Thursday, December 29, 2011

good riddance, 2011

It's one of those days. A day when I woke up with something nagging at the back of my mind. Not a thought so much as the shadow of one ... sneaky ... hidey ... furtive. I'm just sitting, and reading, and online-ing and pondering. And trying oh so hard to get that sneaky darkness out where it belongs - in the light of day where I can sort it through.

And then it occurred to me that 2011 is ending, and as happy as I am to see it over, it's now the new 'known' whereas 2012 is the new unknown. There was some great stuff this year - okay, really just STG, but that's a good one - but in general, this year was terrifying, disappointing, nerve-wracking and exhausting.

I didn't know at this time last year how shattering the year was going to start off. I didn't know that I'd be faced with circumstances I could never even imagine how to survive. But now I've survived them. There are still times I get inexplicably anxious, and I still wake up in the middle of the night with my heart in my throat, but those episodes are getting less frequent, and I'm constantly learning how to manage them, to stop the train, and break apart the fear. 

BB1 has commented on it - last week he said it'll be good to have this year over, and hopefully 2012 turns it around for us all. The truth is, if you look at our daily lives, we all seem to have recovered and be moving forward. My relationship is strong. I'm doing better at work. BB2 is kicking butt in his job and making a real life for himself. BB1 is putting foundations in place to really move his life forward.


I started writing this two days ago, but couldn't quite circle things around to the light enough to know where I was going. Today as I tidy my house and prepare to head off for a quiet, intimate afternoon and evening with STG, reflecting on what we've gone through together and what we're planning for next year, it struck me. Yes there is still some fear, but underneath that I'm furious. I'm furious at the people who brought such fear and mayhem and threat into my life. And I'm even more furious at the people who should have stood by us who disappeared. I'm furious that STG had to stand in the gap when he barely knew us because he could see other people weren't stepping up. I'm furious that those same people haven't bothered to ask how we're doing, and instead have averted their eyes.

To those people I say, "We're doing fucking brilliant, no thanks to you. We have everything to look forward to, and much to be grateful for. Wish we could count you in that list. Thanks for the lesson in not having expectations of people - I won't make that mistake again ... at least not with you."

2012 is going to be awesome ... and I will let go of the anger before midnight tonight. I just thought, just this once, I'd let it out in the light of day. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

the book of negroes: review

NOTE - this review has been sitting in drafts for a month ... some of my impressions may be slightly dulled. 

For some reason before I started reading this book, I thought it was non-fiction. Of course it would be ridiculous to have a first-person narrative from years surrounding the American Revolution only pop onto the literary scene in the last few years, but still ... I thought it was a research construction of a story. So it took me a bit to get into the very traditional novel structure The Book of Negroes, by Lawrence Hill.

Hill's writing is lovely. There's a reason this book was such a huge hit when it was published in 2007 and continues to garner its share of attention. But it's a little too lovely - I'm reminded of an old trapper, Tom,  who was a neighbour near our farm when I was a kid. He came for dinner one evening, and at some point started leafing through a new Robert Bateman coffee table book my parents had recently purchased. Eventually Tom said 'these are beautiful pictures, but there's no reality - a hawk should have blood on its talons and beak, a hare should be missing a piece of ear."

View on Amazon
Throughout the story of Aminata Diallo's movements from Africa to America, back to Africa, and finally to England horrible terrible events occur in Aminata's life, but Hill consistently sanitizes these events. It's a weakness. I'm not a fan of senseless gore, but I do believe that if you are out to portray the absolute worst that humanity does to one another, it's cowardly to then remove the stench, the mess, and the cacophony that accompanies it. It's hard to say much more without giving some spoilers, and if you haven't read the book yet, I really don't want to spoil any of what happens - it's not the events that are missing, it's the details that pull you fully into them. 

The plot of Aminata's story is much stronger. I'm not normally a plot girl - I'm much more interested in characters and mood - but in this case the plot has such strong movement that it kept me engaged despite a weakness in the writing. The variety of settings, and the accompanying new characters introduced at each setting, weave a moving story. 

Like so much of the book, the ending is tied up a little too neatly and explained too quickly. When it comes right down to it, The Book of Negroes lacked believability. I'm pretty practiced with the whole suspension-of-disbelief thing, but when I'm repeatedly having to convince myself that things could work out the way they do in this story, it pulls me out of the world Hill has created. 

