Saturday, 28 December 2013

Crow in the Snow

It's been a busy week, full of family, food, celebrations, partying, rejoicing, and playing with my children and grandchildren. So the crow who lives in my backyard volunteered to write today's post. She went walking in the yard, and came up with some nuggets of wisdom which may enrich you as you enter a new year.

1. No experience is wasted if you use it as fertile soil for further growth. May 2014 be rich in experiences.

2. If you cover your eyes, you’ll never see the beauty around you. 

3. Life is busy, so it is good periodically to sit and rest a spell. You'll get a new perspective on things, and get strength to carry on. 

4. Take time to smell the roses. Rosemary will do if roses are not available. There's always something good to smell.

5. Sometimes a good thing is just out of reach. Take a risk and go for it anyway.

6. Just because there’s snow on the roof doesn’t mean that there’s no good stuff inside. (Think about it!)

7. Go ahead, take a chance. Make friends with someone who is different from you.

8. You need to refresh and rehydrate yourself often, both spiritually and physically. Go to the water.

9. Face the future with hope. When things are looking bleak, remember the old adage: “Things are darkest the moment before the dawn breaks through.”

10. If you're hoping for a good new year, you can't go wrong if you pray and work for harmony, peace, unity, love and joy.

The crow is a girl of few words -- but they're good ones. Thanks, crow!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Christmas Spirits

I’ve been visited this week by the spirits of Christmases past.
An early memory I have is of Christmas 1955. We – mom, dad, my sister Sue and I – were living on the top floor of an old mansion converted to apartments. The week before Christmas, a measles epidemic swept through our small town. Measles was serious business ... a child my age had already died from it. Sue and I both got sick, and shared a bed in a windowless room, since light hurt our eyes. What I remember is hushed voices, doctor’s visits, and mom sitting anxiously beside our bed keeping vigil. During the worst of it, I slept round the clock. I cannot imagine the anxiety my parents must have felt, but I do remember the glad sound of relief Mom expressed when I finally opened my eyes, the fever broken and the worst of it over. A day or two later – it must have been Christmas eve – Mom and Dad each picked one of us up out of bed, saying they had a surprise for us. When they carried us into the darkened living room, there stood a Christmas tree glowing with lights and tinsel. How beautiful! The spirit of that Christmas was the spirit of joy and gratitude. Just as Advent leads to Christmas, the hard wait was over, the celebration could begin.

 My parents tried hard to hang on to the Dutch tradition of keeping the secular and the sacred as separate celebrations.  St. Nicholas Day in early December was the day for giving small gifts, while Christmas was a spiritual celebration. But it was a losing battle. So for a few years, we’d do our gift giving a week or so before Dec. 25. Gradually the gift-giving migrated to Christmas Eve. That evening, we’d do what was rarely done: we’d eat a supper of finger foods in the living room – chunks of sausage, pickled herrings, cheese, potato chips and other treats, followed by the gift opening. It was our own special tradition. Truly gezellig (cozy)  as the Dutch would say. I’m not sure which year this Spirit of Christmas Past comes from – perhaps about 1963. It was 5 o’clock, and we were preparing bowls of snacks and setting out the candles for our special time, when there was a knock on the door. We looked at each other in horror – it couldn’t be Mr. V, could it? Mr. V, a travelling salesman and a fellow immigrant, made periodic unannounced visits to our home, always at suppertime  so he could be invited to join in our meals. I am ashamed to say now that we teens called him Freddie the Freeloader. Not only did he like to eat, but he also loved to talk, and talk, and talk. Sure enough, Mr. V it was. We told him what was up, but he didn’t take the hint, so he joined us for our special feast, amended by hastily warmed-up soup and a few sandwiches. At the time, I was well and truly ticked by this visit, which lasted about an hour too long, in our opinion. Now, years later, visited by the spirit of that Christmas, I think about the old familiar story, Mary and Joseph asking for lodging. My teenaged heart would have closed the door to Mr. V, but thank God, the Spirit of Generosity and Hospitality implanted in my parents’ hearts was bigger than that. There was room at our table for Mr. V.

When Al and I got married and had our first child, we moved west to Edmonton, far from home and family. For a few years, we tried to go back to Ontario for Christmas, but that became too much. Our friends became stand-ins for family.

However, for Christmas 1978 most of our friends had their own plans, and we would spend Christmas Day alone with our two boys, aged 4 and 2. I was 7 months pregnant and feeling a bit homesick and sorry for myself, but decided it was time to create our own memories and family traditions. So, brightly, I asked the boys, “What shall we have for Christmas dinner?” I had visions of turkey and gravy, but they said, “Meatballs!” I swallowed my disappointment, and their choice was a good one. I had very little to do in the kitchen, and because it snowed that day we had lots of fun playing outdoors. They smacked their lips and had lots of meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy. I’d decided to humour myself, however, with a fancy dessert: a chocolate fondue in front of the fireplace in the living room. Al rearranged the furniture while I chopped up the cake and fruit in the kitchen. He carried those into the living room and placed them on the coffee table while I warmed up the chocolate sauce in the kitchen. He sat down to read and the kids played in the living room while they waited for me to finish up in the kitchen. A coffee table laden with goodies within reach of little hands and a dad who’s not paying attention ... can you see where this is heading? Yes, the goodies were mostly gone by the time I came in with the chocolate sauce ... which we served with ice cream. It was a Christmas that burns bright in my memory. That Spirit of Christmas past is all about expectations, and welcoming the unexpected.

Speaking of unexpected...we expect to see a partridge in a pear tree at Christmas time, but a crow in a Christmas tree? The crow will be greeting our children and grandchildren in a few days when we are all together for Christmas, and creating some Christmas spirit of our own as we sing, eat, play and rejoice together.

 May the spirits that live in the message of  Christmas – the spirits of joy, gratitude, hospitality, generosity, hope, expectation, and so much more – bless you as you celebrate the coming of the Gift of Love this year.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Crow Lessons (2)

When I created my first small crow sculpture to attach to the Winter Tree piece (see post for July 7), I didn’t know what I was starting. That crow has led me on a journey that has taught me much. I have read everything I can get my hands on about crows, listened to dozens of crow stories, and created, to date, 5 art pieces based on crows.

Today I want to share with you the story of  The Secret Life of Cassandra the Crow. Who knows how creativity works? When someone, knowing my interests, commented that crows love shiny things, I “saw” in my imagination a crow playing with glass, diamonds, keys, and silver jewelry in her bedroom.

It was a blast working with that image. I immediately called my crow Cassandra and placed her in  “the boudoir”. Mais oui, cheri!  I pulled together fabrics that felt bright and light to create a background, and then began sorting through my own assortment of bright and shiny objects –  mostly thrift store finds I couldn’t resist buying. Apparently, it's not only crows that collect bright and shiny things.

