Saturday, March 31, 2012

the little things

Cut tulips in a stemware glass. Chocolates in a crystal bowl. A hand-written welcome note in a lovely card. Soothing natural shades on a well-dressed bed. It doesn't necessarily take grandeur to create a heavenly home-away from home, but after a day of travel - car, boat, bus, rapid transit - and several hours of meandering in the wrong shoes, I can't think of anywhere I'd rather land than where I am right now - in a rented room with the most gracious of hosts, and his imposing-if-only-he-didn't-think-he-was-a-kitten bull mastiff. 

I'm in Vancouver for what promises to be a very intense few days of international conferencing - networking, learning, and *fingers crossed* a little fun. I found the place I'm staying via a site called Air BNB that STG and I have been using to plan our summer holiday. The ad looked wonderful, but you really can't tell. 

Click Hugo to see more photos
Only, this time the reality is even better than the promise. 

Vancouver is a city that hasn't treated its history well. Too many jewels have been destroyed to make way for condo after condo after monster house. And yet here sits this 1906 suite of flats. Hard wood and penny tiles and baseboards to your shin bone and clawfoot tubs and all. It's not modern. It's not spa-like. It's ... Alice in Wonderland, and Jane Eyre and comfort and style and charm. It's a library, and an art gallery and a home. 

And I'm going to log off now so I can snuggle down in my cozy comfy bed and read until my eyes won't read any more.  And I will drift to sleep grateful for great conversation, for more books than I could dream, for fresh flowers in wee vases, for dogs that make me feel petite, for high quality chocolate, and for a respite and retreat in the midst of a mad mad city. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

fingers crossed, for 23 + reasons

So, STG are in the process of creating our first home together, and here in stream-of-consciousness order are 23 things I'm excited about - and although it's not official official yet, some of this is very much based on the house we're crossing our fingers & toes to lease:
  1. No more creeper landlord and his girlfriend hanging out on their balcony watching everyone who comes in and out of the building
  2. No more $8/load laundry and/or hauling laundry to SC2 or STG as needed
  3. No more coming home to a hallway that reeks of bad weed and worse incense
  4. No more hearing the drunks waiting for the elevator outside my door every weekend night
  5. No more stepping over cigarette butts and gobs of spit in the entry way 
  6. No more living in a fish bowl that looks straight out onto a main arterial *actually, the house we're most interested in is on a main arterial, but set back from the road by a lovely treed yard, and above street level
  7. No more compromising on whose house to stay at - the one with no roommate, or the one with the better bed
  8. ALWAYS getting to sleep in the better bed
  9. Having a yard
  10. Having a vegetable garden
  11. Having flower beds
  12. Having a front stoop to sit on in the summer
  13. Having a back patio for BBQs and reading in the sun
  14. Having a dish washer for the first time since 1998
  15. Saving a couple hundred dollars a month on housing costs 
  16. Putting those saving into a travel fund
  17. Roasting marshmallows in our wood-burning fireplace
  18. Sitting in the living room writing while listening to STG play with the bikes downstairs
  19. Being across the road from a regional bike trail
  20. Having a spacious, bright, sunny kitchen
  21. Having room for friends - dirty bikers and otherwise - to drop by, BBQ, and tell stories
  22. Having the life I pictured when I moved to Victoria 
  23. And most of all, even if the fireplace and the sunny kitchen don't happen, getting to share it all with STG
Scintilla Prompt (I have some Scintilla catching up to do)

  • Write a list of 23

Thursday, March 22, 2012

she likes to get down, she likes to boogie

I'm a mom, so I understand that we have, as people, a tendency not to see our moms as independent people with their own lives. I know my sons don't see me for who I am. And I know that I generally see my mom in relation to who she is for me. 

She was the enforcer in our household. She was the all-knowing secretary at my high school. She was the book keeper for our church. She was always staunchly my mom. But there's a time when she becomes a whole different person - her full self - and I love every glimpse of it. 

