Saturday, 26 May 2018

Colour Me Delighted

After our rainy winter, the sun came out, and it hasn’t stopped shining for weeks. It’s been great watching the colours unfold after that long grey winter – white snowdrops, yellow daffodils, multihued tulips, pink bleeding hearts blending with sunny leopard’s bane; today, the garden features pink and purple rhodos, an orange azalea, yellow irises, brilliant blue veronica, and the beginnings of fuschia foxgloves. And there’s so much more to come. I love it.

The front yard....

And the back yard.

And here are a few more colourful beauties in our yard. (They're doing so well because of the tender loving care the resident sweetie bestows on them every day; I'm his helper, but he does the lion's share of the work.)

I recognize that just writing this description -- and posting these photos -- has made some readers cringe. All that colour – it sets their teeth on edge. Too much, too garish, too busy! A few years ago I read a memoir by one of Canada’s leading poets, Patrick Lane. It was his story of recovery from alcoholism through working in the garden. It was a good book, but he wrote something that made me mad.  He despised folks who put a splash of yellow,  orange or red in the garden – in his opinion, they had absolutely no taste. His idea of a garden was a Japanese beauty, serene, understated, full of mossy greens, rocks, and running water, with perhaps a white lily floating in the pond for a punctuation mark. Minimalist. It sounds good, Patrick, but only for a visit. When it comes to our back yard, I’m not with you. Bring on the colour!

Colour and ambience are definitely different strokes for different folks. I wondered why some people adore brights, and others adore pastels, some love the English cottage look in a garden, and others go for Zen. So  I did a little research, and the findings surprised me. The preferences we’ve developed for colour are actually rooted in experiences we’ve had with those colours in our formative years, according to Psychology Today.

If I pursue that theory, I would trace my love for bright colours to a special day in my life. It’s a memory I’ve written about before: I was about 5 or 6, walking alone down a country road to the neighbour’s house. It was a gorgeous morning with the bluest sky, brilliant sunshine, yellow dandelions in the ditch, the maples and cornstalks in full green leaf. I have a distinct memory of feeling surrounded by something much bigger than I was, a loving presence, expressing herself in nature’s rich colours. The feeling was pure delight, so much so that I can recreate that day in my memory now, 65 years later. So maybe Patrick had a similar epiphany in a forest glade, and that has shaped his preference for green.

On another Saturday morning, when I was a bit older, I recall hopping on a bike and heading off alone to do a little explore. I biked towards the cemetery ... as I write this, I realize I must have been a bit weird when I was 10 or 11. Exploring alone? Biking to the cemetery? All I can say about that, is, back then, being alone and exploring the countryside was way more enticing than playing house with my peers. At any rate, it was another sunny morning, early in spring, and I was peddling along when I saw something that caused me to stop suddenly. The ditch was filled with bluebells, a bright splash of colour beside the grey pavement. It was another breath-stopping, wonder-filled moment. Such delight!

Now the garden is my opportunity to indulge my desire for splashes of vibrant colour that give  joy and delight. Occasionally I’ve toyed with the idea of having a colour-cued garden – only pale pinks and whites, with a hint of silver foliage, for instance, but I just can’t do it. I have to tuck a blue lobelia into that pot.

Yep, I added it to the bottom of the pot.
When that last red cabbage needs to be planted somewhere, I add its purplish leaves to the green herb bed, and maybe add a few orange nasturtiums because they’re so cheerfully full of life. The flowers that spring up  from seeds dropped in the fall – foxgloves, snapdragons, calendulas and sunflowers in totally uncoordinated colours – make my heart sing, even if they interrupt a row of beans or compete with the squash.
This pink volunteer foxglove has a mutant bloom at the top: it looks like a big bellflower.

As I noodle a bit more about this, I realize that my days come in colours, too. Grey and bluish grey days are when melancholy rears its dreary head. I don’t like them, but they are not as bad as black days, which thankfully are few and far between. Nor do I like the beige days, which are hum-drum, boring, and lethargic. Those are days to clean out the kitchen cupboards and put on a radio talk show. Lovely sky-blue days are serene and filled with contentment – good days for hanging out with friends and loved ones. I enjoy green and yellow days, which are fertile and thriving – you can actually get things done and feel satisfied as you tick things off your to-do list. Purple days are deep and emotional, rich but not always comfortable as I struggle with conflicting thoughts which need to be resolved. But my favourite days are red and orange, when the fires of creativity burn bright, and ideas come in bucket-fulls.