Cassandra’s feathered body came together pretty quickly, so then the fun of dressing her up began. I gave her a mirror so she could admire herself. Ooh-la-la!

She tried on her diamond necklace with matching earrings, and I even gave her a nose stud. (Beak stud? Bill stud?) I created bracelets for each of her legs, and rings for a few of her toes. She was one swanky lady ... er, crow.

 Her boudoir was decorated with accessories – a jewel-studded telephone, a silver key, an extra piece of jewelry – everything the trendy well-dressed crow could want. Her boudoir needed a piece of wall art, and I had just the thing.

A recent browsing session at Sally Ann had really snagged a trophy: a unique brooch of a hand holding a silver bar from which hung various symbols of the successful life of a glamor puss/crow: a bag of money, a fur coat, an airplane, and a movie camera. Perfecto! My piece was finished.

 I hung it up on my design wall, awaiting a session with the resident sweetie, who would create a wooden frame for it. Months went by. Every time I walked into my studio, I smiled fondly at Cassandra. She was such a silly old crow, preening and posturing in front of her mirror, admiring herself. I could relate to her – and probably you can too. We have these secret sides of ourselves that we may not reveal to the public world, but which we trot out now and then in the privacy of our mental boudoir. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but it’s fun to try on these other personas.

It’s only fun, though, if we know the difference between real and pretend. One day, when I was looking at Cassandra, she didn’t strike me as being so funny anymore. I realized, as I’ve learned from my study of crows, that they have much to teach us, and Cassandra’s preening struck me as being sad and a mite foolish – just as foolish as I sometimes am, thinking that I need a few more shiny baubles and magic doodads – and yes, great thrift store finds – to bring me lasting delight. And how easy it would be for me to stay holed up in my studio, playing with my fabrics, ignoring the community whose fabric I am a part of. 

I took down Cassandra and added a reminder to the piece that the best of us does not live in an enclosed boudoir. I added a window to the upper left side of the piece, and behind the frosty window pane sits another crow, on the outside looking in. She’s a reminder to Cassandra, and to us, that while we can hide in our boudoir for a while, there’s a big world out there, waiting for us to come on out, come as we are, and play for real.

PS: Apparently, crows are even smarter than we are: I learned that it’s a myth that they love and collect shiny things. You can read about it at this website –

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Light Thoughts

The resident sweetie read and enjoyed my post last week, but suggested maybe this week I should keep it light, as in “not so heavy.”  He’s probably right...not everyone is enthusiastic about puzzling out the answers to big questions. I notice when I am pontificating about some weighty issue, sometimes my listeners’ eyes glaze over, and they yawn. This is called the MEGO affect (“my eyes glaze over.”) The trouble with being light, however, is that it is hard to do on demand.

I pondered possible light topics (The Very First Quilt I Ever Made, hahaha? Pet Stories aka What’s a dead guinea pig doing in the freezer? or The Anger Monster who lives in my Closet – oh wait, that’s not funny at all). Sigh. To paraphrase Kermit, it’s not easy being light.

Then a light bulb (pun intended) flashed in my mind: the word light can have another meaning. Light is the opposite of dark, and if there’s anything that December is known for, it’s darkness. We get up in the dark, and we eat supper in the dark, and in the hours in between the skies are probably grey or cloudy.
Opa helps Solay with lights.
We could all do with a bit more brightness in our lives at this time of year –  to be reminded that yes, Virginia, there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel. And it’s a good time to reflect on the light as we await Christmas, when we celebrate the arrival of God’s Light to the world.

 We’ve had a few fun experiences with light lately. It started last Friday evening at church, when we had a family potluck dinner to launch Advent. Each table was decorated nicely with a central wreath studded with Christmas lights. But we didn’t even notice those lights until the overhead fluorescents were turned down. Then the colourful lights right in front of our noses added a lovely ambience to our fellowship. Sometimes we have to be in the dark before we notice that there actually is light around us.

The next day, the grandboys had a Winter Faire at Saltwater, their Waldorf-inspired school. ( for more specifics on that form of education) We were the proud grandparents who listened to the singing and watched the candles being dipped and lit. There were lots of songs about light and candles, including “This Little Light of Mine.” Several times we heard the teachers explain that everyone’s job, including the kids, is to bring our light out into the world and let it shine. I like that! And it’s not too heavy an idea, either. Just do it!

This is also the season of Chanukah, a Jewish holiday that commemorates the victory of a small band of Maccabees over pagan oppressors. Miraculously, although there was only oil enough for the lamp to burn for one night, the oil held out for eight nights. Chanukah is a holiday that says: "Never lose hope." We got out the Menorah that we’d bought in Spain last year and lit the candles. Tradition says the Menorah should be placed in a window as a testimony to the world of God’s miracles. Light that is hidden can’t dispel darkness or offer hope. Another bright idea!

And now I am looking forward to the Advent Spiral, another event at Saltwater School.
I remember how it was last year. A large spiral path bordered by evergreen boughs lay on the floor. A flickering candle rested on a tree stump at the center. Gold paper stars were evenly dispersed along the path. Each of us, children and adults, was invited to take a turn to walk quietly and meditatively inside the spiral, holding an unlit candle that had been stuck into an apple. We would light our candle from the central flame, then place it on a star around the circle.

 But when you gather 15 preschoolers together, things have a way of taking a left turn. The first child, chosen because he was already squirming on his mother’s lap, didn’t want to place his candle on the star; instead, he put it down as close to the central light as possible. The next three children followed suit, and so there were four little candles huddled together close to the source of the light.

The next child found the star and put his candle down in the right place, but wasn’t so sure he wanted to leave the circle. Another child ran exuberantly around the spiral, laughing all the way. One child meditatively chewed on his apple candleholder on the way into the spiral. Several children hopped into and out of the spiral over the cedar boughs instead of walking on the path. One very little one lit her candle then walked over to her grandma to give it away.  But they all lit their candles and set them down somewhere in the circle, and the room was brighter when we left than when we arrived.

I guess we all stumble around in the darkness sometimes, and go round in circles; then someone lights a candle, and we can see the way home.

Work in progress: an advent spiral wallhanging. Hopefully next year, I'll embroider candles on it and use it as an advent calendar.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

More about the Big Q

Writing last week about “what it’s all about” (the Big Q) reminded me of a few more things, so this is a continuation of last week’s post. 

In particular I wanted to share this: I have found the best way to get hints about the answer to the Big Q is to connect with the Divine, or the Creator, or the Higher Power...whatever name you give to God.

