I still have creative goals and dreams but I want to remember Dave and his church when it comes to evaluating influence and audience.

The next week I will write two poems and submit them different places. I will send off another essay, edit a friend’s manuscript and someone else’s short story. I will play puppy-dog and memory. I will read Maya Angelou, Sally Ito and Lorna Crozier. I will insist on music practice, warm jackets and veggies. I will sprinkle coarse salt on roasted sweet potatoes and put more leaves in our table. Guests will sit on the floor and drink out of measuring cups because there are more people than dishes. I will write this blog. I will walk many miles. This is how I will be faithful, by tending to my audience–the ones already here, including my own body.

So dear believers, skeptics and agnostics: find your sanctuary. Find someone who reflects the kind of influence you want to wield. Someone who reminds you of what you’re willing to give up and what you won’t trade for anything.

Happy Thanksgiving Season (again).

Tricia

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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?

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

 

 

Identifying as a Christian

I drafted an essay, about 4 or 5 years ago, that was a pain to write. I had an idea of what I wanted to get down on paper but the connections were awkward, the structure confusing and the emotion unwieldy. Then, last month, while looking for something else in my writing folder, the essay fell out. I picked it off the floor and sat down to read it with fresh eyes. By the last paragraph, I decided I wanted to salvage it because I still feel the same way, and because it explains what I cannot easily articulate in everyday conversation.

Convivium, an on-line magazine that “fosters rigorous conversation, shares profound stories of faith, and explores some of the most difficult questions of our time”, published it this week…

I don’t believe there’s anything after this,” Connie says. “We get one time around and when we die, it’s all over.” She pauses, then adds, “There’s nothing more, nothing less.”

Lying on my back, staring at the bunk above me, I sense she pities anyone naive enough to rely on a religious crutch to explain our existence. Spiritual leanings, hard-wired into the modern psyche because of evolutionary advantage, are nothing to her but the result of legends used for societal control and group cohesion. The more I listen, the more I dread coming out…

Click to read the rest here!

If, by the end of the article, you still have time and energy to comment, I’d love to know how you relate to the piece. Does it feel familiar? Unsettle you? Surprise you?

Thanks for reading. I’m honoured, as always, that you’re here,

Tricia

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Nothing World Changing

I sit at our kitchen counter, wearing earmuffs and typing as fast as I can. I’m using industrial hearing protection to block out the constant chatter and humming all around me. Belén is painting a watercolour for her friend Keauna, Susanna is reading on the couch, Stan is sculpting clay and Vivi is looking for attention wherever she can get it.

Turning away from the monitor and sliding my muffs down to my neck I announce, “I’m just about there now! I’ve almost caught it!” Then I explain how writing is like galloping after a wild horse; with every sentence I strain forward in the saddle until I swing the lasso and capture the bucking idea.

Susanna ignores me, Stan keeps massaging the mud, Vivi doesn’t seem to care about my philosophy, and Belén just says, “I fall off the horse, before I get close enough, every time.”

The next day I send the blog draft to my sister with the subject: Can I post this? I also ask Stan to read what I wrote. I want to know if it’s too preachy, too offensive or condescending. Stan affirms that it is all of the above. Tara hesitates on the phone when she calls to give me feedback. She suggests publishing it where nobody I know will read it. Then she asks if I would be willing to say it in a face-to-face conversation with my readers. Now it’s my turn to hesitate.

Shucks.

The problem with the offensive blog piece is that I said exactly what I wanted to say and don’t feel like changing it. Not yet, anyway.

My Auntie Fritz recently asked me if I have a temper. “You write about it in your blog but I’ve never seen you frustrated,” she said. When I assured her that I do, indeed, get hopping mad and am not scared of a little conflict, she nodded her head. “That’s good,” she said, “then you can change the world.”

I liked that.

But how do you know when it’s a good time to change the world or write a blog post or get angry? That’s some tricky business I haven’t yet mastered. I have a feeling that heeding caution from my closest confidantes is a step in the right direction. So I’ll sit tight and let that wild horse of an idea run free a little longer. Changing the world will have to wait.

Instead, I’ll go after something more predictable and safe. Something like a photo-collage, the kind you might get in your mailbox from us if we did that sort of thing. A genteel Happy New Year from our house to yours.

Love Tricia, for the rest

Skating on the pond at Tim and Kristalyn’s with Grandpa

Christmas with my mom’s sisters and our adopted families from Ethiopia and Iran

Belén got henna for Christmas… tatoos all around…

Susie LOVES serving people with her new chocolate fountain

cousins…missing a few very important ones 🙂

Stan and his dad making a pottery wheel from scratch

B and Simon. We didn’t take boots to Indiana because we thought it would be warm and dry. We were wrong.

Auntie Annie and Susanna… so much to do together, so little time

first pottery lesson with Marea, the master

 

 

 

A literary Experiment

Geez Magazine has just published an essay of mine on their site. You can find me over there today:)…

Photo Credit: James White

I don’t have time to write an essay. I don’t have time to outline my points, think of a snappy ending, or edit several drafts until it’s ready for submission. Rather than staring out my window while I let ideas take shape I should be washing last night’s supper dishes or running to the store to get toilet-bowl cleaner. But instead I give in to my craving, jot down the time, 8:43 p.m., and start scribbling.

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Different

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Lamb’s quarters

If you have jumpy little black bugs in your garden, and if the arugula you planted has holes in it one day, is shriveled the next, and totally gone the third day, you might have flea beetles. I love arugula, especially with feta cheese, toasted pecans and cranberries, so I plant it every year. This year I planted it twice–both times the seedlings succumbed to flea beetles resulting in my sixth consecutive arugula crop failure. Which of course doesn’t matter one whit when I consider real crop failure and livelihoods on the line, but in my little world it is something to take note of. Don’t plant arugula…will not survive flea beetle.

