Saturday, 10 December 2016

Saints of all Sorts

There’s a new little man in my life. Not so new, actually, since I purchased him at a Thrift Store. Take a look at him:

Not so good-looking maybe, but he has character, don’t you think? I’ve named him Antoine. Antoine is a santon, a “little saint”, part of a nativity set, and he was created in Provence, France. I have no idea how old he is, but he makes my heart sing. It doesn’t take a lot to get me excited, does it?

Antoine reminds me of the feeling I had the first time I saw a nativity scene. I was a little girl when my dad took me to a nativity pageant at a big old church downtown. I was enthralled! All those kids, dressed up, enacting the original story of Christmas – it was magic. In our church, Christmas was a fairly somber affair, celebrated with extra (looooong) church services. A concession was made to music: perhaps the choir would sing, or the congregation would get to sing a Christmas carol instead of a dirge-like Psalm. But decorations? A creche? Candles on an advent wreath? Instruments other than an organ? A nativity pageant? Absolutely not. It smacked of idol-worship. No smells and bells and eye-candy in our church. (We did get a book, a bag of candy, and an orange on Christmas Day, so don’t feel too sorry for me. And fortunately, things have changed in that church of my childhood.)

But unfortunately for me, a visual learner, there was little to attract the eye of a child. Perhaps that is why, when our first child was old enough to love stories, we bought a nativity set. It was one crafted from olive wood in Israel – a little wobbly, and it was hard to distinguish the shepherd from Joseph, but oh well! We used it to tell the Christmas story to our children. That was how nativity scenes, or creches, originated: St. Francis of Assisi posed a mother, a child, and a donkey in a cave, then called his people together and used the scene as a sermon illustration.

The RS and I are now in possession of more than 2 dozen nativity sets that we have collected, originating in places as far-flung as Peru and Vietnam. Each of them is special in its own way. They are visual expressions of the way that people understand the Christmas story in a manner that makes sense to their culture. As the song says, “Some people see him [Jesus] lily white” but for sure not all do. From the original story in Bethlehem which has spread around the world, the Nativity story has something for everyone, believer or not, to reflect on.

We like all our nativity scenes for different reasons. There’s the set that our kids brought home from the Ivory Coast after working a stint there. I especially love the woman bringing a bowl of fruit on her head to the Holy Family.  How like a woman to know what a new mother  would appreciate after going through labour and delivery.

This scene, made in Peru, is a recent acquisition, but it’s already one of our favourites. Mary and Joseph, nestled securely in the hands of the Creator, are clad in the garb of the common folk, common folk like you and I. Two thousand years after the fact, we know that the peace experienced in this sweetly sleeping family will be mightily disturbed in the days to come. There’s much to reflect on and think about in that simple image.

There’s one from Mexico made of shiny tin. All the pieces fold flat and fit into a little metal box, perfect for travelers at Christmas. But perfect, as well, perhaps, for migrants working through the Christmas season in fields and factories and packing houses processing foods which will show up on our festive table. This little nativity set brought with them from home will help them to celebrate the birth of a child who came to preach hope to the poor, to set the prisoner free.

And then there are the sets Al has carved: one for each of our children, each different, all from wood so our grandchildren can touch and experience them. Here are three of them:

Al's latest project is a modern nativity: Mary and Joseph as street people. Baby Jesus is nestled in a banana box, and he is being visited and adored by real shepherds – like Desmond Tutu – and wise people – like the Dalai Lama – from around the world. This one sometimes shakes people up when they see it – and so it should. The nativity has turned the world upside down.

(did you notice the crow guarding the baby?! The dog is Sepphie, our daughter's fur baby)
 So my santon Antoine joins the crowd now. In Provence, the nativity scenes feature not only Mary, Joseph and Jesus, but also all the locals who come to adore him – the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker and a host of others. Antoine the shepherd is hand-crafted by a santonnier, a local artisan (he has the sticker to prove it). A true proven├žal scene is never bought "ready made" but is constructed little by little. Ever since I learned about santons, I’ve been wanting a set of my own. And there stood Antoine, adrift  in a sea of Christmas kitsch at Value Village. He was mine! He’ll need a village around him, and a stable where he can visit the Holy Family. I know a wood-carver who can help me out with that!

If you live in the Comox Valley, you can see a display of nativity sets next weekend at our church, Comox Valley Presbyterian. Check out the schedule at

Here’s where you can hear the song “Some People See Him Lily White” as sung by James Taylor

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Beauty and the Big Stink

A few days ago, I awoke with a sense of “good things happening today”. I was working on a project, and it was going well. For a change, the sun was shining. The house would be empty all morning. It was a perfect storm of good things coming together.