Ah, but how do you do that? When I was much younger, I thought, as I’d been taught, that the way was through words. You prayed words, you listened to words, you read words, you sang word-prayers, and somehow, this was supposed to connect you to your Maker. Sometimes it did. More often, it didn’t. Oh, sure, I talked to God all day in my head: “Nice day, today – thanks for that. Oh, and by the way, I’m really worried about X, could you take care of that, please? And I’m feeling  blue today ...”) But mostly it was me doing all the talking. I thought maybe I was missing the antenna to hear what God was saying to me. It was supposed to be a two-way relationship, wasn’t it?

Later, I learned, to my relief, that there are many other ways to commune with the Divine. In Fifty Ways to Pray – Practices from Many Traditions and Times, I learned about meditation, about reflection, about using imagination, about experiencing nature, and about body prayers.  All these are prayers that don’t necessarily use words but allow us to listen and engage with God in new ways.
Body Prayers – using our body through dance, drumming, running, walking – especially appealed to me. When I used my body – when I worked with my hands, creating quilts or art pieces or journalling about ideas, or when I took walks alone, or moved to music, I would receive insights and revelations even when I wasn’t necessarily looking for answers. That was a big !AHA! moment for me: when I activated it through movement, the Divine Spark’s energy flowed through me.

That’s a long introduction to a story about a winter walk and a hint of an answer to the Big Q. The story starts in 2004 in Texas, where Al and I were vacationing at Big Bend National Park, right across the Rio Grande River from the village of Boquillas, Mexico. For years, the villagers of Boquillas  had supplemented their meager incomes by ferrying park visitors across the river in boats and offering them the food and handicrafts of another culture. This was technically illegal  –  nobody was checking passports – but officials turned a blind eye to the practice. Then came 9-11, and suddenly the borders were shut down. With armed guards patrolling the watery border, the residents of Boquillas were cut off from a supplementary income that fed and educated their children.

What to do? The Rio Grande was a very shallow river at this point, so while one person remained on the Mexican side as a lookout, others would wade across the Rio Grande and invite walkers on the trail to buy their handicrafts. I was buying a walking stick when a piercing whistle sounded – the lookout had spotted a  guard on the other side. The Mexican men grabbed my money, rolled up their handicrafts in a blanket, and rushed back across the river to safety.

 Five  years later, in Courtenay BC, I grabbed that Boquillas stick to go walking on a wintry January morning.  Down to the woods I went, where the trails were icy.
This is a quilt square I made to celebrate the walk.
The stick was a great support as I navigated the bumps and hazards. I breathed the crisp cold air, felt alive and refreshed. I wasn’t really thinking about much else, but when I got back to my computer, this is what I wrote:


March, 2004: Big Bend National Park, Texas
On the banks of the Rio Grande
squatting beside their secret wares,
Mexican men:
“Psst! Would you like to buy?
Hand-carved walking sticks,
cheap, Senora, cheap!”
We buy a walking stick.
Then comes a warning whistle:
the men pack their wares,
dash across the river,
to home and safety,
ahead of the gun-toting border guard.
$10 has bought them security:
their children will have food for another day.

January, 2009:
On the banks of the Puntledge River,
on icy Vancouver Island,
I pick my way along the path,
into the rain-spattered wind,
leaning hard upon my walking stick.
Eagles, fungi, roaring river
replenish and refresh.
$10 has bought me security, and
my spirit has been nourished for another day.

The tiny inkling of awareness on my walk was in the connections I experienced: the connection between terrorists and innocent citizens in a far off country; a connection to nature; a connection to strangers who, like me, were looking for safety and security; and a connection to the Creator.

Our very big world is so very small, and in the grand scheme of things, not very much separates us from each other. Drawing strength from the Creator of it all, we can take care of one another and the world we live in ... or not. Whatever we choose will have consequences.

It’s not the whole answer to the Big Q, but it’s part of it, I’m sure.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

What’s it all about, anyway?

The crow is pondering the Big Q, too.
On her Facebook page, Anne Lamott writes about a talk she gave to launch her latest book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair.

She says, “A woman in her late twenties raised her hand and asked, "What is the big picture? I do a lot of things that I love and value, but don't have a clue what it all means." Anne’s reply: “Welcome to the monkey house! ... We ALL think we missed school the day that the visiting specialists stopped by our 2nd grade classroom to distribute the pamphlets on what is true, who we are, how we are to live with the great mystery of life, how to come through dark times, how to awaken.”

What’s it all about, anyway? That is the Big Question (henceforth know as Big Q). If we are people of “a certain age” we should, by now, for goodness sakes, know the answer  – shouldn’t we? But no, in the last few weeks the Big Q has posed itself a number of times, as though the Universe is shaking me by the shoulders and saying, “Hey! Wake up! Got the answer yet?” Nope. (But I’m getting some hints.)

The Big Q came up in a conversation with a friend over lunch – she said she’d been “broodily pondering” about the meaning of life.  (“Broodily pondering” is a great phrase, isn’t it? Like a broody hen sitting on her nest, she’s expecting something, sometime, to hatch. Living in expectation is a good way to live, I think.)

Then, when I was cleaning out a drawer, I came across Seeking the Sacred, a book of talks given at a Seeker’s Dialogue in Toronto in 2006. These are the first lines of the introduction: “Over the course of our adult lives, most of us eventually choose, or are forced by events, to answer the questions ‘Why am I here? What is my purpose?’ ”

Even our national radio CBC got into the act on its comedy show This is That. With tongue firmly placed in cheek, the interviewer talked to a fellow – I’ll call him Bud. Bud said,  “Yeah, ya know, I’d had a horrible, terrible, painful break-up with my girlfriend of four months, and I just hit rock bottom and I was wondering what life was all about anyway. I just went outside and fired up the snow-blower and began clearing my driveway, and ya know, that gave me time to think, and I had an amazing revelation: I needed to go on a vision quest across Canada with my snow-blower. Maybe somewhere on the walk, blowing snow, the answer will come to me.” So off he went. For Bud, the answer came in Dryden where he met up with a most delightful woman who is fulfilling all his dreams.

The easy cheesy way out for me at this point in this post would be the Monty Python way. At the end of the movie The Meaning of Life, a character opens an envelope that supposedly answers the Big Q,  and reads, “Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

However, I am beginning to believe that there is no definitive answer that will fit every person, and that answers change as we grow and mature. For some people – Monty Python? –  it’s pretty simple – you figure it out, and after that you carry on. Or we read something that makes sense, and use it to help us along. The Westminster Catechism tells us that “the chief aim of man (and woman) is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” In Seeking the Sacred, author Martin Rutte suggests that all the world’s great religious traditions teach that we are here to bring heaven – or little bits of heaven, as far as it is in our power – to earth. Anne Lamott shared some ideas on her Facebook post that are worth considering, as well. ( – Nov. 15 post.)

