About Painter Lady

In love with life and the wee surprises, like transparent bubbles...moments that are the magic of everything!

Gramma Searches for Wood Ducks!

Yesterday morning, there was a nip in the air and by the time afternoon arrived beautiful large snowflakes were dropping from a springtime sky. To look at them was somewhat mesmerizing as they drifted so slowly to the wet ground.

9:30 saw my Grandson and me heading north to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. Gramma was going in search of Wood Ducks…a lifer in her long bird wish list.

The Bird Sanctuary is yet one more jewel in this city that I treasure so much. I want to, over the years, share at least once, each of these places that I’ve grown to love.

With his little bowl of rice chex in tow and his toy car, Uncle, in his drink cup, off we headed, arriving slightly before opening. We let ourselves in through the side gate and having agreed to walk and not use a stroller,  we were off. My grandson was looking for Wode Guks and I was looking for Wood Ducks, but of no surprise, the Canada Geese became the main event with their flirting and honking, landings and take offs and other shenanigans. We even experienced the close-up hissing and big tongue of one dude along the way.

Wofe! Wofe! Sceery!

Sculture!

Walk. Train. Sky. Walk.

 

He carried that piece of wood along for most of the first half of the walk. I was mindful…continually scanning for predatory birds and canines, even skunks, porcupines and such. This was a very busy field trip for Gramma!

Bidge.

Bidge

Dutt


Goose

Bidge (I love this photograph, by the way)

Wode Guk! (please click on photos to enjoy larger images) Lifers, for me!

Wok. Wok. Goose.

Can you believe this kid?

Other birds… Redtail Hawk, Mergansers, Goldeneyes

Mr. and Mrs. Wood Duck

Warming up in the center… In in in!

Another beautiful experience, shared with my remarkable, funny, interested, cheerful, resilient boy!

Gramma Visits the Pet Store

There are little opportunities for magic in an ordinary day.  Never take for granted a simple trip to the store where you might select a ripe cold piece of watermelon, or a trip to a pet store where you might pick up your own pet cat a four-dollar toy.  There are amazing things that happen in the blink of an eye!

Today, my grandson, shouted out (well, in his sweet voice) “Cement Truck!” and “Excavator!” when other children could only look on to a construction site, in awe…their hands lined up against the fence and their eyes, bugging out of their heads.

Today, my grandson learned Spruce Tree, Poplar Tree and Pine Tree.  He also learned that it’s much more fun throwing pine cones than heaping them up into piles.

Today, my grandson learned that it’s easier for Gramma to go down one of those super wide slides than one of those twirly ones…

It was when I heard my grandson talking to his Mommy about his trips to the zoo…saying Hippo and Maquaq and Panda and bamboo and cougar and YiYON! and Penguin and more…I thought to take him to a pet store.  This kid is amazing!

“Man man man man!”

“Awe!  Awe!  Awe!  Bunny!”

Not sure, at all, about ferrets!  Hmmmm….even baby ferrets!  They are just so busy…crawling under their blankies, hanging sideways, moving their food.  “Oh, they’re not so bad”, this enthusiastic gentleman tried to point out!  (Still not convinced)

What about that kitty over there, Gramma??  “Never mind,” this fella meowed!  “What’s wrong with me??”

“Kitty!  Kitty!  MEOW!”

Awe!!!  AWE!!!  AWE!!!  Bunny-washing!

This is the point where the Grandson started eyeing the hamster homes on the aisle…true attractions of the pet store visit!

“Hamster!”

“Amster!  Amster. RUN RUN RUN!”

Awe!

Birdie.

“Guinea Pig!”

“Piggy!  Piggy!”

EEEEE! EEEEE!

One last….AWEEEE!

Gramma Builds a Puppet Theater

It came to me like a dream…a waking dream. For weeks I had, during daytime hours, pondered what to do for my grandson for Christmas morning 2019. For some reason, I thought that this decision would lay down the tracks for every other decision I would make on his behalf for his entire lifetime. (Crazy, I know.) I don’t take my place as Gramma lightly, exemplified in my willingness to put myself out there as a bumble bee.  Isn’t my grandson handsome?