The Book of Negroes is a rich, powerful book set in the very early days of slavery in America, a time that we read less about than the period closer to the American Civil War. As a 2008 Commonwealth Writer's Prize Best Book, it's clearly worth a read. But after having waited 4 years to read it, I can honestly say I was a bit disappointed. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

good luck, future self

To abstain from the enjoyment which is in our power, or to seek distant rather than immediate results, are among the most painful exertions of the human will.
~ NW Senior, 1836 ~

As I lay here on my couch, in my pyjamas at 3:30 pm, pondering this quote from a TED Talk I just viewed, a part of my brain is engaged in trying to remember which treats from Christmas remain in my fridge. A nice fat mint Nanaimo bar? A shortbread cookie maybe? 

I started a healing diet a week before Christmas to correct a few health issues I've been dealing with. After the first few days of detox (quitting sugar AND caffeine cold turkey was a shock to my system) I felt great. And, I had made an agreement with myself and my health professional that I'd take a break over Christmas and tack those few days on to the end of the 4 week program. At first I thought the break would last from when we arrived at my parents' house around mid-day on Christmas Eve until we left again Boxing Day morning. But as I packed the baking on the morning of Christmas Eve morning, I started pinching a treat or two here or there. 

On arriving home yesterday, so much food came back with me that I thought I'd at least do whole days - all day Christmas Eve to all day Boxing Day. But I woke up this morning and hadn't had a left-over turkey sandwich yet, so I had that ... and some shortbread cookies ... for breakfast. And on and on. My slide down this slippery slope is gaining speed. I'm having dinner with Mrs. Lady tonight, and she's adjourned her no-sugar plan until the 30th, so there's one more pebble in the balance on the side of 'it wouldn't kill me to take the whole week' scale. It probably won't kill me, but it also won't make me feel better ... like the clean eating so quickly did. So this is the last day ... and apparently I'm going to eat as much of the offending food in the house as I possibly can.  

This deferred gratification idea is a pretty constant theme around here lately, with food being just one of the issues. STG and I talked the other day about setting aside some time this week while we're both off work to plan our 2012 - and in particular to plan one domestic roadtrip and one beachy exotic trip and how we'll finance them. Any amount of time spent with my parents hearing stories of their travels will energize anyone's travel bug, and by the time we left them yesterday we were both bursting with images of hammocks and surf and 'real' Mexican food ... and I'm excited to put these plans into place. And also to develop plans to improve our fitness so our travels include physical adventures - biking, surfing, snorkeling, exploring land and see. And those slightly less fun plans to save so we aren't going into deeper debt to get there. And the best plans of all  - to build more shared memories together.

And yet, there's a part of me that thinks 'why bother?" - why give up coffee & sugar & re-lose the weight I've lost a dozen times. Why skip dinners out and movies and pile that money into a plane ticket? Why deny what I want right now and make plans for down the road and get my hopes up?

As Daniel Goldstein in the TED Talk says, "we might neglect our future self because of some failure of imagination or belief," moreover, the "future" self is weak - it is merely an imagining of what might happen, whereas the mint Nanaimo bar in my fridge is a very present reality. For some reason, imaginations and beliefs, in my experience, tend to be against fulfilling on my dreams. It's hard for me to have faith in the future - faith that a year from now STG and I will still be together and boarding a plane to some place beachy and warm. Faith that if I start taking care of my body I'll continue to do so once it feels good again. Faith that any current sacrifice is really an investment in an even better future. It seems like so many times, when I've relaxed and enjoyed the present moment the train has derailed.

But, as I said to STG about something the other day, 'the past is no prediction of the future.' It now occurs to me, however, that what may be a better predictor of the future is to take the steps necessary 

Friday, December 23, 2011


The original 'Beat' stockings - lined
up by the dozen
Stockings were big in my family. I don't mean size-wise - by today's standards, Grandpa's dress socks & even Dad's wool work socks were quite small. I mean, they were exciting, surprising hosiery of joy that we got to open en masse with our cousins and see what we all had in common, and what - if anything - differed. At our big family Christmases, of which there were many, the parents (I'm guessing mostly the aunties) and Grandpa all contributed to the stockings. With upwards of a dozen stockings to fill, the items were simple and the work was shared - free note pads handed out by Grandpa's bank. A wrapped sugar cookie. A candy cane. A mandarin orange in the toe. These were the bits you anticipated. But there was always so much more - candy, lip gloss, a cow-string toy that danced when you pushed up on the bottom, a crying lamb noise maker. Each token was a treasure to ooh and aah over. I got great presents - some truly memorable presents, but each year it was the stocking I couldn't wait to get into.  

