Saturday, 17 March 2018

Field Notes (Week 1)

I thought I’d have lots of time to blog when we were on our road trip. Not so. I learned (again) that a road trip is a time to observe and take notes, but all that info needs time to percolate. Now, a week after we are back, I'm ready to blog again.

These notes are from week one, when we were driving long days to get to our destination. You can learn a lot about a culture through observation, even through the window of our car when you're driving thousands of km. on the Interstate.

●    Three billboards about a mile apart: “Getting tired of knitting, Granny?” “We’ve got you covered.” “Stop in at xxx Casino and we’ll show you what fun is.” Another Casino urges you to “Celebrate the Great Indoors.”
●    Another billboard in the middle of nowhere, painted with lurid flames: “Lust will drive you down to HELL.” Whoa!
●    Cannabis is a big thing: “Need Weed? We got it. Call Cana King.” “The desert’s finest weed – 1st gram free.”Makes you wonder how many tokers are sharing the road with you.
●    Duelling billboards highlight the very serious situation of California’s water shortage, which is pitting farmers against environmentalists. “The Salton Sea Crisis is real.” “Save the Delta, stop the Canal.” And this:

Cell phone towers have proliferated – they are everywhere. Some disguise themselves as artistic statements. One looked like a jigsaw puzzle cross outside a church. But the strangest were the fake pine trees we named pinus cellphonicus – tall poles with fake pine branches sticking out of them in every direction. At first glance, I couldn't believe it, but when I googled the concept, I found out it's not just pines, but cacti, palm trees, name it, they're cell phone towers in disguise. Here's an example I found on a website -- the car was going too fast to get a good one for myself.

photo by Robert Voit on Amusing Planet.
 You can see more at this site: "Can you hear me now?" Absolutely, with all of that help out there!

We saw this:

That coffee has to be as black as tar, don’t you think?

Then we saw a big industrial building, with these words painted on its side: Firearms. Buy. Sell. Trade. Rent.  Ummm, rent? “I’d like to rent a gun, please. I’ll only need it for an hour or so, it’s a very small job.” We saw a Safari Park next door to the gun shop; perhaps the renter might just go and bag himself a giraffe or a tiger?

But the best signs we saw were at Slide Rock State Park north of Sedona, Arizona. The park features a creek that cascades down slippery rocks for about ½ mile and is a very popular swimming hole when the temperatures reach 110 in the shade.

At the park, there’s a concession/restaurant with an outdoor patio. From the patio roof hang signs advertising such things as postcards, ice cream, soft drinks, french fries etc. But if you’re on the inside, looking out, the back sides of the signs are painted with delightful slogans and sayings – good words to live by.  Better than a billboard any day.

Sometimes, the best things are just not standing right out in the open advertising themselves. You need to poke around to find them.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Just One Word

Have you chosen your word for the year?

One Little Word is a movement begun in 2006 by Ali Edwards. She chose a word in January to be her focus and guide, a word that expressed the hope she was nurturing for her year.

“In 2006 I began a tradition of choosing one word for myself each January – a word to focus on, meditate on, and reflect upon as I go about my daily life,” she writes in her blog One Little Word. “My words have included play, peace, vitality, nurture, story, light, up, open, thrive, give, and whole. These words have each become a part of my life in one way or another.” (

The movement has grown, and it has become a popular practice. Go ahead, google “one little word” or "word of the year" and see what’s out there.  You can read books, buy resources, find memes and art ideas, and take workshops on how to grow from this special word you’ve chosen.

Personally, I’ve sometimes, but not always, chosen a word for the year. One year it was YES! I wanted to say yes to the many opportunities to explore and grow that were coming my way. I created a little wall hanging printed with words and phrases and hung it on my bulletin board. It was a very good year. Perhaps the power of choosing a word for the year lies in just stating your intentions – stating it is the first step to acting on it.

Back in the busy season (aka December) I came across a quote by Meister Eckhart that has inspired me to choose a rather unusual word for this year. The quote is this:

Meister Eckhart was a 13th century theologian who rattled a lot of chains in his day.  Living in a time when the church believed a vast chasm existed between the divine and the human, he made the startling declaration that God and human beings are already bonded together, already in intimate contact. The only obstacle to our experiencing this is our consciousness of the fact. It’s as though we are surrounded by a fog that obscures the presence of the divine. We are walking through life surrounded by Love, but we just can’t see it. We know there is something missing, but how do we connect?

