Saturday, 28 June 2014

A Road Trip to Remember

Three sisters, immigrants to Canada, who loved and supported each other: that’s the way the story started. They all married and had children and their children remember wonderful times together, full of laughter and stories.

We – my sisters and I – are the daughters of the oldest sister – a new generation of sisters trying to carry on what my mom and her sisters taught us: to love and support each

After our mom died, we promised each other we would get together once a year – no easy feat when one lives in Ontario, one in Alberta, and one in BC. It hasn’t always happened, but we try. This past week, our (sometimes) annual get-together consisted of a road trip from Edmonton through the mountains to Vancouver Island.                
We called our adventure The Three Chicks Road Trip. Sounds like a good name for a movie. It  would star one aging Hearing-Impaired woman (HI-1) lugging an Obus form for her aching back; another slightly younger woman, also somewhat Hearing Impaired (HI-Too), mostly hanging out in the back seat and keeping the peace as middle children often do; and a much, much younger woman who ended up doing all the driving, who we’ll call the Kid.

Here are some random scenes from the movie:

The Kid and HI-1 are heading to the Calgary airport to pick up HI-Too. “We’re getting close,” says the Kid. “You’ll have to text her to arrange a meeting place.” “I don’t text,” says HI-1. “How do you do that?” The Kid sighs. There follows an impromptu lesson, and a text is launched, full of crazy auto-correct errors, like, “We are yachting close.” But the job gets done. The Kid and HI-1 are creeping along at arrivals while HI-Too is waving wildly to get our attention. “Over here! Over here!”  We almost miss her (perhaps we’re just a mite sight-impaired, too). The security guard is bemused, probably wondering whether he should report three crazy old ladies who are giggling and hugging and trying to stuff a car with way too much luggage. Should they be let loose on the world?  The road trip is off to a roaring start.

We have found our condo in Canmore, appropriately located on Three Sisters Drive. How cool is that? We are outside, trying to take selfies featuring three sisters against a backdrop of the Three Sisters mountain peaks. It’s not going well. We stop a young couple and explain what we’re trying to do. “Uh, those are not the Three Sisters mountains,” says the guy. “Hush up,” says his girlfriend. “If these ladies say they are, then they are,” and she snaps a great shot of us. I like her spirit. She could be an honorary sister.

Looking for a place to have supper, we virtuously decide we have a hankering for a big salad at a Wendy’s restaurant.  The Kid, still driving, gets HI-1 to look up the location of the local Wendy’s on her I-Pad. “Uh, how do you do that?” The Kid sighs, gives another impromptu lesson while still driving – isn’t she amazing? But the Wendy’s is closed for renos, so we end up  at an A& W. “Mmm – teenburger!” murmurs the Kid as she parks. “Did you say Jalapeno burgers? Do they do jalapeno burgers?” asks HI-Too. This is a pee-in-your-pants funny moment, and we all have to head for the bathroom before we can place our orders ... for Uncle Burgers. Hey, we’re flexible.  That’s what we wanted after all, we decide, as we chow down on enormous Uncle Burgers loaded with bacon and cheese, and with sides of onion rings and fries. Yee haw.  Forget virtuous.

Since it’s raining, and since we’re in no hurry, and since a local thrift store has a 50% off sale ... well, need I say more? Because of various weight gains and losses, we find ourselves, for the first time in decades, fighting over the same pair of trendy capris. “You take them, they look so cool on you,” says one. “No, no! You take them, I have enough pants,” says the other. “Actually, they’re just a little tight on me,” says the third – and if you know me, you can guess who that one is. Youngest sister gets them, as it should be. She did all the driving.

As we’re driving through the mountains, the Kid waxes poetic about the amazing cloud formations we’re seeing – huge, billowing pillows with silvery edges. She finds clouds and skies fascinating – they make her heart sing, she says. HI-Too says songbirds are what makes her heart sing, and HI-1 gets excited about wild-flowers in ditches and tumbling mountain streams.

My sisters have been worried about what I am going to say about this trip. After all, they’ve replaced the resident sweetie as my companions, and they know they will find themselves in my blog. Well, here’s all that I can say about that: there are many things that make my heart sing, but the best of them all is this road trip with you.

