The Rare Birds

Just sipping an early coffee. James and I arrived home from Lethbridge at midnight last night and had it not been for Max and his request at the back door at six this morning, I would still be sleeping.

Yesterday was an exquisite day. I liked the surprises of it and the colour of it. In its own way, yesterday was a rare bird.

But first, there were the ordinary rituals. First, the update from the red couch.

I got Max down to the Bow River early and discovered how powerful and fast-moving it was, after all of our rain these past days. Experts assure Calgarians that these continue to be usual run off levels and that we needn’t be anxious about the swelling river, but given the floods of other years, the changes at the river can feel unnerving.

Some one doesn’t care. He always smiles on these walks.

Something to identify.

Another something to identify.

Birds were very busy and there was a cacophony of sound as it seemed they were all rebuilding, particularly the Red Winged Black Birds. At the eagle nest, I’m pretty certain that we’ve had one of the eaglets ‘fludge’ (accidentally fledge) as I’ve only been able to pick up the profile of one of the siblings these past four days. One adult continues to stand watch in neighbouring trees, but I’ve seen only one this week. We’ll see how that all plays out over the coming days. With full foliage in the trees now, perhaps I am missing things. The adults raised up only one of two last year and this may end up being a similar season. I’ve been documenting daily what I see at the nest, but am not publishing these, as a way of protecting the location of the nest.

Once arriving home, James and I loaded up and headed out on the highway, after gassing up the vehicle and buying our road trip treats. It was sad to leave Max behind, but I was super happy that my nephew, John, agreed to come and take care of Max’s needs late in the afternoon. This was a great relief and I am very grateful to John.

We got as far as Nanton before we began our exploring. There was a vintage car show going on, as well as a Barbecue cook-off and parade of garage sales. The sights and smells were wonderful. Good job, Nanton!

In Claresholm, there was a stop for lunch. The most wonderful thing about lunch was spending time with my son. I was already thinking about how wonderful it was that he wished to spend the day with me and celebrate my art. He has been very encouraging since I have begun painting again. He is a great support.

We hit Lethbridge in the midst of Pride festivities and it seemed that the core was alive with activity and fun. GO PRIDE! Karen and Mel had already visited Casa and so we hooked up at the Tim Horton’s where I enjoyed an ice lemonade and the four of us had a lovely chat. It was good to reconnect and to give ourselves the time to share. I so appreciated that Karen made this visit happen and that we were able to celebrate my art and one another. My heart was spilling over the entire day.

I tried to locate my friend, Michael, with no success and so James and I steered the boat toward Larry and Nina’s. Along the way, I shared stories about my memories of the years 1973 to 1977. I’m sure at times he was overwhelmed with the name dropping, but I love that I was able to bring him into the circle of love that I experienced through those years. Gratefully, Larry and Nina were home and we managed to really shake up their afternoon! But, oh my, it was so much fun! Talks of single-engine Cessna flights, books, family, Herb, renovations, Kaslo…it was rich and filled with belly laughs. Thank you, Larry and Nina, for letting us crash into a quiet afternoon of watching baseball. I love you.

I changed my clothes and off James and I headed to Casa for the celebration of a group exhibit as well as two other exhibits that were going on at the time. Casa is a beautiful facility and Darcy is a hard working curator! The following words shared by Lorraine Lee, the writer of the poem, Child’s Rara Avis.

The Gallery at Casa Presents:
CHILD’S RARA AVIS
work by A Cluster of Rare Birds
Concourse Showcase
June 22 – August 24, 2019

Hugh Prather wrote in Notes to Myself:
“There were seventy-five people in the lobby and only a seven year old girl was finding out what it felt like to sit on a marble floor.”

Or, in this case on a rock.

The exhibition is based on a verse written by one of the artists at the age of 17 – about sitting on a rock and looking at her world through a child’s eyes but now, on the cusp of adulthood, thinking she would no longer be able to do so. This exhibition says we absolutely can, and SHOULD, still ‘sit on that rock’ no matter how grown up we are.

Each woman in this group has used the verse as their “guide”. Some have used direct imagery from the verse, some used the idea of the verse.

– the adventuresome spirit of her grandchildren
– her own childhood memories of walking in nature with her grandmother and seeing the magic there
– believing the world to be filled with colourful, impossible creatures
– familiar landscapes but with a child’s touch of fantasy and painting style
– childhood images of magical worlds she could only dream about
– the freedom and innocence of childhood
– seeing everyday beauty, that as adults, we often pass by
– an archive of treasures suspended through her experience of her own child like sensibilities

All of us have been able, through our creativity, to reach to our child self and in the process, make some discoveries about who we are and what we believe. And, essentially to discover, or rediscover, the spirit of fun and wonder that children naturally gravitate to. To look again through the eyes of the child we used to be.

Come join us on the rock.

A Cluster of Rare Birds:
Patti Blackstaffe
Diane Brinton
Vaughan Coupland
Claire Hatton
Shauna Hayward
Laurel Krause
Lorraine Lee
Kathleen Moors
Kathy Schwarz

We met one another (this was my first time meeting the other artists) and celebrated with wine and cake. Thank you for your hospitality, Lorraine.

I will also include here, my own artist’s statement regarding the work that I am presently producing. With over 220 Instagram images archiving the life and times of a bush at the edge of a pond, I have many references for a vast exploration of time, atmosphere and presence. I am very excited about it.