So I got dressed and was almost ready to take the stairs to my hideout, the studio, when Someone tapped me on the shoulder. “Excuse me, but aren’t you forgetting something?”

Gotcha! A week earlier, I’d (again, sigh!) realized I was neglecting the routine of my sit spot and a walk by the river, with the inevitable results thereof: disconnectedness from myself, my art and my Creator. I’d used the excuse of family commitments in August and September,  the record setting rainfall we’d had in October and November, and the old stand-by: somuchtodo on other days. Last week, after rough times, I started walking again...and already, just a few days later, I was off track. We are our own worst enemies, aren’t we?

So I pulled on my walking shoes and set off. So much beauty to absorb: the sun shining in a clear blue sky, the last of the colourful leaves clinging to branches, the invigorating sound of the raging river, the deep, underlying peace of the woods as I descended the path.

Peace and beauty ... and stink. Big Stink. The stink was everywhere in the woods.

We live in God’s country, they say here--the land of plenty. And the land of plenty includes salmon. All the rivers in this area are salmon-bearing streams, and at this time of year the fish come up the rivers by the thousands, already dying but needing to do that one last thing before they breathe their last: spawn. “Our river”, the Puntledge, is no exception.

Dead salmon beside their "nest" of eggs, which unfortunately have become uncovered because of the raging streams.

Because we have had record-setting amounts of rain, the rivers have been flowing into the woods and parks along their banks, carrying with them a lot of dying salmon. When the rivers recede, the woods are littered with the carcasses of these dead fish. I'm told the playing fields of the biggest park downtown had their share, too: imagine dead salmon on home plate, the outfield, under the swing sets, and in the soccer goals. Dead fish were belly up all along my walking path. Hence, the stink.

It's a good stink, though. It’s the stink of life. Salmon is a keystone species, meaning that if they disappear from the Valley, so will many other things. Bears and birds will have less food –one study showed that 137 species of fish and wildlife - from orcas to caddisflies - depend on the Northwest salmon for their survival.

The walking trail and the rivers are inhabited by a large population of gulls these days: dead salmon and uncovered eggs make grocery shopping a breeze. 

Without salmon dying in the streams and on the shores, the rivers won't have enough food to feed the new hatchlings, and the woods will become malnourished, for even the trees and vegetation depend on the rotting carcasses for key nutrients.  Up to 40% of nitrogen in streamside plants is traceable to salmon. It's even in your wine: one study close to a salmon-bearing stream showed that about a quarter of the nutrients in grape leaves came from dead salmon. They are so important to the environment, the local fish hatchery loads up the carcasses from the "egg-harvested" salmon into the back of a truck and spreads them around in the woods and rivers. Check out this web page for more fascinating facts:

In other words, there would be no beauty here without our big stink.

This got me to thinking. I do get so upset with myself for neglecting the things that I know are life-giving: walking, solitude, spiritual reading to name but three. This neglect is the “stinky” part of my life. But...perhaps it’s also true that without the stink, there will be no beauty. If I did everything that was good for me, well wow! I would be perfect. (The resident sweetie, my children and friends will be the first to say I am no such thing.) What a high standard that would be to live up to. Nobody can do it. If you think you can, you have a bigger problem.

Better then, to accept the stink and appreciate it for what it is: a reminder that there is something rotten in the state of my soul, and I’d better tend to it. That stink can be my friend if I pay attention.

So I begin again. I walked (occasionally holding my nose) and hummed a tune (Teddy Bear’s Picnic: “If you should go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise...”). I kept my eyes, my ears, my heart open to listen and take it in.

I know – the stinking salmon tell me – that beauty will come out of it.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

The World According to Crow

The crow has been a constant companion on my blogging journey.

She was the first one to whisper in my ear, “The time has come to begin working on your dream. It’s time to combine your love of art and your love of writing and send it out to the world.” Her feistiness was a teacher and an encourager. The more I learned about the crow, the more I realized that she and her family had many lessons to teach us lowly humans.

Ms. Crow and her family are big squawkers: they use their voices to alert others in their tribe about dangers. If something’s wrong, you’re going to hear about it. They share their knowledge about where to get good food. They live together in family groupings, and their extended families help raise the young. They fiercely protect their nests. They love to play and can be quite mischievous.

