Tuesday, 30 September 2014


I got notice this week of my thirty-year high school reunion. Oh my! Am I really that old? Have I been out of high school that long? I don't know what I want to be when I grow up yet! I won't attend, because it's a continent away, but it was fun to pause and think about the people I used to know and grew up with. Because of the way community worked in Utah, a lot of the kids I went to school with I also went to church with, and my 5th Grade teacher was also my Sunday School teacher (I used to play with his daughter in their sandbox). I've gone to the temple with my old French teacher. I babysat for my music teacher. A lot of us were together from kindergarten through university. And now here we are, graying and slightly pudgy and flashing grandkid photos. Imagine!

I recently reconnected with a long-lost cousin on Facebook, and it opened up a world of other befriended cousins, most of whom I haven't seen in nearly thirty years. It felt like Christmas, scrolling through the list of names with accompanying photos and remembering my absolutely enchanting childhood, filled with family. Rollerskating. Sleeping over. Singing around the piano. Playing Beckon and Nertz. Picnics and plays and Aunt Linda's pies. I remember my grandpa demonstrating tap dancing he'd learned in college. My uncle in his pin-striped suit, taking all the kids in the station wagon to cruise main street after my other grandpa's funeral. Learning to use the automated milking machine. Chasing rabbits turned loose in the yard. Hunting for Easter eggs and chocolate in a two-acre orchard. Trampolines and clinging in terror and joy to the back of the tractor as it reared to turn around.

I'm happy with the life I've chosen, and I love where I live. But it saddens me that my kids won't know what it feels like to be surrounded by a jillion cousins. There was always something going on, and instant friends only a car drive away. The memory of those days warms me, makes me want to scurry back to my childhood and the embrace of family. Hey, you jillions of cousins! I love you! Come and visit me! I'll pitch a tent in the backyard and make sloppy joes. I even have a few of Grandpa's mints left, squirrelled away in my dresser drawer.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Burdens and Opportunities

Someone recently posted the thought that God gives you mountains so you learn how to climb, and he felt he was scaling Everest this week. I sent him a quick message of encouragement, but it got me thinking. Today is what we Latter-day Saints call Fast Sunday. Once a month we go without meals for 24 hours and donate what we would have spent on food to charity, to feed those who go hungry on a frequent basis. It not only helps others financially, but it helps us to focus on the inner spiritual self while subduing the outer physical self.

Each month, I find it helps me to fast if I am thinking about and praying for a specific person or a particular need. But this month there seems to be so many people around me needing special help. A friend with cancer. A baby about to be born in the family. Another baby due in the spring. Someone's uncomfortable financial situation. An acquaintance's recovery from a difficult surgery. Someone waiting for news from their doctor. Someone looking for work. Loneliness. Loss. Pain. Disappointment. And it seems like a feeble cop-out to fling a generally-worded prayer heavenward for "all those who need Thy blessings." After all, we all need blessings of one sort or another. Everyone has a particular sorrow or challenge, sometimes visible and sometimes hidden. It's part of the human condition. And it seems a bit presumptuous to tell God, "You decide who needs help the most this month." As if He doesn't know already.

One of my bosses dislikes the word "challenge." She substitutes the word "opportunity" for it, instead. She's right, of course; every obstacle and disappointment presents the opportunity to grow or learn, and that is, after all, what we're here for. Someone else's problem provides us with the opportunity to reach and stretch and help and increase in compassion. But positive spin or not, the fact is that life can be incredibly hard. We need each other's prayers and outstretched hands. Even if we know the plan and see the bigger picture, we still have to get the occasional boost from someone else to make it through the day. So I think this Fast Sunday, instead of telling God to do all the work, I'll ask instead to be shown where I can be of most help, and then I will commit to doing whatever I'm shown.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

A Really Great Idea

For those of you who like to hike, walk your dog, or ride your horse in the countryside, you need to check out this brilliant (literally) idea at www.dontshootme.ca  -- a line of high-visibility apparel and animal accessories to protect you and your animals from hunters. A friend's wife came up with the idea, and I think it's terrific.

We used to live out in Hillsburgh on fifty acres of forest, and one day men came to the door and told me, "Keep your kids inside. We're hunting wolves on your land."

Well. What is the proper response to that? I packed up the two-year-old and moved to Guelph.

Not all hunters are polite enough to ask permission to go on your land, and a lot of the time you may not know they are out there. And not everyone is as careful as they should be. It is just a smart idea to take precautions. A horse can look like a deer through the trees.

Even if you aren't in an area where you might encounter hunters, I like the idea of putting a bright orange vest on my dogs just to walk them down the street. It makes them more visible to drivers, and if Brio dashes off into the woods by the park, it will be easier to see him. Right now he blends in with the autumn leaves. And considering how many times my kids were hit by cars when they were younger, I probably should have considered putting a bright orange vest on them before letting them out on their bikes, especially at dusk. They may not have liked it, but I gotta say it's a great idea.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Home Again

My parents returned home this week from serving as missionaries in London for the past year. I'm sure it was a time of conflicting feelings for them -- happy to be home, especially with a new grandchild about to be born, but sad to leave friends and places that have come to feel like home after so long. We are so proud of them and the example they have set for their family.