I know that feeling. I read that quote in early December, and wrote the above lines to start a blog. I didn’t finish it because there were too many other things that were consuming me. I was running through life surrounded by Love, but was too busy, too busy to connect with it. December sucked me up. Fortunately it spit me out again halfway into January. Now it’s time to think some more about the quote.

So I’ve decided to make Subtraction my word for the year. I have no hankering to become an ascetic hermit, but something needs to change. And subtraction is not necessarily a negative thing: it can be liberating to shuck off constricting habits, patterns of thought, and emotional scars. There’s a greater freedom in travelling light.

This week, we are beginning a 6 week road trip down south to Arizona. Road trips mean, by necessity, that you leave behind a lot of the things you take for granted at home. I am subtracting the security of friendships, community, familiar landscapes. Subtracting everyday routines means there is more time for reflection and stock-taking. What in my life needs to be discarded? We are going to have new experiences, which will challenge our old ways of being and seeing. Which of our old ways of being and old ways of thinking might need to be subtracted so we can keep growing? 

We go into this trip with our eyes and hearts and minds wide open. We’re wishing ourselves, and you, travelling mercies in 2018. Via con dios.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Three Women and a Movie

When you let three women of a certain age out loose on the town, who knows what will happen?

I’d put out an email to a group of friends: “Who wants to see “Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri” on Tuesday night? Cheap night! Only $6.”

Two were brave enough to accept my invitation. I’m not sure whether it was the pleasure of my company that enticed them, or the movie’s reputation, or the cheap price. I didn’t question – better not to ask. Whatever – it was a date. Those are not plentiful at our age, and you take one every chance you get.

Now the first thing that can happen when three women of a certain age go out on the town, is that one or more will forget the date. There she is curled up with her glass of wine, the fireplace cozy and warm, when something niggles in her brain. Wasn’t she supposed to be somewhere? It almost happened, but fortunately she remembered at the last minute. Another thing might be that one or more of them is “too pooped to pop” by 4 p.m. and is tempted to cancel out. That almost happened, too, but (it must the pleasure of my company, after all!), we all got to the theatre.

Not early enough to get three seats together, however. Remember, it’s cheap Tuesday, and the Valley is full of many older people eager for a cheap date. The early show is preferred to the late one (otherwise, you might be too pooped to keep your eyes open for the show.) So there we were, on a date, scattered throughout the theatre, waving at each other and mouthing words we couldn’t lip read. We couldn’t even have a nice congenial chat while we sat through the interminable previews of coming shows, most featuring explosions and car chases and gruesome endings. A congenial chat would have been nice -- a little gossip, a little catch-up in the news department, a little comparison about our health issues.

Then came the movie. Another thing that might happen when you let three women out on the town is that one of the women could forget her hearing aids, or her glasses, or the Obus form that make the sprung seats bearable so you don’t wreck your back. Yes, a few adaptive appliances got left at home. Par for the course. These things happen, and you have to live with it – mamma always said life isn’t  a bed of roses. So you miss a few lines of dialogue, or end up with a sore back.  It is what it is. Women of a certain age know that for a fact.

Now the movie: well! Maybe three women of a certain age shouldn’t  like a movie that contains  profanity, has some pretty violent scenes, and  jokes about the N word. But there’s something about the heroine Frances McDormand, (flawed as she is), wrinkles, bad hair, and wardrobe- impaired, that speaks to us. She is trying to shame the police into working harder to solve the murder of her teenaged daughter, and she’s not nice about it, not nice like women of a certain age should be. She’s not the “wear beige and shut up” kind of lady, and we all need to be reminded of that. Some things are worth fighting for. We’ll make mistakes, but mamma always said the best lessons you learn are when you make mistakes. (Pay attention: this is the only part of the blog I did not write with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek.)

