Sunday, 31 May 2020

View from the Crow's Nest: I see changes

May 20:

Our garden is shaggy. It’s become overgrown and jungle-like in places. The overall effect is still beautiful, if you’re sitting on the patio and not bothering about the details. But when you take a stroll down the pathways, you see the grass growing in between the stones, you feel the dip in the path that collects the water every time it rains, you notice that the enormous rosemary has lots of dead branches in it.

Huge ferns have sprung up and are competing with more mannerly plants. Some plants we thought were cute turned out to be invasive and are everywhere. Basically, our garden needs a makeover.

It’s been 13 years since we began landscaping our bare piece of property. We went wild, planting every blessed thing that appealed to us, like rosemary that wouldn’t grow in Edmonton. And because of our mild climate, it only took a few years for our garden to be a thing of beauty. And then without our noticing it, the thing of beauty turned on us, and there was just too much of everything.

So this is the year. We will need to be ruthless if we want to make real changes. Some plants will just have to go for the good of the garden. Some will be trimmed into shape to suit our purposes. Some parts of the garden will lay fallow while we decide what to do with it.

This makeover reminds me a bit of life during the pandemic. We were so used to the freedom of doing what we wanted to do when we wanted to do it. We indulged ourselves in whatever our little hearts desired. Life was good –  if you didn’t look too closely. But Covid has stopped us in our tracks, and once we got over the shock, we realize that maybe our life is overgrown with distractions and bad habits. Our passions may be crowding out other good things. Or easy choices have left us lazy and unfocussed.  And, yes, we realize, our life is unbalanced. It has become shaggy. It needs a makeover.

It won’t be easy. We will have to be ruthless if we wish to make real changes. We will have to trim things out of our schedule, and put some things aside, give them a rest, till we decide if we can live without them.

The time to do it is now. I wonder if we will remember this lesson when the pandemic is over.

May 22:

There is a lot of turmoil going on around our house, with trucks unloading sand and patio stones onto the driveway and three people working in the backyard. Earlier in the week, they removed rocks and sod, dug up plants, and reshaped flower beds. That was the prep work.

Now they are ready to do the big main job of laying a stone path where grass used to be. It will be good, but in the meantime, it’s a mess.

I guess that’s the way it is with the interior life, too. First you excavate what’s there, then you build it up again into something that works. In the meantime, it’s a mess.

May 23:

Today, we went shopping for some new plants to put in the garden. We visited a nursery that specializes in trees and shrubs.

So much choice! We were looking for a small maple to put beside the pond. Did we want a red one or a green one? And how small is small: a maple that grows to 6 feet, or one that grows to 20?  Lacy leaves or solid? Drooping or straight up? Red bark, green bark, brown bark? One in a 3 gallon pot or in a 6 gallon pot? One that costs $60 or one that costs $300?

We took pictures and made notes, but didn’t choose anything because we wanted to consult our plant book and our landscaper son. There was no rush, but if we found the right one, we’d know it in our hearts, and we’d buy it. That’s what happened after we talked to J. He told us about a maple he’d seen in a local store that was native to BC, not Japan or other country. It was the only one he’d seen in all his nursery trips. It was the right size, it had interesting features, and it would work perfectly. We bought it.

I’m thinking that we have many choices in life, too. And if you’re doing a makeover of your inner life, rooting out what you don’t want and what doesn’t work for you anymore, then what do you replace it with?

So many choices! Take your time ... But if you happen upon something that makes your heart sing, grab it! It was meant for you.

PS: A makeover, whether in the garden or in life, is totally worth it!

Friday, 22 May 2020

View from the Crow's Nest: It's a matter of perspective.

May 12:

Most of us are now are feeling somewhat bewildered by the passage of time. Which day of the week is it, anyway? The hours slip through our fingers, and we wonder what we got accomplished. And yet, it feels like we’ve been in this lockdown forever – so long, that it is now the new normal.

One way to measure the passage of time is by looking at our hair (if we have some left to look at.) I’d rather not, actually, but there it is, in the mirror every morning, sticking out all over. And I’m not the only with hair issues. Just look at the news anchors on TV, and even our own PM, brushing his lovely locks to the side or tossing his mane impatiently when it blows into his eyes.