I know how weird it feels to return home after years away. You expect everything to be the same, or you fear it will all be different, and in reality it is a mixed bag. Things have changed just enough that you feel off-kilter, a little disoriented. Familiar objects in different places, or familiar places filled with different objects. People whose faces have altered just enough to make you realize time has passed without you there to watch it. I should know this, you say to yourself. But you don't. You know just enough to realize you don't. You end up not being quite sure how to react, how to function, where to find things. You forget now and then that you are no longer away, and you find yourself looking for people and listening for sounds that aren't there. It doesn't take long to fall back into the groove, though, and after a while you forget you've ever been gone. But for that first while, it's like wearing someone else's shoes. Functional, even comfortable, but strange.

When I first moved to Canada, I had little idea what to expect. Oh, I can do this, I thought breezily. I know this. They speak English here, after all. How hard can it be? So I went about acting as if I were at home, expecting all to be, well, normal. And then I spent the next few months putting my foot in my mouth, because it turned out there were hidden differences and unanticipated quirks and I didn't understand as well as I thought I did. I ended up making a lot of mistakes based on faulty assumptions. (By the way, when Canadians tell you "Oh, it's okay. Leave your shoes on" when you go to their home, take off the shoes!) I sometimes think it would have been easier to move to a completely different culture, like Japan, because then I wouldn't have assumed anything. Of course eventually I molded to my surroundings and now it all feels perfectly ordinary. Now it's when I go back to the States that I feel as if I've stepped through the looking glass. I feel like twitching my shoulders and adjusting my head, à la Adrian Monk, trying to settle.

I picture my parents now, back among the beautiful mountains of home (which mercifully never change). I envision them touching familiar things, unpacking, finding forgotten treasures that they hadn't realized they'd even missed. Happy, sad, and feeling -- just for a while -- like tourists poking through someone else's house. Remembering, reacclimating. Getting the shoes to fit.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

I want to live here

Found this on the Internet. Soooo me.

Dearly Depotted...

We gather in remembrance of autumn-emptied gardens--
stirred soil, dry vines, leaning stakes
Wheelbarrow overturned, tomato cages stacked
like dunce caps in the corner
Hoses coiled, tools cleaned and sharpened.
Seed pods shatter, sending next year's life
into clod crevices, between pavers.
All green has turned brown and black
A blanket of mulch drawn around earth's shoulders.
Like the garden, I will bide my time,
sleepy, covered, and calm for winter
until with the touch of sun and shovel
I explode back to life in springtime.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Son Number Two hits the ground running

Well, my son slept until noonish, went to go see a friend, and came home at 6 p.m. not only with a job, but with a carpool lined up so he can get to the job. Wow! And on top of that, he has a friend who has been trying to find some gardening space she can use, and she's coming over tonight to check out my garden. So I might have help maintaining the space next summer, which would be terrific. Lots of problems solved in one day. Has been home just 24 hours, and he's off to work at 7:00 this morning. I see my work here is done.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Dog Memory

Son Number Two has moved back from Manitoba -- he arrived at about 6:00 this morning. The dogs had been asleep on the couch, and when he walked in the door, at first the reaction was to perk up and bark. "Who's there?" And then recognition followed by joy. I wasn't sure Brio would remember him, because he left a year and a half ago, when Brio was only about seven months old. But Brio launched himself at him, licking his face and wriggling like mad, more than he usually does with strangers. And then I brought Maple down (he can't do stairs), and Maple went into the most funny rapturous dance. Twisting, squirming, pressing his head down to be rubbed, and then jumping up to lick my son's face (and let me tell you, Maple never licks people). But he slobbered all over my son, bathing him with kisses, and it brought tears to my eyes.

The poor fellow obviously missed my son, but he wasn't able to say so, or to ask questions about where he'd disappeared to and why he wasn't around anymore. But he certainly made his feelings known this morning! It took him half an hour to stop jitterbugging.

And then once the dogs had worked him over, it was my turn to do my happy dance.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Westie Walk 2014

The St. Andrews Pipes and Drums played for the annual Westie Walk  for the rescue society this week. A great cause and a lot of fun with about 400 dogs.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

On the couch

So I was stupid and picked up a heavy box of paper at work while trying to hold the door open with one foot, and I hurt my back. I'm more or less used to living with a constant, underlying pain, like a low grumble just out of earshot, but this was rather more than that. I spent most of the weekend lying down and taking muscle relaxants, went back to work Monday, and then made it through work on Tuesday until midday before having to go home and lie down again. I'm back at work today and will see how it goes.