My mother had such a talent for sewing that for every Christmas and birthday, there were sure to be homemade gifts arrive in the mail or delivered, personally. They were tagged and finished beautifully, “To my Grand Daughter, with Love!” I follow in impressive footsteps. 

So, it was on a morning in October, that a waking dream came to me. I sleep in the deepest darkest lowest level of the house and it’s pretty cold at times. I was curled in snug under the covers, when ‘it’ came to me in half-sleep. “I could build my grandson a puppet theater!” I imagined him as he is now, watching his Mommy and Daddy being funny and laughing behind the stage…and then, with little friends, growing up…and then making hilarious fun as an upper elementary student…and then, possibly, with his life marked by all sorts of little stories that Mommy made up…and stories that he performed for evening entertainment, he might even take the puppet theater with him, after a long and probably painful storage dilemma between his Mom and Dad and him. Yes, I conjured all of this up in the rumblings of a dark morning in October.

When I woke and got up that morning, shuffling to the kitchen to make my first cup of coffee, I said aloud, “Gramma is going to make a puppet theater!”

It began with a plan.  I scoured Amazon, Ebay, Kijiji and puppet companies the world over.  Finally, I came up with a plan that I wanted to work with, a little homemade theater that I spotted on Kijiji.  If I had an interest in driving to the city of Lacombe to pick this one up for 100.00, it would have been easily revised.

But, nah…I would create something amazing, at least I would be the one with the vision!  In terms of tools, I just don’t have what it takes.  I needed to track down Santa’s helper, and quick!

After my communications with a high school shop teacher came up empty, I went to my go-to guy, Len, a neighbour who helps me with all sorts of odd jobs when I don’t have the tools necessary.  He works independently and I like to support him in his various efforts.

I took in account Steven’s height and the fact that I wanted at least one little friend to be able to participate with him during his childhood productions and so I drew up this plan.  Now, this wee sheet that was sketched out in my day timer was not so simple as it might appear!  Lots of thought went into this, so please, readers, don’t think that this came fleetingly!

Within a week or so…Len came up with some ideas of his own.  I talked to him about a concept of design that would align itself with Steven’s birthing songs and art…something to do with ‘Under the Sea’ or ‘An Octopus’s Garden’.  Insert music here.

I was pretty darned happy when Len and James brought the puppet theater off the truck and into the studio, even though the weight of this beast certainly didn’t mean that I would be moving it around a lot.  It would have to find itself a space and it was at this stage that I first became concerned that it might never really find its way into a forever-home.

Safe in my studio, I was able to begin measuring and planning for curtains, backdrops and decoration.  I began by applying two coats of primer.

In the evenings, I was bopping in and out of shops, planning and scheming a system that would work for the draperies.  I wanted them to mimic the velvet curtains I imagined in the grand theaters.  In the end, the installation of curtains ended up being so darned challenging.  This lady became one of my friends on this mission…taking several different exchanges as I would return rods…experiment…ask for help.

In the end I settled on these velour panels…and now, to seek out someone who might hem them up for me.

I won’t go into details (is this a detail?)…but, at one point, these small bits of hardware were purchased as a bit of an experiment.  I feature them here simply because the man who helped me in this department of the big box store, Home Depot, was such an angel and was seriously the greatest guy to talk to.  He was so excited about my ‘Gramma Builds a Puppet Theater’ project, that my problem-solving ended up being a huge conversation.  I just really treasure people like him and only regret that I didn’t ask his name.

I solicited a lovely high school student, Emmanuella, to sew the draperies, under the supervision of her Fashions teacher, Fierina.  Emmanuella has excelled in this area and advanced beyond all of the projects assigned.  It was a great idea for the both of us and I really enjoyed getting to know such a conscientious and beautiful person.

Rooting through my basement storage cupboard, I located some old tins of house paint and selected a colour that would help me achieve my underwater theme.

While pursuing the painting and project, I began to search out puppets.  Late into my evenings, I would explore on-line sites and finally decided to write a story about an Eagle Walk.  Ikea is the only store to have an eagle puppet, and ironically enough, I never did get myself to the store to purchase the puppet.  One day, perhaps. The eagle, therefore, was represented by a sound effect…very very cool!

Basically, I ended up purchasing puppets that I fell in love with, after exploring so many toy shops in town.  For the sake of this post, I have spared you archives for several locations.  It was actually Scholastic, on Macleod, where I tracked down chicken and monkey in a barrel, both two of my favourites.