For me – and for you too? –  these answers are just a start. Looking for answers to the Big Q is a lifelong quest, and the quest leads us on a great journey from which we will return home, from time to time, a changed person. It’s a lifetime of wondering and “broodily pondering” – in hopeful expectation.
These days of my Sabbatical, writing and creating art, bring to mind the following poem by Hafiz, a 13th century Persian mystic. It feels -- for today, at least, like the answer to the Big Q.

"I am
a hole in a flute
that the Christ’s breath
moves through.
Listen to this

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Life Happens...

This has been the kind of week that brings to mind the quote, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” The quote has been attributed to John Lennon, but my guess is that most folks have come up with this discovery more than once in life.

On Monday, I planned to get my CrowDayOne post written early, since we had a busy weekend planned. (You know where this is going, don’t you?) I actually did get my piece written. I even had a piece of quilting to illustrate it.  But overnight, the Muse appeared in my dreams and said, aghast, “You really aren’t going to post that sermon, are you?”  I re-read it and realized that, like some sermons, there were some nuggets of good stuff but you’d have to sift through a lot of mud to get there. As Miss Manners would say, “You deserve better, dear readers.”

The next morning I began again. I was done at noon and feeling mighty good. “I’ll edit it later in the week – it won’t take long,” I told myself. Uh-huh. That afternoon, I’d been invited to visit a woman who has made banners for our church. She thought I could use some of her leftover silks in my art. I thought I had enough fabric to last a hundred years. I only planned to have a nice visit and a cup of tea with her, but you probably know what happened to my plans. Yes, now I have enough fabric for 150 years.

Raw material for future crows...
Think it might be the Muse talking?
On Wednesday, a friend and I took off for an overnight “Two Chicks Road Trip” – something we’d done several years ago and enjoyed so much, we had promised ourselves we’d do it again soon. But you know, life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans, and so we kept postponing it. Now was the time; my post was written, and my cousin wasn’t coming for the weekend till Friday afternoon. What better time to get out of Dodge?

We had a lovely time in Victoria – hitting the fabric shops, the art supply store, even a T-shirt shop, eating out, and talking, talking, talking all the way. But something was nagging at me. “Oh, please, dear Muse, go away,” I begged.  But she wouldn’t. “This time, your post sounds like something you should be spouting about to your shrink,” she told me. “Really? But it’s such an important discovery I made about myself,” I whined. “Exactly,” she said. “You think it’s all about you?” Yikes, that hurt.

By the time I got home on Thursday evening, I was too tired to deal with the situation. “Tomorrow is another day. I’ll have time to write a post and clean the house before my cousin comes later in the afternoon,” I decided.  That should work.  (Did I ever tell you that I’m a slow learner?)

Friday morning by 9 a.m. I was sitting down at the computer, ready to begin yet another piece, but first I checked Facebook. Cousin Rika had posted, “I’m in Nanaimo now ...”  Nanaimo? Nanaimo??? Already? Wow, she could be here in an hour! I couldn’t do both, so it was time to choose: clean the house, or write the blog. Then the doorbell rang. It was a quilting friend I hadn’t chatted with for ages. “Come on in and have a coffee,” I suggested.

It would be neither the house, nor the blog, nor any other carefully laid plans that interfered with life. It would be living in the here and now, enjoying the moments in this crazy, messy life with its random happenings and unplanned joys. And I would hope and trust that there would still be time for everything else that was necessary.

And as you can tell, there was! Life happened -- not according to plan ... and it was good.

The house got cleaned, the post got written, and Rika got to feed the birds at Lazo Marsh. That's life in a nutshell!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Meet You at the Roost

The crows have begun to do their fly-over on their way to their roosting site somewhere west of town. Flock after flock wing their way high above us, hundreds and hundreds of them, just as the sun is beginning to set. Somewhere out there in the woods is a grove of trees which will become their hotel for the night. The next morning, just as the sun is rising, they will leave their roosts and fly away, off to do their groceries and see what’s up in the world.

This nightly roosting activity begins in the fall, when the nestlings, now fully grown, no longer need mom and dad to feed them. Released from their parental duties, the adults are ready for some social time. They’re tired of listening to little “peeps”, and need to hear some adult news. “Time to hit The Roost,” they tell each other. (Aren’t some pubs named The Roost? How appropriate.) The kids are welcome to come along, and many do. Older single crows, not ready to mate, may want to hang out in town with the guys, but the gang will probably drop in to the Roost every few days. When all the crows have arrived, there’s an ungodly racket of cawing, screeching, chuckling and other undecipherable crow language. And just as it happens in hotels, at a certain point, suddenly all is quiet as they bed down for the night. Researchers aren’t sure exactly what these birds chat about in their crowlogues at the Roost, but it may be about good places to get food, which dumpster is overflowing, who’s dating who, and news about the latest sighting of their arch-enemy, The Great Horned Owl. They may spend a bit of time broadcasting news about who’s died, who’s behaving badly and needs some discipline, and whether any strangers have arrived in town. Young crows listen in and learn. Once winter is over and a new nesting season begins, the Roost’s regulars head for the summer cottage, where they’ll begin their family cycle anew. The roost will be deserted until fall arrives.

Crows love to be in community. Adult crows never kick their babies out of the nest – they’re welcome to hang around and help with the housekeeping. Some hang around for years (it’s the opposite of “empty nest syndrome”, I’m thinking.) Family groupings can get quite large in these situations, and each member of the group looks out for everyone else in the group. They also teach each other an enormous amount of crow wisdom to help the youngsters thrive and survive when they strike out on their own.

I created this small wall hanging of crows hanging out at the Roost. It would be fun to add word balloons above the crows’ heads!
I thought about this Crow phenomenon on Halloween afternoon, about the time the sun was beginning to set. I was driving home from Cumberland, a small town known for its funkiness and community spirit. It wasn’t crows I saw, however. Crossing guards at every corner of main street directed traffic, and the sidewalks swarmed with costumed revelers big and small. Children and their parents – in some cases, grandparents – teens in groups, even adults without kids, were strolling along, obviously enjoying themselves immensely as they paraded up one side of main street and down the other. The children were skipping and dancing, the adults were chatting and visiting, and the treats the local businesses were doling out were secondary to the fun everyone was having. They were gathering in community to chat and exchange news, to catch up on who’s dating who, who died, who’s been sent to jail, what Ottawa has been up to, and whether the coal mine should go ahead or not.