Yesterday, I cut the Resident Sweetie’s hair. He doesn’t have a whole lot of hair to swing around anymore, but what there is needs regular trims. I’ve been his “resident barber” since early in our marriage, except for a hiatus when I went on strike and refused to cut his hair ever again. This was because, whenever I mentioned that he needed a haircut, he ignored me until even he noticed that he needed a haircut. In the meantime, I had to keep looking at him. So I told him, “Fine, I quit.” But then I didn’t like the way the barber cut his hair either. It was not a win-win situation. It was an impasse, and I had to give in. Since then, we’ve been muddling along, sometimes the barber, sometimes me, but always at a time of his choosing after I’ve bugged him for a few weeks, when people are beginning to wonder if he’s a street person. (I exaggerate, of course.)

We’ve both been pretty shaggy lately, but then, so is pretty well everyone else. We’re in this boat together. So I did not mention his hair – and he didn’t mention mine. And then, it happened: he asked me to cut his hair without any “suggestions” on my part. Covid had brought him to this.

Now he looks good, and I don’t. Life’s not fair, is it?

May 13: I was feeling pretty good about that lighthearted little observation yesterday. Then this appeared on Face Book.

It puts a whole new spin on the phrase, “Life’s not fair.”

People are toting their guns to the legislatures protesting that the lockdown has deprived them of their rights. I saw a sign that said, “We demand to have communion at church." Really? Really???? Life’s not fair, they say. But they can’t pick up signs to picket for clean water for the children in Flint, whose life expectancy is much lower than other children. And that’s fair?

Is it okay for me to be mad about this? I am.

But as the saying goes, when you point a finger at someone else, there are four fingers pointing back at you.

I want to protest my innocence in this, but find I am speechless.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

View From the Crow's Nest: I check out the neighbourhood.

Another log from View from the Crow's Nest logbook:

May 11: Went for a walk around the block this morning. It’s about time – I have so slacked off on this. When I do walk, it’s usually into the woods to experience solitude and silence. But today, I decided to check out the neighbourhood. It’s where people live, people like you and me, all coping with the pandemic in their own way. I’m a bit of a recluse, and I recognize that could get me into trouble eventually, because social interaction is just as important in the long run to your health as social isolation is in this time of pandemic.

So here’s what I saw:

I saw that many people had posted hearts and teddy bears in their windows and on their fences, visual messages of solidarity and gratitude. “We are all in this together” is what these symbols are saying. “My heart beats with your heart.”

I saw and chatted with a few neighbours. The toothless old man down the block is outside with another younger fellow. Dave used to be a social worker. Now he does social work: he takes in men who are having a hard time getting their lives on track. He helps them find jobs, then makes sure they show up at work every morning, watching over them until they are ready to move out. This morning he was telling me about one of “his boys” who works at Tim Horton’s and is very busy.

Okay, Dave’s yard is a bit of a mess, littered with boats and trailers and cars that might be projects for these young men to work on. But I can live with that when I know his story. Isn’t that the way it is? If you know the story, your boundaries widen.

I walked by another messy yard. I’d driven past the house on the corner several times.  Now I stopped to take a good close look. I saw that these folks had turned over the front yard to their children.

There was a makeshift sandbox scrabbled out of an empty patch of lawn. There was a makeshift tent structure, created with dead cedar branches bent over and tied together.

There was a little kitchen unit, complete with sink and counter, and little flags hanging over it as a makeshift curtain. There were cheerful messages painted on rocks. Shingles had been laid down to make pathways.

I smiled in recognition. My memory goes back to our backyard when our kids were young and rambunctious. There was a well-used trampoline for the kids to jump on. There was a sandbox with guy wires running up to the crabapple tree, where GI Joe figures slid up and down. There was a rabbit that had free reign in the yard, and ate every attempt I made to beautify the flower beds. There was a dog who buried things. There were buckets that served as goal posts for the soccer ball that got kicked around. There was a picnic table covered with craft supplies in the summer. There was a mother in the kitchen wondering when she would ever create some order out of the mess and have a yard that resembled those of Better Homes and Gardens

Now she knows: there’s time enough for beauty and tranquility in the garden after the kids are gone.