I found a perfect stuffie border collie at the Goodwill store and at home, washed and dried it, gutted it, inserted a glove and created our Maxman character.  Thanks, James, for exploring so many stores with me, looking for the perfect puppet collection.

I began to decorate the puppet theater, first locating a dry erase board for puppet show announcements, at the Dollarama…hmmm…or did it end up being Staples? While at the dollar store, I picked up some rolls of ribbon, thinking I could create a celebratory effect by placing some of that here and there.  I am really NO DECORATOR!  Let’s face it, the greatest problem of them all was the curtain.  It was getting close to the wire, by this point, and while really wanting to pain scene backdrops for the theater, I let go of that project, thinking that this would be an idea for later gifts.

I painted a few bits onto the outside panels and opted to leave the front of the theater plane.  Embellishments definitely made a difference!

I think it was only a short time before the actual performance when I solicited the help of friends, Angela and Nigel, to create puppet figures for Doug, Erin, Gramma and Steven.  They came to our Christmas feast, with felt puppet figures in tow…and while Christmas went remarkably long due to an unforeseen crash by young Steven and a trip to the hospital so that his forehead might be taped back together…THE SHOW DID GO ON!  But…I get ‘A HEAD’ of myself here.

The puppet theater, at completion…

It was at the pre-function on Christmas day that the screenplay came to be created in a very collaborative way and with many laughs…all directed by our writer/editor in residence, my sister-friend, Karen.  The traditional big feast happened and then, interspersed with the drive to hospital and back, the $10 gift steal that happened incorrectly this year (and did I listen to the five people who tried to tell me?….next time, don’t be so polite), under my direction, the puppet show was set, complete with eagle sound effects provided by Tyler (mind you…the timing might have been a little off) and narration delivered, confidently, by Shawn (you are such a good sport!).

A small capture of that…

Sending love to all who helped this dream happen…

Somewhere out there, there is a video from this debut, but I don’t know where it is or if I have permission to share.  I just am grateful for Christmas magic.

A Broader Experience

My friend, Wendy, used to delight in really unusual words.  I enjoyed the fact that sometimes, late in the evening, a word would show up in my text messages.  It might be absquatulate or blatherskite.    

I never really understood until now, what a wonderful thing that was…that my friend shared words with me in the night.

(Weird blog post alert…go no further if you are in the mood, more, to tune into Netflix.)

Lately I’ve been having a very narrowing experience that has turned out to be exquisitely broadening at the very same time.  About art, these last ten years, I’ve said that my visual world and sensory interests have become very specific…it’s as though my visual world is in close-up and while shrinking, has become utterly complex.  This started happening as it related to the act of walking. (circling the same pond every day for almost six years/walking a loop at the river every day for the past two.)

It was right about that same time, that I started taking photographs.  Until that time, I had never had an interest.  I think I was wanting to capture a moment.  Birds became a part of that experience, simply because I would find myself standing still in front of a landmark; a bush or a tree; and I would analyse, in a very sensory way, the impact of light, atmosphere, sound, the smell on the air…and from a concentrated state, I would see more than what I anticipated…a Bald Eagle gazing down at me, from mere meters away, water dripping off a branch, a bright yellow bird flitting through low brush.  In standing still, my world expanded.

I guess I first noticed this while spending time with Mom during her journey with Alzheimer’s disease. To give an example,  I remember once leaving a lady’s wear shop, Pennington’s, after an hour of shopping with Mom.  Once stepping through an inside door and into the entrance way and before moving on through the outside door to go to the car, Mom stopped.  I stood behind her, hoping that no other customers would either leave or expect to enter.  I gave her time.  I looked at her face.  Her head was tilted back and her eyes were closed.  I asked, almost in a whisper, “Mom, why have you stopped?”  She said, “Listen.”  It was then that I stopped rustling the packages weighing down my arms and stood still.  There was a very quiet but constant hum of air pushing its way from a vent above our heads…had I not stopped, taken pause, I would not have shared that moment.  After a short while, Mom just moved on.

When the events of my life, over months and even years, became very focused…it seemed that the world continued to bustle as usual…rushing…filling…overflowing and moving on.  All the while, my own focused days became slower.  They became extremely sharp- edged.  They became very specific.