remember that cotton
doesn't stretch.
When making stockings ...
I still have that fascination. Adults didn't get stockings when I was a kid, but for some reason now we all do. I think, maybe I contributed to that change - at least in our family. As a teenager with only a minimal part-time job and needing to save for our trip to Africa, I told mom that instead of buying presents for my sisters (then 17 & 19) I wanted to make & fill their stockings. We'd never had actual 'stockings' - we had socks - so even that was a shift. Little did I know that filling stockings, even then, was more expensive than whatever I would have bought my sisters - more expensive, but also so much more fun. I bought the smallest possible amount of contracting fabric from our local one-stop department store in Christmas red and Christmas green. Each paycheque in November & December I'd head back to the department store, or to the drug store and buy a few more treasures to squirrel away - wee stuffed animals, gloves, candy and makeup. A candy cane shaped tube of Bonne Bell lip gloss? Oh, hello 1984! - everything a teenage girl imagines her big sisters want. Those cheap cotton calico stockings didn't last long, but I took pride in seeing them hanging on our rock fireplace while they lasted. 

 It was a few years (okay, only 5) before I got to fill stockings again. Someone has said there are three stages to Christmas - we believe in Santa, we don't believe in Santa, we are Santa. And soon enough I was Santa and filling a stocking for my BBs. I don't remember what we used the first few years for BB1, but I remember sitting up stitching until I wanted to cry for BB2's first Christmas, putting the finishing touches on their cross-stitch stockings sometime around 2 am. Somehow BB1's never did get ribbon trim - I think I liked it better plain. I got better at making stockings, and better at filling them. 

That first year the cross-stitch and calico stockings were woefully inadequate, resting on top of stocking-stuffer filled grocery bags, and I was strongly encouraged by my sisters-in-law to enlarge them. There have been years when the now 'pockets' were removed from the bigger, stretchy fleece stockings - years when I was the lone Santa and couldn't quite manage the whole package. They only finally got hanging ribbon on them a few years back when I bought stocking hangers (when did those become a thing, by the way?). 

These two stockings are my favourite Christmas things. If I'd had a daughter, I might have made her a white dress with a blue satin sash. But I have boys - boisterous, adventurous, intelligent, loving sons who make my heart want to burst, in so many ways. These squishy, soft, impossibly time-staking gifts acknowledge that love each year. These are what I'd want to save if my apartment building burned down. Yes, I enjoy the shopping - I love picking out the things they expect (a mandarin, a sugar cookie, a candy cane, their special ornaments). I love finding new surprises for them each year. And I love the growing distance in them as the BBs become more and more independent men. I love stacking up the stuffers a few days in advance, making sure the piles are 'separate but equal.' 

This year I'm filling six adults stockings. It's my first Christmas with STG, and I'm thrilled to have a separate pile of stuffers for him - his own separate but equal pile of love. I wanted to make him his own stocking, but haven't quite yet found the time. I have piles for my parents - always a challenge and a reward, and another new pile this year for BB2s sweetie. It's been fun building the piles - I almost need a Venn diagram of what works for who - 2 females, 4 males, 3 'children', 2 parents, 1 STG. I sometimes think I'd be happy to do away with gifts and just give stockings to each other, though I know I'm full of hooey. 

Christmas for me is about many things - Christ, family, love, food, gifts. All of it. And for some reason, it all seems captured in this funny tradition of tubes of fabric filled with hope and joy and love. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

thank you for being a friend

  • Don't make someone a priority when they only make you an option
  • Respect people who make time for you in their busy schedule, but cherish the people who never look at their schedule when you need them
  • If someone wants you in their life, they’ll make room for you - you shouldn't have to fight for a spot
  • Never, ever insist yourself to someone who continuously overlooks your worth
  • It’s not the people that stand by your side when you’re at your best, but the ones who stand beside you when you’re at your worst that are your true friends
Over and over and over again I've come across these messages in the last few months. And their frequency is increasing. When I first started noticing these messages, I read them in the negative, full of judgement about the people I had thought I could count on but who, it seemed, evaporated when I most needed them. But now, as the chorus builds and I reflect on this year - one of the most emotionally draining that I've experienced in 43 years of living - I see not so much the empty spaces of people who haven't been there, but the amazing giants who've held me up on their shoulders. 

I barely knew the UberCoach a year ago, and only really got to see who she is for the first time when she helped me move in May of 2010. This year she has held up a very gentle mirror for me, she has helped me get away when I needed quiet, reminded me to laugh, and most of all encouraged me to take care of myself. UberCoach is absolutely one of my dearest friends now - we still don't have a lot of history, but what we do have is damn fine. How could it not be? It includes lavender margaritas, and weekends away, and the commiserating of frustrated, hopeful, endlessly loving mother hearts. With a little touch of Princess/Drama Queen now and then. 