My mom is a fantastic dancer. I've always known she liked to dance, she used to tell my sisters and I stories about sneaking out to school dances her parents wouldn't allow her to attend. But I never actually saw her dance until I was in my 30's. We are not a family that, when I was younger, had dances at our weddings. And where else would a little girl see her mom flutter across the floor? 

Gladly, that has all changed. And last year at my beautiful cousin's wedding, my mom transformed to the beat of pop music from Mom/Grandma to Patsy May - dancing, smiling, light hearted and light footed. 

She may kill me for posting this picture. But it makes me smile every time I see it. 
PS - Don't call her Patsy May ... only her baby brother and my dad get away with that. 
Scintilla Prompt Day ??
Talk about a time when you saw your mother or father as a person independent of his or her identity as your parent.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

just gotta have faith

Organ crescendo.
Thump thump thump.
Ba dum dum.
Thump thump thump.

And with that I was out of my seat. Hands squeezing my face. Squeals any 16 year old would be proud of emanating in a long string from my face. Shaking from flat-ironed hair  to my 3 inch high wedges.

Some how I managed to but my overwhelm into words, screaming at a very bemused Dutchman "OH MY GOD IT'S GEORGE MICHAEL!!!" More squeal. More shaking. A quick glance around a stadium full of squeeling, shaking 40 ish women and, mostly, gay men.

He laughed back at me "I know, it says on the tickets."


Bemused snicker - "You should try."

I sat down. Using approximately 1/10th of that hard plastic seat. Jumping up again to dance for most of the concert.

I was 40. Dressed to the nines. Hair did. Excited. It was my first REAL concert, and it was one I'd waited for since I was 16.

He couldn't have chosen a better opening song.

Faith. You gotta have faith.

When you grow up in a family with 2 ordained minister grandparents. Three uncles who are pastors and/or missionaries. When you grow up going to church twice on Sunday, on Friday for youth group, home Bible studies on Wednesday, this might seem like an odd response to a prompt about faith. 

But, when you grew up in the 80's listening to Wham. When you came of age in the 90's listening to George Michael. When one of your favourite memories is that 2-hours-without-intermission concert. When music has been your solace and companion and anti-depressant. This is what you think of when you hear the word "Faith"

Organ crescendo.
Thump thump thump.
Ba dum dum.
Thump thump thump.

Scintilla Prompt 7

Talk about an experience with faith, your own or someone else's.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

nailed it

I have never really told anyone about this. But then last week my fellow-blogger friend C outed herself on her blog, and, well, I realised that I've been aching to get this off my chest for 30 years. 

Nails are meant to be pink. The pinker the better.
It was ridiculous. Completely unwearable - not only because it was hideous, but because of how I'd acquired it.  

Frosted white nail polish. Hideous. Even by 1985 standards. I didn't even want it. I frequently wore nail polish, but only in the shades between petal pink and bubblegum. 

I really didn't see the point of white nail polish. Not even nude. It was just an ugly pearl white. It would have been matronly if it wasn't so insipid. 

I'd like to say I don't know why I did it, but I  know it was the only time I ever truly succumbed to peer pressure. It was a risk in a town where EVERYONE knew The Mum, where everyone knew I was a good church-going God-fearing girl. In a drug store where every teenager was a suspect to be followed, and not all that surreptitiously. 

But the girl who'd been my best friend was swiftly becoming best friends with the cool, clever, edgy new girl, who somehow managed to get good grades while being totally devoid of a moral compass. 

They said it was fun to shoplift. It wasn't. I thought it would fix our friendship. It didn't. 

Somehow we didn't get caught. Somehow I held onto that ugly, unwearable nail polish for years. Somehow a few years later I couldn't imagine why trying to cling to friends who didn't want me mattered so much that I'd abandon my own integrity. 