These recent days… for example.

Since mid January, there is a particular rhythm to my days.  I know that particular rhythm through the events that occur, predictably, around the clock.  I find myself in the very same place at any particular hour.  Some times it feels as though I am reliving time.  Some would liken it to deja vu. The name plates beside the doors change, but the events do not.

It was a day like every other except that one of the temporary name plates read, Milton Born With a Tooth.  I drifted past because, well, a person just doesn’t stop in front of some one else’s door and I was, after all, in the rhythm of my schedule, the very same that I had lived the day before.  But, Milton’s name stuck with me.  Didn’t his life somehow intersect with mine?  YES!  I’ve written, over time, about my love for the river.  This passion began while living in the University of Lethbridge residence, perched on the edge of the Oldman River in southern Alberta.  Graduating with my degree in 1977, I had established a connection with the river that would, as it turned out, never be broken.  It was in the mid 80s, here in Calgary, that I became engaged with the group, the Friends of the Oldman River as Ralph Klein’s government seemed to be pressing ahead with the construction of a dam that would, in my view, impact our indigenous brothers and sisters, the environment and encroach horribly on species native to the region.  I was appalled.

Oldman at Maycroft Crossing

Well, Milton Born With a Tooth and the Lonefighters Society were angry too!  Imagine that, all these years later, I should find myself bringing my books and my scrapbooks to share with Milton Born With a Tooth?  That I’d be visiting with Milton…his family members…during such a sacred time as this.

At this point, my readers are asking themselves, ‘how is this connected to your subject, Kath?’  Remember, please, my original premise…that in the workings of my narrowing life, my experience is broadening.

Yesterday I attended a marvelous book discussion at the Fish Creek Library. The book, Separation Anxiety, by Miji Campbell was easily read in the week following our February book discussion. I’m smitten by this group of women… so smart, fun and accepting. While my days are very overwhelming, generally, and while I need to be very responsible and engaged as a caregiver, I will move sun and moon in order to carve out time for this book discussion group.

I slipped in to the room and on to one of the last remaining chairs, just as the moderator was making introductory remarks and introducing the author, Miji Campbell. Her face was open and the feeling in the room was relaxed and welcoming. In the corner, there was a display of very nostalgic items that resonated for me and captured easily, my own narrative as a little girl, growing up in post war/cold war Canada. There was a Barbie Doll case… A Midge doll… some old black and white photographs.

The book discussion was remarkable.  There were interesting questions and engaging responses from the author.  I listened with great interest as the relationship between mothers and their daughters was discussed, topics of birth order, mental health, anxiety and the stigma attached to treatments for such anxiety or even the act of seeking out treatments. The conversation was a real exploration of wellness, a topic that I dearly need to explore right now, but struggle to set aside time for such reflection.

As I was listening, completely engaged, my mind began to piece together wee bits of information that Miji was sharing, connections that had not been made by me while reading the book.  It was as though a light went off when, suddenly, I realized that for years, I had taught with Miji’s mother.  And even more startling was that I was good friends with her oldest sister through my University experience.  At the conclusion of the afternoon activity, I sprung out to the neighbouring Safeway store, in order to access the ATM machine and fly back to the room where I could purchase my own copy of the book and have it signed by Miji.  As I drove home, I wondered about the various layers of this reading that were intended just for me…also, I pondered what messages I was supposed to connect with through the reading and the characters, who were people very much alive in my imagination and in my memory.

Miji’s cousin, Hughe, took video rather than photo, but I am grateful that he captured our meeting!

I think that in sitting in the stillness, I notice more.  I notice the shift in weather, the changes in people, flavours, reactions.  I make new associations.

This morning, I received a brief text message from a friend.  I think it was comprised of fewer than seven words.  But, the words were potent and remarkable and they gifted me with a daytime of support and love.  How easy it might have been, given my past engagement with schedules, events and social media, that I might not have ever realized just how much power a message has…to heal…to wound…to break…to mend.

On Friday morning, I folded clothes and put them away, created just a little bit of order in my seeming chaotic life, these days.  I relished the folding…the simple pleasure of the uniformity of it…the way the order gave me a sense of space and breath.