Diva Moe and I go way back, but in a peripheral sort of way until 5 years ago. This year she's been my strong tower ... and the one to say 'enough is enough, get up, put some clean clothes on, do your dishes, it's time.' Diva Moe moves through her own heartache yet maintains an amazing and inspiring ability to put it aside when she sees other people who are hurting. She never resorts to one-up-manship (and she certainly has the right), but has seemingly endless reserves of generosity and compassion. 
Although my beloved Shiney and I live hours and hours apart, we still after all these years have a heart connection that has her be the one to call me as I fall in my door in tears, or that has me call her as she waits an hour for her bus. Shiney is the very epitome of friend - she loves me deep and long and wide and there seems to be no room in her for judging me. Shiney can make me laugh or cry in about three words, and there is nothing in this world I want more than tea and cookies and a night on the couch with her. 

I can shame-facedly admit that I was one of those girls who didn't always appreciate her Mother. I didn't understand women who said their moms were their best friend - in fact, I didn't just not understand it, I thought it was weird. And then came the time when I had to get real with my mom and tell her what was going on, and suddenly I saw what so many people have known about her for so long - she's strong (I knew that) but also so committed to her family, able - through her faith - to handle hurt and fear and worry. And to use that faith as well to guard the family she loves so much. I've been more honest with my mom this year than ever before, and I'm only now realising what my reticence and pride have cost me until now. 

And then there's STG. I don't have words. I'm told the human spirit can survive nearly infinite stress and pain, but I honestly don't know how I would have survived this year without the broad shoulders and broader smile of STG. The first earthquake shook my world on the night we met - our entire relationship was formed alongside unbelievable stress, and he has never uttered one word of complaint or 'drama fatigue.' He has believed in me and loved me and been the light beside me through a pretty long tunnel. I am so excited to start next year with him and see what our love looks like in better lighting. 

I'm incredibly grateful. This already long note could in fact be much longer. My life is full of love and friendship and support. Some of the changes to my dance card are not ones I would have chosen, but I wouldn't trade the results for all the coffee in Starbucks. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

late bloomer

A few months ago I showed STG some pictures from when I was a teenager. He'd shown me his teenage photos - the charming, handsome, smiling young STG a clear promise of the handsome smiling man he is today, and I thought I'd share in return. He was gentle, and quiet, and slightly, I think, confused. He finally said, "don't take this the wrong way, but you are so much more beautiful now." 

I couldn't take that any wrong way - he's totally right. I look at pictures of myself from when I was 14-19 and barely recognize myself. Or, perhaps more accurately, I look at pictures of myself more recently and don't recognized the pretty, confident face I see. 

I'm sure it's a fairly universal experience, but I was an awkward looking teenager. My hair was a mess no hairdresser seemed to understand - at puberty it turned into a muddy dark blonde with no real shape, too stubborn to be straight and too heavy to curl. My nose, particularly in my high school grad photos, was big in a way that changed how I saw it for a long long time (I was in a snow tubing crash the week before we had our grad photos taken ... my black eye had faded, but my nose was still swollen). I have high cheekbones now that for some reason hid then. Although my grandma had first offered to pluck my eyebrows for me when I was 13, I hadn't managed to tame them - they were dark, and thick, and constantly threatening to meet in the middle.

My tall, chubby, curveless body was hard to find flattering clothing for in the remote small town we lived in - and even when we went to the city to shop, I often ended up with clothes beyond my years in order to get the length I needed. Those long awaited curves really didn't show up until I had pregancy hormones. 
I could go on. I didn't know I was unattractive then - and to be fair to teen-age me 'unattractive' may be an over-statement. But it's very safe to say that in the looks department, I was a late-bloomer. And I'm not even saying I'm a stunning orchid now, but whatever I am showed up later than expected.

We act like it's not a big deal. We like to think that looks are superficial and shallow and not a determination of who someone is. But when you are a bookish, out-spoken, borderline unattractive teenager in a small town who never gets asked on a date, there are deeper implications. You learn to give extra weight to physical compliments, and to seek them out. Your objective reality - 'I'm pretty' - and your experienced reality - 'I'm invisible, at best' - constantly battle for years after. The strengths you've always relied on - intelligence, compassion, creativity, charm - never quite measure up in comparison - they are the consolation prize for not being 'the pretty one.' 
I see pictures of myself now - bright eyed, broad smiled, curly haired, curvy - and I wonder ... how would I be different as a woman if I'd seen that in myself at 16. Or if others had seen it in me then. Or if we really did live in a world where it didn't matter. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

silent night ... any time of day

I read this devotional at our management team meeting today (only slightly modified from this original). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:

A Christmas Devotional - Silent Night

It happens every Christmas. Hustling, bustling, shopping, traveling, cooking. Parties, banquets, Santa Claus, pageants, decorations, trees, lights, clothes. We get caught up in the season of Christmas, stressed about making arrangements to see and please everyone, pressured to balance an already busy schedule with unlimited amounts of additional activities, pushed to attend, give, join, gather and perform.

