Thursday, December 26, 2013

the sweet and simple kind: a book club review

When the random number generator we use for picking a book off the book club list came up with the number for The Sweet and Simple Kind, by Yasmin Gooneratne, I groaned. Another book about the relationship between two south Asian women at the period of their country's transition to independence? Really? C'mon. We'd already read What the Body Remembers, and with the lead up to Christmas, who needed another intense, long (>400 finely printed pages!) dense book? Even though I knew I had a week's beach vacation booked during the reading period for this one, I really wasn't thrilled. I wanted something light. Something fun. Something easy to pack on the plane. 

I am so glad we didn't re-pick. I found the book slow to start with, but then our fearless book-club founder posted that even though it started slow she was loving the book, so I kept on slogging. It wasn't a slog for long. 
The Sweet and Simple Kind - Amazon Associate link
The children in The Sweet and Simple Kind are, for the most part, enchanting in their childhood. They are creative, encouraged to read widely and freely, engaged in what they read. The story is set in Ceylon, which becomes Sri Lanka somewhere along the way. The children are charming (and their parents are fascinating), in a way that carries them through their awkward teenage and unpredictable early adult years, and the agitation and unrest of civil transformation.

As with most writing from/about south Asia, the setting is as much a character as the people. Ceylon has a history, a topography, and a climate that influences the plot, that moves the people, and that imbues the writing with humid richness. You can smell the tea growing on the rich uncle's plantation. You can feel the heat of the southern summer heating up racial tensions. You can see the lingering Victorian repression presiding over the relationships the young women try to create. It is a story of a time and a place, and yet it is a completely relatable human story.

Much of my fascination with this story was attached to the literary references and riches of the key families. The children not only read, they comprehended, discussed, and lived their story books. They quote poetry, history and novels. They nickname their servants based on beloved literary characters. Latha, the quieter of the two key heroines, follows her love of literature to university - a path I recognized - and her rapture with the Brontë sisters is a phase of life I have experienced myself and witnessed in other young women whose access to life is mediated by the pages of novels.

As foreign as Ceylon/Sri Lanka is for me, the story of two girls who love books and each other; the story of a girl becoming a woman through literature; the story of families and their secrets and betrayals and loyalties - it was all as familiar as if it were grown in Canadian soil.

Oh book club my book club, you're so good to come home to. While I enjoyed reading this book on the beach, I also looked forward to coming home to my book club to discuss its many riches. On the upside, December is Christmas potluck and book exchange meeting. On the downside, because Christmas is insanely busy, only six members were able to attend the meeting, and only one other attendee had read the book. I love my book club and the ladies in it. I really hope we get to the 'reading and talking about books' part of the 'book' club soon.

Merry Christmas - from Our Book Club to yours! 

Monday, December 23, 2013


It has been too long. I have tried to write, and words couldn't come. There have been too many things that I didn't want to say; too many things that I couldn't say. And once again, I couldn't dream. 

And then, last week at my book club's Christmas book exchange, I came home with I Dreamed of Africa. As soon as it was unwrapped, I knew it needed to be mine. And then it was; that's the beauty of those kinds of gift exchanges. I have only just finished the prologue and chapter one, and it is mine - my dream, my story, me as a young girl growing up in Italy (irrelevant detail) and dreaming of a different home that calls to her. Its heat. Its vastness. Its colours. Its people. An ancient knowing and yearning and being known. 

I have only just begun it, and already I am remembering how to dream.  

Photo courtesy of Eirasi

Monday, November 11, 2013

book club at last, an unreview

Tonight, after a sad postponement last month, the lovely ladies of my book club met again. Since we were discussing two books I've reviewed previously (October's choice Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen Aguirre and Let's Just Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, which I read and reviewed last September) I really don't have a review for tonight. 

But I like to be consistent, and since the start up phase of our book club may be informative for others looking to start their own, I thought I'd blog anyway. Tonight was the first time we've had a full ten women at our meeting. When we started out ten was our goal; right now there are eleven on the list but in the course of time I'm sure it'll settle out to ten. 

There were two new women again tonight, which necessitated another brief run-down of the basic suggestions (a.k.a. guidelines ... we try to avoid the term 'rules')we've been operating under:
  • book club is essentially about growing strong relationships with other women. The books are a means for accomplishing that and a structure for expanding our reading, not the end in themselves
  • since it is a book club it would be nice if everyone read the book, but, given the first rule of book club, nicer still if people attended whether they've read the book or not
  • we plan to take turns hosting 10 months of the year (the hostess cooks a gluten-free dinner because I - the celiac of the group - am hugely spoiled), have a potluck in December, and a retreat sometime in summer. At least, we hope that's how it will go
  • conversation during dinner is about life - right now we're in the getting to know you stage, though there always seems to be one moment in the conversation where things get very real. 
  • we don't talk about the book until after dinner, and are discouraged from reading reviews or discussing the book much before then. 
  • the book talk begins with a quick round of three statements each: Did you like the book? Give a 2-word review. Would you recommend it? 
So far the guidelines have worked pretty well, though there were moments tonight when I felt like there were too many people in the room having too many conversations. I love the reading, and I really love the incredible dinners (tonight's was the most delicious, succulent roast chicken, fluffy mashed potatoes, a lovely fresh salad, and chocolate cups of ice cream and granola - preceded with 'squirrel meat' appetizers - so cute!), but what I really go for is the conversation. 

I know all about the stages of group formation from my teaching days and group projects. I know that right now we are forming, that there will be some norming and storming down the road, and that eventually we'll hit a comfortable stride and be performing. The women of my book club are all interesting, accomplished, courageous women. Some have children, from expected-in-a-few-months to my young adults. Some have cats. Some have husbands or boyfriends while others have stories about not having husbands and boyfriends. We have stories and hopes and dreams and adventures. And I can't wait to hear them all. 

Some oddball taxidermy, in honour of The Bloggess.

the weight of water: a review

This book was as beautifully written as it was horrifying. Having had nightmares in the week following reading it that directly related to the story's content, I almost wish I hadn't read it. Except, as I said, it was beautifully written. Silver lights. Green waters. Still moments. And then, vivid horror and, even worse, creeping insidious betrayal. 

I am partial to stories of the sea. I am less partial to stories that move back and forth in time between two parallel yet distinct sets of characters - it sometimes works, but in this case felt contrived. I am less partial still to characters whose cruelest actions remain unrepented. There is darkness here that seemed out of place. I don't need a book full of Pollyanna's (in fact, lord save us from saccharine), but if there is to be evil, let it be ... understandable. 

I try not to read too much about books before I read them as I like to experience them with fresh eyes. And, I am trying to broaden my reading horizons as a writing exercise (not that I've written much lately) - I think each author has something to teach me. 

Still and all, I wish I hadn't read this. It's not a condemnation of the writing - it just didn't suit my 'delicate sensibilities.' Life isn't all Jane Austen, but it's not all Stieg Larsson either. 