I got away with it. It wasn't worth it. 
Scintilla Prompt 6:
Talk about a time when you got away with it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

leaving the shared queendom

It was sometimes a bone of contention, more for Freckles than for me, I think, that we shared a room until we were 12 & 14, but that DJ had a room of her own from the time she was 7. Privilege of the oldest child, we were told. 

To be honest, I mostly didn't mind. 

In our first shared room, there was enough space to re-arrange our bunk beds now and then - stacked at the end of the room, or on the side wall opposite the window - though that was never my favourite, as the car lights reminded me of the ghosts that haunted my horrific nightmares. Sometimes, for a little while, we'd unstack the bunk beds and make one giant bed, or two parallel worlds on either side of the room when  Freckles needed 'her own space.' But then there was always the issue of door access and getting to the closet and the shared dresser. No division was ever quite right, and soon the beds would be stacked again.

We'd whisper and giggle. Sometimes she'd tell me to shut up so she could sleep. I found great comfort in having my big sister and friend so near. The nights were always so scary for me if I was alone. 

Freckles suffered a concussion when she was only 8, serious enough that forever after I got something I'd long dreamed of - the top bunk. The superior position. No longer could she hang her head down, her mouth stuffed with half chewed saltines that she kept stored in the bookshelf headboard, getting me every time with "Hey Shan, look." I still fell for it when she was on the bottom bunk though. 

So reminiscent of that floral dresser top
When we moved to the farm, our room was so much smaller. There was only one option for the beds - stacked against the end wall. There was less room to play as well. The cheerful 70's style blue floral mactac that covered the top of our dresser - 70's style because it had been installed in the 70's - had started to peel, and you could rub the glue off under the vinyl, rub it into wee rubber balls and flick them at each other. The balls looked like brown boogers, and we giggled hysterically. The blue matched our comforters, the matching afghans Grandma had crocheted us. So much blue. 

Our farm room had a tiny, high window, and it was only from the vantage of my top bunk that you could really sit and look out, staring across the outbuildings to the river at our property's edge. Wondering what was over those mountains, and when I'd get to see it. My dream, the dream that always pulled me forward even in those early days, was to go far and never come back. 

There was no trauma in that house. Nothing lacking. No abuse. But all I wanted was to go far far away. In those days, I'd stare out the window and imagine New York City. It was actually more than a dream - it was a knowing that someday I'd find my way there, and to other 'not this' places. In 1999 when I finally did visit the Big Apple, I remembered that dreaming farm girl and thought how proud and excited she'd be to be there, and I was. 

I've never gotten over how sharing that room ended. One day, after hushed conversations that DJ & I weren't privy to, our parents announced that Freckles was going to live with our aunt and uncle in a REAL city where she'd have a chance to do things differently for a year or so. She wasn't a bad child - none of us were - but they were worried and this was an opportunity for her. 

I was indignant, confused, and scared. I was the one who did well in school - why was she getting the reward of getting out of that dumpy dead-end town? And, why was I losing my life-long companion without even any say in the matter? But it was clear this wasn't easy for them either, and that there wouldn't be any conversation. They drove her to Edmonton. And I was alone in the nights. 

We moved into town the month Freckles left. I had my own room, though still in the now-separate bunk beds. The other half waited for Freckles in the basement, for when she'd come home on holidays and for good after two years away. But no bedroom was ever the same - and nor was my friendship with my sister. No bedroom really mattered. It was just a place to sleep now. Those earlier rooms had been shared queendoms. And now we were separate. 
Scintilla Prompt Day 4+ Bonus 
I missed the Sunday weekend bonus, so am combining two today: 

What is one massively impossible dream you've always had? +  
Talk about your childhood bedroom. Did you share? Slam the door? Let someone in you shouldn't have? Where did you hide things?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

the necessities

I was going and I wasn't EVER coming back! I'd taken the abuse, the negligence, and the total lack of consideration for the last time. Conveniently, Shiney felt the same way. Best friends and kindred spirits through thick and thin, she was a party to the great injustice being doled out left, right and centre in our lives.