My Rara Avis: Instagram Bush

A person aligns with certain values throughout the course of living a sometimes-joyful, sometimes-challenging life. My way of being is strongly influenced by literature and most specifically, by two books; Le Petit Prince par Antoine de Saint-Exupery and Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Both writings include lessons on noticing, presence and place. The protagonist of Dandelion Wine, Douglas Spaulding, keeps a diary throughout the summer of 1928, in the front, collecting a record of ‘usual’ things about summer and in the back, a record of the revelations about those ordinary things. My life, thus, is marked by a huge history of seeing the spectacular embedded in the ordinary.

The poem, a Child’s Rara Avis written by Lorraine Lee, aged 17, invited me to share my rara avis, my incredibly beautiful and evolving experience of a single landmark along a circular pond walk with my dog, Max, daily, in 2015. I took pause in front of this bush and observed the changing aspects of its structure and surrounding environment through the course of our walks, snapping one Instagram photo and capturing the moment as a matter of preservation. I logged the time of day, the weather and the date at each visit. Through the course of this presence, I collected samples of vegetation and other organic materials found beneath the branches of this same bush and bottled them up as an approach to archiving the moment. Douglas Spaulding, similarly, observed his grandmother bottle the ‘Summer of 1928’ in the cool basement of his home, in the form of Dandelion Wine, a tincture to be brought out in the wintertime to combat aches and colds.

In the studio, I am pouring over the references and field notes, enjoying the sensual memories and the experience of walking. I am intimately recreating these experiences by transitioning the Instagram photographs into paintings. This process contributes a seeming permanence to something that is very ephemeral. (see Chapter 15 in Le Petit Prince) It elevates my rara avis.

It is the child’s heart within me that discovered the wonder of this location. It is here that I ‘sat on a rock and watched the world’.

During the process of walking, I realized that while incubating the idea of these works, all square formats and all acrylic paintings, I wanted to also capture the act of walking. Videographer, Liam Hawryluk, of Beam Media, generously joined me on the circle and collected footage across the seasons, capturing the reality that within a very huge narrative, there is a rara avis available for personal engagement, if one chooses to take notice.

Kathleen Moors

This is the video created by Liam Hawryluk.

Liam’s company, Beam Media, produces amazing videos and I am so grateful that he took this project on. This archive means the world to me. Thanks, Liam.

I think that the first surprise, and a glorious one, was to see Kasia. It was such a quick embrace and I wish we had shared more time, but so quickly, a big chunk of my amazing family including my Auntie Eleanor, descended into the space. Thanks also to Tim and Tamaki. And, thank you, Larry and Nina. And most importantly, thank you, James. What a wonderful and surprising night. We all live such busy lives and I’m grateful for those of you who were able to find the time to give me this support. Now, please readers, forgive my blast of photographs.

Martine, Kath, Danielle

Nina, Kath, Larry

Kath and son, James

Kath and Auntie Eleanor She described my art as having a lot of movement.

Tamaki and Tim

Tristan, Robert John de Gruchy, cousin Deanna and beautiful daughter, cousin Barb, cousin Martine and daughter, Danielle and cousin Margy. In front, Kath and Auntie Eleanor

My Auntie Eleanor Witbeck

A Road Trip to Blackfoot Crossing

Hollee drove down last evening so that we could head out early for a road trip to Blackfoot Crossing.  Recently, she was able to view Elder in the Making, a movie that I have not yet seen.  This movie really impacted her and Hollee asked if I would be up to a road trip to this beautiful place, a place where we are all reminded of our obligation to be treaty people.  I love Blackfoot Crossing and if my readers have not yet journeyed there, please do.  Episode 1.

Early this morning, I went out in bedroom slippers and fed the birds. (The sparrows are all raising their young and they congregate each morning, just like the wee pigs that they are. Oh my.  They are messy!) There in the back gardens, I found my first Oriental Poppy blooming and my first open Peony.  I love the lush green surrounding these highly saturated blossoms and thought about the next bush painting that is already living inside my head.

There was no shortage of conversation as we took 22X and steered ourselves east.  There was a powerful sky and a big whoosh of wind as various systems of weather were moving through the province.  We stopped at the landmark for Blackfoot Crossing shortly after Hollee noticed the graveyard from the road.  I felt determined to find Jordan’s resting place.  The wind was so strong and carried a bit of a bite.  The two of us took in the remarkable vistas.  It was an awesome first glance of the panoramic view of the valley and treaty lands.

Next, we visited Chief Crowfoot’s last camping place.

We enjoyed the brilliant colour of wild flowers throughout our times wandering.  So beautiful.

Next…Chief Crowfoot’s resting place.  If my readers haven’t read his biography as yet, I recommend Crowfoot: Chief of the Blackfoot by Hugh Dempsey.  A powerful book!

Bernard couldn’t meet up with us, but said he would include me in his smudge today.  He is such a beautiful person.  I was determined to find the place where Jordan, his son, rests and today, I found him…was able to take pause and pray.  I am grateful that Jordan’s life and mine intersected.  I treasured Jordan in his youth.  Today, I was able to remember.  The next time I travel to the crossing, I will bring a special gift that reflects that relationship and I will place it on his grave.

Wild Anemone

We had a magic-filled walk and went to the site where the museum has documented an earthen village. However, the archaeologists that were working on site today walked us through some of the more current discoveries and that was super exciting.