On Saturday, I went for a drive outside of the route that has become my routine.  I was on sensory overload.   Has this ever happened to you?  There was almost too much to take in.  What an amazing and complex world we live in!  For every vehicle on the highway…a life living…a complex human being, overflowing with challenges, joy, questions, family, self-awareness, belief…open sky…melting ice on the water…stones kicked up…tires spinning…a huge machine beneath me.

Revelation is an act of noticing and being fully conscious to your life.  The protagonist, young Douglas Spaulding, of Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury was the one who taught me that specific lesson.  I want to come back to the revelations of these past months when my world stops shrinking and begins to grow again; when I am in my life as a player more than an observer.  I am wanting to remember that I am grateful, but not in a self-help-book-kind-of-way, but in a really authentic sort of way.    I think it is an important thing to see the beauty in the enormity of the sadness/challenges that face today’s human family.  I think that it is not so much about hope, but about presence.  When I am fully present, I am open to delight, surprise and revelation.

In the meantime, send one another messages.  Create a care package for some one who never anticipates receiving anything at all in the mail.  Place a treasure on someone’s front door step.  Bake cookies.  It all counts for magic in the end.

 

Simple Gestures of Love

So many gestures have been made for me and my family the past while.  I don’t want to forget any of them.  As I set out on the journey of another day…the journey of an hour…I am taking pause for reflection.  I am saying, Thank You.

When everything slows down…becomes more simple…I notice more.  I see the love and the detail that goes into simple things and simple gestures of love; right down to the way a package is wrapped.

IMG_9119IMG_9120IMG_9121IMG_9122IMG_9123IMG_9124

 

 

Mamie and Papie

Grand-mère is the formal French term for grandmother. It can be spelled with or without the hyphen. Grand-maman is slightly less formal, and there are several informal terms, including gra-mere, mémère, mémé and mamé. Mamie is also used by modern French families. Mamie is the endearment we gave to my great grandmother, Mathilde (Sugar) Arsenault.

Grand-père is the formal French term for grandfather. Grand-papa is slightly less formal, and there are several other informal terms, including pépère and papy or papi. Arrière-grand-père is the French term for great-grandfather. We knew my great grandfather, Gabriel Gallant, as Papie.

It’s Sunday.  And finally, the temperatures are warming.  I attended Mass this morning and participated in the Rite of Sending, as I have decided to sponsor a beautiful young woman in her decision to be confirmed in the Catholic faith and to partake in the most Holy Eucharist, this year at Easter Vigil.  Later, we will gather at the Cathedral where Bishop William will receive the elect.  It is a beautiful and important rite.

Honestly, life has been tremendously difficult these past days, weeks, months and even years, but through all of everything, I continue to be a person of hope.  There have been some exceptional moments that have risen out of the struggle and for those moments and experiences, I am forever-grateful.  Blessings come in the shape of love, through friends, family and kind strangers…this love expressed through food, visits and messages.  It’s surprising how simple love is.

In your journey, you may find it a very difficult thing to reconcile….to reconcile with anything…memories, people, events.  I think it’s almost more natural to slip toward bitterness, abandonment and rage…a downward slope is always easier, right?  It takes some resilience, determination, strength and will to climb.

Every morning, I climb.  I don’t think this was always the case.  I have no cause to be stuck in the mire. My life, like your own, is a sparkle… it begins and it ends in a blink. There isn’t time or ability to shoulder the weight of bitterness and resentment. Nor is there time or ability to hang out with those who want to be angry, unloving or surly. Move toward love. Surround yourself with love.

One of the blessings of these recent days has been a re-connection with a maternal auntie and uncle. Through this re-connection,  we have together, been able to work at building a common narrative and to put to rest parts of our common past. I feel that my mother’s loving heart has provided the way for this to happen.

My uncle went through an album of his and this morning, I was sent a photograph of my Mamie and Papie… my great grandparents. I had never seen this image before. I’m not embarrassed to say that I sat in front of my monitor and wept. I was so taken by the connection I felt to Prince Edward Island and my mother’s family. I hope that if you are family and reading this, that you will save this image to your own archives and treasure it.