Amazon Associate link.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


After 12 years of blogging, I feel like maybe I'm done. I think about it a lot and have many ideas, but I swallow the words down before they get out into the world. It's not just content that been holding me back - it's the bigger picture:

  • If I'm going to keep calling myself a writer, I need to write elsewhere, not spend my writing currency on a meaningless blog. I need a structure and a plan and the space and time and energy to give to it.
  • What would I have to change in my life to have the energy and juice to really start writing again? 
  • My blog as it currently exists is narcissistic - no one is interested in my writings about me - I need to find a niche
  • A blog can't be all book reviews, yet the personal stuff is ... done, unsafe, uninteresting
  • Should I just shut it down? Should I relaunch as something more focused? What could I write about that would actually keep me interested, not to mention feed an audience something nourishing? 
I'm not the only navel gazer out there. 

There are 13 draft posts sitting waiting in the background for completion. Several of them are book reviews, some are just the beginning of ideas, a couple are drafted but don't seem like the good idea they were when I wrote them. Every couple days I'll think of something I want to say, then change my mind. The statements are things I should be saying to people in my life; the questions are ones only I can answer. Nothing's wrong, per se, but things don't fit right. 

And ... I'm exhausted. Bone tired. Worn out to the core. I think constantly about running away - about reading in front of a fireplace with a dog curled at my feet, about hours and days and weeks of quiet and comfort and space. I am taking a beach vacation in three weeks - 7 all-inclusive sandy, sunny, relaxing days with my sister and our parents. Already I think it won't be enough, but it is what I can afford in time and money.  

Maybe it's the time of year. Maybe it's the time of life. 


Thursday, October 24, 2013

be here now

You bit into the perfect flesh of the peach. It was warm from the sun burning down on the roadside stand. Juice misted from the meat as you sank your teeth in. The aroma of peach - not peach scented or peach flavoured but raw ripe perfection - filled your nostrils. Licking the sweet sticky juice from your fingers you sighed 'there is nothing in the world as perfect as an in-season peach.'

But the season is fleeting. A few weeks at best and you make do with that poor substitute, canned peaches. If you are lucky they were canned at home - anyone's home. In a desperate pinch, you can make factory canned peaches work, though you'll probably choose instead to go without. 

How would you ever know, sitting outside that road stand and lamenting your lack of napkins or wet wipes, if that peach would be your last fresh one? Would knowing make you savour it with that much more attention, or would it add the hint of a bitter edge? 

How often in a life do you experience a last time and not know? That favourite chocolate bar from your youth. That summer trip as a family. That soft kiss on the cheek from your grandma. That perfect night in the arms of a lover free from pretense or concern. Would knowing ruin the moment? Would you work to make it memorable and in so doing ruin it? Would your concern about the coming emptiness take away the fullness of now? 

I suppose that's one point of the oft-repeated refrain to be present, to stay in the moment and experience the power of now. Then again, maybe knowing would also free you from being haunted by that everlasting question - was that it?

Monday, October 14, 2013

something fierce: memoirs of a revolutionary daughter, a book club review

I don't read a lot of memoirs. For me, novels have a truth and a reality that someone telling their own story cannot equal. I read on Twitter this week "you are a continuously unfolding story told by an unreliable narrator: act accordingly," and it rang very true for me especially in thinking about writing this review.

Carmen Aguirre's memoir covers her life from the ages of eight to eighteen years - an age span that is particularly unreliable. As she travels between Vancouver, Chile, Argentina and holidays in Brazil, Carmen is indoctrinated into her parents' revolutionary beliefs. Or is she? Her frequent admissions of bourgeois desires reinforce the impression that she is not to be believed without question, and her motives for action throughout the book are unclear at best. 

In the end, Aguirre's story failed for me: it failed to engage, it failed to inspire, and it failed to inform. I did not trust her motives either in action in the story or in its telling. Her presentation of 'facts' turned me off the things that mattered to her, even those that I would naturally otherwise support. And, at the end of the book I was no more clear about the reality of South America in the revolutionary 1980's than I had been before I read the book. 

Aguirre's style is mildly entertaining, which made the book somewhat less of a slog. After the bounty of great books we've read so far in book club, this one gets filed under 'Meh." 
Amazon Associate link

About the club, not the book:

Unfortunately, book club was cancelled this month. I think we'll have to work to make sure that the show goes on no matter what, but sometimes things happen - I had a migraine, another member was recovering from dental surgery, a third had a cold. You get the point. We didn't get our dinner, and more importantly we didn't get our evening of awesome conversation.

That's okay though - we'll have that much more to share when we get together in November. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

it's all good

I've been at a conference the last couple days, and in the midst of of the usual 'getting to know you' and small talk yesterday I heard myself say "I got married at 20 and divorced at 30, but my sons and I have done okay." I was surprised to hear it. And even more surprised when I stopped, contemplated and realised it's true.

1999: Our first summer holiday as a family of three.  
It hasn't always been straight forward. We've each wobbled and struggled and grown. It hasn't been a straight trajectory, but we've all gotten better. I, for one, no longer wear socks with sandals.

That's all. No deep thoughts. Just a revelation that made me smile. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

the robe: review

It wouldn't normally occur to me to pull this book off a shelf, and I would have missed out greatly if it hadn't been loaned to me. I don't read 'Christian fiction,' but the review SugarMama provided when she offered me the book made me take the chance. 

Calling this book 'Christian fiction' is like calling Mahalia Jackson 'Contemporary Christian Music' - unfair, dismissive and misleading. The Robe is a classic written in 1942 by Lloyd C. Douglas. Taking a historical approach, it tells the story of the Roman tribune who gambled for, and won, Jesus' robe at the crucifixion. It follows the impact of that event on the tribune, and traces the roots of the young Christian religion. It's a finely wrought and moving personal story of duty, love, struggle, and wonder. 

I don't know how different my reading of the book would have been if I wasn't a Christian with a whole lot of familiarity with the gospels and the new testament record of the early church. I cheered when Simon Peter entered the story and sighed when Stephanos was introduced, knowing how his story arc would end. However, no matter what I am reading I always try to read like a writer - with attention to plot, structure, pacing, language, character, etc. The Robe has all of those things and also offers, as the writer of the preface states, a sense of the 'mystery and wonder' of Christ. 

Without that 'mystery and wonder,' the story is still powerful on many levels. The character development of the main players - tribune Marcellus Gallio, his love interest Diana, and his Greek slave Demitrius - is moving and appropriate for both their youth and their relative stations in life. Character growth is so often forced into a story or completely missing - it was refreshing to have it handled skillfully. Marcellus' skepticism is especially finely handled. A Roman Tribune is a man of reason and evidence; he's the perfect person to investigate the stories of Jesus. 