Wild Anemone

Wild Rhubarb?

Blue Flax

Lightning Strike

Mushroom burgers and homemade fries were enjoyed at Pete’s Bakery in Cluny.  We ended up giving Morris a ride into Strathmore after that.  He showed us a buffalo jump.  He showed us Hammer Hill.  He told us about making head dresses and about his early sketching as a young boy.  He showed us his high school.  It was lovely.

Peter’s daughter told us the story of her father.  She was such a beautiful person.  I so wish that I had asked her her name.  Eat at Peter’s Bakery in Cluny!  So good!!

I’m grateful for this day.  I’m grateful for what nature teaches us.

Safe and sound and rested, at home, Hollee headed north on the highway and Max and I went to the river.  My day began with flowers and ended with birds…and all else, made for a beautiful middle.

Many Springs 2019

A beautiful walk and picnic today at Many Springs with my dear friends and family.  Throughout the hike, I was thinking about our sister-friend, Wendy, who died this past year.  I also thought deeply about my brother, John. His son was able to join us on this Father’s Day and I felt such heart ache for him.  I didn’t talk about anything that was going through my head though, and instead, made a real effort to frame my thoughts around internal monologues such as,

Wendy would say…

“This day is incredible.”

She would say…

“This picnic is fabulous.”

My brother would say…

“Thank you, Sis.”

I held a lot in today, but that’s alright.

In past years, whenever one of us would pop our heads out of the shade of some bush, asking, “What is this one?”,  Wendy would come back quickly with the name of the flower, or would look it up in her reference information.”  We are always going to miss this and so much more.

I’m grateful for the rituals that we share and for the many memories we have collected, as friends and family.  While I didn’t allow the emotions to surface, I felt them all and that too, is very special.

Some of the brilliance of this day is captured in these photographs, but not all.  We all missed our friend, Darlene, today.  She was also in our hearts.

Many Springs 2007

Many Springs 2011

Many Springs 2012

In 2013, the great flood occurred and my mother died after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.  I went home in June in order to stay with my father through the following months.  I watched the news of the flood from Belleville, Ontario.

Many Springs 2014

Many Springs 2015

Many Springs 2016

I didn’t take a photograph of the Sweetvetch (Hedysarum (sweetvetch) is a genus of the botanical family Fabaceae, consisting of about 200 species of annual or perennial herbs in AsiaEuropeNorth Africa, and North America.) that was dominating the walk today, but just now read that its roots are a very common and well-loved source of food for Grizzlies.

We didn’t spot any Western Wood Lilies today or Bracted Bog Orchids.

 

Yellow Lady’s Slippers

Blue Columbine

Aromatic Juniper

Wild Violets

Dodecatheon pulchellum, commonly known as pretty shooting star, few-flowered shooting star, dark throat shooting star and prairie shooting star, is a species of flowering plant in the primula family Primulaceae.

Paintbrush

Western Anemone

Losing Isabelle

*ALERT  this is a personal post.  If personal posts make you squirm, go no further.  While this post digresses at points, from its subject, this is what losing a person does to another.  Loss causes people to evaluate and re-evaluate mostly everything. Grief acknowledges in everyone, their humanity, both as it applies to the person who has died and as it does to the people left behind.

Since my brother died, this is what my family room work station looks like.

The Milk-Bone box contains treasures for a very special friend who was enduring invasive surgery at the same time as John was settling in at home, for as long as he could remain, as was his wish.  In tandem with these two life-jolting experiences, a dear friend of mine died, leaving me absolutely crushed.  Wendy was a huge strength for her circle of friends and for me and we were left, devastated. I continue to hold her husband and daughter in my quiet prayers.  I still have not posted that parcel.  It has, however, left the upstairs dining table, moved to the coffee table and then found its way here.

The photographs…well, I am meticulous about archiving and these are all that remain of the former stacks and stacks of loose photographs, a project in documentation that I began in 2007.  Apart from these, all photographs are sorted and stuck into over twenty albums containing archival paper.  All photographs, apart from those my readers see here, are documented.  Something about losing my oldest brother, set this chaos in motion.

Something clicked inside of me.  I don’t know if it was a click-on situation or a click-off situation, but, I’m just accepting what it has become.  A positive example is the switch that was turned on and found me back in my studio, painting.  And for this, I am very grateful.

Now, about losing Isabelle. (I am still ill-prepared to write a tribute for my brother, but one day, I will).  This is not a tribute to Isabelle as such, but a heartfelt response to the news that my first born has lost her Granny and I have lost a friend.

With the news about Isabelle’s death early on Thursday morning, I pulled the albums dated ‘late 1970s’ off of the shelf and I noticed an obvious absence of bric a brac or photographs.  This caused me an immediate sadness. I am left, in my mind, at least, experiencing loss (again) and want to reflect upon my time with Isabelle.  I find visual images really help me with that when I can not conjure up pictures in my head.  In this case, I have nothing to look at.

Through the loss of marriage and the pain of divorce, in anger and fear and incredible loss, it appears that I cut a chunk of my life away.  It looks very much like I did not have a camera, but I’m pretty certain I did.  If we look back at our lives, some of us selectively edit them, don’t we?  I think that is what is so interesting about memory.  We might, even to others, exaggerate a story of a memory that is particularly sharp within us.  Or, we might interpret the events in a slightly different way, forgetting related sadness or retelling in a way that might be more complimentary of our own behaviours.   Don’t we always, as characters in our own lives, wish to be viewed in best light?  Historical fiction is, by far, my favourite genre for just this reason.