Both the Roosting and the Halloween experience remind me of the importance of intergenerational communities that include folks of all ages. In intergenerational communities, children learn from older folks, hear the stories, catch the values embedded in the opinions we speak and the sermons we preach – but probably, most of all, in the actions we take. Older people enjoy the fresh insights of the younger folk. We hear each others' stories, and are nudged to think about a bigger world than the small insular outpost we call home. We learn that someone is in trouble and we hatch plans to provide support. We talk to each other, and we are better together than we are alone.

You can find these intergenerational communities in extended family gatherings, in mixed-age neighbourhoods, at potluck suppers with friends and strangers, in events such as country fairs and community celebrations, in churches and school concerts, even in soup kitchens where parents down on their luck bring their children to sup with the homeless. And it is good.

Because we all need a branch to roost on.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

A Backyard Parable

We’ve had two weeks of cool and foggy weather, a harbinger of the winter rains to come. But this week, the sun graced us for several days with its swan song, bathing everything in a golden light.

It was a good week to clean out the garden. We chopped back the last of the flowers, popped the squash vines into the yard waste container, and took down the sunflower stalks. (I can sense the resident sweetie reading this over my shoulder and commenting, “We? You said WE?”  I’ll gratefully admit he did the lion’s share of the work.)

This annual clean-up is part of the gardening year that Margaret Roach writes about in Backyard Parables.  She describes the cycle in human terms, beginning with Conception – ordering seeds and planning for your “baby”. Birth happens when the first green shoots poke through the ground, offering signs of life and new beginnings. Such joy and excitement!

When everything begins growing fast, you know the season of Youth has arrived. Like children, the plants outgrow the space you allotted them, and every time you turn around, they’re testing the boundaries. Thank goodness that is followed by Adulthood, when full potential is reached. Flowers bloom brilliantly, vegetables produce abundantly, and the bees and butterflies flit from plant to plant.  This is what it’s all about, you think, as you admire the fruits of your labour and bask in reflected glory. Oh, if only we could just freeze this moment in time.

But you can’t. The adult garden turns into an old lady. It has entered Senescence, (in biology, the process of deterioration that comes with age). “It’s the start of the downhill slope, the winding down,” says Roach.

And that’s where we are at with our garden. She may be old, but the lady is still beautiful. The leaves of the blueberry, the dogwood, and the oregon grape are turning red, orange and gold. The Japanese maple has dropped her leaves, and her lovely drooping limbs are showing through. The overwintering birds, perky juncos and sparrows, have arrived, along with a towhee, a grosbeak and a flicker, pecking at the seeds on the ground and on the feeders. The last of the roses have burst into beautiful reds and pinks. The plants have finished their work of producing seeds, so now this old lady can just “be” in the autumn sunshine. And in being, she brings much pleasure.

But then, in her garden year description, Roach barges right on like a runaway car tooting its horn to get our attention. Hey! Listen up! This isn’t just about the garden. Senescence, she writes, is “a wise, rich, and also unsettling moment of letting go in our lives and backyards as we witness and hopefully start to embrace the inevitable.”

Senescence is happening to all of us at a certain age: cells quit reproducing, and our bodies don’t work quite as well anymore. Collagen doesn’t get replaced, so skin begins to wrinkle and sag. The hair turns grey because the pigments go into retirement. We are faced with ... and asked to embrace ... the inevitable. Winter’s coming, don’t you know?

And yet, as my garden has taught me, this season in our life has the potential for its own beauty. When we clear away the debris of previous seasons in our life, when we let go and dump the garbage, we uncover many gifts we still have time to give. Love, wisdom, service, joy, practical help, friendship, a listening ear ... senescence only clarifies and focuses these possibilities. And just by being our older selves, we can enrich the world.

Roach concludes her six seasons of the garden with Death and the Afterlife. “Parts of the garden go into hiding,” she says. “But life will rise again, dust to dust, from the compost heap.”

And will resurrection happen in our lives, too? Oh, yes indeed, I do believe so. 

Margaret Roach, author of Backyard Parables, has a website at  
This is a work in progress, trying to capture our fall garden. "All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today."

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Story Time

A Hassidic parable tells about a certain rabbi who, whenever danger threatened his flock, could avert the evil by performing three rituals: going to a special place in the forest, lighting a fire and saying a prayer. When his successor needed to pray for his people’s protection, he confessed he’d forgotten how to light the fire, but he entered the forest and he said the prayer, and it was enough. The next rabbi had to confess that he had forgotten the place in the forest, and how to light the fire, but he said the prayer, and it was enough. Finally there was a rabbi who said to God, “I’ve forgotten the place in the forest, and I’ve forgotten how to light the fire, and I’ve forgotten the prayer, but I do know the story. Dear God, I hope it is enough to protect my people.” And it was enough.

“God made people because he loves stories,” concludes Jewish writer Elie Wiesel when he quotes this parable in the preface to his book The Gates of the Forest.

This past week was a good week because I heard a lot of stories. Al told me an exciting story of how Solay caught his very first fish ever when they went down to the river to fish (For another fishing story about Solay and his Opa's fishing click on the post for  Sept. 7, Let's Go Down to the River). A woman told me an amazing story about how her family was finally able to say “I love you” to each other. A friend told me a story about being a young wife and mother living in a high rise in Montreal. And here’s my story about a story that moved me:

Last Saturday, I attended a gathering of quilters from various guilds on the North Island. Among other things, we’d been challenged to create a quilt that included circles or wheels. They were all interesting in their own way, and it was hard to vote for the best. Although Marilyn’s quilt did not win the challenge, she told this story about her quilt:

The Wheels Go Round challenge quilt by Marilyn Schick.

“I grew up on a farm in southern Saskatchewan, with 3 brothers and 3 sisters. One day, my dad came home from a farm auction with his grain truck filled with wheels of all shapes and sizes. They were piled high right up to the top, and we wondered what he was planning to do with all of them. He told us to go to the small hill in the pasture, and he drove the truck to the top of that small hill, then dumped all the wheels out. They went rolling and bouncing down the hill to the bottom – what a sight! Then Dad told us they were ours to do with what we liked. Well, we put our heads together, and we decided to build a house. We built a huge house with those wheels as the walls. There was a living room, dining room, bedrooms, kitchen. Dad made some window frames for us, helped put on a roof made of boards and sheets of metal, and we hauled bales of straw to cover the floor and make furniture. The cattle often came and stuck their noses in through the doors and windows. Anytime we wanted to have a little time to ourselves, we would go to our wheel house and sit there, maybe read or play by ourselves. Our play house lasted for years. My dad was a great dad. He died in April, and this hanging, with circles bouncing all over, is a tribute to him.”

The quilt was beautiful, but it was the story that moved me. I was transported to my own childhood, when I also felt that thrill of possibilities. That’s what the best stories do -- they call up an awareness of our inner selves, and give us new insights. They help us find our common connections with others. Family stories give us a sense of roots, help us shape our identity, and let us come to understand each other. And that can only be good.  “Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here,” wrote Sue Monk Kidd in The Secret Life of Bees.