And I saw two butterflies, a little blue one and a big fancy one, and a swallow swooping by. It was a good walk.

Friday, 15 May 2020

View From the Crow's Nest: I see Goldfinches

I logged these notes several weeks ago. I gave them time to settle before re-reading them and deciding whether to share them with you. As with almost everything, it's not the whole story, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but it is part of my story that I'm living with in these unusual times. I hope it is for you, too. 
May 3: I awoke this morning and checked my Facebook page to find these words by poet Mary Oliver.

Oh yes, indeed! We have yet again an opportunity to be alive, to experience a fresh morning in a broken world. Reading that was a second wake-up moment for me.

You can read the rest of the poem here (I hope you do!):

May 4: Yesterday’s poem was about goldfinches.

Oliver reflects on the goldfinches gathered in a field of thistles “to see who can sing the highest note, or lowest, or the most expressive of mirth, or the most tender” ... not to be winners, or to please us, but just out of sheer delight and gratitude.

As I write this, half a dozen goldfinches are flitting about in our yard.

They are joined by golden crowned sparrows, rosy finches, juncos and pine siskins, robins and towhees, hummingbirds and the occasional flicker, taking baths in the rock pools in our pond, fighting over the feeders, hiding out in the blooming dogwood and singing their hearts out.

 “Oh, do you have time to linger for a just a little while out of your busy and very important day?” asks Oliver. “I beg of you, do not walk by without pausing to attend to this rather ridiculous performance. It could mean something.”

May 5: That word “ridiculous” in the above line catches my attention.

The adjective “ridiculous” comes from the Latin word ridere, which means “to laugh.” But it’s often used in a mocking way – “What a ridiculous outfit she’s wearing,” for instance. Ridiculous can also mean preposterous, foolish, absurd.

I think about the goldfinches gathered in a field of thistles, singing their hearts out. Ridiculous! What will it get them? Where’s the profit in that? They’re singing out of the sheer delight of being alive, but that doesn’t bring home the bacon. Ridiculous...but thank God, they’re singing and filling that field of thistles with song. Someone will stop to listen. It could mean something to someone.

photo from MyMinnesotaWoods

And what about me, holed up in my studio for hours on end, making pieces of art or writing notes to myself? Ridiculous! Where’s the profit in that? But it is who I am. Perhaps only God will check out the results of my creating. But that would be enough.

So I’ll take my chances and join the goldfinches in their ridiculous songs. It could mean something to someone.

Not "20 finches at the feeder" but the entry for April 20 in my Diary of Daily Delights!

By the way, this site  https//  
is a wonderful site for finding beautiful poems.)
And to hear a goldfinch song, check out this link:

Or come visit our backyard!

Monday, 11 May 2020

View from the Crow's Nest: I See Tulips

I realize that I may have to post a little more frequently than once a week to keep you up to speed with my daily notes. This past week I was fixated on tulips.

May 7: Yesterday’s paper featured a photo of tulips, planted in a local park, in the shape of the number 75.  The tulips were especially bred for this year, the 75th anniversary of the end of WW2, and are named Liberation tulips. May 5 was the day when the Nazis surrendered Holland.

Now it just so happens that I am in the process of writing a family history, and as part of that, consulting with my dad’s written family history. So I am up to my elbows in Dutch stories, many of them stories about the war.

I think about the five years of hardship that my parents and their families endured during that war. Dad tells about narrow escapes from Nazi raiders who were looking for strong young men to work in their munitions factories. He talks about shortages of everything, especially in that last horrible cold winter. He tells that it was forbidden to cut down trees for firewood, so my mom and her brothers snuck into the forest at night to bring home deadfall to heat the home where she, her parents, her 8 siblings, plus a Jewish child, plus a man in hiding, were living. He writes about senseless destruction of dykes and farmland, of farm-wagon loads of refugees passing down the road, old women and children shivering under ragged blankets. He writes about being part of the secret force that supported the liberation of Leeuwarden at the end of the war, of a family member who was betrayed and shot without trial.