The story moves smoothly between Rome, Athens, Damascus and Jerusalem. The historical detail - from quivering, aged, senile Tiberius and rabid Caligula to the information on how a robe was woven differently in Galilee than in Jerusalem elevated the book far beyond a simple story. The language is rich - it's not often I find myself reaching for my dictionary while I'm reading, and this book had me doing so repeatedly. 

This is the point where I normally say whether I'd recommend a book or not; I absolutely do recommend The Robe, but I do so with an awareness that where you stand in relation to Jesus will, I assume, greatly influence your reading of this book. I'd love to know if any of my atheist/agnostic friends have read it and what they think. As I've said, it's a well written book - rich, engaging, and a page turner. I think everyone can enjoy it from whatever perspective they approach it. 

And yes, The Robe was made into an epic movie in 1953 in the style of The Ten Commandments and Moses. It stars Richard Burton in the part of Marcellus, and I'm pretty sure it'll be worth watching. A little cheesy and over-the-top, no doubt, but interesting. 

Amazon Associate Link

Friday, September 6, 2013

let's explore diabetes with owls: a book club review

There's long list of words and phrases that we, culturally, grossly over-use. To me, the three most egregious are love, literally, and 'laugh out loud funny.' And then I read David Sedaris' Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls and it was, literally, laugh out loud funny, and I loved every page of it. 

Funny aside - when this book showed up on our book club reading list, I raved to my fellow clubbers about David Sedaris, and told this great story about another book of his I'd read and how I'd laughed out loud just reading the publication page. Only it turned out, once I picked up Owls and read what other books Sedaris has written, that the author I was referring to was David Eggers

I don't normally read essays, or even very many short stories. I am mostly a novels reader. But that is one of the reasons I joined a book club - to broaden the scope of what I read. Also for the wine, food and great company, but in terms of it being a book club as opposed to some other kind of club - I really wanted to be introduced to books I wouldn't normally read. Anything subtitled "essays, etc" would definitely have fallen into that category if this book hadn't been our selection this month, and I would truly have been missing out. 

Some of Sedaris' essays are at least loosely autobiographical and moderately non-fiction. Some of them are outlandish character sketches. All of them are revelatory and heart-warming. In even the most bizarre, triggering episodes that allude to attempted rape or edge on to what we now consider child abuse have a tender charm that brings us back to a world where love and gratitude and appreciation cover a multitude of sins. 

In fact, one of the things I like best about this collection of 'essays, etc' is how well edited it is to fulfill on that promised final pay off. Although the stories jump around in time and space - 1970's Raleigh North Carolina, to 2008 West Sussex, England, with stops in China, Chicago, New York, Japan, Australia - the constant theme of connectedness carries through. Sedaris may try to pass himself off as a heartless disengaged teenager when he returns from a school trip to England to find his mother has died, but underneath all the English slang is a longing and sensitivity that left me both laughing until tears ran down my legs, and wishing I could give young David a long hug and a cup of cocoa. 

I loved this book. It was literally laugh out loud funny. And touching, poignant, intelligent, and eye-opening. 

Amazon Associate Link

About the club, not the book:
I arrived at book club an hour late, having made my way straight there from the ferry. What a lovely way to end a long day - delicious salmon, scalloped potatoes, fresh tomato salad, pinot grigio and fabulous conversation. As usual, only 10% of the conversation was actually about the book, but I think we like it that way.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

turning myself inside out

I recently read a blog post, one of many written on the subject in the last while, that made clear for me that for my whole life I’ve misunderstood a core part of who I am. Of the 23 possible signs you may be an introvert listed in the article, I identify with about 20 of them. Because I am not shy, because I am a joiner, because I am not only unafraid of but actually seek out the spotlight – the bigger the audience the better - I’ve always believed I am an extrovert. In fact, I didn’t just believe it, I celebrated it. I took pride in it. I was grateful to be an extrovert, and truly believed (and still do) that extroverts have an advantage in our culture. 

Singing for 900 - no problem.
Talking to the girl singing with me, not so much. 
Inside of that identity, reinforced and heavily outlined until it became almost a caricature, there was a core ‘me’ that never got to be expressed. Oh, that’s not so accurate – she got expressed, but only ever as a reactionary breakdown. After enough denial and stepping over, the neglected introvert in me would come out swinging, alienate people, and force a retreat to whatever sanctuary was available. 

I now recognise that reaction – before getting to the breakdown stage – as something that I refer to as getting ‘peopled out.’ It’s a weird sensation – I can be surrounded by people I love, whose company I enjoy, and just want to run away. I become anxious, and then i become quiet. It seems odd that I got to my fourth decade before I figure this out. I am not an extrovert. I am an introvert with extrovert tendencies. The clues are all there – I’d rather speak or sing to a room of several hundred people than be alone in a room full of strangers with whom I have to make small talk. I can do the latter, but it drains me (put me in front of a crowd, though, and I’ll float home). I hate the phone – those people who prefer contacting me by phone I will move to email as soon as possible. My default setting is to let my written words speak for me – honest, but one step removed. 

Recharging on the Irish coast.
The favourite trip I’ve ever taken was when I traveled solo for two weeks, starting with a week in a cottage on the edge of a seaside village. I love social media, but even there I keep the elemental me protected, and every once in a while I have to shut it down, stay offline for a while, and (as you may have noticed) stop blogging. I am familiar to a fair number of people, and trust few of them to know me. It’s no accident that I’ve had the same best friend for more than 40 years. I adore my sweetheart and my sons, yet as I write this, I am in a happy place – a hotel room by myself, with the city passing by outside my window. It is one of a series of happy places throughout my life that all share the key features of solitude and quiet - the crook of a tree on our farm, the library at my grandparents' house (or really any library), the garden, secluded rock outcroppings along our nearby ocean.
Sometimes playing shy just feels right. 
I suspect that, as with so many human behaviours , the introvert/extrovert tendency is more of a spectrum than a strictly either/or proposition. And, also like so many other elements of life, the secret is likely balance. It’s something that The Man has helped me to recognize – I am better with people when I have time to myself. It’s important for me, with a job that requires putting myself out there, to have at least one day on a weekend where we don’t do anything. During times of higher stress, my response it to need more alone time, not more people around me.

I suppose this is not that earth shattering to most people, but when you’ve spent a few decades thinking you’re some lable, but not being able to integrate your whole self into that idea, it’s pretty liberating to have a new understanding of who you are.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

when Carrie met Charlie

This morning I was pondering why we have this understanding that the only 'successful' relationships are the ones that last forever. For some reason that thought brought to mind my grandparents, or at least my story of them and I'm still percolating on why that is.

Christmas 1969: such a 60's looking group
I never really knew my maternal grandparents - not the way I had a clear sense of the grandparents on my dad's side. I can see my maternal grandparents only dimly, through faded 'snaps' and memories that are distorted through time and other relationships. And yet, I have this sense of them - of the romance of their story.