We stopped overnight in Abbotsford to play with the grandgirls -- three sisters to carry on the tradition? I hope so.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

As the Crow Flies ... Away

Blog #52 – I did it! I spent a whole year in the company of the crow, and shared what I learned from her with my readers. It’s been a great year, and I want to thank you 14 readers for sticking with me. (Actually, I can now confess that there are more than 14 readers– I know, because I’ve heard from many more of you, but often that’s the number my blog counter shows, more or less.)

The crow showed up unexpectedly in my life, while I was researching a symbol for wisdom. The crow? Who knew? Well okay, I thought, perhaps a crow could serve as my symbol in this new blogging venture. But the more I learned about crows, the more fascinated I became. The crow is not only a symbol of wisdom, she also is a good metaphor for humanity.

Winter Tree -- the crow perched in the top is a symbol of wisdom

The crow is everywhere – there are 30-40 different branches of the crow family found all over the world, including jays, rooks, ravens and jackdaws. Similar but different, like humans. Because of their adaptability, almost all are thriving – ditto for humans. They are smart and inventive – check. They live in family groupings – check. They eat almost anything – check. They communicate widely with each other – check.

As I wrote my blog, I often turned to the crow to help me articulate what I wanted to say, and I made art pieces featuring the crow to communicate that. I hope you won’t mind if I “crow” for a bit, and review and share these pieces with you one more time.

My first piece is the one you see on the banner of this blog: a bird with beads flowing from her mouth. We all have something to say, and wisdom to share, but sometimes it takes courage to share it with others. We think our views might not be accepted, or they may be unorthodox and quirky.

The Squawking Crow
The crow has no quibbles about speaking out; she warns, she invites, she instructs the rest of her family, and in so doing, the family grows stronger. So my Calling Crow in the banner reminds me that if I have something to say, it’s okay –  even more than okay, it’s necessary – to say it. Later, I visited that theme again in The Squawking Crow. Speak out, even if it’s scary.

Aesop's Crow: inventive, creative, problem-solver
Aesop’s Crow tells the story of the crow and the water jug. The crow was thirsty, but the water level was too far down to reach. So she dropped stones in the water till it rose to a level where it was available to quench her thirst. Aesop’s crow reminds me that we all have access to inventiveness and ingenuity; if we use these gifts, we can find creative ways to solve our problems.

Cassandra's Boudoir. Is it all about me?

Cassandra’s Boudoir is an image of myself.  Sometimes, I’m so tempted to stay in the warm cozy confines of all that is familiar, feeling smug and admiring myself. But there’s a big world out there, as represented by the little window in the upper left corner. There's a crow tapping at that window, saying, "Pay attention." What will we do when the world comes calling, with its needs and challenges? Crows take care of each other when one is hurt. They do things for the good of the community. When life presents challenges and changes, crows adapt and learn and move out into the world – do we?

A Tribute to Ana Miriam Leigh -- a vibrant crow if ever there was one.

A Tribute to Ana Miriam was created after the death of a writing partner. Ana was a hippy and flower child who never quite shed her past; she was so different from me, the mousy “good girl”. But she became a huge encourager, and I had to reconsider my first impressions.

We all missed her so much when she was gone. Crows often have funerals and pay tribute to their fallen friends. This crow tells me that I need to open up my life to people whose values, world outlook, and character seem foreign at first glance. There is much to learn and much to gain when we accept and affirm the goodness and gifts created within everyone.

Serenity. Never pass up a chance to say you care.
 Serenity: when all is said and done, we need to come to rest, as crows do every night, to hang out with dear ones, as crows do every night, and share our affection and care for each other. Crows are known for “allopreening” – using their bills to gently and tenderly groom each other. The world would be a better place, don’t you think, if we spent more time caring for each other?

There are more pieces – a dozen in all, created this year for CrowDayOne. It’s been a wonderful journey. I think I will always feel comfortable using a crow as my alter-identity. I’m sure there’s more I can learn from dear old crow, but I think it’s time for her to fly away for a while, and for me to turn my thoughts down other pathways. That’s why you may not get any posts for a few weeks, and they will be more sporadic over the summer (always on a Sunday morning, however, and always under the name of my blog I am committed to my original vision of using writing and quilting to encourage you in your personal and spiritual growth, but I need to evaluate how best to do it. "The View from the Crow's Nest" is a possibility which would allow me to explore new themes -- thanks, Valerie, for that idea -- but I kind of like Birds of a Feather, too -- thanks, Maureen. And Crow Day, Too! and...