I packed my suitcase with all the necessities - the Barbie with articulated knees, and couple changes of clothes for her, maybe a sweater for myself. My favourite book. The afghan grandma had crocheted me. That bright, floral, cardboard valise was bursting with all the hopes, desires, and necessities of life.

My mother, enemy of the day that she was, packed some sort of a lunch. Likely a peanut butter and jam sandwich, maybe some GORP. A container of milk. A piece of fruit. Clearly she knew she was wrong and was trying to make it right. No doubt Shiney's mom had made cookies. But this wasn't going to be enough ... we'd have to figure out what else we'd need ... maybe in the afternoon.

Shiney and I met somewhere in the distance between her house next door and my garage. We were off and NEVER coming back. We went out the chain link gate of the housing compound we lived in - we'd so seldom been allowed out there without at least an older sibling. We rounded the corner, passed the rabbit hutch, skirted the creek, and hid ourselves away in the thicket immediately behind our houses.

Those moms, with all their rules and hard-nosed approaches to life, would never find us. How could they, with their missing senses of adventure, possibly know that if you pushed past those sharp green shoots of willow you found a heavenly circle, blanketed with blue bells. Silent.

35ish years later, I still love running away with Shiney
We read, and played with our dolls, and giggled. We ate our lunches, drank our milk, sucked the nectar out of the blue bells and napped.

Eventually one or another of our mom's called our shared name, and we went home for dinner. It's amazing what an hour or so of freedom can do. And a hungry stomach.

Whenever I want to run away, which is actually fairly often of late, that's the sun-dappled day I want. In quiet and comfort, with the necessities of life and the most perfect of companions.
Scintilla Weekend Prompt:

Talk about a time when you left home

Friday, March 16, 2012

travelling by ear

The countryside rolls on and endlessly on. It is completely exotic, and shockingly bland. Mile after mile of beige fields. Mud huts. Flat roads. And, occasionally, the most vibrant, vivacious cadres of children in matching royal blue or kelly green or crimson red. A worker walks along the side of the road, his hoe slung over his shovel. 

I am wedged into the third seat of a Volvo wagon. Legs aching from lack of space and movement. Wondering how many times I've breathed this same air in the windowless back of this always too-warm car. The chatter of my parents, aunt and uncle just filter through the headphones of my (not a) WalkMan. Enough to know they are there, not enough to interfere with the music I am listening to. 

I am hot. I am uncomfortable. I am mesmerized by this flat, beige country flying past the window; amazed that I am there at all. 

It's an unusual connection, this aural, visual, temperate, muscle memory that floods me whenever I hear Bruce Springsteen's 'Glory Days'. The quintessential American song that transport this Canadian girl who'd brough only 3 cassettes in her carry-on luggage back to the plains of Zimbabwe. The tapes played on repeat as relentlessly as the sun beat, the flies buzzes, and the fields rolled on and on. 

We experienced stunning natural beauty at Victoria Falls, and the lasting legacy of human ingenuity and nobility at the Great Zimbabwe ruins. These memories too are special and vivid sparkling. 

But the unexpected visceral response that The Boss forever creates in me is that car, that endless road, and the amazement of my 17 year old self to be in Africa at all. 
Scintilla Prompt - Day 3:

1.Talk about a memory triggered by a particular song.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

still shining

Dear Sandra,

I always felt guilty when we joked about you being my Prince George/work mom, but all these years later yours was the first face I saw when asked to write a letter to my rescuer/mentor. 

I've been blessed with a lot of rescuers/mentors/teachers in my life. Parents who provided structure and guidance. Sisters who desperately wanted me to be less of a dork. School teachers who saw enough in me to pay attention. 

You, Sandra, are the person who reminded me to sparkle when all my sparkle was gone. That year after leaving my marriage, starting grad school, and finding myself single with two sons to support at the ripe old age of 30 was the worst hell I could imagine at the time (if only I'd known what was coming!). You watched and encouraged and hugged. You ran interference with our @sshole of a boss when necessary, and you scheduled my students so to minimise the number of idiots in my day. 