It may be only a story - the romantic imaginings of someone who was too young to see the truth of it - but it still moves me. There's no high drama, no Romeo and Juliet, no Antony and Cleopatra, no Rose and Jack, but in many ways it's a romance that is so much deeper than any of those tragic narratives. 

My Grandfather is truly the stuff of legends in my life, by which I mean that I mostly just have stories of him to go by. Grandpa - Charlie - died when I was only 6, and I'm not sure if I actually remember him reciting poetry or have just heard stories of , and inherited, his love of language. For years my mom had a cassette tape of Grandpa reciting 'Winnipeg Station' (an early 20th century Canadian prose-poem of which Google has failed to find me any trace). Grandpa was, in my mythology, the first of us to co-opt our Irishness. My version of him invents limericks and recites Yeats and was one of the few people to really read, understand and enjoy Joyce. Although he was born in Prince Edward Island, in my version of him the green hills of home he cherished were across a broader sea. I also believe that he suggested my VERY Irish names (Shannon Coleen), although that too may be just part of my personal fiction. Grandpa made his living as a carpenter, but from all accounts he was what we'd now call a Renaissance man - good with his hands as well as his wit and his heart.

Grandma - when she was still Carrie Bell Campbell - left school in Grade 8 to help her parents on the farm. The youngest of a string of farm kids, as Carrie's siblings married off her help became indispensable. In her 20's, when other young women were meeting beaus and starting families of their own, Carrie was still at home caring for her aged parents. When she finally met Charlie, at a church meeting, she was able to be courted (in a proper and ancient manner we can only imagine today) only because of the death of her mother. I imagine that in Carrie's eyes Charlie was, comparatively, a man of the world. He was college educated and had worked in the United States. He'd held a variety of jobs - as a salesman, a labourer, and a carpenter. It was working with wood that he found his milieu. I'm not sure what Grandpa did for a living when they met in her small farming community, but I assume they wasted little time in the dating phase of things. She was in her 30's already; he was ten years older. 

A double first Christmas 1968: my cousin Troy and I, born 8
months apart, in the seat of honour.
I don't know much about those early years. Their first child died in childbirth, an event that Grandma still spoke about with tears in her eyes and anger in her voice (she blamed the doctor's incompetence) when she told me about it 60 years later. Two boys followed. Grandma was 41 when my mom was born and had another baby boy 5 years later.

By the time I was born, Grandpa had already retired. I never knew them not to live in what we then called an 'old folks' home,' though my mom has shown me the house they lived in in Kelowna when she was a young girl. Charlie always wore a fedora and a button down shirt, even to go to the beach. They were always old to me, yet I remember them holding hands; Carrie was a great hand-holder.

Although I had much more time to get to know Grandma, I still have a sense of mystery about her: what were her dreams? Did she resent those years on the farm? Did she long for the openness and stability of Gilbert Plains when they followed work from town to town in BC? Despite her limited formal education, Carrie too liked reading. I don't know if that was always the case or if it was the result of living her middle years with a reader. She took up bowling when she was 80, which was probably about the time she first wore 'trousers.' When she was 91 she suffered a stroke, then recovered so remarkably from that you'd have thought it never happened.

Grandma's last Christmas, and still so proper.
Grandma was 103 when she died, and by then few people alive still called her by name; she was mom or grandma or Mrs. Fuller. The girl Carrie had been subsumed. She had waited so long for Charlie, but they had only 40 years together bookended, for Grandma, by 30 years alone. When her Charlie died, Grandma bought two cemetery plots and bided her time. She told me, late in her 90's, that she was ready to go. She had outlived a son, her siblings, many of her friends, and her sweetheart. It was lonely to be a survivor.

Grandma never, as far as anyone knows, so much as looked at another man seriously. Oh, she could be a great flirt with waiters and store clerks, and there was that one time she bought a large cubic zirconia ring and tried to pass it off as an engagement ring at Christmas (did I mention her mischievous sense of humour?). But really, she had had her great love.

We are so addicted to grand gestures in our culture. We want over-whelming emotion and obstacles to over-come and John Cusack with his boom box. And yes, when I say 'we' I mostly mean I. But there's something to be said for that quiet sustaining love, a love that goes on for three decades after death. There's something to be said for a legacy of love. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

white pants

I own one pair of white pants. I cannot remember at any prior time in my life owning a pair of white pants. I bought these only and specifically for my choir uniform a couple years back, having seen pictures of myself on stage in a tragic and too-short skirt. Nobody needs to be distracted by their own chubby knees while singing and clapping and trying to focus on the audience. I quit that choir two years ago, but never got rid of the pants. Or of the horrid itchy choir orangy-red polyester shirt, for that matter. 

Lately, due to severe wardrobe limitations, I've taken to wearing my white pants off stage. The first time was in desperation after shopping for a week for a white dress to wear to Diner en Blanc. I finally settled for just buying a white tunic and pulling the pants out of the back of the closet they've been collecting dust in. 

It turns out, my white pants are flattering - slimming, sharp, perfect length, perfect shape. For so long I've associated them with the hideous choir shirt I wore them with that I'd never evaluated them on their own. For even longer (maybe my whole post-pubescent life) I've believed that only skinny girls should wear white bottoms. Even my khaki linen shorts are pushing it. 

You know that feeling you get when you put on a piece of clothing and instantly you feel taller, slimmer, longer, stronger, fitter, and more chic? That's what these pants do for me. There's just something inherently cool about wearing white pants - they are a luxury afforded only to those who don't have to work too hard. They are sassy and reckless and somehow daring. Wearing white pants all day and not get them dirty is a challenge I find decadent - it requires an awareness of what I am near, what I am sitting on, what I am eating that is entirely self-indulgent. 

Yesterday, at the end of a two-week road trip vacation, most of the clothes in my suitcase were wrinkled, a touch stale, some had lingering smoke smell from the wood fire in our cabin in Jasper. They lacked freshness. But I pulled those white pants from the bottom of the suitcase, and the wrinkles fell out of them before we even left the hotel room. Sitting in the car all day, I felt fresh and light. As it turns out, somewhere along the way I sat in something that left what looks like a bite-mark on my bottom. I guess that's just part of the white pants mystique. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

the saving graces: review

I threw this book in my vacation book bag not really sure what it was going to be about, but judging by the cover that it was summertime fare. I wasn't too wrong, though it's some often sad summertime fare. I enjoyed it in that 'I'm on holiday and can read as late as I want' kind of way, and yet have pondered for a week what to write about it, since it was in many ways 'just another book.' Or, should I say, another piece of chick lit trying to be taken seriously. My mom passed this book on to me knowing how she and I both love and celebrate our great girl friendships, and this book definitely does that.  