Crows have been known to leave gifts for those who have helped or fed them. They are adaptable to new conditions, and learn from experience. Well, I could go on and on – if you have been reading my blogs over the past few years, you will have learned along with me. We can learn a lot from the genus Corvus.

So it made sense to me that when I did self-portraits (one each time I turned the calendar on another year), I would use the crow as a metaphor for my life: a crow with beads flowing out of her beak was me, squawking, using my writing and quilting to share some thoughts with the world.  (That's her at the top of this page.) The crow dancing: that was me, too, realizing that even if I was no spring chicken, I was enjoying life.

The white crow flying out over the world, carrying ribbons and fibres to add to the tapestry of humanity was me expressing my growing awareness that we all have something to contribute to this beautiful world, and that all our contributions are important and necessary.

When I turned 68, it was time for a new self-portrait. But this one was different. I couldn’t just have this portrait feature a single crow. Call me a slow learner, but it finally dawned on me that crows don’t live alone. Rarely do you see them wandering alone through the woods or down city streets. There’s almost always a couple of other crows within calling distance. At sunset during the fall and winter, they gather in flocks, then fly to their roosts where they hang out with their friends and family overnight, dispersing in the morning in small groups to forage and explore. In spring and summer, they work together in their family groups to build a nest and raise a new crow brood. Unlike a lot of people, crows know they are stronger when they are united, when they learn that they are more alike than they are different, and that they need each other.

At the same time, over these past years of blogging and reading and learning, I have  become more and more aware of the interconnectedness of all things in this beautiful universe that we call home. Our planet is but a tiny speck in this particular galaxy in the universe, which is whirling and expanding and getting ever bigger without our lifting a finger to help it along. Yet everything we do, every word we say, every endeavor we engage in, has a ripple effect, making an impact on the future. Wow. Wow. Wow. Truly, I can’t grasp this, but I know it makes me want to fall on my knees in wonder. Also to bow my head in confession and sadness, for too often I am living my life in a state of complete oblivion, my heart and mind and senses deadened to this miracle called life.

This little wall piece is my feeble attempt to try to express some of these thoughts. I am – and you are – one of those crows, flying out over the world.

The crow’s eye view of the world shows mountains and prairies, fields and rivers and lakes, houses and towns, night and day.

This is our wonderful world, given into our care  by (at least, this is my own personal belief) a loving Creator who is exceptionally patient with and forgiving of our self-centred foibles.

I need to remember this. I need to rejoice in what we have. And I need to keep working, to work for the betterment of the flock and all those who come after. Come squawk with me if you agree. We can keep each other company as we fly through life, working and squawking all the way.


Sunday, 30 October 2016

Fourth Quarter Thoughts

For weeks, I’ve been thinking that I need to write an answer to the blog I posted in April this year. In that blog, I wrote about dormancy – that I felt as though my life was in a dormant phase, waiting for conditions to be right so I could find answers to a question I’ve been asking myself.

This was the question:  Now that I am in the 4th quarter of this game of life, what am I supposed to be doing? What is good, and worthwhile, and meaningful and my best use of the time remaining?

Over the months of thinking about this, some things have become clearer. It helps to know I’m not the only one who thinks about these things, and that wiser heads than mine can give some advice. This week I came across a blog by Parker Palmer, which I’d like to share because he’s such a wise man and way ahead of me on this road, this adventure, called life.

You can read the blog at the website of On Being, a wonderful exploration of spiritual ideas from a wide variety of sources. Palmer’s weekly blog appears at this  address,

I’ve also reprinted it here, slightly rearranging the words.

A Shrine to Meaning
by Parker Palmer

I love this poem. It needs little commentary from me. Behind it lies a question many of us ask ourselves from time to time:

    by Leonard Nathan

    So you aren’t Tolstoy or St. Francis
    or even a well-known singer
    of popular songs and will never read Greek
    or speak French fluently,
    will never see something no one else
    has seen before through a lens
    or with the naked eye.

    You’ve been given just the one life
    in this world that matters
    and upon which every other life
    somehow depends as long as you live,
    and also given the costly gifts of hunger,
    choice, and pain with which to raise
    a modest shrine to meaning.

Given my small, ordinary, un-famous, and fleeting life, what can I do that’s of true worth and value? Then it offers an answer that I find simple, real, moving, and doable.

I re-read this poem occasionally and ask myself, “Using everything I have — including my own ‘costly gifts of hunger, choice, and pain’ — what can I do today to keep raising the ‘modest shrine to meaning’ I'd like to create with my life?”