And you did so much more than that. Dinner. And listening. And telling me, as someone who had gone before, that the road would get easier. But what really stands out to me, more than a decade later, was one small thing you said when I thought no one had noticed. 

You sat down beside me, or maybe you stood with your hands on my shoulders so I couldn't look away, and you said "sweetie, you have to stop now. You've lost your sparkle." And we started making plans for how I could start living again. 

You pointed out that the boy who got tutoring from me probably didn't really NEED daily appointments, and that maybe if I smiled he'd get the nerve to ask me out. He did, and is to this day one of the most important people in my life. 

You reminded me to start taking care of myself. To have bubble baths. To go out with friends and leave the guilt behind. To create a future that would work for my sons and I rather than feeling guilt for the future I had denied them. 

It was a tough year. And now, looking back, with only the highlights visible in the distance of time, it was one of my favourite years. It was the year I learned to stand tall on my own. The year I learned the value of friendship. The year I learned that when I lose my sparkle, I'm the one who can find it again. And I learned that while mentors and teachers are a blessing, I don't really need rescuing. 

Thank you, Sandra. For warmth and humour and a good solid talking to. 
Scintilla day 2 prompt:

No one does it alone. Write a letter to your rescuer or mentor (be it a person, book, film, record, anything). Share the way they lit up your path.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

on containing multitudes

Sometimes people hit you with the big questions, and off you go down a rabbit hole. All day I've pondered this - who am I? 

Am I who I say I am? If I told you what I think of me, would that make it real? 

Or am I who you and the others around me say I am? Is the woman STG sees when he looks into my eyes any more or less real than the two-faced bitch someone else believes me to be? Am I determined by my status as a mom, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a lover or an employee? 

Am I my thoughts? My choices? My actions?  

If you look closely, you will see I have my mom's nose. My dad's blue eyes. The unfortunate downturned mouth that so often gets mistaken - on my grandmother and me - for upset. 

Some might think I'm a hard-worker, and others think I'm lazy. I'm fatter than I should be, but not as fat as I once was. I'm tall, though just tall enough to need 'tall' pants and then wonder if I should get them hemmed. 

the author at age 12
I am a girl who dreams and a woman of action. 

I'm a small town girl who thrives in the city. I love gardening and hate getting my hands dirty. 

We are all so many things - as my favourite American poet so convivially said "I am large; I contain multitudes." There are as many things I am as those that I am not. 

I am not a fan of country music/horror movies/televised sports/cruelty. 

I am celiac. I am healthy. 

I cannot help smiling when sunlight dances on the water, when the cherry trees blossom in spring, and when I hear my sons laughing. 

It's fun, now and then, to stop and consider who we are. I say, I am love and adventure. And, in general, that is what shows up in my life. 
This is my first response in the Scintilla Project, which I'll be participating in for the next 14 days: 

Day 1 - Prompt choices (either or both)
  1. Who are you?
  2. Life is a series of firsts. Talk about one of your most important firsts. What did you learn? Was it something you incorporated into your life as a result?

Monday, March 12, 2012

beginning again, again

“Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” John Acuff *

Oh, that damn middle. Soft and fluffy like OREO filling, but so much less yummy. OH wait - we aren't talking about MY middle ... it's my middle that I so often compare to others and am found wanting.

And so I begin again. Another plan. Another hope. Another attempt to train my body to be what it seldom has been - strong, lean, satisfying.

It's not that different from my writing. Or anything else I undertake. I start great guns. I study and gather intel and hope and plan. I leap in headfirst. Then I swim to the edge. Sit awhile. Find my towel. Wander off to a quiet corner to read.