We emerged from the theatre, shaking our heads and laughing a little. This called for a debriefing, but Courtenay has few coffee shops open at night. Did I mention that our Valley is, in the words of the last census report, “characterized by a relatively large  65+ age cohort and a rising median age. This age cohort is over-represented in the region in comparison to provincial and national figures.” Really, we are just a little ticked that they would get so personal as to mention our “large” “figures”, but oh, well, whatever.  So we went to Timmies, which is open 24 hours, and attracts all kinds of other people out on the town, mostly teenagers (because the old-timers in bed already.) I texted my RS – “Having tea at Tommies. See you later.” Darn that autocorrect – then again, maybe he’d text back and say, “Who the heck is Tommie and what are you doing at his place?” but all he texted back was “OK.” I was disappointed.

Over cups of tea, the three women debrief about the movie, then get down to the congenial chat they’d missed out on, featuring gossip, a catch-up in the news department, and an organ recital about the various parts of our bodies that were giving us problems. We all looked at our watches to make sure we won’t be turning into pumpkins anytime soon, but nobody was wearing one. I had a cell phone, however, which I checked: getting close to 9, the witching hour.

This led to a discussion of cell phones and all that newfangled technology. One of the women confessed she had to ask some kids out on the street how to turn the thing on when she first tried using it. Another said that she still hasn’t figured out how to send messages – every time she tries, the phone operates like a ... surprise, surprise!...  phone, making a call that connects her to the party she’s trying to text. She displays one of her screens and says, “Hey, but I do have a personal hot spot.  Do you have one of those?” There’s a moment of shocked silence, before one of us replies, “Uh yes, but mamma says you don’talk about that in public.” The titters become giggles become loud guffaws. The teenagers at the next table look over in surprise. What’s so funny? Oh, if you only knew.

It’s hard to control three women of a certain age when you let them out on the town.

It was time to go, so after a visit to the biffy (don’t ever pass up that opportunity when you are a woman of a certain age) we headed home. Mission accomplished: a good date. And cheap, even. 
So it looks like there may be a few more of those chick movie nights in the offing. Anyone want to join us?

Saturday, 6 January 2018

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

I could write a book.

Instead, I’ll let pictures and numbers do the talking.

# of days that our home was party central: 13 (Dec. 22-Jan.4)
# of people in our family: 15 – 9 adults, 6 children, ranging in age from 3-71
# of plates of food served up for supper during that time: 128. (Sometimes some of the kids ate at their own homes.)
# of beds available for kids and grandkids who come “from away”: 3 queen-sized; number of people sleeping under our roof for 5 nights: 8.
# of thermarests to trip over in the den: you do the math.
# of ways to rearrange nativity sets: numerous

The virgin Mary is hiding in a candle holder, a wise man is riding in on a bird, and the sheep are all in a row, pretending to be dogs. At least, that's the story Grace told me.

# of times a schedule was successful: none

Aerin had high hopes for the day. I like her "be bored" entry.

# of birthdays celebrated: 2 (Jesus’ birthday on Dec. 25, Auntie Dani’s on Dec. 28)

# of  people who caught the gastro-intestinal bug that was hovering around our house: 9
Number of toilets available: 3 (Best gift under the tree: a box of anti-diarrhea medication)

But these Frisian Flag swim shorts I picked up at a Thrift Shop came a close second as a unique father/son gift!
# of dogs underfoot: 3
# of computers operating at the same time: 5 plus numerous I-Pads and cell phones.
# of cars parked out front of the house: 6-8

# of oliebollen consumed at New Year's: however many you can make out of 8 cups of flour

Oliebollen: a traditional Dutch treat served only at New Years. They are a bit like donuts, studded with raisins and apples and deep fried. Usually done outside or in the garage so the house doesn't smell like stale oil for days afterwards.

# of times we shouted Happy New Year!: 3. Once at 7:30 p.m. after watching a cartoon video with Grace, after which she went to bed; the second time at 9, outside, where we launched firecrackers, sparklers and a Chinese Lantern; and once at midnight, joining Rick Mercer's send off on TV.