Maybe it’s planting a tree, maybe it’s a random act of kindness to a stranger, maybe it’s offering comfort to someone who’s hurting, maybe it’s writing a thank-you letter to a mentor who saw your potential and drew it out...

There’s always something meaningful I can do to honor the gift of life in myself, others, and the world around us. Just do it!


Saturday, 15 October 2016

Safe or Sorry?

“Let’s take the trailer out for one more run before we kiss camping goodbye for another year,” I suggested to the RS.  “Let’s go to Tofino.”

Tofino, on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, is known for many things: fabulous surfing beaches, whale watching tours, funky ambience, good restaurants. Mild temperatures year round. At this time of year, tourists begin arriving for storm-watching season,  but that was not our goal. We wanted a quiet, relaxing time with lots of beach walks and reading

So we packed up and took off on Monday this week. It was a beautifully sunny day. Although the road to Tofino is twisty and narrow with lots of ups and downs, the trip was uneventful. The set-up took hardly any time at all. The campground had all the amenities, including wifi, was well treed and fronted on the beach. We walked there and watched the sun go down and congratulated ourselves on this good idea.

Day Two: another beautiful day. Another beautiful walk, this time around the lighthouse at Ucluelet. The interpretive signs told of storms and shipwrecks galore, but the sea was calm and blue. Ah, yes, this was the life.

Later that evening, we checked our e-mail and facebook. Uhoh. “This doesn’t sound good,” I said to the resident sweetie.

Announcements bordered in red, with lurid neon lines on weather maps, spelled out trouble. The remnants of Typhoon Songda were headed our way, and would be most felt on open West-facing coastlines. That's where we were.

We could expect winds gusting up to 100 km./hr. and 200 mm of rain over the next three days. There would be three storms, each becoming more intense, with the first hitting us on Wednesday evening. Anything not tied down would be prone to flying about, tree limbs might fall, and of course, there would be power outages.

Suddenly, this trip did not sound like such a good idea after all. We went to bed in a somber mood, and my sleep was disturbed with  dreams of downed power lines draped over our trailer ... or worse.  We were ready to pack it up early and get out while the going was good the following day. Actually, we were ready to run away from possible danger.

We are realizing, as we get older, that we are more aware of danger all around us. Just driving out to the Coast, pulling a trailer over narrow winding roads, is dangerous. Taking a walk on the beach or along an interpretive trail can be dangerous too.

The danger has always been there, but perhaps as we age we are becoming more aware of our vulnerability. Our instinct is to retreat, to run for safety. Don’t take a walk on that trail: a bear was sighted there a month ago.

Don’t climb on the rocks, you may twist your ankle. Don’t camp in the forest, a tree may fall and hit you. These are all very real possibilities – small chances, but real possibilities -- and as the saying goes, “Discretion is the better part of valour.”

Yes, but ... Unfortunately, each time we run away, our world becomes a little smaller. We won’t take the trip, we won’t sign up for the new activity, we won’t reach out to people we don’t know, or who are different from us, because, after all, we could get hurt.These experiences could spell danger.

In the morning, before packing up, we took one last walk on the beach -- the beautiful beach blessed by a rainbow.

We looked at each other. Hmm. Almost at the same time, we said, “Let’s tough it out.” We want to live in a world that holds challenges and surprises. There may come a time when our camping and traveling days will be over, when we won’t have the energy and resources to deal with challenges and surprises. But, hopefully, not for a while yet. Right now, we will tough it out, and enjoy!

Which is what we did. We weighed our choices, and opted for the challenge. We accepted the risk and hoped for the best.

The storm Wednesday night was much less severe than predicted, and on Thursday we had a great time walking on the beaches, outrunning the waves that smashed up on the shore, climbing rocks, and dodging the sporadic rainshowers. We watched surfers throw themselves into the waters, reveling in the excitement of trying to stand up on a board. We were happy campers.

Thursday night, the second storm hit, and it hit hard. It knocked down trees, one of which fell on top of  a camper’s car, knocked out power, turned tent poles into a pile of spaghetti.

The possibilities had become real. (But, we slept through most of it and emerged unscathed!)

Friday, we went home.

Did we make the right choice when we decided to tough it out? We think we did, but others would think differently.  What would you have done?

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Far from Perfect

The winter storms have come early. Late in the afternoon yesterday, we were battered by high winds and huge bursts of rain that rattled our windows and lasted all night long. It was a good evening to stay inside.

It was not a good night for the plants, however.  This morning, when we drew back the curtains, we saw the devastation. The dahlias and sunflowers that were still brightening our fall garden were bent and broken.