Any kind of art can be used to tell stories: quilts, yes, and words, of course, but painting, dance, music, theatre, film ... well, just about anything.

But all are a gift to the human race, and a gift back to the Creator who started our story.

 My thanks to Marilyn Schick of the Comox Valley Schoolhouse Quilters who generously shared her story, her gifts and her heart with us.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Message of the Crow

A common question people ask me is, “Why are you so interested in crows?” Sometimes they’ll follow up the question with a story about a personal encounter with crows.

“I hate crows. They kill the little animals in my garden,” says one woman. Another says, “I had an invasion of magpies (relatives of crows) in my backyard. They woke me up early every morning with their racket.” “Oh, crows!” says a saleslady at a fabric shop when I tell her that I’m looking for crow fabric. “They are too smart and scary. We wanted to tear down an old shed in our backyard, but they wouldn’t let us. They kept divebombing us.” The stories are interesting, often not complimentary, and yet most folks seem to have a reluctant admiration for these enduring birds. They are bossy, smart, sassy, and just plain fascinating.

The crow and I started our relationship earlier this year, when I was working on my Winter Tree quilt (see my post of July 7 on this blog).The addition of the crow to the top of the tree was almost accidental, and I added some beads streaming from the crow’s bill on a whim. But that’s what I love about creative work: often there are underlying messages in the end product, messages that come out of our deep subconscious. If we pay attention, we will learn something about ourselves we did not know before. The great Creator’s spirit within us knows and speaks.

I began reading everything I could find on crows. The more I researched, the more I became intrigued. I learned that crows live in family groupings, and mate for life. They are the smartest of the birds, the avian equivalent of chimps. Aesop told a fable about crows: a thirsty crow saw a pitcher of water, but the water was too low in the pitcher for the crow to get at it. So it found a pile of pebbles and dropped them into the pitcher to raise the water level until it could quench its thirst. The moral of the story: Necessity is the mother of invention. This is a great story, but it also happens to be based on reality. You can read about and see it for yourself by doing a google search on “crow drops pebbles into water.”

This is my version of Aesop's fable. The fable is written out across the bottom.

I learned that crows mourn their dead. They communicate, and somehow pass on life lessons to their children and grandchildren. They like to play, hanging upside down from branches in the breeze to swing back and forth. Yearling girl crows often stay home an extra year to help their parents care for the next year’s brood. They are, in a word, quite amazing.

I passed on what I’d learned about crows to folks who would ask, but one questioner was not satisfied. “I think they’re nasty. They tear apart our yard, they move in and take over whatever appeals to them, they’re noisy and bossy, and they’re everywhere.” That’s when the penny dropped, and the meter began ticking. Yes, crows are everywhere, and sometimes we think they’ve taken over the world. But if we gave Mother Nature a chance to voice her opinion about us, wouldn’t she say the same thing? We human beings have appropriated the earth and act as though it’s ours to do with what we like. We’re noisy, we’re bossy, we’re persistent, and we’re not about to go away anytime soon.

Crows are plentiful in our urban environment because they have learned to adapt. So have we. They moved from rural to urban environments when we did. They have pushed other wildlife to the side in their search for room. So have we. They are not good, they are not bad, they just are. They are so much like us, it’s scary.

Now, when I see a crow, I am reminded of ... me. The crows send me a message of huge importance. We are not alone on this beautiful planet  We are connected in ways too numerous to count – we breathe the same air, drink the same water, and depend on each other as we dance this delicate dance of life. What are we doing to make room for all God’s creatures?

The crow and I have started a journey in this special year, one that I suspect will lead me into new territory. Thanks for allowing me to share that journey with you.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Thanksgiving? Yes!

Several years ago, with Thanksgiving approaching, I sat down to write a letter to our four children. I’d made a practice of sending out a group e-mail regularly letting them know what was new on the home front. I was not a happy camper – all of them were scattered around the world, and they would not be home for Thanksgiving. Poor me!

So I began: “Dear kids, What with Thanksgiving approaching, I thought I should start this letter by listing some of the things for which I am grateful...” Two pages later, I still wasn’t finished, and I was in a much better frame of mind. I discovered that an attitude of gratitude is self-perpetuating. The more you give thanks, the more you want to give thanks. I discovered what psychologists have known for a long time: gratitude is good for your physical, spiritual,  emotional, mental and social health.

This week, with Thanksgiving approaching, I thought it would be a pleasure to write a warm, witty, light-hearted post. Something along the lines of Why I Love Thanksgiving or even Why I Don’t Love Pumpkin Pies (for your chuckle of the day, google images for Why I Don't Like Pumpkin Pie.)

I had a good quilt piece already made that fit very nicely with the theme. I created this piece, featuring a cornucopia full of words, 5 years ago, as part of a quilt celebrating the year I turned 60. It’s a true and accurate picture of my feelings at the time. That Thanksgiving Day, we were celebrating family and blessings together. It was good, very good, and my heart was full and overflowing. Around the cornucopia I wrote “Oh give thanks to God for he is good.”

 But yesterday, I got some bad news. Someone who is dear to many people, including us, has just been given a very bad cancer diagnosis. My grief at the news reminded me that life is not always warm and light-hearted, and that writing something witty and clever for Thanksgiving would be a cop out for me. Thanksgiving plumbs depths much deeper and darker than sweet sentiments can express. 

How do you celebrate thanksgiving when parts of life are so wrong, when the World Trade Towers fall, when the tsunami kills 16,000 of your countrymen, when your spouse is coping with a devastating disease, when the environment is going to hell in a handbasket? I still believe God is good, but I have so many questions, the same questions that all of humankind has been asking since the beginning of time: Why? What’s this all about? I don’t understand. I grope toward answers, and lean on my belief that this good God is with us through it all.  But the bottom line is that life is a mystery, and we won’t have definitive answers this side of eternity

What I do know is that life is a mixture of sunshine and shadow, gold and garbage, joy and sadness. Amongst the cornucopia of blessings we experience –  and there are so very, very many – we need to acknowledge the black ribbon that is woven through it. We rejoice with those who rejoice, but we also mourn with those who mourn. And in the middle of it all, though we do not give thanks for the tragedies and perplexities, we can give thanks in them.* We can choose to focus on the grace amidst the garbage, to see shafts of light in the darkness, and to give thanks for all that is good and wonderful in this life.

And the prayers of thanksgiving we utter in the dark times will help us through to the light.