One day I’ll write down the story about how I arrived at the place where I fell in love with and married Isabelle’s son.  Certainly, it is a story that even my dearest may not know.  But for this moment, and for the purpose of this reflection, I want to aim this ship toward the subject of Isabelle.

I have, in my belongings, only two photographs of Isabelle as I remember her in 1979.  I am sharing one of them here.

This photo is not, nor will it ever be framed and sitting on a mantel.  But, it represents a moment of complete and utter happiness, a wintry night in 1979.  And Isabelle was there.

She held concern for me and did her best to take care of me.  In those years, we had very little and with her first grandchild on the way, Isabelle would appear at the door to our basement suite and pad pad pad down the stairs, arms filled with bags of groceries.  She welcomed us to many beautiful meals and shared in her traditions of Christmas baking.

It was Isabelle who showed me how to buy vegetables in bulk and who canned with me at my small gas-burning stove.

Once we welcomed my daughter into our family, Isabelle was a remarkable Granny and their bond remained incredibly close right up until the late hours of June 5th.  I find myself writing and deleting/writing and deleting so many acts of love that Isabelle demonstrated along my journey.  I suppose I want to keep them close to my heart and alive in my own memory.

I am grateful that my daughter has always put her family first and equally treasures her husband’s family.  This is a quality to be deeply admired in today’s world.  Bonding with family creates a fabric of love that is strong and endures pain and hardship.

With the loss of my marriage, Isabelle continued to embrace me.  We were able to continue to visit and to share laughs.  I will always be grateful for that.  We were two women who loved my daughter with an insatiable love and that will never go away.

I am very sad for Isabelle’s loss.  I pray for her family at this time and for her dear friends who enjoyed her company over all of these years.  Isabelle will have lessons to teach me through the coming days.  I will watch for them.

The first of these lessons is to, even in your pain, keep those photographs.  Put them in the albums.  It is too late to write characters out of the script of your life.  Shut the covers of the album and tuck them away, but know that one day, these will matter to you.  And you will be filled with a wisdom that carries you beyond resentment.

The river’s high this time of year.

 

 

Mamas and the Poop They Take!

Just a quick post as I’m moving out of my bird mode and in to my bush mode.  I know that some of my readers can, off the top, relate with the title of this post.

Parenting is difficult!

I like to make observations of birds.  I’m willing to patiently watch and be still.  Like a prayer, this is what brings me a lot of peace these days.  The practice of being still is something invaluable to a culture that values ‘busy’ so much.

These days, the old trees that grow and die at the edge of the river, are singing.  There is life that emits from the boughs and trunks of trees.  I don’t think a lot of people actually notice that.  Even if you walk in your neighbourhood to the mailbox, lately, you will hear that the houses and trees of your own community are singing.  The children need to be fed.

So, in looking up at one of the trees today, I observed a European Starling entering and exiting one of the big Elms growing at the river, over and over again.  But, interestingly enough I saw her not only entering, with food, but exiting with poop.  What?  Really?

If you think about it, it makes sense.  But, YUCK!!  Can you imagine your growing family, shouting all day long from the inside of a crowded tree nest?  Can you imagine that there is a lot of house keeping required of you, the adult?  Wow!

Bottom’s Up!

EWWWWE!

This got me thinking about the intuitive selfless actions of parents for their offspring, it matters not the species.

At the House Wren nest, one adult remains very guarded of the nesting area while the other does the constant runs to try to silence the peeping worrying kids.

The Canada Geese lead goslings from one place to another, often tending other ‘people’s kids’, while a number of adults get a wee respite.  This poor image does not even capture the wee buddies who spilled in off of that rocky shore shortly after the snapping of this photograph.

Vigilance is key during these days of raising young at the river.  Magpies and Crows, Hawks of every variety, search the tall wood for untended nests.  It is the way of nature.  Keeping low to the earth and in the dried grasses of winter, the Mallards cast their eyes in the direction of the most subtle movements.

Mr. and Mrs. continue to work in tandem at the Bald Eagle Nest.  The two youngsters continue to grow very quickly.  Dad, of smaller stature seems to be doing more of the fishing and guarding from a distance than Mom.  It was beautiful one day last week when the two of them took flight together, soaring on a perfect day, just above the nest.

I think in families sometimes, Moms and Dads find it hard to leave the kids alone for even the shortest while in order that they, too, can enjoy the world and its offerings.

Bless the Moms and Dads for the poop they take.

 

Fix It!

There’s nothing beautiful about this!  This situation is a symbol for all things that can ‘go wrong’. This is one of countless conundrums that can take over time, temperament and wallets, in the swoosh of a moment! This is the babysitter calling in sick early morning.  It is the tire that is flat after you’ve fixed the perfect lunch and feel that you’ve got life by the tail.  And in this case, it is the hoses on my thirty-year-old washing machine on delivery day!

The single day that I don’t teach this week and it was my intention to paint in the studio and wait for the call about the delivery of my brand new washing machine.  This is the day I decided to visit the hospice for afternoon Thursday tea.  It is the day when I was starting my day with a poached egg and a piece of whole grain toast.  It is wild how perfectly we imagine our days.  Well, at least I do.