But it happens every Christmas. We are busily tending to our own flock, when out nowhere, the calm and peace and tranquility of Christmas comes. We are never prepared for it. We are always stunned. And amazed. And we experience the awe of the nativity, an event we never witnessed, but of which we somehow have mysterious first-hand knowledge. The Grinch did. Scrooge did. The shepherds did. Each year it happens to us as well.

Silent night, holy night,
all is calm, all is bright
round yon virgin
mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
sleep in heavenly peace.

It happens every Christmas, and it is frequently this hymn that catches us off guard – though it may be another one, Let There Be Peace On Earth, for example. We vividly see and experience the serene relief of a world with a newly-born savior.

Then we are transported to the nearby hillside, where shepherds busily tended their sheep, completely unaware that they had been chosen to receive the best news ever heard. We join them, trembling, no quaking, with fear. And above them, the sky is laid open with what can only be described as glory.

Glories stream from heaven afar,
heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born.

And this we can’t imagine or experience first-hand. Neither Bach nor Mozart ever composed music that remotely compared to the songs the angels sang that night. The total, absolute majesty that only heaven could produce, suitable for the greatest tidings from a glorious God to his lonely creation. We know it is unfathomable, and reserved only for the time when we enter his glory.

But we can see the glory in our Lord and Savior. He is our window, our path to our heavenly home. Even as a baby…

Son of God, love's pure light;
radiant beams from thy holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

Every year we experience it – in a baby’s peaceful sleep. In the lull of Christmas Eve with the lights on and the family in bed. In the quiet moments sitting with a client. It may be fleeting, but we all experience. The true gift of Christmas – awe, wrapped in peace, and laying in a manger.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Today's Red Dress Club prompt is a one-word speed write (a.ka. flash memoir) on the word "Crash" ten minutes ... here goes:

Crumpling metal. Squealing tires. Shattering glass. Screaming girls. A heart-felt 'I told you so' from the driver of the cars we'd so recently passed on that twisting mountain road. I remember most one bystander with a parrot on his shoulder, and streams of guano down his back. Who are you to tell us how to do better, bird-shit man?

I didn't know then that car crash would also be the end of our friendship. As the glacier-fed river trickled past. As my friend was released from the drivers' side of the car. As I was helped into a stopped RV and offered a stiff drink to calm my nerves, the rage built. Every shaking nerve in my body wanted to scream 'YOU TRIED TO KILL ME!'

I knew it was crazy. That really she was just young and reckless and inexperienced. That two 18 year old girls on a shopping spree weekend were very likely candidates for a single-car accident. That she'd been pushing the limits of her vehicle the whole way. That she was the one now injured, whereas I was merely shaken up. And in that moment, I hated her.

Crisp mountain air spiced with pine slowly re-filled my lungs. I breathed deeply and once again I swallowed my rage. I told someone my dad worked just up the highway another 20 miles, and they went to let him know what happened.

But I couldn't look at her. And I resented the attention and sympathy she got as she crutched her way up and down the hallways for the rest of the school year, and across the graduation stage three weeks later.

It's been 26 years ... and I'm still a bad passenger on mountain roads.

Monday, December 5, 2011

the gift of advent is peace

I woke up yesterday with a knot of dread in my stomach - I knew it was the second Sunday of advent and that I'd need to write this post about peace. I did not feel peace. I felt fatigue, stress, concern, some annoyance, and a little fear. Anything but peace.

So I went about my morning aware of all that. I cleaned, and I sewed, and I thought about Peace, as I do at this and not a lot of other times of year. I considered what peace means - in general, and to me. I consider myself a pacifist, but hardly ever really experience deep, secure peace. Peace is more than the absence of war, but what more?

I thought about the knot in my stomach that has recently developed into a weeks-long ache. I thought about poor STG daring to occasionally suggest that I relax, and about how when I hear it as 'be at peace' it's probably closer to what he intends and to what I need to hear.

And suddenly, it was okay - being 'at peace,' I realised, is a choice and a mind set and has nothing to do with circumstances. That when someone wishes someone 'be at peace' it's a challenge and an invitation and ultimately a blessing.

And so I share, once again, my most fervent Christmas prayer - "let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me"

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