The Saving Graces, by Patricia Gaffney, is the story of a women's groups called - you guessed it - The Saving Graces. Over the years they've tried to add to the group, but it seems the four members, and the story's four heroines, form too tight a group for anyone else to really fit in. Unfortunately, the four main characters were all so thickly outlined that I couldn't really get into who they were. The 'crazy' one was too fully crazy; the uptight one too reliably uptight; the new-age zen mother figure a little too zen. I also thought it was odd that only one of the four women, all 30+, was a mother, and her child was at best tertiary to the story. I can't think of any four women I'd hang out with where that would be the case. Even though they all had their challenges and individual frustrations and hurts, I found it hard to really care about what happened to any of them. 

What kept me reading was the plot. Dealing with issues such as infidelity, infertility, cancer, and abusive relationships, there was a lot to chew on in each woman's story line. With such a complex plot, you would have thought the characters could have been as complex, but I suppose each writer has his or her own strengths, and Gaffney's plot strong arms her characters, right up until the end which I'm not sure how to write about without spoiling ... let's just say it could have been less heavy handed.

I recommend The Saving Graces for holiday reading. Or maybe for a few days at home sick in bed. It's a good story, but definitely not without its issues.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

a complicated kindness: a book club review

The second choice for my fledgling book club, reading Miriam Toews A Complicated Kindness was, for me, both a trip back in time and an other-world experience. Having grown up in a small town with small town people, and in a conservative Christian family with mostly conservative Christian friends, Toews world of East Village - a (not very) fictional village in Manitoba - both resonated and intrigued me.

Before I remembered that we're not suppose to read other reviews before our book club discussion, I read just one line from the Quill and Quire review that said "Reading A Complicated Kindness is like waking up at a crazy Bible camp." Having attend more than my share of Bible camp, and having loved every minute of it - even the part I couldn't quite articulate or integrate - I can say "yep, that's about right."

Naomi (Nomi) Nickel has all the familiar angst of an awkward younger sister (her big sister Tash's perfume was Love's Baby Soft - I haven't thought of that smell since 1984). All the internal drama of a virgin with a boyfriend. All the unreliability of an upset teenage narrator left to interpret life with little input from the adults in her life. All the complicated love of a family who loves deeply but not well. It's every woman's story, and she makes it all her own.

Part of what makes this story so uncanny is Toews' dance with language. The langauge of a skilled writer mixes that of an angry teenage narrator, an anachronistic father, and a village where 'the unwritten language of your people' often intermingles. Add in some good-ol' Bible thumping straight out of the King James, and East Village is a word-lover's paradise.

Narrator Nomi, an intelligent if not all that together girl, uses teenage language to express deep human emotion and experience that is simultaneously laugh out loud funny and heart-breaking. One sentence that particularly stuck with me: "It's raining questions around here. A person could drown in them."

Most of the story is of Nomi treading water in that sea of questions.

I just found out that Miriam Toews has written five other books. I hope to find them all in time for my holidays that start next week.

DISCLAIMER: If you click on any of my book links and choose to purchase from Amazon via that link, I get a small dividend.

Tonight was also my first time hosting the group and making dinner for everyone, and I went full-Mennonite. Or at least as full-Mennonite as someone who has only passing experience with strict Mennonites can get. We have agreed that our dinners will always be gluten-free (thanks ladies!) but my menu tonight would have been naturally gluten-free anyway:
  • home-made coleslaw
  • oven-roasted new potatoes
  • grilled Mennonite sausage (of course!)
  • bbq roasted chicken
  • steeped, honey-sweetened iced tea
  • gluten-free 1 2 3 4 cake cupcakes (based on this recipe from wikibooks, using gluten-free flour)
It was the kind of meal not many of us eat regularly - pretty meat heavy, and not a cooked veg in sight (I don't think that's very Mennonite - I just forgot), but was a lot of fun to share. There would have been a fight over the Mennonite sausages if we hadn't cut them into thirds. And the conversation was generous, vulnerable, fun and free - and honestly not all that focused on the book after the first few minutes. 

I had dog-eared a  question Nomi asks somewhere along the way 'If you were a disease, what would you be called and what would your symptoms be?" I had thought to ask the ladies of the club for their responses, but we were busy just enjoying each other's company.

I LOVE my new book club! 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

divisadero: review

This isn't the first time I've read this book, so I was thinking I'd just get to update the review. Only apparently I forgot to review it the last time. That I had already read it once is about the highest praise I can give a book. Nothing in my 'too read' stack appealed at the moment I was looking for a book, and I hadn't yet picked up a copy of my next book club book, so I just needed something to get e by until I got to the bookstore. No doubt part of why I love Divisadero so much and why I wanted to read it again is because, of late, I've been obsessed with San Francisco, and the title just glowed at me. 

I have read a lot of Michael Ondaatje's writing, and I expect I'll read a lot more. While Divasdero is not The English Patient, it is richly poetic, deeply human, and constantly shifting. Reading any Ondaatje is  like watching the sun reflecting off the sea. If you haven't read any Ondaatje, start here or with In the Skin of a Lion. If you start with what you think you know because of the movie, you will be lost in comparison instead of in Ondaatje's incredible skill with language. You would be ripping yourself and the writing off.

The story is split between California and France, between now and then, between sisters and fathers and dreams and realities. It is painful and peaceful and enthralling. There's a slow air about it - like laying in a stream and letting the water wash over your skin, the language flows past you. There are moments of high tension, but they are balanced with moments of small beauty - Buddhist flags fluttering in a breeze, the way a cat is always present but rarely visible, the buzz and hum of insects in a summer forest.
... there was water nearby, and as soon as he assumed that, he began to smell it in the air and stood up, lifting his face to the sky. He bustled forward and within moments came upon the small lake. He stripped down and slipped into the water, all the scratches and bites on him covered now in its coolness. 
DISCLAIMER: If you click on any of my book links and choose to purchase from Amazon via that link, I get a small dividend.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

no words

I can't sleep tonight. My bed feels off - the sheets writhing with imagined insects, my skin hyper-alert to every cat hair and dust ball collected on the sheets through the day. It's too warm, and yet lacks comfort. And my brain. My brain is recounting all the death that seems to be every where I look of late. So close, and getting closer. 

My Grandma's death in May was a respectable death. A tolerable one. We who loved her knew she was ready, had her faith and a long life well lived to guide her on her way. But since then ... it's just loss after horrible unsupportable loss. 

Local children being snatched from their mother's arms by cancer - Justin Plunkett. Baby Molly. And friends of friends being robbed of their hope and dignity before finally giving up their lives to cancer. Nearly every day on Facebook it seems someone new is mourning someone stolen from them. Babies and children, or adults in the prime of life, all with much living left to do.

And tonight my sons' cousin - my former nephew and one time adorable ring bearer - is being kept alive by life support machines. At 31, this husband and  father of 2 young sons had what we think at this point (and I may not have the most accurate information) was a massive heart attack while on summer holiday visiting his mom. His young wife performed CPR for 20 minutes until the ambulance arrived. 