It’s been almost 5 years since I started this blog. I know the crow can’t squawk forever – but I’m wondering what might come next. The birthday clock is ticking a countdown to 70 – three-score and ten! –  and birthdays have always been a reminder to me to take stock and look forward.  I’ve had some grey and beige days as I consider options, but occasionally, green, yellow and red flash on the horizon. I’ll share more of that next week.

In the meantime, I wish you days filled with whatever colour your joy seeds come in! Be blessed.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Cranky Crow Squawks on Mother's Day

It was a busy week, but I did intend to write a blog yesterday. Unfortunately, the crow was unusually uncooperative and cranky.

“I suppose it’s going to be a warm and fuzzy Mother’s Day blog,” she muttered petulantly.

“And what’s wrong with that?” I asked.

“Don’t bother,” said the crow. “Everybody already knows what you will say. You’ll tell everyone how much you loved your mom and all the mother-figures in your life."

Embro, 1954

"You’ll say how wonderful motherhood is – how it added colour and sparkle to your days," the crow continues. "You’ll add a little tear-jerker vignette about the time your kids brought you breakfast in bed. How you wish you could go back to those days."

Devon, Christmas 1978

"Just don’t bother," warns my inner crow, "because everyone else is already writing those blogs or articles in the newspaper. Go have a beer in the garden and enjoy the flowers instead. Don’t waste my time.”

When the crow speaks, I’ve learned to listen. I went out to the garden and enjoyed the beer and the flowers – and then felt guilty because I hadn’t written a blog praising all the women in my life. Because guilt is what mothers do best. 

This morning the crow prodded me some more. She said, “If you’re really going to write a blog, tell the truth.” Ay-yay-yay. Really?

The truth is, Mother’s day makes ME cranky. It bugs me that commercial interests have taken it over. It bugs me that advertisers are dictating to us what the perfect mother’s day looks like, and how the best mothers behave. It bugs me when I read wonderful flowery tributes to the perfect super-mom. It's all about hearts and flowers and butterflies.

I’m cranky because Mother’s Day makes me feel inadequate. The truth is, when they plunked that bundle of new life into my arms, I did not feel an instant gush of mother-love. It took me weeks to bond with that baby (but he turned out great, anyway.) The truth is, when older women saw me mothering my troupe at the playground and told me to enjoy it while it lasts because these are the best times in your life, I wanted to scream. Really? These are the best days? Please don’t tell me that. Tell me it gets better. (It did! And those kids survived and thrived in spite of me.)

The truth is, there were days when I parked myself on the sofa with a novel and put my children on hold, with only one ear cocked to listen for sounds of distress. (Actually, the kids cooperated beautifully – maybe they didn’t want mom hovering over them all the time.) The truth is, I shoved my kids out the door to do their afternoon paper route instead of going with them to help them. The truth is, I was sometimes to tough on them. The truth is, sometimes – well, more than sometimes – I lost my temper and did things that embarrass me now, like packing up their coats and boots that were littering the back hall into a plastic garbage bag and making them pay to get them back. That’ll teach them to hang things up, I thought grimly. Really? I did that? Yes. Like I said, embarrassing behaviour.

Yes, I’m cranky because Mother’s Day makes me feel inadequate. The truth is, I was a fair to middling mom, like almost everyone else I know. As my friend told me recently, we did the best with the choices we had. We muddled through with the skills we had, we made mistakes, and yet, in spite of all that, the kids are all right. And I am so glad that I am their mother; I'm intensely proud of them all.

And now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I want to say something about Mother’s Day that’s really, really important. There is no substitute for mothering love; it shapes who we are and how we view ourselves. The thing is, it comes in so many shapes and varieties. I have had, and still do have, the most amazing people in my life who fulfilled, and still provide, a mothering role, and they include both women and men. My mom and Oma shared their unconditional love and made me feel incredibly valued; my aunts and uncles have been there forever with their kindness, concern and inspiration. My sisters are always there to pick me up when I fall down, and my children and their spouses know just when to give me the hugs I crave and words of wisdom that leave me in awe. My best man, the resident sweetie, lets me cry on his shoulder without feeling like he has to fix me, and listens to my grumbles. Occasionally, he even sets me straight when I need it. My friends, both single and married, both mothers and not, both men and women, listen and laugh, and tell me the truth about myself, with love, of course. Mentors have brought out the best in me and opened up my heart to new adventures. And even the stern church ladies and elders of my youth have had their role in teaching me the value of hard work and practical acts of kindness. Surrounding all that, there’s Creator God, who delights and encourages me in my struggles to become all that I’m meant to be. These are all forms of mothering love, and perhaps on Mother’s Day we need to honour these forms, too. After all, it takes a village to raise a child.