Ah, the world is full of exciting possibilities, says the crow. I agree.

If you think you might feel a bit of withdrawal from crow lore, you might enjoy checking out this site, where a bird expert gives interesting details about the difference between crows and ravens: 
There are also many links within the article on interesting facts about these smart birds.  
A Way to Garden by Margaret Roach is a blog I subscribe to for its varied topics related to gardening: natural weed and insect control, flower identification, contributions by other expert gardeners, podcasts, etc. The birdnote site I noted above is embedded in A Way to Garden.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Old Plus One

Turning 65 was the impetus for starting CrowDayOne. In one of my first posts, I wrote, “Well, it’s official: I am an old woman.”  Now my age clock has gone around the circle again, and I am officially old plus one. What does old plus one look like? It depends on your perspective.

An article making the rounds on the internet lists characteristics that children attribute to grandparents. Grandparents, they say, tell stories about what they did when they were kids; it sounds like so much fun, the children wish they’d known their grannies sooner! How old is old, they’re asked. Well, not 100, because then you’d be dead. Maybe 65? Grannies are fat, but not too fat to tie your shoelaces (guilty on both counts.) Old ladies wear glasses (check) and take their teeth and gums out at night (nope!), and they wear funny underwear, too. Ha! Try telling that to the “old ladies” who visit the lingerie shop called Secret Drawers in downtown Courtenay to check out the lacey undies and push-up bras. “We have 60+ years of gravity to overcome,” they explain. I don’t speak from experience, you understand; that’s not my thong, uh, thing.

Apparently, sometimes society also has outdated ideas about what old looks like. A common complaint of seniors is being called “dearie” or “sweetie” which they consider belittling and demeaning (but when preceded by the word “resident,” it’s a term of endearment, in my opinion). Worse, sometimes old folks are ignored, as when a service worker addresses the older person’s younger companion instead of the older person herself. “What will she be having?” asks the waitress. What, we no longer exist to speak for ourselves? It’s not happening to me, yet, but I can see the handwriting on the wall (especially when I’m wearing my reading glasses.) Feeling belittled and demeaned is not good. Researchers found that those who had positive perceptions of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer, a bigger increase than that associated with exercising or not smoking.

I don’t want to be someone’s belittled “dearie”. A friend recently suggested we'd better beware that we don't become cranky old cane-wielding biddies -- but is that all bad?
Maybe it’s a good thing to stand up for ourselves: “I’m not your sweetie, darling. Take that,” you could say, giving said service worker a sharp warning tap while blowing smoke in her face from the cigarillo clamped between your teeth. On second thought, acting like that would only feed the public’s stereotypical view of old people: cranky old biddies and grumpy old men, decked out in old folks’ underwear (bloomers and trap-door longjohns), waggling their false teeth in public, and being “impossible.” On third thought, that image makes me giggle -- maybe it's better to be cranky than compliant and docile.

So what does “old plus one” look like to me right now? It looks good – some days, anyways! Those are the days when I am dancing with my grandchildren, working in my studio or garden, enjoying long conversations with good friends, or
hanging out with the resident sweetie. And old plus one, after a sabbatical year, has given me a different perspective on life. I realize, silly me, that I am not totally utterly irreversibly responsible for everything and everyone’s happiness. As my daughter-in-law gently reminded me, “We can take care of ourselves, eh?” I am a little speck in the Creator’s eye, but, thank God, a very important one. My job is to be me, and let others be themselves. Why did it take me so long to get schmart?

And I think my truth detector is working better. Now when I feel cranky, I realize there’s something out of kilter in my life,  instead of thinking I’m the problem and I’ve got to change my feelings. If there’s something the matter that I can fix, I should do it. If not, I have to let it go. I admire an older woman who has served time on a local town council; she decided not to run again because she figures if she’s going to be shoveling manure all the time, she’d rather do it in her garden. Tell it like it is, sister!

The other side of the "old plus one" coin is that some days it's not so much fun. I’ve had to edit my bucket list because there’s just no time to do it all anymore. (But I still have a bucket list!) Sadly, I must admit that the RS is right: my hearing could use a little electronic enhancement. I don’t like my wrinkly skin and ever-sprouting chin hairs and the other physical indignities of aging which I won’t get into right now (I knew I should have been doing those Kegels more regularly). On the other hand, as they say, I’m still on the right side of the sod, and that sod is quite beautiful to my aging spectacled eyes. 