Lying on the couch unable to do my usual routine made me ponder a few things.
  • If I don't walk the dogs, no one else will. This means I spent the weekend with Brio draped across my chest, staring me in the eyeball, while Maple wrapped himself around my feet with a resigned but martyred sigh.
  • My favourite thing on the planet really is reading, and luckily I can do this lying prone with my feet up. And luckily I have a lifetime supply of books in the house. Should I never walk again, I'm covered.
  • I really can't read without eating, or eat without reading. I bet if I stopped reading I'd lose weight.
  • As soon as I hear a neighbour start up his lawnmower, there is something in me that feels it has to jump up and mow the lawn too, even if it doesn't need it. How dare I lie here being lazy when there's work to be done? But there's a corollary to this:
  • The world doesn't end if you don't get the lawn mowed.
  • I like my living room. The walls are a textured gold, like Venetian plaster only matte, and when the morning sunlight comes in the window, the room glows. And I can make a shadow puppet of a panther.
And I suppose I must admit there's another point, too:
  • If I didn't have my job to drag me out of the house every day, I'd likely turn into a very contented but useless blob.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Where did the week go?

I posted on Monday, and lo, it is Friday, and nothing memorable has been accomplished (to paraphrase Thoreau). Seriously, when I was young, summer seemed to last forever, days stretched to infinity, and there was always time for everything. I spent great swaths of time playing on the swingset in the backyard, rollerskating with Janice Gill, and curling up with Tolkien and Jane Eyre. And there was still time in the evening left over to play with the kids in the cul-de-sac and watch endless episodes of "Gilligan's Island." Now it seems like the days zip by, summer is over before I can get ready for it, and the person in the mirror is looking more and more like my mom. (Which is a good thing, mind you, but still startling when I still feel about fifteen.)

I once took a class at the U of Toronto, and our wonderful professor died of a heart attack right in the middle of the semester. I remember being stunned---How could someone die in the middle of the school year? He was in the middle of writing a book. He hadn't given us our mid-term exam yet. We were just about to discuss Isaiah, the best part of the Bible! After all, that was the whole reason I'd signed up for the course--because I'd heard he was an excellent scholar on Isaiah. Now I'd never know what he could have taught me.

Somehow (stupid as it sounds) I had just assumed that death would come when you were sort of geared up for it. During school break. After the paperwork was done. Once all the ducks were lined up obediently in a row. When the kids were grown and independent. It started me thinking about all the half-finished projects I have crammed in my closet and basement that someone would have to clean out when I keeled over mid-stride. What was I leaving behind? More importantly, what was I spending my time doing?

These thoughts could make you refrain from starting any big project. Not plant the garden. Not get a mortgage. Not start a journal (What if I don't have time to burn it before I die?) Or they could have the opposite effect and make you jump into a fever of activity, trying to squeeze all the happiness and accomplishment out of life that you can while you can. I'd rather they make me seek a middle road: calmly carrying out the activities at hand, but paying more attention to the journey and getting less hung up on the destination. That destination isn't guaranteed, and even if it were, the only way to reach it is present moment by present moment. When it's my turn to leave behind the half-written book and the astonished students, I want to be at peace with the future, content with the present, and satisfied with the past.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Adventures of Son Number Three

My son went to Fan Expo this week in Toronto. This is a four-day event spread over the entire Metro Convention Centre, where there are vendors and displays and activities geared around video gaming, animé, comics, sci fi, etc. He had a blast. He reported each night on the excitement of that day. He got to meet Elijah Wood and Jon Heder, Stan Lee (inventor of Spiderman), the cast of Murdoch's Mysteries, two of the actors from The Walking Dead (whom he deflated somewhat by informing them he'd never watched the show), and he even got to chat with William Shatner. He also got to play Pokémon on his DS with the person who does the voice of Ash (lead Pokémon character), which was a thrill. He met a bunch of new friends, including some other LDS kids from New York, played hours of Magic cards, and got a job of sorts helping with the development and promotion of Terraforge's new card game. So all in all a successful week.

He reported also that on the long, boring bus ride home last night, there were only about five people on the bus and the ride was interminable. After a while his friend Zack started quietly singing "Bad Apples," and Gryffin joined in. And then the lady across the aisle started singing with them. And before the end of the ride, the entire bus was belting out "Bohemian Rhapsody." (Apparently Zack can hit that high note.) Only in Toronto!

Labour Day and Elizabeth Gaskell

I think it's funny that we commemorate Labour Day by resting from our labours. It has become a day for back-to-school sales and picnics and closing up the cottage. But I delved further into its actual roots by reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. It was dense reading, but it gave me a better understanding of the impact of the formation of unions, and a new appreciation for the relative ease of my job and fairness of my work environment. Not to mention indoor plumbing and inoculations and all those other perks that come with having been clever enough to have been born in the 20th century.

One aspect of the book that was interesting to me was how an organization ostensibly formed to benefit the worker ultimately became a Master itself. The labourers founds themselves crushed by both their employers and the union. The theory was good but some of the initial attempts at unionization had their flaws. As I suppose all big enterprises can. Human personality sabotaged some of the otherwise hopeful efforts. Nothing great can be gained without some errors being made along the way. The question is, can the greater good justify the harm done to individuals who get caught in the path of progress? And has unionization today proven worth it? I suspect the responses to that question would be a mixed bag. I've had limited experience with it myself, but the one time I had to turn to my union representative for assistance proved to be useless. Ah well, the theory remains good.