But sometimes…and not always…there is a challenge lurking around the corner.  It is the news that my loved one is going to die. I stare blankly at the doctor. I feel that I am being dangled helplessly over a giant precipice.

It is that full glass of Pepsi that I  perch on the counter.  I put the ice cube tray away. The popcorn is hot. I knock the glass over and on to the floor.  Broken glass and sticky bubbly, everywhere!  Ouch!

At the point when either event (or something far worse or something much more benign) happens, it is my choice as to how I respond.  My own responses are often surprising, but also, during a certain set of circumstances, perfectly predictable.

I thought it would be a simple thing to disconnect the hoses on my washing machine.  It’s hung in there for so long.  I’ve lived in the same place of 20 years and I’ve never turned off these valves, NOT ONCE.  So, with delivery to happen today, I decided to go to my laundry room and turn off the water and disconnect my hoses before bed last night.  I was already in my pajamas when this story unfolded.

It was 10:45 when I made my first clockwise turn.  I noticed for the first time ever that the handle for one of my ‘nipples’ (I’ve learned that this is what they are called) had broken off.  But, this is what the other one looked like after that clockwise turn.

Panic set in at this point.  As my readers might surmise, the next step was naturally to go to my tool box and to find a set of pliers.  Surely I could turn the nipples to the right, with pliers.  As I madly gripped the first nipple, the pliers slipped around the metal and nothing seemed to move.

I think I made my first cry out to the universe at this time.  It was 11:03. Trevor’s name appears in my cell phone contact list as THE PLUMBER.  So what if it was after eleven at night, right??  I texted Trevor in a wild breathlessness.   I don’t know what I thought he could do from the warmth of his bed.  I just needed a plumber-connect like one might need a psychologist-connect.

I took photos (these photos) and began to communicate a narrative of panic through the medium of text.  When I clicked SEND the photos whirred around and around and never did leave my phone, a feature of my phone/text/approach that is consistent with every other time that I am given one of these life situations.  I was given a message that I could try re-sending. Over time, I deleted the photos and settled back into a state of self-actualization. (At this point of writing I laugh out loud. I think that in the panic, choosing to write is a real stumbling block.  Couldn’t I be painting?  No. As this story continues to unravel for my readers, you will all see that presently I am in a holding pattern.  I can not paint while in a holding pattern.)  From Trevor, I learned that indeed, I needed to turn off the water.  And yes, the faucets should be turned clockwise.

Phone put down, I began to look for a water turn off valve.  I walked upstairs to my computer where I began watching Youtube videos about replacing washing machine hoses.  Oh my goodness.  There wasn’t a single set of valves that looked like those on my machine.  Click Click Click…minutes rolled by as I became saturated with too many ideas, too many calm confident male voices performing such ‘simple’ procedures on their washing machines.

Max, my border collie, looked on with a particular look.  I know he was quietly thinking, “I wish I could roll my eyes.”

I explored my house for all of its personal plumbing lessons.  If I didn’t know my pipes before, I think I do now.

By 11:50, I texted my friend, Wendy.  Her partner is a phenomenal fix-it guy.  But, again, what was I doing sending out SOS messages to my dear friends in the middle of the night?  Wendy is an amazing woman who is busy, with her fingers, hands and arms in so many things!  I thought, too late, ‘Wendy is probably sleeping.’

I went to bed, feeling exhausted and defeated, but not after having a chat with my son in the cold dank laundry room.   He made all of the right recommendations.  His first inclination was to ask for pliers in order to turn off the valves.  (I told him I couldn’t bear any more drama before sleep.)  The second suggestion he made was to turn the water off at the  main valve.  I told him, in my small voice, “Let’s just go to bed.”

This morning, at the crack of dawn, I left a phone message with Dan at Dr. Heat and Air.  I  thought it best to get calls out to all the perfectly wonderful guys in my life.  On my own, I have learned to rely on my village a little.  It’s taken time to feel confidence in doing that when in life, I always, in every circumstance, relied on myself.  Certainly, on days like this one, it is good to know really competent people in a variety of fields.  Beats GOOGLE all to heck.  While plumbing isn’t Dan’s expertise, he always gives me an ear and has wonderful recommendations.  Most important, he offers a voice of calmness and causes me to feel that I still have control and I can still solve problems.  He gave me that this morning, as well as another recommendation for a plumber.

I emailed Trevor the photographs.  I asked him for recommendations on name brands for good valves and asked if he would suggest any good ones.  I told him I’d keep him up to speed. (poor guy)

By this time, my friend Wendy was awake.  She sent me a calming message (as only Wendy can do) suggesting that, these challenges are tough.  (EMPATHY, right from the get-go)  Turns out she had put in a huge shift the day before, but that she would leave a message for her partner to contact me.

That brings us HERE.  I poured myself a cup of coffee and made a decision to ground myself.  I began this writing.

And since beginning this writing at around 9:30, Max barked at the front door. My dear friend and Wendy’s partner arrived, two wrenches in hand.  He was in the lowest level after giving Max’s rope a playful tug, two minutes later.  Five minutes after that, with water spraying a bit here and there, he completed the task and gave me directions for turning the water back on.  I stood in my tracks and wept, saying again and again, “Thank you.  Thank you.  It was so hard.  It was all so hard.”  A supportive hug and he was on his way to plant tomatoes and I was left standing, asking…

“What was that all about?”