I ... I have no category to put this in. Someone who was once dear to me, but through the violent disruption of divorce has been severed from my family tree. And yet he is close kin to my sons. It's a bizarre situation allowable only in this broken-down modern world. How do I offer condolences to my one-time sister-in-law who watched her only son fall to the floor? How do I console the niece-I-no-longer-have on the devastating loss of her protective big brother? Will a card sent with her cousins contain any meaningful solace?

And then there's that other issue. How do we keep death at bay? How do I keep my own sons safe? How do I stop that worst of nightmares of outliving a child? 

I wrote earlier tonight

death feels too close these days
& like only living fully will keep it at bay
I crave softness for my loved ones and 
compassion for the world

... but that will not help me sleep. Sleep is for those who haven't seen the death peering in the window. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

things I learned riding my bike to work today

Today was my first time riding my bike to work. It's part of my summer fitness program I outlined over on The Mountain Bike Life (and that I've honestly been hit or miss about ... I'm drinking a g&soda as I write this).

Here's my favourite thing about riding my bike today, besides not being stuck in my car; along the way, I had a total of 73 minutes to think about life, love, and bicycles. Here are some of those thoughts:
  • I am the only one on my bike. Other people have different bodies, different bikes, different histories, and different lives. They may be bigger, faster, smaller, slower. They may have less stress. It doesn't matter. I am the only one on my bike
  • Sometimes I will be the slowest person on the trail. Sometimes EVERYONE (yes, even the very large woman in the dress slacks, cardigan, and work shoes) will pass me. Sometimes I will catch up to them at the light, only to be left behind again. But I am the only one on my bike. 
  • If I quit now, this is as good as it gets
  • Water is like my helmet - I need it on EVERY ride
  • I can follow the map or ignore the map; I'm still going to have to climb some hills at some point
  • When I get to work, I'll still be me - the pretty wicker basked needs to include makeup and jewelry, not just a change of clothes
  • Look around, smile and enjoy the ride
  • Roads with the word 'rise,' 'summit.' or 'heights' in the name are not the roads for me
  • I am, at different times, a driver, a cyclist, or a pedestrian; try not to be too hard on the other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians
  • This might not be my best bike ride ever, but I'm on the bike, so it's still a win

Friday, July 12, 2013

wondering. creating. moving forward.

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That's why it's your path.”
I've been pondering for a while now how I can live a life that inspires me, and I've been checking out people who have the lifestyle I think I want, and trying to learn from their experiences (while keeping in mind the Joseph Campbell quote above).

Along the way, I came across this conversation between Chase Jarvis and Chris Guillebeau, and this statement from Chris really resonated for me "living a balanced life is not the goal; living a fulfilled life is."

And I think. Okay - that's a view of success that works for you ... but am I really willing to do the work that it takes to live a dream life?

As I've mentioned before, I am not ungrateful for the great life I have. I have a love, a home, an education, a family, and a job that I am proud of and thankful for. Yet there's some burning essential part of ME that does not get expressed in my life, and this is not okay with me.

Anyway. Pondering. Not so much writing, of late. But pondering.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

What the Body Remembers: a book club review

So I've (very excitedly) joined a book club. Tonight was our first official meeting, and I've been waiting until after the meeting to post this review. We don't have a name for the club yet, but when we do I'll probably update the reviews so that you/I/we can track what's a regular book I just happened to read and what's a book club book. And without further ado, away we go ...

by Shauna Singh Baldwin
NOTE: This review may or may not contain spoilers. It depends how you look at it. 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again and again and again - I love novels of the South Asian diaspora. Particularly those by Canadian-South Asian writers: Ondaatje, Martel, Bisoondath. But also those scattered across the globe - Roy, Mistry, and always always everything and anything by Rushdie. So you can imagine my excitement when my new book club chose What the Body Remembers by Indo-Canadian Shauna Singh Baldwin as it's first book choice. It did not disappoint. 

What the Body Remembers stands apart in many ways because Singh Baldwin is that rarest of Indo-Candian authors. She is a woman. And the story she tells is rich with women. Sikh women. Muslim women. English women (who really don't represent their people well, but are probably accurately portrayed). The ocassional Hindu women. Veiled women who find their own source of power and agency within a culture of men who 'see them only out of the corners of their eyes.' This obedient, complicit group of women is somewhat foreign to me, but made understandable in Singh Baldwin's capable hands. 

What was also unknown to me before I read this book was the history of the partitioning of India and Pakistan when the British left India in 1947. The violence of that rending. The idiocy of its handling. The  murder and mayhem that followed in the wake of the British exodus. The sudden turning of neighbour against neighbour and brother against (half) brother. Yes, I knew there were riots and unrest after the British left, but I didn't know the full extent of that massive disruption on everyday lives. 

Though really, that's not what the majority of the book is about - or maybe it is. Most of the book follows Roop, a village girl with big dreams. Her childhood, her marriage, the rules that govern her life as a wife and mother. It was fascinating to me. I will admit a fair swath of ignorance about the cultural difference between Hindu, Sikh and Muslim Indians - even having studied two terms of World Religions at university. Singh Baldwin masterfully highlights the vast similarities between not only these religions but also their shared similarities with Christianity and Judaism.

Perhaps if more people remembered the similarities, the violence in the vacuum left by the British wouldn't have happened. Perhaps if more people focused on similarities now, the violence we do to one another wouldn't continue to happen. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

small things

Small things seem to be slipping through my fingers. Small things like a month passing since I last wrote, or staring at the computer screen and not remembering what my job is.

Last week my friend Kevin sent me this poem about small things. I was so wrapped up in my own small world of small things that I didn't realise at the time that he is its author, not merely its forwarder-on.

I like it. A lot. I thought you might as well.

Small Things
By Kevin Aschenbrenner

This. This is what you can do.
In the face of another’s pain.

Small things.

Bring flowers. Or wine.

Or both.

Make pots of tea that go cold.

Talk about the pain.

Talk about anything but.


If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves.

If you are particular about the pain, it’s easier to bear.

Small things.

The bigger someone’s pain, the more important the small things.

Look them in the eye.

See them.

Show up.

Be present.

That’s small stuff that’s not-so-small stuff.

This. This is what you can do.
In the face of another’s pain.

Through the small things, you anchor them.
You stand behind them, gently holding their belt loops
While they lean into the pain,
So they can go through it,
But not get lost.

It’s the small things that tether us to life, that bring us back.

And we are all keepers of the small things.

Which is good to know, when we don’t know what to do
to comfort another’s sorrow.

Just remember the small things.

Kevin is a friend, a blessing, a writer, and a Catholic. He's writing to Pop Francis every day.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
Edmund Burke. 

I get a knot in my stomach remembering him, and the smell of bubblegum makes me a little queasy. That awkward boy with slightly greasy hair and ill-fitting clothes who had to endure indignities of life only children are cruel enough to devise. I remember looking away from his hurt so as not to draw any attention to myself. 