It comforts me to know that I do not have to be the perfect mother to my children, the perfect grandmother to my grandies, because they too have people in their lives to fulfill the mothering roles that are so vitally important to our emotional health. Not all of them are mothers, either.

As I’ve been writing this down, the cranky crow has settled down. Her feathers are no longer ruffled, and she’s tucked her head under her wing for a rest. Like a mother, she knows her job is done – until the next time. Thanks, Crow.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

New Math

I’m not good at math. But lately I’ve been noodling over some interesting equations. This new math is pretty simple. There are no rules to follow, no “carry the one” to worry about.

                                    1 + X = 2 much.    1 - 1 = enough.

I’ve been noodling over these equations since the beginning of the year, when I chose the word SUBTRACT as my word for the year. (See blog post January 27).  I chose it because of a quote I read during a very busy period in my life, when I felt as though I was shriveling up inside.

Growing the soul: that is, growing the most essential part of us. When we’re born, we come ‘trailing clouds of glory from God, who is our home,” as the poet Wordsworth expressed it.

There's nothing quite like a prairie sky to give us an image of "clouds of glory." This fibre art piece was created by Saskatchewan artist Cindy Hoppe. Check out more of her amazing work at this link:

But the clouds of glory – the delight in every living thing –  that children express so openly, often disappears quickly. The bumps and bruises of life inflict wounds, and our essential selves, the best we could be, is covered over with scar tissue.

Who are we really, after all? What’s there under the scar tissue? It’s a question so many people, especially as we grow older, ask ourselves. Have we been living our best lives? Have we been authentic, and do we live with integrity? Does what you see on the outside measure up to what you are on the inside?

These are big questions. Perhaps that’s why they often rise to the surface as we get older, when there is more time to noodle about such things. And some of us noodle deeper and harder than others. Perhaps, even now, your eyes are glazing over, wondering what on earth this old crow is squawking about.

If so, dear reader just skip the next few paragraphs and go straight to the end. SUBTRACT  a large piece of this blog post from your to-do list. There, did that feel good? Then you've got the gist of this blog.

But if some of you are ready to dig a little deeper, read on.

When we realize that we can’t always answer the big questions, we often blame ourselves for not engaging enough with spiritual practices. We should be praying more, we tell ourselves; we should be meditating more, taking more yoga classes and living with more mindfulness. We need more and longer quiet times, times of reflection. More. We need to do more.

Meister Eckhart disagrees. Our soul – the very essence of who we are – does not grow by adding all kinds of burdens; instead, it grows when we subtract, pare down, simplify. This concept appealed to me. 

Now the year is already 1/3 gone. How’s this word working for me, I ask myself. Actually, it is a good word, and more than once in the last few months I’ve been stopped in my tracks by it.

It echoes in my mind as I mull over the purchase of yet another pair of pants or essential collectible in the local thrift shop. Subtract, not add, I remind myself. Instead of buying more, I cleaned out my closets and drawers and gave much of it away. It felt good. Even better was the soul searching that accompanied it. Have I fallen  into society’s addiction to material goods? Why? And if I indulge, am I just adding more distractions to my spiritual growth?

I also hear the word  SUBTRACT whispered in my ear when I am restless, driven with the compulsion to jump into yet another project. People who are creative are prone to get carried away by great ideas that all clamor for fulfillment. But the reality is that as you grow older you have less energy. You find you just can’t do it all! (Sob, sob.) Maybe making that onion jam wasn’t such a great idea, considering how many hours it consumed of your time. Live and learn, I tell myself; not all these projects are conducive to becoming your best self. Narrow down your choices.

Subtract is my watchword as I give away three boxes of research books I used when I wrote Sunday School curriculum – it was one of the tracks on my career path, but I am not on that path anymore. It is time to subtract it from my life – fondly kiss it goodbye and fill that empty space with gratitude for a wonderful experience.

Subtract, I tell myself, as I consider environmental issues. My choices today impact the future of the world, the future of the children who come after us. We are connected to every other living thing. Our actions now have lasting consequences. Subtract the number of indelible footprints you leave behind for the next generation. 

I can think of many more compulsions, habits, and attitudes to subtract: harsh judgements, negative thoughts, unkind criticism to name a few. Every subtraction makes room for better things – mercy, hope, compassion, kindness -- that nourish my soul and let it gently unfold. There are a lot of layers between the outer me and the inner me, but I am peeling them away bit by bit. It’s not easy to subtract these ingrained patterns of living. I am definitely a work in progress, and have a long way to go.

But at this point in the year, I like how the new math is helping me grow.