Challenges are a part of life.  We can discover new things about ourselves by tackling them. We can connect with people through our challenges.  We can be creative and we can create.  Obstacles are not put in front of us as punishments or to make us stronger or even to teach us lessons.  Obstacles and challenges are just a part of what life is.  In the past twenty four hours I’ve learned a lot about washing machines, hoses and a little more about plumbing.

As my friend said, before leaving, “In the end, it’s just water.”

My washing machine has been broken since just a week before my brother’s diagnosis with Stage 4 Cancer.  The fact that a new washing machine will be here by evening causes me a strange bubbling up of emotion.  I know that John’s death and this story are not connected at all.  But, they feel connected.  It is ironic that it took so much energy, brain power and community support to get these hoses disconnected!

 

For the Birds: Early Spring 2019

I feel a bit of a cold coming on.  Max and I just returned from the river and I’ve had two pieces of toast slathered with peanut butter and raspberry jam and I’m presently sipping my third and last cup of coffee.

Before heading to the studio, I want to write a brief post to acknowledge just how beautiful it was to visit the river, in the rain.  Every day brings its shift in weather and atmosphere and every day brings to mind a different perspective, colour and life force.  I am just so grateful.

At the prompting of my friend, Nina Weaver, I read, with great attention, the first chapter of John’s gospel and I felt, as I read, that I am getting stronger over these difficult days.  Restorative yoga has been very beneficial to me, in the fact that daily, I am more conscious of breath…taking in healing and releasing suffering.  It’s a bit of a daily prayer for me now.  Life will always be different, without my brother’s booming voice being a part of it, but let’s face it, I carry him with me.  And so, today, I will bring him with me, into the studio to paint.

Watching the birds at the pond and now the river, is such a part of my mental, emotional and spiritual health.  I can not explain to my readers how entering into the watchfulness and presence of such vulnerable creatures is healing and even sustaining.  Focus moves away from self and ego and returns to the other…and to what is necessary to wholeness and health.  I am inspired every day.

Why did I decide to post today?  Well, I gain much through the act of writing, the practice of writing.  I don’t want to lose touch with that.  It was very hard to be caring for brother at the same time as my computer sunk like a stone.  Yes, I filled some journal pages and I wrote in the margins of my Bible, but writing didn’t feel as available through that period.  Writing allows my heartache to tumble out,  releasing a particular tension.  I don’t want to take the purchase of a laptop for granted, just as I never want to take the act of painting for granted again.

First to come in the spring, were the Magpies.  Then, the Canada Geese, the Mallards and the Common Goldeneyes.  At the same time, before snow left, the Robin’s song could be heard.  The House Sparrows gathered once again, in a flurry, at my back yard bird feeder.  European Starlings, Common Mergansers, Red Necked Grebes and more.  My friends at Frank Lake have photographed so many gorgeous birds.  At my river, I don’t see the American Avocets or the Stilts.  However, I have been amused and in love with interactions with these birds in the past.  I am very much about staying close to home these days; my energy is still quite low and  so, I certainly don’t look for places to go or things to do.  The next few photographs represent a few of the birds I’ve enjoyed this spring and ones that have built up the life force within me.

You may wish to click on the image to enlarge.  As well, here are two photographs of Mr. as he returned to the nest with a fish off of the Bow River.  For those of you know me, I don’t know how to pan, so the fact that I managed even two poorly focused images of Mr. in flight, is quite an accomplishment.  Have a beautiful day!

 

That I Would Be Good

Throughout my brother’s illness, I kept thinking…and often said to him, “You were always enough, John.”

I don’t know why I had those words on my heart.  And I spoke them often.

I spoke to one friend about my inclination and she said to me, “You, your brother, I am more than enough!”

With the death of one of my great mentors, Jean Vanier, this past week, I listened and listened again to his past recordings.  I read over things that he wrote.  I remain completely convinced by his view that love exists when we embrace those who are most vulnerable.

A baby born to its parents is put into a position of utter trust and vulnerability.  It can do nothing to earn or keep or appreciate your hard work and your giving heart.  The infant child can only receive love.  To be ill in body or mind, or to be dying, leaves a person in the same vulnerable state of being as was once experienced as an infant.  This coming and going of humanity leaves all participants in a place of tremendous sacredness/holiness/grace and belonging.

As I consider my own challenges, I need to remember that I am good, for the simple reason that I am.  I belong in a circle of belonging.

Sometimes the world can tell us differently.  Sometimes our own heads can try to convince us that we are ‘not enough’.  There are days when we act like squirrels, gathering in ‘stuff’, thinking that somehow that ‘stuff’ will make us safe/secure/better.  There are days when we forego time with our families so that we can work harder and earn more so that we can provide more, when all our families needed most was our presence.  We need to reflect upon that presence.

To each of my readers, “You are good.”  Celebrate your wondrous design.  Have a dance.  Listen to the words to this song.  Have a great weekend.  Thanks, Hollee, for sharing birthday dinner with my family. Thanks to Cayley, Shawn, Erin, Doug and Steven, Linda and James for Dragon Pearl feasting and Crave cake! Thanks, Steven, for the jazz invite in the middle of the week.  Thanks, James for attending with your ol’ Ma.  Thanks, Wendy, Tammy, Karen, Lauraine, Jas and Dan for Sunday jam at Mikey’s.  Thanks, nephew for almost daily “I love you”s by text.  Thanks, Dad, for 5:00 Skypes.  Thanks, Val, for connecting with me in real time and in dreams.  Thanks, Erin, for restorative Yoga. Thanks, Kath, for studio painting time, bird watching, dog walking, teaching big kids and small.  Thanks Mary, Pat and Janet for tea and snacks. Thanks, Facetime Friends, for all of those online messages. Thanks, John, for everything you were for me in life and how you inspire me now.  It’s been a good week.  I love you because love never ends.