I made a new quilt piece for this post, a new cornucopia to fill. I have written words on the scrolls and tied them with ribbons of varied colours. I placed these prayers of thanksgiving in the basket, saying thanks for good times, but also for the good that I found in the bad times. What’s in your cornucopia today?

* Thanks to Charleen for this insight – she is blogging about her father’s illness which has turned their lives upside down. In her blog, she began listing what she is thankful for, and like me, it was hard to stop once she got started.
The prayer that is inscribed on the new cornucopia is an excerpt from one by Vienna Cobb Anderson, plus ideas and thoughts of my own. You can read Anderson’s prayer at


Saturday, 5 October 2013

The Farther You Go...

I love to poke around the world and see what there is to see, to reflect on new ideas and lifestyles, to be challenged and to feel awe and wonder as I experience  “aha” moments of discovery.

Our two weeks in Nova Scotia gave us lots of “aha” moments. We will never forget the late night guided graveyard tour in Annapolis Royal when the heavens suddenly opened and rain quenched the candles in the lanterns. The voices of new immigrants telling their poignant stories at Pier 21, where almost a million people set foot on Canadian soil for the first time, will echo in our minds. And we will smile at the memory of the old red phone box plunked in the middle of a vineyard, where we were invited to make a free call to anyone in the US or Canada.
Being skinflint Dutchies, we did, of course, and wondered if we could get away with making a few more; being guilt ridden Calvinists, of course we didn’t try.

I like what St. Augustine said: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” There are times when I just long to gobble up every page in that book, and hope there’s a library of more.

So I was taken up short when I read these words in Inspired Rug Hooking by artist Deanne Fitzpatrick: “We need to believe in the value and importance of our own lives, and the way we do things, and what we have around us. We need to sit on our own front stoops to find ourselves first before we set off on some transcontinental journey. The way home is in your own breath and in your own stillness.”

I don’t think Deanne Fitzpatrick is telling us to quit traveling. Rather, if I read her right, she is saying that if we are travelling just to escape what we consider our own mundane life, we might be better off first to take a close look at the life that is around us right here, right now. If we are bored with that, all the journeys in the world won’t give us lasting pleasures. There are life-enriching  discoveries to be made right in our own backyard, if we’ll only cultivate an awareness of possibilities.

Case in point: one morning, a week before we were going to depart on our Maritime trip, I woke up to find our yard bedecked by hundreds of spider webs. They were draped over the evergreen shrubs like white handkerchiefs made of gossamer threads. They were hanging between shrub and post, finely woven in dew-drenched silk. The yard was booby-trapped with sticky invisible threads that suddenly wrapped themselves around me as I unsuspectingly crossed the patio or opened a door. It felt like the spiders had dropped in overnight in their silk parachutes, invading the country of our backyard.

my idea of a spider and spiderweb, stitched on a crazy quilt

When I did a little research into what was going on, I found out that, no, there were no more spiders than there normally are – but the weather changes had made their webs more visible. Also, spiders were nearing the end of their life cycle, and were feverishly trying to pack it all in (reminding me of myself, as I become more aware of the passing of time!) I also learned  fascinating myths and stories about spiders that got me thinking about spiritual things, but that’s for another blog. What had begun as a small visible experience became an inner journey. Sitting on my own stoop had launched me on a voyage of discovery of a different sort than any exotic journey, but valuable none-the-less.

And here’s the bonus: weeks later, as were hiking the seashore in Nova Scotia, with a continent stretching between us and home, I discovered ... spiders! They had stretched webs between the bushes lining the cliff, and there were dozens of them within a square meter, all doing their thing.

The farther you go, I discovered, the closer you may be to home!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

In Pursuit of Treasure

So, as I write this, the old guy has been traipsing around Nova Scotia with his new woman for more than a week. Only trouble is, this new woman is exhibiting many of the traits that the old woman had.
To whit: she needs to stop at every fiber-related shop, studio, gallery and supply place she sees. This includes a LOT of places here, because it seems like every other shop is related to the arts. What’s an old guy to do? It’s enough to drive one to drink. Fortunately, just down the street from one of our
stops, Suttles and Seawinds,  there’s a liquor store. So while the new woman browses through this iconic quilt studio, he’s sent off to buy a bottle of wine, then finds himself a bench to wait.

Now, it appears that a guy waiting on a bench outside a quilt store is not an uncommon sight. Al is joined by a fellow from Michigan whose women saw the sign and just had to stop “for a minute.” The men begin to chat, sharing stories, and it turns out after this stop, the Michiganders are headed for Shelburne, where there’s a whirligig festival. Al’s ears perk up. Whirligigs are made of wood, and that’s his thing. When I come out of the shop, I find that our plans have changed. See what happens when you leave an old guy alone for a minute? No more quilt shops today: we’re headed 2 hours down the road to check out the whirligigs.

And so it goes. Nova Scotians are a creative lot, and we’ve
admired their paintings, sculptures, folk art, quilts, woodwork, pottery, jewellery, hooked rugs and more. We’ve even bought a few things. Which has got me thinking: why is it that I feel a compulsion to check out these fibre-related venues, and why are we drawn to these galleries and exhibits? Are we just in search of souvenirs to take home? I think there’s more to it than that.

Rags to Riches: Words and Works by Laurie Swim, a book I picked up in Swim’s Lunenburg quilt gallery, gives a clue. In the introduction, artist Mary Pratt reflects on the way “it used to be”: people sewed, hooked rugs, worked with wood, metal and clay to make the necessities of life. Now, we have easy access to  just about everything we could want or need in mass quantities:  blankets made in China, tools sold at Canadian Tire, factory-produced mufflers for our cars and bowls to serve our dinners. And yet we long for whirligigs and thingamajigs, for hand-turned bowls and hand-shaped teapots and hand-stitched fibre art.

Pratt continues, “How right, that now, when the actual requirement for handmade items no longer exists,  creativity and the desire to add some truth of beauty still remain.” That phrase “the truth of beauty” seems so right. When we visit galleries or whirligig festivals, somehow, mysteriously, we catch glimpses of the true nature of things  – the stretching for something more, the way things could be. Maritime artist Deanne Fitzpatrick, who hooks gorgeous rugs, writes, “Art is about transformation. For me, it is about seeing the ordinary and finding the beautiful ... I believe there is meaning in beauty, and that in life we seek beauty as much as anything.”

Aha! So that explains my feeling of awe when I walked into Gaspereau Valley Fibres. The farm  wool shop features rough-hewn beams, wooden floors, and is awash in colour and texture. It is pure beauty packed into bins and packages, hanging from the ceilings and spilling out to the floor. My senses are saturated with dreams of what I could do with all those fibres, once I get them home.