Many died, but many also survived. The stories of their survival give us hope and courage as we sojourn in the land of Covid.

May 8: There is just something about tulips – in the language of flowers, they symbolize perfect love. There is no greater love than laying down your life for someone else, so using them in memorials to the war speaks a message all its own.

I remember when Dad first planted tulips at our house in the late 50s. He guarded and watched over those few dozen tulips, and eventually they multiplied so that there were beds of tulips all around the house in the springtime. I can’t think of the home where I grew up without thinking of tulips.

At the beginning of this pandemic, while we were dealing with the shock of social isolation and the seriousness of our situation, I turned to tulips and made this art piece.

The yellow jug and the lace curtain background remind me of mom, and the tulips remind me of dad. I find myself reaching back into memories, and wanting to say thank you for the unnoticed and unappreciated gifts of endurance, steadfastness and love we were given as we grew up.

May 9: 46 years ago I carried our 6 week old firstborn in one arm, and prepared to board a plane to Edmonton where Al was. He was starting a new job, and had gone ahead to find us a home. In my other arm, I held a large paper-wrapped bouquet of tulips mom had picked from the flower beds around the house. “Just a little reminder of home,” she said.

Tulips didn’t grow easily in Edmonton, and anyways, I was too busy raising children to do much gardening. But 33 years later, when we moved here, tulips got planted everywhere. They were just a little reminder of home.

After I made the first 2 tulip pieces for my sisters, I decided to make one more, this time including features of the Dutch culture that was part of my life: a Delft Blue vase, a heavy plush tablecloth, lace, and tulips. When mom and dad established their home in Canada, these were the decor items they included, features of the home they left behind. And for me, now, just a little reminder of home.

Dutch tulips, in process. It's a scary thing to start with nothing but an idea. Each piece I add could be the beginning of a disaster which will destroy the picture. So far, so good!

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

In April, I marked off the days by making little quilts of things that delighted me every day.  April is over, and here are the last few I created:

Then the question was, how do I mark off the days in May? I decided to write short journal entries every day about things that struck me as worth thinking about. Occasionally, I will put these out there on my blog. I will call it The View From the Crow's Nest.

Perhaps you'll find that these topics are worth thinking about, too.

Here are the first two entries.

May 1:

Last week, after I posted my first blog in months, I felt like a fraud.

In the blog, I told readers I have found my happy place, and I am abiding in it. This is true, but it is not the whole story.

There are bad days and tearful hours, too. Like Easter Sunday -- it was not good at all. I missed my kids and grandkids, I missed the church service with everyone singing with gusto, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” I missed a dear friend who had died two days earlier and I had not been able to say goodbye. I tried to make gluten-free cinnamon buns to take over to the grandkids, but I think I killed the yeast. “Christ has risen indeed, yes...but not these buns,” I grumbled. Because I was grumpy, I took it out on the resident sweetie. That was ugly.

It took me another day to sit with those bad feelings and come out the other side.

Finding your happy place and being grateful does not mean that life is always hunkey-dorey. It isn’t. It never was, even in the best of times. But still we abide, salvaging shiny bits of joy from the rubble of the day and putting them in our treasure box of delights.

In the dark times, we pull them out and remember.

May 2:

I’m noodling about that word Abide. The dictionary has many meanings, but the one I like the best is this: to continue in a place, sojourn. And unpacking the word further, I find that sojourning means staying in a place temporarily.

We are here in the land of Covid 19. How long this sojourn will last is unknown, but in the meantime, I will abide in this place.

I once asked a wise woman the question, “What do you do when you find yourself all dried out spiritually?” She told me, “Do what the Israelites did when they found themselves marooned in the wilderness on their journey to the promised land: they pitched their tents, and made themselves at home there.” And so will I.

In a sense, we are all on a journey to the promised land, and we are all sojourners here. In the meantime, do good and make this temporary home a better place.