The sunflower was a goner, laying flat against the ground. This was very sad. It had had a hard life. We planted it in the wrong place to begin with, up against the house wall. It struggled to find enough water to thrive, and during the early summer, we pretty well wrote it off. It was hiding behind some climbing beans, and we forgot it was there. But lo and behold, when the heat of August arrived, it grew ... and grew... and grew. Early in September, we roped it to the downspout. When we left for a two week trip, it had reached the roof. When we came back, it had stretched its bonds and was leaning out over the grass, its many floral heads held on curved stems, stretching out and reaching  for the sun up above. Both the RS and I became the sunflower’s cheerleaders. We jerry-rigged a support structure to prop it upright, and found stronger, unstretchable ropes to hold it there. Its stem was now thicker than my arm, and its top was covered with dozens of buds and flowers.

In the secret language of flowers, sunflowers stand for happiness. That’s how we felt every time we saw it. You go, girl, I said.

But now, the storm had knocked out the supports, and the stem had toppled, pulling out the roots.
What to do?

This is what I did:

The bouquet of bruised flowers joins the last of our produce: imperfect apples and tomatoes not quite ripe. And all quite lovely.
 Sure, the flowers were battered and bruised, with torn petals and twisty stems. But together in that vase, if you didn’t look too closely at the details,  they created a bouquet that will brighten our Thanksgiving table. A perfect rose standing alone in a silver bud vase can’t compete with this gathering together of colour and vibrancy.

As I picked each twisted stem and put it into the vase, I admired its tenacity and thought about how much these happy flowers  can teach us about life. We are all of us a bit battered and bruised and torn up. We’ve had to struggle against adversity, and had the opportunity to grow and become stronger for it. Some of us even now are trying to stay upright as we fight the good fight. And yet, each one of us, with our scars and imperfections, is beautiful. Together we can bring joy to the world and to each other.

And for this, and for so much more, on this weekend when we celebrate Thanksgiving day here in Canada, I give thanks. For all of you, beautiful flowers in my garden, for all the crooked people trying to stand upright, for all the far-from-perfect people who surround us in our communities, who are willing to come together to be more than we are individually, I give thanks. Thanks a lot!

Here's Raffi's simple and yet beautiful song of celebration for all things:

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Crossing the River

We live in a home across the street from the Puntledge River, a river that flows out of glacier-fed Comox Lake and down to the Salish Sea. It’s an important, salmon-bearing stream; we can hear it roaring when the windows are open,  and we walk beside it almost every day. We love that dear old river.

Opa and Solay like to fish at the river. This photo was taken several years ago. They still like to fish there.
In our wills, we have  opted for cremation and let our kids know about our wishes. “It would be nice, however,” we told them, “if you used some of your inheritance money to buy a bench or plant a tree beside the Puntledge River in our memory.” They agreed. All in the future, which, we hope, is still long, long away. But one never knows. We all have to cross that river sometime.  What if the future arrives sooner than we think?

Our kids are wiser than we are. This summer, in celebration of our 45th anniversary, most of them came home for a hangout with Mom and Dad. They planned  the day and the meals for us – it was lovely. On the schedule was a walk at Nymph Falls Regional Park, a lovely rambling forested space criss-crossed with walking, biking, and horse trails, and fronting on the Puntledge River. A walk by our favourite  river, what could be better?

The little ones ran on ahead, followed closely by their parents, and the RS and I strolled behind, counting our blessings. We rounded a corner, and saw a strange sight: the grandies and a couple of their parents had created a human bench for us to sit on. A little presentation had been planned.

“We’ve been thinking about your bench by the river, the one you want after you’re gone,  and we thought you might want to choose the wording for a plaque now, before we pick it out for you,” said the oldest son. Knowing my family’s sense of humour, this was not a bad idea.  “Sit down and we’ll show you some possible wordings.”

He held out possible signs:

Wet Paint. 
Not exactly inviting.

Come unto me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.
True, but  sacreligious.. This bench is not Jesus.

(a rude Dutch expression, which cannot be reprinted. Absolutely not.

From here, you can watch the river’s downfall. 
Thumbs down: This bench is not meant to be a tourist guide.

For instructions on sitting, please see Comox Valley Manual 3.674
Yeah, right. I don’t think so.

In loving memory of  Al and Jessie Schut.
Aww, sweet! But perhaps a trifle boring?

And finally:

Feels so good to have a snuggle with a person that you love.
Ah, that’s more like it. This is a line in a song I have sung to my grandkids since they were very small. I told my kids I wanted it sung at my funeral, but maybe a plaque on a bench would do just as well.