He’d done nothing wrong - nothing but be just that little bit different. Nothing but wear pants that were a little too short and sweaters that were a little too polyester. I can still see the unevenly chopped hair he returned to school with the next day, the day after the ‘cool boys’ had held him down, wrapped bubblegum around his head, squished it down, rubbed it through his thick hair to his scalp. Why did his mom send him back with his hastily cropped shame so evident? Had she cried cutting the gum from her boys' head?

By the end of the week he had left our school and our small town. The look in his face has haunted me since then. And, the smell of bubblegum makes me a little queasy.

Write on Edge Prompt:
Write and link up a no more than 200 word post about….


Yep. Bubblegum. I have no idea how much wine was consumed prior to that prompt being created, but the paper it was on was folded into a cootie catcher and had purple stains on it. (For the record, if I’d picked 4 instead of 3, the prompt would have been vole abuse.)

Have fun with bubblegum!

Monday, June 3, 2013

the folding star: review

When I read Alan Hollinghurst's Line of Beauty, I felt as though I was eating dark chocolate for the first time. I didn't know a book could be so balanced - to reveal so perfectly the bitter and the sweet of life. There were pages that I read and re-read, not because I wasn't retaining the story, but to savour again Hollinghurt's magical stringing together of words.I don't read much poetry anymore, but I do love prose that reads like a poem, and Hollinghurst is at his best in those lovely moments

Holinghurt's genius with words is also apparent in his earlier novel The Folding Star, but where Line of Beauty presents a world that is flawed but compelling, I had a hard time giving a fairy fart about the world he created in The Folding Star.

I shouldn't say 'the world' was the problem - a major European city, a teacher, an art historian, love, intrigue, secrets - that's all part of a world I would normally locate myself in. But, the whole time I was reading The Folding Star, which was a considerable time because I had such a hard time getting into it, I kept wondering what was off about it. Why didn't I love it the way I had adored Line of Beauty?

I actually never came up with the full answer to that, but a large portion of the blame lies with the weak characters. In Hollinghurst's later stories the characters are flawed but compelling. Here they are just unappealing. Strong characters are a must for me; human, imperfect, but compelling and balanced. The characters in this story - most markedly the main character - verge on repellent. Not Don Draper repellent either ... there's not enough charm or talent or tragic back story to forgive this protagonist for his selfish, insipid, repetitious behaviour.

If you can read a story and just savour the language, you might enjoy this book. If characters inhabiting that beautiful world are an important factor for you, read Line of Beauty instead.


Monday, May 27, 2013

gold dust

She lay on her side, both hands clutching the hot water bottle to the spot she imagined miniscule miners were pick-axing holes in her liver. Or maybe in her duodenum – that’s a thing, right - or some piece of intestine that would eventually have to be removed. It was the same game she played every time she ended up here. The doctors poked and whispered and shook their heads and said little. The miniscule miners came back, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days, and worked away at whatever they were doing to her body.

She watched the golden dust motes spin in the thin stream of sunshine let in by the curtain. Imagined them curtsying, bowing, clasping hands, circling left, allemande-ing right. She blew on them and changed the steps of the dance. Dust motes in sunshine. Rain drop races in grey weather. She had her games – her ways of being entertained without making the pain worse. Movement spurred either the pain or the nausea; games in her head made it monetarily bearable.

Retching into the kidney-shaped receptacle, she was amazed at the vivid contrast between the fluorescent green of the bile and the pallid mint of the plastic. How did a body create that colour? And why were hospital colours always just a shade away from death? She lay back on the pillows, damp with sweat and the stench of sickness.

Soft lights flashed behind her eyelids as fairies whisked her away from the beeping, reeking, intrusion that was supposed to cure her, or at least to quell the symptoms for a while. Her body might be rebelling against all she had hoped and dreamed, but her imagination remained a true friend.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

by the way

I'm working on shaking a few things up. Change is a-comin' and it will be ... deliberate.

Monday, May 20, 2013

viola sylvesta

I shared this post last year on Angela Kelsey's women-honouring blog in celebration of my grandma's 100th birthday. I re-share it here today as we both mourn and celebrate her passing last night. I say mourn, because for all of my life my grandma was someone who believed in me 100% and always always had my back with love and prayer. And, I say celebrate, because at 101, it had been some time since grandma had had the quality of life that she valued and deserved, and we know she is in heaven with grandpa, her youngest daughter, so many of her friends and siblings, one grandson, and her heavenly Father. 

I am so grateful that my sons got to grow up with a great-grandma, and that Rivers got to meet her last year. And I miss her fiercely. 
So much love, and goofiness

She was born in the Spring of 1912. To a family with brothers and sisters and a father whose dreams kept them destitute in a way that we, two and three generations on, only read about in Steinbeck novels. She grew up with dill pickle barrels on general store porches. With horses that were tools first. With gold mines gotten to too late and dust storms that blew away suppers. She grew up in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and in places north, east and west of them. Somehow she got herself educated. She went to university in San Francisco, a city even then to a family-loving farm girl. Somehow, in 1920’s America she became an ordained Pentecostal minister. An ordained woman minister. It boggles my mind even though it’s a fact I’ve known all my life.

She married late, for her generation, finding her life mate in another devoted minister at summer revival tent meetings. Their courtship was conducted mostly in letters - hers questioning; his cryptic. The next summer, at those same tent meetings, they eloped. And suddenly, she had a new family to consider.

My dad was her firstborn - joining the family at his grandmother’s house in Idaho. Grandpa worked in the mountains then – preaching being a side calling for a man who worked magic in wood and had a family to feed. My everlasting memory of my grandfather is the faint smell of fresh sawdust. A second son followed, and then four girls, in that little town in those cold Idaho mountains.

And then came a call from God – move the family to Canada. Six kids from six months to nine years loaded into a camperized school bus and transported from Idaho’s coal country to Canada’s Cariboo country. They lived in that bus for a winter. And she cooked on a fire in the snow, and over a woodstove in the bus when possible. But they were there at God’s calling, in the place where they knew they needed to be. And it is where she lives to this day.

I don’t know a lot about the in between – between 1950 when they arrived in Quesnel, and 1968 when I was born there. My first clear memories are of Grandpa building the lake house when I was four – their retirement house that was bigger than anything they’d owned while their six children were at home. Big enough that my aunts and uncles and cousins returning from the mission fields of Africa would always have a place they could land. Big enough that we could have Christmas dinner for 20 plus and all be at one long crooked table. Big enough that it was the only house I knew that had a library room built in under the stairs. 
Oh how I loved the smell and quiet of that closet of books.

It’s a cliché to name your Grandmother as the woman who inspires you, but my Grandma was and is so many things, that I couldn’t think of anyone else. My Grandmother taught me to relish words – consuming and using them. She is a woman of words - like me, sometimes too many words. Hers come out straighter than mine, sometimes with unintended reverberations. I think of her well-meaning ‘I could help you with those eyebrows’ every morning when I tidy those hairy caterpillars, though at 13 I was startled by the thought. I will admit that I took it personally when she pointed out to me that I might be ‘book smart, but other people have other kinds of intelligence that are more useful.’ But it was the perfect lesson for a cocky teenager who had a very limited ability to see the struggles of people around her, even in her own family.