That I Would Be Good
That I would be good even if I did nothing
That I would be good even if I got the thumbs down
That I would be good if I got and stayed sick
That I would be good even if I gained ten pounds
That I would be fine even if I went bankrupt
That I would be good if I lost my hair and my youth
That I would be great if I was no longer queen
That I would be grand if I was not all knowing
That I would be loved even when I numb myself
That I would be good even when I am overwhelmed
That I would be loved even when I was fuming
That I would be good even if I was clingy
That I would be good even if I lost sanity
That I would be good
Whether with or without you
Songwriters: Alanis Nadine Morissette / Glen Ballard

My Brother Called Me Sis

This post doesn’t have a lot to do with the title.  Eventually, I will write about the recent loss (death) of my big brother, John.  I may not grieve as others do, but usually it gets expressed somehow through creativity, either the lack of it, the complete stoppage of it, or the manic pouring out of it.  Writing is one of those expressions.  If you think that what I do is ‘unhealthy’, then I suggest that you forego these practices when you are grieving.  I haven’t judged the grief of others and I expect that the people who care about me will do the same for me.  I’m sorry if there is any aspect at all of my grief that is off-putting or frustrating for you.  I can only tell you that your discomfort with me or what I do, in no way equals the discomfort that I am experiencing presently.  Maybe I should write about things in a paper journal where it doesn’t make anyone embarrassed or uncomfortable.  Maybe I could burn the words or hide them at least.

I went to a restorative Yoga class last night.  I can’t believe what an hour was spent with myself, my beautiful daughter practicing next to me on her mat.  But once I got out and into the parking lot, I couldn’t stop crying.  I think that all we can hope for in grief is for some release now and again…some relief.

Today, I feel angry.

Today, I went to the studio.  I set up a comfortable place for Max.  I prepared my birch panels.  The Gesso will cure for 24 hours.  I messed around with some other stuff out there.  I sorted through my music.  I nested.

(just a sec…Max barking! door bell ringing! thump thump up the stairs)

Okay…so, how can I be angry?  This just happened!

Does my sister know me?  Mama bird??  Is that not the sweetest mug that you’ll ever see?  I am consumed with birds!  Thank you, Valerie Jean!  Thank you, Jean Pierre, Louis and Eliane!  I love you.  Any of my readers consumed by grief, please read the brilliant book by Kyo Maclear, Birds, Art, Life.

And, yes, about thirty minutes have passed since I wrote the words, “Today, I feel angry.”  And…again, I cried my face off.  How can I feel sad with so much love surrounding me?  How can I get angry?  It’s just the way it is and I accept it.

From the outset of this post, I wanted to write about parking.  It seems just one of those frustrating things that comes up now and then.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve had many hours spent at various medical buildings throughout the City of Calgary and over a very long period of time.  I’ll never forget the time that I couldn’t find parking at the Foothills Hospital on one visit, not in Lot 3, anyway.  I had an appointment.  I was already late when I decided to abandon my drive around and around and around practice and drove to the complete north end of the building.  To negotiate my way back to the Special Services building, I passed many couples where one partner was using a walker, or a person was in a wheel chair being pushed by a loved one, and even passed an obviously distressed person, a person feeling just like I was.  And on that day, I was in no position that I could assist or help and I flew by these people, ending up 45 minutes late for an appointment I felt I desperately needed at the time.

There are families who arrive at hospital late at night in order to meet up with a loved one who has arrived by ambulance.  There are Chemotherapy, Dialysis and other out patients who must endure repetitive and taxing appointments in various buildings around our city.  There are young fathers, racing to be with their partner for the birth of a child. There are the caregivers and loved ones of people who have been, gratefully/desperately/ horribly sadly, admitted into Hospice care.

I’m writing this post while I’m angry because I think a discussion needs to be opened up about paid parking in some of these situations.  Most incredibly current for me is the fact that I was issued a 65.00 parking ticket by Indigo, a private agency, likely hired by Intercare Chinook Care Centre in order to provide a ‘fair’ public parking solution for the families of residents and for the hard working employees.

I missed the ten day window for paying this ticket, given that I was planning a funeral and dealing with other matters and so just the night before last, I paid my ticket with the penalty, a total of 85.00.

Apart from the Hospice parking, there is an option to walk blocks away to street parking, that is also monitored for its two hour limit.  Anyone opting to use this street parking, would have to return to their location every two hours in order to move their car.

So, it was Holy Saturday afternoon, April the 20th.  I put my regular six dollars in for three hours of parking.  That parking would take me to 12:56 in the afternoon.  When I returned to my car at 2:28, my violation notice was waiting for me, tucked under my windshield wiper.  There were four other cars in the lot.  I stood in the parking lot and wept.  I was thinking to myself, “It’s Holy Week…it’s Easter weekend.  Everyone is home with their families today.  I am here with my nephew and my dying brother.”  It was at 3:00 am on April 21, that my brother died.