I believe in snuggling. It’s a very healthy thing to do. The resident sweetie and I, in fact, both love it. Google tells me there is a saying by Virginia Satir, a respected family therapist, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” We aim to surpass maintenance.

We agreed they could put this wording on our “memorial bench” by the river when the time came. Then they sprung another surprise on us: they’d all pitched in, got additional contributions from Al and my siblings, and our bench would be built NOW. The future had arrived sooner than we expected. Delightful!

The other day, the RS and my sister Sue with her husband Bob, went down for a walk to visit “our” newly installed bench. We sat and had a snuggle. We are thrilled.

It’s waiting for a visit from you, dear readers, too. Come sit and have a snuggle while you still  can. The future is now.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Unravelling Words

Warning: this is another “wordy” blog – exploring word meanings. If this sounds to you about as exciting as watching paint dry, you can stop reading now. Just tell yourself the crow has flown off into the wild blue yonder and you aren’t in any mood to follow.

The other day, in conversation with friend, I used the word “revelatory” (rev-e-la-tor-y) twice within a very short time, as in, “My summer was actually quite revelatory.”  Whoa! How pretentious of me! (Fortunately, my friend did not wince, roll her eyes, or turn away to find a more compatible conversation partner. Pretty revelatory of her character, I’d say.)

I wondered if  revelatory was even a word. When I got home, I looked it up. Yes, it’s a word. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, revelatory means  “making something known : revealing something in usually a surprising way.” Apparently, it was first used, but not often, in the late 1880s; now its use is increasing.  Maybe we’re living in a society where there are more mind-blowing, revelatory occurrences? Or maybe we just like using big words more. According to my friend Google, in the list of 86,800 most commonly used words in the English language, revelatory clocks in at 51,931, right after Nescafe and just before waterbus. Most popularly used word? The. Least common of the 86,800 words: Conquistador. (

Sorry, I’m running down rabbit trails, misleading you. Bad habit. Pretty revelatory of my character, I’d say. I’m like the dog that walks faithfully beside you until a squirrel runs past her.

Actually, thinking about creating a blog about the word revelatory has come around and bitten me in the derriere. I’m the person who was ranting a number of blogs ago about people using the word “utilize” when when the simple word “use” will do. Flashing the word revelatory around is pretty pretentious and pedantic – or pompous, in plain English. Oh, dear, I am like the crow who collects shiny things and caches them in a safe place, only I am collecting fancy words. Those shiny things are not very helpful to the crow, and big fancy words are often not useful if simple words will do. What is wrong with the word “revealing”, I ask myself? Revealing is a good serviceable word and will get the idea across without raising eyebrows.

Except ...  there’s that use of the word “surprise” in the definition.

Surprise – that little shift in the way you look at things that suddenly lets you see them in a new way. It’s a change in perception. For instance, I’m sure the RS looks in the mirror at least a few times a day, but earlier this week, he walked out of the bathroom and told me, with surprise in his voice, “I’m realizing that we are really getting old.” The mirror that usually revealed the common, everyday version of himself, suddenly became revelatory.

And revelatory was the only word that would do when I was looking at a photo that someone posted of me on Facebook.  Do people really see that when they look at me? Aghg. I thought after I lost those 30 pounds a few years ago I was well on the way to being svelte. Apparently not.

Revelatory is a good word when someone comes out with a Freudian slip. A Freudian slip is when you mean to say one thing, but something different comes out: you want to say another but out comes your mother. These slip-ups are revelatory of what’s living in your deep sub-conscious. Since this term was first described by Freud, you can guess that often Freudian slips pertain to sex: you say ‘brightest and breast’ rather than brightest and best; wish someone a sexcessful adventure instead of successful; ... well, I’m not telling you about my Freudian slips, they are way too revelatory.

On the other hand, “revealing” is perfectly adequate in many other situations.

Speedo swimsuits on overweight – well, actually, any weight – men are revealing. No surprise there.

Ditto for low cut blouses, skin-tight short-shorts, curtainless windows at night, and an interview with Donald Trump: revealing.

The dress I bought on impulse because it looked so good on someone else? When I tried it on at home in a better light, in front of a full-length mirror, oops. Way to revealing of my varicose veins and not-so-lovely knees. Not good. I keep it as a reminder of the dangers of impulse shopping.

Revealing and revelatory: both good words, depending on what you want to say. Personally, however, I enjoy a good revelatory experience once in a while to shake me up a bit, and I realize that I actually did have a revelatory summer. I got shook up a bit, and that’s a subject for another blog.