There isn't 'a time' - there is a habit. Yet another mental habit that doesn't serve me. I can hardly be in a room and not rank myself against the others there - fatter than those 5, younger than those 2, more intelligent than him for sure. More talented than that other one by half.

It's tiresome, and only serves to keep me separate and disconnected.

Speaking of middles, whenever I think of mine, I also think of this happy song ... and at least that makes me smile, if my middle doesn't. ;-) Enjoy:

* Prompt from Write on Edge, RemembeRED meme:

At home, our writing is crisp and emotional and slightly witty.

At home, we have lost at least two of those last five pounds and can make it through a workout without gasping for air.

But when we look around, mentally judging ourselves against better writers, faster runners, and people better at us at our passions, it can be difficult to measure our successes against our own goals.

Jon Acuff recently urged a room of writers, photographers, and entreupreneurs: “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”

This week we’d like you to write about a time you found yourself comparing yourself, unfavorably, with someone else.  Focus on how the comparison affected you, negatively or positively.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Let's call her Grace. The woman struggling to support herself on our cast offs. Pushing her stolen shopping cart, her sorting system a series of bags tied to the outside. Her load uneven and wobbling on the broken pavement of King Street. I want to pat myself on the back for pulling over. I want congratulations and adulation for popping my trunk, pulling out the bag of returnables I've been driving around with and asking, like a fool, if she could use them. Let's call her Grace because she was gracious. Thankful without being effusive. Smiling. Bright-eyed. Focused on her work. 

Twice already this week the abstract concept of grace - grace with a lower-case G - has come up in my life. First Erika at RedHead Writing wrote about grace and crying and acting as if. It reminded me of an important lesson I'd learned last week from MissC - that you can't expect grace from people you don't trust with the whole story. And that when I show them the grace of sharing, the grace they show in return is ten-fold. 

And then yesterday at the most engaging and interesting networking lunch I've ever attended (if you're a business person of faith in Victoria and interested in networking with other business people of faith, shoot me a comment and I'll give you the details) we were reminded, before the discussion part of the afternoon, of the 4 rules of the group:
  1. Don't be a jerk
  2. Don't be a wuss
  3. Have fun
  4. Have grace
I love that combination. In fact, they seem somewhat repetitive, but perhaps they are the inner and out manifestations of each other - someone who has grace is unlikely to be a jerk. If you're having fun, you're less likely to wimp out. But what really struck me was the opportunity to have fun and grace simultaneously. 

I haven't been having - or been - a lot of fun lately. Despite all of STG's best efforts, I just haven't seemed to have the energy. He has shown me grace in this. As have friends like SC2 who invited me away for a weekend and didn't require any entertainment from me. People have shown me abundant grace. 

And now I'm ready to try to have some fun. I returned to my choir last night, at STG's prodding, and while it took an hour to get into it, I eventually remember that I love the music, to sing, to feel the words, to let myself move and be moved.

This fun thing is a weak muscle for me. I might look like I'm faking it at first, but I'm sure I'll remember how it works soon enough. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

mockingjay: review

Click to view on Amazon
Phew! It's over. In fact, it's been a few days since I finished reading the third and final book in The Hunger Games trilogy - Mockingjay. Perhaps if I'd remembered to blog about it immediately I'd have more access to the complete degree of mind-blowing-ness that is this book. 

Character development and depth is back. Mystery and surprise are back. Perfectly crafted sentences plunked down in the midst of action and mayhem are back. 

I am thrilled I read this trilogy. It is not something I would normally have read, and I thoroughly enjoyed Collins' skill at spinning and populating a world. In books 1 and 3 the characters are rich, engaging, growing, human. The plot is taut, and the setting a balance of recognizable and creative. 

Part of me wishes there could be a book 4, but the borderline trite ending basically precludes that, and it may be for the best. I am, however, very much looking forward to the film adaptations. I have a theory that young adult novels lend themselves more readily to film because they tend to be somewhat simpler than adult novels. We'll see in a month if that holds true for The Hunger Games trilogy. 
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