# of times the vacuum cleaner came out to clean up the mess: 0. What’s the point?
# of cases of beer consumed: not recorded. (But not excessive, honestly.)
# of ways you can get away from the ones you love when it all gets to be too much:
a) get sick and hide out in bed. Not recommended.
b) go for a walk. Highly recommended – but not always possible if you’re sick. We had a few good walks with everyone, including New Year's Day when we took our family snapshot. Shortly thereafter, two more came down with the flu.

c) Hide. The RS and I slipped into the den and closed the door while the kids were watching a movie and playing games. We watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy – it was like date night! Hours later, one of the sons peeked in and said, “Oh, there you are – refugees in your own house, eh?” Nailed it, son!
d) Throw a hissy fit. This is guaranteed to clear a room very quickly, but not really recommended unless you want to throw a damper on the party. If you are fortunate, your RS will see the steam gathering and gently steer you to a quiet place where you can have a “discussion”, after which you decide that if you can’t change your circumstances, you could try changing your attitude. It works.
e) go grocery shopping. Alone. With a lot of money.

Speaking of money: the bills for Christmas are still coming in, but the cost of the memories: priceless.

The crow is wishing you many opportunities to create great memories this year. Be blessed!

Oldest grandgirl helps youngest grandgirl dress the dollies.
The ukuleles got played from time to time.

The dining room table: what would family life be like without it? Good for crafts, a computer desk, visiting, eating, playing games and more.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Disappointment at Christmas?

It’s been a weird few weeks, a Christmas season like we’ve never quite experienced before.

Lately, my facebook feed and e-mails have been full of Christmas wishes from family and friends. I wanted to respond, but things got a little busy, so we decided to post New Year’s wishes instead. Instead, you are getting my first-ever Christmas blog.

The story started last week. We decided to make a 2-day run for the mainland to catch our three grandgirls in their extravaganza Christmas program. Sure, there was the little matter of a cold coming on, but the Tradex had been rented so all the grandmas and grandpas and omas and opas could attend. The youngest was going to sing a duet in front of 1500 people – how could we miss that?

Well, we did. On Monday, we got to Abbotsford, but on Tuesday, the day of the performance, it began to snow. Whiteout conditions prevailed. The performance was postponed and my cold came on like gangbusters – probably a flu bug in a minor strain. So we headed home again. We watched Aerin’s performance on you-tube instead of live. What a disappointment.

We moved on... by Thursday evening, the bug seemed to have disappeared, and there was much to do. We knew that Saturday and Sunday the kids would be dropping by to play games, open stockings, have a nice meal together. On Monday we had invited other guests to come for a Christmas meal while our married sons attended their in-law gatherings. Eight around the Christmas table: nice! Gives you warm fuzzies thinking about it.

Saturday morning, the phone rang. One of our anticipated guests had gone to hospital overnight, and they were cancelling. Fortunately, the condition righted itself quickly in the next few days, so that was a blessing, although a bit disappointing for us that our good friends wouldn’t be able to join us.  However, we still had a house full of family and would have 6 people around the Christmas table on Christmas day.

Ho, ho, ho: the best laid plans, etc. Saturday afternoon, while making dinner for the family, the bug returned with a vengeance, out of the blue: a heat flush, a near faint, and a run for the bathroom. While the family gathered around the table, I lay in bed shivering and feeling bad. What a disappointment! 

When I let our remaining Christmas guests know about the bug at our house, they gracefully bowed out. Can you blame them? We did have a good Christmas eve – the cook was out of commission, but the “show” went on. I watched mostly from the sidelines, my accustomed role abandoned. Not nice.

Disappointment at Christmas: not an unfamiliar theme, I’m thinking. Rarely do holidays meet our built-up expectations, do they? Some people feel so sad because they are missing someone special on this day. Others have broken relationships that make everything less than perfect. You’re alone, and everyone else seems to be having a good time. The Christmas eve service was a noisy shambles instead of a reverent time of reflection. The gift you were hoping for? It was a slow-cooker instead of the spa-date. We overspend, or overcommit, or are overly busy, or overly lonely,  and then, overly exhausted. Major and minor disappointment all around. My short story of disappointment is really nothing compared to many other stories around the world – stories of refugees, hunger, violence, war, broken politics. It’s a mess out there.

What to say about that?