I have such specific memories about these two. They are very sensory memories and those of my child self. Smell of wood fire. Potato pancakes. Crispy pork fried. Tobacco. Sound of kitchen voices. Clinking milk bottles. Do I remember Papie patting beats on his legs? Place… upstairs attic bedroom. Floor vents. Light. Mamie returning home from bingo. Collecting up metal placeholder chips in morning. Earl. Great Aunties. Stories. Laughter. Salt water. Ocean. Seaweed. Family. Furnishings. Wood stove. Mamie. Knees. Hugs. Being held. Feeling loved. Mom’s happiness. People calling this magical place, ‘the island’.

I’m grateful that this afternoon finds me so grounded in the memory of my mother.  I love you, Mom.

 

A Morning at the River: March 4, 2019

Life is both brutal and beautiful.  It is impossible to sift out the bits, and take only the ‘good’ bits..  And while some contend that you can choose happiness, I beg to differ.  Life is about the entire spectrum of what life brings.  Some days, you just step out in faith.  Some days there is a bitterness that the warmth can not permeate, but you step out anyway.  This morning, was one of those for me.  And, look!  Mr. was waiting with a striking bunch of Magpies, with a brilliant blue sky as their backdrop.  Never before have I heard a Bald Eagle making sounds with the breaking of bones, much like you might here from a dog chowing down on a soup bone.  It was an amazing experience.

Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.

Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.

The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.

Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.

Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was live, awake, complete.

We look towards each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.

Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.

Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.

When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.

May you continue to inspire us:

To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.

 

Tribute to a Friend

I asked Wendy, about a month ago, if I might write about her on my blog.  She said, “Well, what is there to write about?  But, yes, sure. That would be fabulous.”  ‘Fabulous’ was something that Wendy said…about good food, beautiful places, and even about a wild flower found along a trail.  As I pour over the myriad of wildflower images that I snapped along our various walks and hikes over the years, I selected these two because today, they seem to mark my feelings best and capture the magic of what a true friend is. The first flower is a wild orchid. We were always so excited when we spotted a variety of orchid….typically hidden and not very showy…just remarkably beautiful and tucked away in some rich loam under a bush, usually in the shade.

Yesterday morning my sister-friend slipped out of this world and moved mysteriously into the next…and she did this without ever seeing my words written down.

I’ve decided to sit with thoughts of Wendy this morning, while the sun shines bright on the snow.  Somehow it feels warmer today.

I attended the concluding evening of a church mission that was hosted in our parish last evening, prayed for the peaceful repose of Wendy…for the journey that my brother is taking…for my family and dear friends.  The priest shared something interesting, once finishing up the Gospel reading about service…the one that’s read every Holy Thursday about Jesus bending down and washing his disciples’ feet… he said, serving one another does not always mean saying a whole lot…sometimes it means just sitting and being with the other.  So, this morning, I’m sitting with thoughts of Wendy and I’m not going to say a whole lot.

There will be a whole number of people who over the coming days and weeks, months and years, will talk about Wendy’s accomplishments because she was indeed, an accomplished woman, coach, teacher, political force to be reckoned with, orator, curriculum writer, baker, crocheter, wife, cadet…she was all of that and more, but this morning as I contemplate why the huge ache in my heart, I realize that it was the enduring presence that is Wendy, the friend, to me that I most celebrate.  So, I will not let this post be about anything but that, her love and wisdom and friendship.  What I wish to most strongly communicate is Wendy’s courage and fortitude and extreme vulnerability…those qualities that Wendy gave through her presence with me and with our group, affectionately named the Ya Ya sisterhood.

The other sisters; Val, Darlene, Carla and Cathy; had the blessed opportunity to work with Wendy some years before our first meeting.  It was Val who invited me to join in the regular gatherings with her circle of friends in order to enjoy food, drink, lively conversation and a hot tub now and then at Darlene’s.  I was a very vulnerable person at the time, digging deep in order to stay afloat, raising three children on my own, all the while trying to do a great job as a teacher. I am forever-grateful for the friendships that were established at the time and how they have continued to change my life for richness of experience, knowledge and love.