Conclusion: writing about revelatory was a revealing experience. In the future, I should be using “revealing” and “revelatory” in their correct contexts. No use complexifying things.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Not so Rich and Famous

Well, I finally did it, dear readers. After publishing 135 blogs and chugging away at CrowDayOne for three years, I signed up for a workshop on blogging to find out how it’s supposed to be done. When I first started this blog, I was flying by the seat of my pants, and really, it’s still a wild ride every time I sit down to write. Maybe I was missing something?

The ad for the free webinar course showed up on my Facebook page, and I couldn’t resist. The young man who was giving this talk  had grown his blog readership from zero to a zillion (okay, I exaggerate) in just 18 months. Wow! Imagine that! He said we could do that, too, and he’d tell us how for free. We could even sit in our jammies in front of the computer during the presentation. Technology is amazing, isn’t it?

It was a good presentation, and I learned a lot. Not just about blogging, either.

I learned that bloggers need to have a platform – the foundation on which you stand, and from which you speak. It’s what really engages you, and what you want to share with the world. The teacher named 5 common platforms, and hey! I recognized myself in one of them: the Artist. The artist has a love for beauty, and tries to find it everywhere. She wants to open her audience’s eyes to the beauty, too – the beauty in nature, in relationships, in personal growth, and so many more life arenas. So I’m an artist! Who knew? Well, I guess I have known, but sometimes it is hard to name the thing you are; it seems somehow presumptuous. But of course it is not. You are who the Creator created you to be.

 Life Lesson One: Claim your name. Be who you are.

Next: I learned that if I was willing to do the work, I would see the results. I too could have 100,000 readers, said the teacher. He listed the tasks: build an e-mail list, follow and interact with other, more famous, bloggers; network with them, offer to do guest posts;  give away something for free (like webinars). In other words, knock, knock, knock on every door, and if the doors open, walk on through. Hmmm.

So far, I have done very little of the work to increase readership. Why not? There’s this little niggling voice in the back of my head that says, “Answer the question, Jessie. It’s important.” And so I have been noodling about it as I went about the daily grind this week: vacuuming, canning, laundry etc. What is it that I really want in life? Why do I do what I do (in my case, writing a blog almost every week)? Would “success” make me happier, or would it unnecessarily complicate what I already have? I began blogging to fulfill a dream and to give myself a challenge; I often feel compelled to write, and consider it a calling. Is that good enough? Whew, these are hard questions but worth wrestling with. Who knows what seeds I am planting as I struggle with these questions, seeds that will sprout and grow – in my life, and perhaps also in yours, too.

Life Lesson Number Two: Avoid avoidance. Answer the tough questions.

The third point my webinar teacher  presented was the money angle. He quoted Walt Disney: “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money so we can make more movies.” In other words, it’s okay to turn your love into your life’s work, and it is not grubby to ask money for the thing that you have that others want. (He then proceeded to try and sell us an on-line course that would help us, too, become full-time bloggers with a zillion readers, books to sell, and fame and fortune, a bargain at only $200. I didn’t buy it.)

I agree with him: it’s okay to ask for money. Some websites and blogs are amazing, and if someone works hard to put it together so I can learn and grow, I’m willing to pay for it. But speaking personally, I don’t need to be paid for what I do. In fact, I do not want to be paid for what I do. At this stage in my life, I’ve found that it’s all about giving things away – possessions of which I have too many, and a bit of  rudimentary “elder’s wisdom” that I’ve accumulated over the years. I think that if you’re a person of a “certain age” you’ll know what I mean. Giving brings its own joy and that is reward enough for me. 

Life Lesson Three:  Do what you love first of all. All else is a bonus.

I signed up for a webinar on blogging, and ended up learned lessons about life. As we Canucks say, "Beauty, eh?"

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Harvest Gold

This summer is moving way too fast for my liking. The flowers are beginning to die, and there’s a lot of dead garden waste in the compost. Decay is in the air.

We had our last meal of peas last week, and the pea vines are destined for the compost heap.
 But, there’s a good side: it’s harvest time.

Take our zucchini. (Yes, please, take them.) Why do we do this to ourselves? Have we forgotten the utter boredom of trying to work our way through half-a-dozen baseball-bat-sized Zees in other years? Sigh. Time to get out the Zucchini Cookery Book (copyright 1978, when Z was the new exotic wonder food.) Its cover proclaims, “Buried in Zucchini? ... if you try all our Wilderness House recipes [70!], you will use 93 pounds of Zucchini.” Oh, goody.  I don’t care what exotic name you call it – Zucchini Gazpacho, Zucchini Salerno, Zucchini Mousseron – it still all tastes like zucchini to me.