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I’ve archived here, ‘some’ of the parking receipts spewed out from the lot machine over the time that my brother suffered.  Is it a bit of a thorn in my side?  YES!  Do I have suggestions or solutions?  No!  But, I truly believe that this is a matter that must be discussed for solutions.

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I’ve turned my seething frothing anger about losing my brother toward this matter.  It seems ‘small’ of me.  Oh well. The efforts made by the Chinook Hospice staff and management on behalf of our family was of the highest caliber.  If ever I have opportunity to evaluate the program and their treatment, I will assign the venue the  highest accolades.  However, if given the opportunity to discuss parking, I will vehemently respond with the fact that there is a need for analysis and change.

At a time like this, it just makes me wonder what has happened with our world/society that we have perhaps lost compassion along with progress and maybe we traded in kindness for economic growth.

 

Gramma Reads With Royalty!

I didn’t wake until 10!! What??? The dreams that I had in the wee hours of morning were, again, of brother, but they were earlier dreams, back three months in the weeks at hospital, so less traumatic than recent dreams. That’s good, isn’t it? I poured out of bed and clicked my heels together! I had slept!! WHOOP! Whoop! But, QUICK! QUICK! This was the day that Gramma and Steven and Steven’s Mommy and Daddy were heading for the Seton Public Library, eager to enjoy the program, “Reading With Royalty”! The program would begin at eleven and there was still Max to get out and coffee to be had!

Program Description:

Reading With Royalty

Celebrate inclusion and diversity with our new glamorous family-friendly storytime program, led by local drag queen and king performers. Supported by ATB Financial.

Audience: All Ages – Ages up to 5

Gramma was picked up on a morning that felt oppressive, wet, chilly and grey! But how to turn a frown upside down? I was so happy to see my family and especially pleased to be sitting in the back seat with Steven who was nestled under his fuzzy blanket and constantly taking in his world through the windows, through the mirror and through the eyes of his Gramma. Together, we were about to be captivated by the magic of Seton.

Upon entry, the first piece of wonder was found in the huge YMCA swimming pool. What an amazing facility. Steven was in awe!

Gramma was captivated by the sculptural elements and a sense of flight throughout the facility! While I didn’t capture very strong images because of the back light and my lack of knowledge about the camera, I recommend to my readers that they take their own field trip to the venue and enjoy. Bird lovers, be surprised and fall in love with the themes.  Christopher Collins was the talented sculptor who created the birds.  I hope you will enjoy his imagery as they are so much more specific.

As we entered the Seton Public Library, we took in the aesthetic and the excitement first, but quickly discovered the helicopter!  The helicoptor carried on with the theme of flight, as did the suspended pinwheels.  What a glorious space and what a magical investigation for children who find these amazing flying machines in stories that they read!

It wasn’t long and we began to gather for the special event, “Reading With Royalty”.  There was excitement in the air!  The Seton Public Library offers graduated seating in amphitheater style for gatherings such as this one.

Not new to the Calgary Public Library children’s programming and Rhyme Time, our family nestled into a spot sandwiched between other grandmothers and their grandchildren and people who never miss Rhyme Time with their children.  Some were talking about the Fish Creek location…others, the Quarry Park location.  If you haven’t attended one of these programs, this Grandmother highly recommends! 

Today the MC was Tara and she did an amazing job!  My daughter and I were both moved by the land acknowledgement that was done, in such a way that children might understand.  We were prompted by verse to touch the land…as the acknowledgement was given and it was very special.  Tara then balanced the program of stories read by local Drag Performers and verses that were sung and acted out by the children.  This way the children were better able to pay attention to the two stories that were presented enthusiastically by L J Nailz and Oiliver Twirl.

Sending a link, here, to the kid’s book list that honours themes of inclusivity, creativity, acceptance and pride through the program, Reading With Royalty.

Oliver Twirl: drag performer and enthusiastic reader of the book, The Princess and the Pony

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton is a story that naturally breaks down assumptions.  It explores that sometimes warriors just need cozy sweaters.  There were laughs that came up throughout the reading of this book, especially with the use of the word, ‘fart’.  What is toughness, anyway?  What does it mean to be a warrior?

Tara, MC on behalf of the Seton Public Library

L J Nailz reads Quit Calling Me Monster

 Quit Calling Me a Monster by Jory John and illustrated by Bob Shea supports children in their identities and their unique personalities.  It presses up against the act of labeling or naming.  It encourages ‘excellent manners’.

Steven is blessed to have this woman as his Mommy.

During the conclusion of the program, the performers were asked about their favourite music and what things they enjoy doing.  Oliver Twirl shared the fun of playing around with both masculine and feminine clothing.  Their favourite music included bubbly theater pieces and punk rock.  

To end, three large Dress Up trunks were brought out and children spent the next part of the morning playing dress up and pretending.  It was a great deal of fun although Steven, at his age, was just eager to do the stairs and to make his way back to the front seat of that helicopter!

Steven is blessed to have this guy as his Dad!

I am always impressed by the variety and the quality of programs offered by our Calgary Public Libraries.  It is with gratitude that we left today’s experience at Seton, feeling a part of a wonderful and diverse community here in Calgary.  Thank you so much to those who organized the program, booked the story book readers, pulled together the resources and covered these topics with finesse.  A very wonderful experience was had at Reading With Royalty!

Now, Gramma needs a nap!