Our activities included regular hiking, gourmet dining hosted by Wendy and her husband Darren and wonderful daughter, Becca…basement movie gatherings and themed photo opportunities.  We consumed, voraciously, the times we had together, always rallying around the person(s) who was/were feeling most overwhelmed at the time, offered genuine support to one another, invaluable advice and resource-sharing.  Wendy gave me confidence.  She also had one heck of a sense of humour.  She was a straight-shooter and never muted a point.  Her determination and will was contagious.  We have, over the years, all benefited from her drive and her commitment.

Wendy had an ability to roll with the punches.  She lightly jested that she was much like a unicorn because her health matters that gradually grew to be insurmountable were uniquely challenging.  I admired how hard she pushed against every obstacle and I was inspired by the strength of her family and the love that the three of them shared.

On Monday, I sat watched Wendy enjoy a bowl of Thai Soup while I ate a Greek Salad in the Fanning Center cafeteria.  It was all so ordinary.  We said ordinary things with one another.  And, I’ve decided that this is what life is, a long string of ordinary moments.  It is right to enjoy each of those.  A cup of ice.  Saying hello to the other person in the elevator.  Advocating for support.  Leaning down for that embrace at “Good-bye”.  Laughing at the ritual of asking a complete stranger to take a photograph…

Late that night, my cell phone rang…I didn’t get it in time.  It was Wendy’s number on my phone.

I called back and Wendy didn’t pick up. I’ll always wonder what Wendy might have said.  More than anything, I will remember.

Oh what a treasure to have shared the mountain air with Wendy…fabulous food…nice drinks on a back deck, laughing and talking and looking up at the stars.  I will love you always, dear friend…and nothing will take these years from me.

It is 4:00 in the afternoon, on Valentine’s Day.  It has been a blessing to look over photographs and to think about all of the wonderful times we have enjoyed.  Good-bye, good and faithful servant.

These images are a small sampling and many moments are buried in my archives or sitting on some one else’s camera…but these offer the gist of a remarkable friendship.

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Kath's Canon June 28, 2015 Flower Walk 073

 

 

 

Food…

 

Photo Booth

I Am Still a Mother

This post is dedicated to my mother…often misunderstood…whose opinions sometimes went unaccepted (by me)…but pretty much, my best friend ever. I’m remembering all of those times when I thought I didn’t do things as well as she did…and THAT, tonight, seems like foolishness. I love you, Mom, and I get you now.

At the age of 63, sometimes it’s easy for other people to forget that I am still a mother. All of those feelings I had when my children were just little babies…the insecurities, the fears, the awe and the weariness, the love and celebration…those feelings, I supposed, would just, one day, go away. But, they haven’t. They prickle on the surface of everything that remains…of me.

I saw my three children through their toddler and day-care years, all the while, dealing with the enormities of my own life and career(s). Did I ever have a good reason not to polish their little shoes white? Did I stop, for a moment, being a mother? At night, for all those years, there was my best-ever enthusiastic-reader-voice during every last-of-the-day book. There were the trips to the Emergency Room. There were goofy costumes. There were snowmen. Did I ever stop seeing them through countless agonizing nights of stomach flu or horrendous congestive explosions? All three? No.

Even when they were big Junior High sort-of-kids? No. Did I feel an intense responsibility to check their eyesight? get their teeth cleaned? attend to their vaccinations? Provide clothing around the seasons? Well, of course I did. Were they sometimes asleep when they should have been awake? Awake when they should have been asleep? YES!

I wondered if my night sweats would go away when my children were in High School. No. Was there some way I could possibly figure out how to get each of them on that tour? Was there a way that I could give my children everything that other children had? “I can do this”, I said to myself. Oh. But, then I started to notice the pulling-away…I started, then, to feel a nudge of what would be, according to the laws of everything in the universe, the separation. Would these laws of nature and life mean that I would stop being a mother?

No.

Surely, I could be a little less vigilant when they were accepted into University. No. The drives home…all hours. The push. The pull. That rage against the night. That anger that shrouded every single inkling of fear…that excruciating not-knowing-most-of-the-time-anguish. That incredible fear. A thing of invention? Perhaps. “I can do this,” I thought. I could manage my way through this utterly new and amazing puzzle…this huge labyrinth called life (of that time). Right? My children still valued me. They needed me, right?

What if there were miles that separated us? Rome? Nice? Spain? London? Was there a place on the planet that would take my child so far away that I would stop being a mother?