I bought some, of course, a hank of roughly-spun nubby fibres, so fresh off the sheep’s back it still has bits of hay stuck in it, but dyed in multiple hues of earthy blues, browns and purples. All in the pursuit of beauty, naturally. And that’s the truth!
Some more of the beauty we saw.  Thanks, Nova Scotia artists, for sharing your visions of beauty.

Windy and wild at Shelburne's Whirlygig Festival
Stained glass window: Tree of Seasons

Saturday, 21 September 2013

A Hairy Tale

I have a multitude of shortcomings, but I’m proud that vanity is not high on the list (pride, however, is another thing.) I’m okay with my average looks, and I’m not big on fashion or make-up. If I’m a little bit vain about anything, it just might be my hair.

An early photo of me shows a child with a thick mop of blonde curls. In high school and college, when everyone was wearing smooth page-boy hairstyles or letting it hang long and straight down their backs, I hated my hair. I wanted to look like everyone else. But now I realize how lucky I am to have thick curly hair that needs a minimum of attention.

But what to do now that I’m a woman of a “certain age” whose crowning glory is fading and non-descript in colour? Fortunately, some genius invented hair dye. There’s a school of thought that says that dye jobs are the worst of age-ism and sex-ism combined and we should all go au naturel (when it comes to hair, only, of course.) Be proud of those gray hairs – you’ve earned them, they say. But au naturel for me is grizzled gray and drab brown, and those are not my colours. I don't wear them, and I don't use them in my quilts, so why should I have them on my head? I don’t mind flaunting my age, but not the depressing colours. A dye job 3-4 times a year is cheaper than therapy.

Self-portrait at 60. Really, would you want to go out in public with hair like that?
The resident sweetie, on the other hand, has no relationship with his hair. It used to be thick and curly and a lovely shade of brown. Now it’s thin and gray, but I don’t think he gives it a thought. In fact, he ignores his hair, except for giving it a good brushing every morning. When it grows long and scruffy, and sticks out in wings over his ears, the battle begins. “Time for a haircut,” I say cheerfully. He ignores me. “So which day did you say you were you going for a haircut?” I ask slyly. He glares at me and says nothing. I pull his hair back and tell him just a few more weeks of growth and he can wear a pony tail. He shakes me off with a grunt. For several weeks the stand-off continues. Then one day, he’ll come home from the barber with his ears lowered, and we’ll live in peace for another few months.

Last week we were at the apex of the hair issue. We’ll be visiting family during a holiday out east. Hair care was on the to-do list for both of us. I began reminding him early, and he ignored me early and late. But finally, one day, he came home from errands sporting a haircut. Enough time had elapsed since the last one that a full half inch of white neck was showing above the tan. But why quibble about details? He looked good, and I was chagrined, because for once, he’d beaten me to the draw. The grizzled me had emerged several weeks earlier, and I’d waited too long to hide it.

The next day I got to work. I mixed up the stuff, but when I applied it, the goop looked purple instead of the usual reddish orange. Apparently, I’d bought a different colour from my usual Mid Brown #865. Oh well, how bad could it be? When the job was done, I brushed the wet hair so it could air dry while I went about my daily work. Half an hour later, I walked past a mirror and did a double take. Who was that woman with the black wig? She looked like an old lady with a bad paint job. Surely that couldn’t be me? It was, and it was bad. The resident sweetie gasped and  raised his eyebrows in horror. It was very bad.

What’s that they say about pride? Something about it going before a fall? Yup.

Later that day, when I went for my haircut, my hairdresser told me it looks great – it really makes my eyes look bluer. (This woman deserves her tip, that’s for sure.) She suggests I tell Al he’s a lucky guy and he should take his new woman out to supper. I think that’s the line we’ll go with till the colour fades: he’s got himself a new woman.

Years from now, after we’re gone, when the grandchildren are sorting through the old photos, they’ll come across shots of us traipsing around the Maritimes, my neatly coifed sweetie with his new woman. They’ll be mystified. “Who’s that woman with Opa? That’s not Oma, is it? But it must be. She looks like she’s wearing a wig.”

And we're off on our grand adventure, the old guy and his new woman.

PS Since writing this, I’ve “come out” in public. Last Sunday, a friend sitting behind us at church tapped me on the shoulder and, with his eyebrows raised in admiration, commented, “Foxy!” Our son says I must be channelling my inner old crow. Hmm. Not so bad after all? Maybe Ash Brown #860 will be my new colour.

Saturday, 14 September 2013


Once in a while, just when you aren’t expecting it, the bits and pieces of your life come together to make a whole and beautiful moment. I love it when that happens. It could be called serendipity: “the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it,” says Wikipedia, 

But to me,  it’s even more than that. In fact, Wikipedia says that the word serendipity has been listed as one of the top 10 words that are hard to define, and I’d have to agree. Whatever its meaning, I love it when serendipity happens. You can’t look for it, you can’t plan it, but when it occurs, you know it, and it feels so good. Heavenly, actually.

I appliqued these eagles to a silk cushion cover.
Scene One: 
On Sunday morning we are  leaving the house to go to church, when we hear a high-pitched whistling call in the clear air. Five eagles are sitting in the top of a dying tree across the road, and more are winging their way back and forth over the rushing river waters. The eagles are in our neighbourhood because the salmon have returned from their sojourn in the ocean and are beginning their run up the Puntledge, returning to their birthplace to spawn and die. Thousands are filling the river, and when they’ve  completed their mission, their spent carcasses will litter the shallows, ripe picking for the eagles. The cycle of the seasons is continuing, as it has for millennia.

 Scene Two: We are driving to church. The light is soft and golden and the sky is a cloudless blue, as it can only be on a warm Sunday in September. The leaf colours have gone from a vibrant green to muted olive and amber. Goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace and the last of the tansies bloom in the ditches, and scarlet rosehips adorn the bushes. We bask in the beauty all the way to church.

An experimental thread study of Queen Anne's Lace flowers.

Scene Three: We are sitting in church, and the choir anthem is a song popularized by Cat Stevens but actually written by children’s author Eleanor Farjeon back in 1931 as a morning hymn. The choir is in fine form, and I close my eyes and am carried along with the melody and words that are blending with the images I’ve already experienced

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the word

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's recreation of the new day.

I cannot put into words, I cannot define the sensation I experienced listening to that simple and yet profound tribute to creation and the Creator. For a moment, I felt that the world came together in a beautiful whole.

It was “an accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it” ... it was serendipity.

A confession: after writing this, I actually thought of retitling this piece A Numinous Experience (because that’s what it really was, besides being serendipitous.) But I figured nobody would read a blog with such a lofty title. I used to get really riled when people dropped that word into conversation; it sounded so airy-fairy, artsy-fartsy, woo-woo. But now I think it’s a wonderful word, and maybe someday I will write about it. You've been warned!