Grandma put her constantly growing family second only to her faith – she happily put aside her education and career to be a wife and mother. She never learned to drive a car; never had her name on the bank account until Grandpa died. They had the kind of traditional marriage that makes us squirm as women today, and when he died some part of her never really lit up again. She’s been a widow for 24 years and she still misses him.

And yet, she is the woman who taught me to stand strong, to create, to be myself, and to never let my strengths be more important than someone else’s weakness. A month after I left my husband, while my sons played in the sunshine in the park, she said “You’ve picked a hard row to hoe, my girl. But I know you can do it.” Then she patted my arm and we went to find ice cream. There were days, that year, when I thought she was the only person who still loved me.

I remember it often. I started graduate school a month later, and her words became my mantra. I moved cities three years later, and they echoed off the streets of this unknown town. I entered and exited relationships - some person-building, some shockingly devastating – and always those words reverberated her faith in me. My sons have stumbled and struggled and she’s always been there, with her love and faith in me and in them.

We celebrate her centennial birthday next week. The entire family - or at least an amazing percentage of it – making the pilgrimage to Quesnel to honour our matriarch: her surviving five children and six children-in-law; seventeen grandchildren and their partners; twenty-one great-grandchildren, and a sweet weeks old great-great grandson that so many of us have yet to meet.

We are only a smidgen of her legacy of faith and love.

The last seven years have been hard on her health: a stroke at 93, breast cancer at 97, burying her golden haired youngest daughter, and the unrelenting march of time have all left her memory wobbly. With all those people and the hullabaloo of a party, she’s unlikely to remember me clearly. She certainly won’t understand who my partner is, and why it’s such a miracle for me to be there with him, happy, and safe, and loved at last. But I go not for recognition, but to recognize.

My grandmother is my inspiration. She is my living, learning, growing model of what a powerful woman is and does. She did not conform; she choose. From the dust bowl of Oklahoma to a senior’s residence in Canada, she has lived her life full of colour and love, with an unprecedented integrity. And I am reminded, once again, of the great gift of my Grandma’s faith in me. And her faith in her God.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

a fragment

She was all sharp angles & hard edges. Staccoto. Treble. Dancing like she was marching to war. The kind of woman who turns a life to dry crumbs. She was a desert wind robbing all around of their damp pleasing joy.

Her hair poked out dangerously - metal shavings stuck to the side of her head. She offered neither cooling dew nor passionate steaming humidity, just the arid sucking

When she broke, all that was left were shards and dust. A shattering so complete, nothing could be salvaged.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

yours are the sweetest eyes, i've ever seen

When the BB's were little, I'd tuck them in bed with a story and a song. BB1 preferred the stories - the more books I'd read the better, though I rarely got suckered in to more than two. BB2 liked the songs, over and over again. When he was three we went almost the whole year singing "Away in a Manger" at bedtime. 

After a while, we expanded our repertoire. Beyond "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," beyond lullabies and nursery rhymes. I made a booklet of the songs we loved, some from their favourite movies - "Baby Mine" from Dumbo and "You'll Be In My Heart" from Tarzan - and, somehow, some of my favourite love songs ended up in there as well. Of course, baby boys don't stay baby boys for long. They start reading for themselves. And then they say, as nicely as they can, you don't have to sing to me anymore, and you try not to take it personally. They do have to grow up. 

But this song, "Your Song," has remained my song for BB2. When he was in the hospital, I couldn't listen to it. I couldn't hear 'how wonderful life is while you're in the world' when he didn't want to be here. Eventually he got out of the hospital, and promised me he'd never go back. It was his birthday. Or perhaps the day before. 

And today is his birthday, two years later. It hasn't been any easy two years for any of us, but most of all for him. He has had some substantial growing pains, some set-backs, and some amazing successes. He's stronger, a little leaner, sometimes guarded, but moving forward. We're all a little more honest than we used to be. It's become essential. And also, I think a little more compassionate, if sometimes a little exhausted. 

I can't give BB2 a big house. But I can remind him, over and over, that sometimes I forget, and I get frustrated, and what I really mean is I'm so very glad he's in the world. 

PS - his eyes are blue. The most incredible blue.

Friday, April 19, 2013

dear shirley

Dear Shirley,

I wish I'd known in October that I'd never see you again. We did know you were in pain, but we didn't know why, and honestly - in the hustle and bustle of a big busy party - it was enough that you and Gerald were there. Smiling, hugging, quietly there. There were a lot of people we love in the room, but even that night I wished we could have found a quiet corner to sit in and catch up. I knew I could tell you anything, and I needed someone to be honest with - it was a hard weekend to keep secrets. I know you would have made it okay. I thought I had a picture of you that weekend with your big smile, and Gerald right behind you. I did have a picture, but it was fuzzy so I deleted it. I wish I hadn't. 

You know how some people are always in your life and you think they always will be, even when you don't see them for years? You were one of those people. I don't remember life before the Bennetts, I suppose because you were already in my family's life before I was. My parents have such amazing friends, and even with our sizable families, we grew up loving those friends like our own aunties, uncles and cousins. My heart breaks for Karen, Carla, Pam and Chris - and for Gerald, yes, though I can't even really fathom his loss. 

My favourite memories of you are from your house in Vernon - the best of places to vacation. I remember feeling so out of place - being the youngest in that sprawling brood of teens that our families created. I was the tween tag-along, tolerated, but mostly just. And you'd always be right there, keeping me busy, herding me through my years-long unrequited crush on your darling golden boy. I wished to be as beautiful as Karen, as big-hearted as Carla, as fun as Pam. My sisters had dibs on those friendships - those five older girls sure didn't need me butting in, but you made it okay to just be me - to sit with a book in the crook of a giant cherry tree and read and eat sun-warmed cherries until my stomach ached. 

I remember things that probably weren't at all the way I remember, but that's okay. What's left are not snapshots so much as puzzle pieces - a fold down divan, your work worn hands, your warm broad smile. All that's left now for any of us are the memories, and so we cling to them, frayed and fuzzy and partial as they may be. Mostly your smile and your laugh - I have no illusions that yours was an easy life, yet when I think of you I think of you smiling and laughing. 

We have no claim on missing you now - you have a partner of more than five decades who will have to learn how to go on without you. Your children, your grandchildren, your siblings - they will all need so much love to fill the void you're leaving in their lives. And still, we will miss you. I'll miss hearing about your adventures with mom and dad. I'll miss those increasingly rare occasions - the birthdays and anniversaries - when we get to see you, however hurried. 

Thank you. Thank you for letting a gawky book lover sit in your cherry tree. Thank you for your wise words, your big smile, your strong laugh, and your model of faithful love. 

You are missed. 
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