I wondered, with every new rite of passage, would I be absolved from motherhood when finally, I witnessed one child walk down the aisle? She was out of my arms and into the arms of someone who would love, cherish and create…a new life…a separate life… Was that the moment?

When something shattered in my child’s day, I was shattered. Every time I witnessed the tears of my son or daughter, I cried with them. When they laughed…when they experienced a success…when they were contented…I felt them and every part of them within me. As I sit here writing tonight, I remember their special outfits and Christmas concerts, the drumming strumming, flag-tossing explorations….I remember the music.

At one time, I thought that their growing was somehow connected to what I was doing and the choices I was making. But, no…they were growing despite me…despite my advice…my good intentions…or even my prayers.

They were making their choices and making their way and I have to shrug it all off some nights. I have to pinch myself with gratitude that I did what I could, to protect them. I have to let go with a sigh. I ponder about the present tense. At this time of my life, I still want to be valued. I want to move on through the years that remain, knowing that I still have something to contribute. Tonight I am wondering, ‘What did it all mean?’ And, ‘Who am I now?’

You say something and I roll my eyes, laughing.

I say something and you roll your eyes.

It’s the story of every generation before us…and will be…every generation after us. I am still a mother.

for Joshua and Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

This is an introduction to two books in a single post, both written by Richard Wagamese.  I read for Joshua: An Ojibway Father Teaches his Son before Medicine Walk.  for Joshua was most definitely a father’s passionate message to his son, delivered with a sense of urgency throughout.  Biographical, this book was a potent read, nailed down with so much trauma that, at times, I felt as though I couldn’t breath.  Confessional in nature, Wagamese dug deep into his personal journey with pain, fear and addiction.  Have you ever put a book down so that you could digest or ‘get over’ a chapter?  for Joshua did this to me.

In this book, Wagamese walked with his son in a very metaphorical way…through the pages of a book.  A lifetime of suffering informed these pages and eventually led to a sense of redemption. Steeped in his Ojibway culture, Richard Wagamese experienced a sense of hope through the intimate experiences of a lifetime of struggle.  To some degree, I wondered if he was anticipating an ‘ending’ and I felt an urgency about the honest confrontation of a life lived with determination.

As a contrast,  Medicine Walk was narrative in style, but dealt with the same concerns of pain, fear and addiction.  This book needs to become required reading within the curriculum for high school literature.  I felt, as I read, that this book encompasses so many of the issues facing Indigenous peoples in contemporary society.  While reading from a place of privilege, I thought that the writer gently handed me the lessons of his people and the impact of colonial dominance on the individual.

I don’t know if my readers would agree, but sometimes I think that literature can teach us more.  We connect with a single character and develop a relationship with/to them.  That character can teach us lessons that even an aggressive in-your-face angry person can not teach.  This ‘settler’ requires an opportunity to question, wonder and take in new information…books provide this opportunity.

I think that these two books are partners to one another…one is raw and visceral and the other offers safety and distance, with the very same lessons contained.  From Penguin Random House Canada…this,

“One of the finest novels of the year.” (Vancouver Sun) By the celebrated author of Canada Reads finalist Indian Horse, this is an unforgettable journey of a father and son, set in dramatic landscape of the BC Interior…
     Franklin Starlight is called to visit his father, Eldon. He’s sixteen years old and has had the most fleeting of relationships with the man. The rare moments they’ve shared haunt and trouble Frank, but he answers the call, a son’s duty to a father. What ensues is a journey through the rugged and beautiful back country, and a journey into the past, as the two men push forward to Eldon’s end. From a poverty-stricken childhood, to the Korean War, and later the derelict houses of mill towns, Eldon relates both the desolate moments of his life and a time of redemption and love, and in doing so offers Frank a history he has never known, the father he has never had, and a connection to himself he never expected.
     A novel about love, friendship, courage, and the idea that the land has within it powers of healing, Medicine Walk reveals the ultimate goodness of its characters and offers a deeply moving and redemptive conclusion. Wagamese’s writing soars and his insight and compassion are matched by his gift of communicating these to the reader.

If my readers are open and can be gentle with themselves, these books are invaluable.  Medicine Walk left me in tears during several passages.  Franklin Starlight is a profound character.  Richard Wagamese has left us with powerful gifts through his writing.  I am grateful.