We managed to make it to a Christmas eve service at a church with a balcony, where the Schut clan sat alone, not spreading my germs to the rest of the congregation. It was good to be there, to sing the carols, to watch the children act out the timeless story, to light candles. But especially good to hear the message, which was startlingly appropriate: Christmas is not about nice. God doesn’t need a nice story, decorated with all the trappings we’ve put on Christmas. Christmas is a messy story about homelessness, hopelessness, violence, political brokenness. Whatever we’re dealing with, it was real back then, too.

Instead,  Christmas is about God with us, entering our lives to show what love was all about. It’s about love made flesh with us, in whatever situation we find ourselves: disappointed, sad, alone, anxious, overstimulated, less-than-perfect, sick with the flu. Not just at Christmas, but everyday. Always has been, always will be.

May you experience that Love, the love that came down, in this wonderful season that disappoints and thrills, that is filled with warm fuzzies and cold shoulders, sickness and health, chaos and caring, joy and tears.   

The advent candle wreath: candles of hope, joy, peace and love -- the gifts of  Christmas, surrounding the Christ candle.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Peace in the Valley

As I begin writing this, it is 10:24 in the evening. I am bushed, but happy. There’s been a lot of hustle and bustle here, but now there is peace.

This is the weekend that our church held its 4th annual display of Nativity sets, and the RS and I are deeply involved in that. The logistics are mind-boggling for my little old non-math-oriented brain: 217  nativity scenes, lent by 50-60 lenders, representing more than 3 dozen countries; 500 visitors; 100 + children who are engaged in crafts, dress-up, and treasure hunts; musicians to be scheduled; scores of volunteers to set up the display, then take down and pack up. There’s lots of preparation – our committee has been meeting since the beginning of October. And then,  all in the space of three days, it happens, and it’s over. 

It’s a labour of love, but that doesn’t mean that all is sweetness and light. There are days that I wonder why we do this, and then, when the actual event happens, we know it was worth it. But isn’t that the way it is with life – most meaningful and fulfilling things take some effort? 

Yes, the rewards are many. Here are some photos: they speak louder than words.

There’s the little fellow, who, upon hearing the story of God coming down to earth and being laid in a box of hay in a barn, exclaims, “But that’s not right! He should be born in a beautiful palace!” There’s another little guy whose eyes are filled with wonder as he looks at a simple scene carved from olive wood. I tell him the set comes from the same country Jesus was born in, and he asks, “Is that across the ocean?” When I nod, he says, “Well, that’s my very favourite set. It’s the most real!” There are busloads of seniors who come pushing their walkers; they wouldn’t miss this annual outing for the world. There are first-time visitors who gasp when they see all the sets. “I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. Oh, wow!” There are families who dress up in costumes and pose around the manger for photos: that’s a new wrinkle on the annual picture with Santa! There are people who tell me, “This brings tears to my eyes.” All of them are meeting Jesus in one way or another: through the eyes, the ears, hospitality and laughter, the experience of seeing that old, old story again for the very first time, as expressed through the artistic skills of people around the world.

But now the hullabaloo is over, and at the Schut ranch, all is calm – or it will be when the boxes and crates are sorted and put away for another year. For me,  the icing on the Christmas cake was that my friend Joy posted a meaningful blog that I think you might enjoy reading, one that gives you food for thought as we light the candle of peace in this second week of Advent leading up to Christmas (it even involves quilting.) I wish you peace from our home to yours.

Read Joy's blog about Patchwork Peace at

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Creature of Habit

Habits, schmabits. Hmmphh. For me, the word “habit” is associated with negative emotions.

When the word pops up in conversation, I feel guilt. I have bad habits. I shouldn’t have bad habits. For example, I’m checking my FB and e-mail way too much. It’s wasting time. I need to change this habit. Associated with that,  a sense of doom. I know I need to get rid of my bad habits, but that’s easier said than done. I’m going to fail. I know it. But I decide: from now on, FB and email once in the morning, once at night. And then there’s frustration, because I park myself in front of the computer and before you know it, presto-bingo, there are the FB and email screens open already. Why do I do this? Bad, bad habit. This is the song that never ends – go back to the beginning of this paragraph, my friends, and you will see what I mean.