Then again, it’s part of the harvest. I love that word. It conjures up all kinds of memories. When I was a little girl, harvest time on the farm meant that crews of neighbouring farmers circulated farm to farm to help each other bring in the harvest.

 It also meant a whole lot of extra mouths to feed  on threshing day, and there was a fierce competition amongst the neighbourhood women to see who could provide the best meal. The men, hot and sweaty, would give themselves a quick wash outside under the pump before sitting down. Bowls of potatoes and vegies, pickles, roasts with gravy, and applesauce circulated; plates were heaped high.

We kids were waiters and watchers; this feast was not for us until after everyone had eaten their fill. And everyone knew that the highlight was yet to come: pie. Raisin pie, apple pie, lemon least three different kinds. My mom and her friend were awfully nervous  – they knew only simple Dutch cooking.  Would their meal meet with approval? They probably didn’t realize that every other woman on the circuit was asking themselves the same question, and every man around that table was revelling in the best meals they’d probably get until the next harvest rolled around.

Another memory that’s associated with Harvest is canning. The RS has been hovering in the kitchen this week, watching me canning up a storm. He’s scratching his head, commenting, “You’re working too hard. It’s hot. Why are you doing this?” “I’m enjoying it,” I tell him cheerfully. (I know my man: he’s feeling guilty, because “it’s too hot to do anything today”, and so he’s watching the Olympics. I let him stew in his guilt juices – I’ll get something good out of this! Maybe even dinner out.) He watches me a bit longer, then a light dawns: “You’re writing a blog, aren’t you?” My man knows me, too. Busted. Goodbye, dinner out.

When the children were younger, when I was a full-time homemaker, I used to preserve boxes and boxes of fruit – peaches, pears, cherries, applesauce. It was what you did to feed your family. Mom did it too. How eagerly we waited for the call announcing that the peaches were ripe in the Niagara Peninsula. Our family squeezed into the Volkswagen early the next Saturday morning to make a day of it. We’d do fun thing in the morning, have a picnic, and then it was time to do some serious buying. One bushel at full price – peaches that could last for a few days, for mom to can after the weekend. And one bushel of cheap, cheap "seconds": falls, bruised and almost overripe. Mission accomplished, the Volksie headed home FAST, my sister and I slurping on peaches in the back seat, juice dribbling all over. Those cheap “reduced for quick sale” peaches were deteriorating by the minute, and mom had to get them canned that very evening. I have memories of sweat pouring off mom’s brow and steam filling the already hot kitchen, as bottle after bottle emerged from the canner, later to be lined up on the basement shelves and consumed with pleasure all winter long.

I don’t can every year, but the garden has been productive this year, and truly, I do enjoy it. There’s an element of nostalgia, I’m sure, but there’s also the satisfaction of knowing that our food is not going to waste. We planted those seeds and tended them with care. Now it’s time to carry the harvest over into the winter months. With every mouthful, we will remember our blessings. I love seeing all those bottles lined up on the shelves: pickled cucumbers, beans, and beets; peach chutney; 3 kinds of jam. And more to come. What bounty!

“You know, I think we’re in the harvest years of our lives,” I comment to the RS when he comes back to see if I’m STILL working. He grunts. “Now you’re getting heavy,” he says and quickly scuttles  back to the den, to the safety of the Olympics, before I can begin pontificating his ears off. I guess you, dear reader, could do that now too, if heavy is not your thing.

But if you’re still reading, let me explain. In Backyard Parables, gardener Margaret Roach writes about the stages of her garden, which parallel the stages of life, starting with Conception, in January–February, when you order seeds and make plans, and Birth, as the first green shoots  push through the soil. Youth comes next, when everything grows so fast. In the season of Adulthood full potential is reached. And then comes Senescence, which signals that the cells are beginning to die. Decay begins, and that could be a real downer, especially in life which is not as vigorous as it used to be. Good news though: it is accompanied by the joy of  harvest. At harvest time, all the work you’ve put into the garden – and into life – is coming to fruition.
The garlics (70+ heads) are hanging up to dry for winter storage.

and with tomato sauce yet to come...

Some plants – and some parts of our life – aren’t all that productive. But here and there you will find evidence of abundance, beautiful, complete, and awesome.

And abundance? Well, that’s harvest gold, better than any Olympic medal. That’s worth celebrating.