Besides the arugula fiasco, I’ve taken note of something else. Just about the same time my second planting of arugula went down, lamb’s quarters started elbowing out the Orca beans. I always have these weeds in my garden, and I often munch on them before pulling them, but today I had an idea. Why don’t I let a few of these silver-powdered plants reach maturity, harvest their seed, and dedicate a whole plot to them next season? It’s a nutritional powerhouse, doesn’t cower to the flea beetle, and best of all, grows like a weed!

Once upon a time, lamb’s quarters greens received more respect. Their ancient name was “all good,” and all good they are. They contain more iron and protein than raw cabbage or spinach, more calcium and vitamin B1 than raw cabbage, and more vitamin B2 than cabbage or spinach.  According to Joan Richardson’s Wild Edible Plants of New England, lamb’s quarters “even outclasses spinach as a storehouse of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin C, and great amounts of vitamin A, not to mention all the minerals pulled out of the earth by its strong taproot.” (from Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association)

What makes arugula so much better than lamb’s quarters anyway? I did a taste test with the greens I harvested from my garden today (butter crunch lettuce, red leaf lettuce, spinach, and lamb’s quarters) and enjoyed the young lamb’s quarters as much as the rest, if not more. The nutty flavour is not as bitter as the lettuce and will go fine with pecans and a balsamic vinaigrette. I’ve read the seeds are also edible and can be ground into flour or cooked whole (like quinoa), but will update you further when I have some more first-hand information!

***

Our annual skip-school day is a sacred tradition the girls talk about months beforehand. This year I send them ahead with Shelly while I stay home for Vivian’s first nap, hoping she will be well-rested and ready for the dunes just like her big sisters. While she sleeps, I ready the back-pack carrier and envision walking for miles along the shore, like always. I grab wieners and anticipate roasting a perfectly salty hot dog. Like always. I fold my towel and look forward to laying in the sun, water evaporating off my freshly cooled skin. Like always.

When we arrive at the dunes the sun is high. It’s just past noon and Vivian is starting to get hungry. Should I feed her now or put sunscreen on her or try to build a lean-to shelter for shade? I set her down to look for baby food–which I forgot to bring, while she cries and eats sand. There are tent caterpillars everywhere; on our blankets, our water bottles, our sandals, and our legs. I flick one out of Vivi’s hand and try to cover her up from the sun with my long-sleeve cotton shirt. It doesn’t work. She crawls forward and bungles her knees in the fabric, the sun beats hard, and I’m wondering if it’s okay for her to eat chips all day. I’m also wondering how long we can last.

This isn’t like I planned and doesn’t match my memories of visiting with the other moms, laughing while kids vault off sandy cliffs, and joking with them about what “all the children in school are doing”. I haven’t taken one picture of the girls jumping off the dunes or heard any of the conversation around me, much less contributed to it. I am too worried about Vivi, the worms, the wind, getting her to sleep again and why this feels so different than last year. After nursing her awhile with her fleshy white legs jutting out from my sweaty belly, I know we need shade. I walk down the beach while the wind pushes hard against me and dig my heels into the sand. Towel whipping in the wind and cooler tugging on my shoulder, I yell back to my mom trudging behind, “The ambiance isn’t quite like I’d hoped!”

It’s true, the ambiance is different with a ten-month-old. My mom and I whisper about it while Vivi snoozes on the blanket beside us; how this summer will be hard and so will the next, and then maybe, by the time she’s three, things will go back to normal. How relaxing at the beach really means multitasking: conversations that ebb and flow while chasing a little one, filling up buckets of sand, monitoring liquid intake and readjusting sun hats.

When I worked as a liaison with high school exchange students, their orientation manual included a section on making judgements and how things don’t have to be “better” or “worse”.  Sometimes they are just different. Now, like the exchange students, I am learning about my new landscape; calibrating expectations so my internal gauge reads different instead of worse. Instead of leisurely roasting my own hotdog like I imagined, I go without until Belén finds us in our new spot. She comes back shortly, kicking up sand and running with a sizzling wiener at the end of her stick, cooked just for me. Later, Susanna and I count to three and dive under the water. It feels like freedom and I manage a few strokes before my Vivi radar turns on. I look back to see her with my mom at the water’s edge. They are just fine.

Back on shore, the day stretches into its finest hours–the wind dies down and the sunshine sweetens into a gentle heat. Belén is dangling her feet from the dinghy and Ainsly floats beside while they make up terrible jokes in a secret language. Susanna is throwing a football with Jack, and Shelly sits nearby in the sun. I watch water droplets disappear from her tanned shoulders, instead of my own, while sitting with Vivi under the shade of a poplar. Vivian is bare-bummed (sure to pee any minute), her mouth is mustached with grit, and I just gave her another potato chip, but she is quiet. Perfectly still. This is when I decide we can stay just a few minutes longer. Everything is going to be okay.

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My mom and Vivian

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Tricia

PS. Here’s a quote I forgot to add to my last post. It’s one of many I highlighted in Ueland’s book:

“Art is infection. The artist has a feeling and he expresses it and at once this feeling infects other people and they have it too. When I read this in Tolstoy it seemed like a great flashing discovery. But perhaps I would not have been so struck by it if it had not been for my class. I saw in their writing how whenever a sentence came from the true self and was felt, it was good, alive, it infected one no matter what the words were, no matter how ungrammatical or badly arranged they were. But when the sentence was not felt by the writer, it was dead. No infection.”