Then I do some positive self-talk (another one of my habits!) The self-talk goes something like this: “Habits are good for you. (Like cod-liver oil, replies my rebellious self.) Just think of all the good habits you already have in your life. (Right. I brush my teeth every night before I go to bed. I cook supper most nights. I do a Sudoku every morning, first thing, when I get up. Boring. Boring. Boring.) Habits keep people on track; people with good habits get way more done. Try it, you’ll like it. (Reluctantly, I buy this line of thinking. Only reluctantly. But why can’t I get good things done without resorting to a habit?)

I admit it: I have a hang-up about habits. My image of habits is one formed in my younger years. A habit is something you thoughtlessly do time after time, long after it’s no longer meaningful. (You always have tea with your breakfast; you always wear a hat to church; you always wash the kitchen floor on Saturday morning.)  And changing these lifelong habits is like setting off a bomb that rips apart the fabric of your life. Okay, I exaggerate – bad habit. But you get my drift.

I need an attitude change. Along comes a book called Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin, subtitled “Mastering the habits of our everyday lives.”

My impression of Ms. Rubin is that she is one strong woman with a mittful of wonderful habits which she is eager to sell me. There’s no time like right now to begin again to create good habits, she says.  She describes 4 different tendencies in people when it comes to mastering habits: The Upholder, the Obliger, the Questioner and the Rebel. Yup, I’m the questioner with strong shades of rebel. If people tell me that a certain habit is good for me (drink 8 glasses of water every day!) I will say, “Oh, really? Everybody should be doing this? Maybe 6 would be good enough? And can I count coffee and tea as part of that, too? Wine, perhaps?” The rebel part of me mutters under her breath, “Phooey! You’re not the boss of me.”

After showing me who I am (oh, really?), she proceeds to show me that different strokes work for different folks as far as forming good habits or battling bad ones are concerned. An Upholder only needs to be reminded of the good reasons behind a good habit, and she’s off and running. Guess what personality type Ms. Rubin is? The Obliger will do it because she doesn’t want to let anyone down, she wants to make sure everyone is happy. Guess what type of personality many, many women are? And me, the questioner verging on rebel? The questioner is pretty good at meeting inner expectations, but not so good at outer ones. Apparently, I’m the one who needs to dig deep inside myself to figure out her own best techniques. There’s no point in anyone telling me what’s good for me. That dog doesn’t hunt.

This is about as far as I’ve gotten in the book. (And I’ve already renewed it once, which shows you how much I am resisting thinking about this.) I turn the page, and there’s a quiz you can take – you won’t be graded on it, but it might reveal things about yourself that will help you. I like quizzes, especially ones with no right or wrong answers, which I would question, anyway.

The RS and I discuss some of the questions, and WHOA! a light bulb goes on. I’ve been bemoaning the fact that I have hardly written anything or done any fibre art in the last three months. I have plenty of reasons to trot out about why this is so: commitment to other involvements (hello, Obliger, my old friend. Still living here, eh?), lame excuses about needing big blocks of uninterrupted  time for these pursuits, distractions that lead me down dead-end rabbit trails, blah blah blah. Oh, yes, and checking FB and e-mail a dozen times a day might contribute to my lack of productiveness just a teeny weeny bit. You think, maybe?

But now I see the real reason: I have not made a habit of doing the things that give me the most pleasure and have sustained me.

Writing and creating art are the two things that I do to maintain an even keel in life. They are like air for my spirit, water for a thirsty soul.  But instead of supplying myself with a steady dose of necessary things, I have subconsciously thought of them as personal indulgences which I treat myself to when there’s time and opportunity. I used to put these creative pursuits at the top of my list, but  – dare I say it? – I’ve gotten out of the habit.

Thanks, Ms. Rubin. This questioner is on her way to answering her own questions about habits. Writing and making art: making these part of my daily routines will leave less time for the bad habits I would like to eliminate from life.

One last thing, Ms. Rubin: the rebel in me will not call these routines a habit – that word is too mundane for such imporant work. Habit might be a good enough word for brushing your teeth, but not for art and writing. I will call them practices – the things you do to stay in tune with life.

And I’ll follow your advice: I’ll begin NOW.

And I did. First I wrote this blog, and then I pulled out the beginnings of a new piece of work that had been circulating in my imagination for the last weeks, but I was waiting for the right time to begin. NOW is the right time!