So raise a glass to old plus ??, and to all my sisters and brothers who are making up the grey brigade. Let’s dance to the end of the rainbow, eh?

Self Portrait at Age 66: No Spring Chicken, but I can Dance!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

"Occupied with Gladness of Heart"

Today, as I write this, I am on day 4, the last day of my retreat. Retreats generally gather people together around a common theme. Because they pull people out of their everyday lives and tasks – bill-paying, colonoscopies and other assorted unpleasantness – retreats can be very valuable ways of building team spirit and refreshing people’s spirits.

My retreat is different. The resident sweetie pulled the trailer out here to a secluded RV park, and went home again, leaving me to my own devices. No team-building exercises, no meals served in the dining room, no laughter with friends. There’s not even another trailer in the campground. Just me and the big wide world. And, as my friend suggested in last week's blog, here I am, primed to listen to the Almighty.

A labyrinth can be used as a tool for inner soul work, and are often found at spiritual retreat centres. 

The first time I took a spiritual retreat, I really didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would be an austere experience; I would strip myself of all that I held dear so that I could focus with honesty on the inner self. (Sounds like a colonoscopy, doesn't it?) I would scour my soul and get rid of all the grunge that was festering deep down. The spiritual director with whom I met – another first – set me straight pretty quickly. “It’s time,” she said to me, “for you to be kind to yourself.” Whoa!

Since then, I’ve thought of personal retreats as a gift. A mystified friend, who said taking a retreat by herself would be a gift she’d prefer to return, wondered how I could possibly be alone for four whole days. If someone dropped her off in the wilderness, she’d just turn right around and begin walking all 20 kilometers back into town (quite a feat considering the condition of her knees!). When she's with other people, she's being kind to herself. We are all such different people with such different needs.

The title of this blog comes from Ecclesiastes 5:20 in the Bible. I’ve dipped into this book of wisdom literature every morning, bundled up in a sweater over my nightgown (who’s looking, after all? Be kind to yourself, eh?) sitting by the ocean with a steaming morning coffee at my elbow. Wisdom literature: yes, I need that right now. I thought I knew what I would find because the author, probably King Solomon, is well know for his line "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. As the modern saying goes, “Life’s a b****, and then you die.” But surprise! There’s more.

Solomon must have been on a retreat of his own when he wrote this. He had it all: riches, fame, power, women, health, and even wisdom. Now, probably at the apex of his career, he was pondering the one thing he didn’t have: the answer to the question, “What does it all mean?” And eventually, after considering everything, he concluded: nothing. It means nothing. Nada. Zilch.  But...

It’s the “but” that hit me square between the eyeballs. Look at the things that give you joy, says the writer. It is good and proper to eat and drink (and give yourself gifts like a retreat). It is good to find satisfaction in your work. It is a bonus if you get more ... enjoy these gifts from God. You don’t have to torment yourself by asking, “What’s it all about?” because God is keeping you "occupied with gladness of heart.” This is my interpretation, and it works for me. My favorite guerrilla theologian Anne Lamott agrees: “The search is the meaning -- the search for beauty, love, kindness and restoration in this difficult, wired and often alien modern world,” she writes in her latest book Stitches. “The miracle is that we are here, that no matter how undone we’ve been the night before, we wake up every morning and are still here. It is phenomenal just to be.”

For sure! Yesterday I was kept “occupied with gladness of heart” by working on a project that a friend had asked about: could I create a finger labyrinth using fabric? (Labyrinths is a whole other subject I could blog about; some people walk labyrinths as a tool to help them pray or meditate. A finger labyrinth would be a small portable labyrinth you could “walk”  with your finger.) I tried different versions – beaded,  machine embellished,  embroidered -- and more. I loved what I was doing, and time flew by. I was occupied with gladness of heart.

And now I am sitting here telling you all about it, and that, too, is keeping me occupied with gladness of heart. So, I ask myself, if working with fibres and writing about your experiences, gives you so much joy, why on earth would you think about dropping CrowDayOne?

Oh. Did I just hear the Almighty, getting a word in edgewise?

The retreat is over, and the resident sweetie has taken up residence in the trailer with me to complete a wonderful week. The grandboys are coming for an overnight sleepover, and life is good.