It’s All a State of Mind

I haven’t had an easy time of it the past while.  I am grateful to those who haven’t minimized my feelings during this particularly rough patch.  I am grateful for those who have shown genuine concern and unconditional love and support.  I’m grateful for those who asked.  I am grateful for those who haven’t questioned what I needed to do.  I’ve missed writing.  I’ve missed painting.  But, I’ve really enjoyed sitting still in the woods and watching the birds.  I’ve enjoyed watching the river and the pond.  The river has always taught me how dramatically everything can change.  The little critters that eek out survival on the river teach me that, in fact, life is just as brutal as it is beautiful.  Treasure the moments.  Don’t cave in the least little bit to the challenges…it only takes a moment of hesitation on the fight and you can be a goner.

The state of things in the U.S.A. and the exposure to the media via the news and social media have, in part, impacted my mind set.  While it’s not the whole picture, it certainly did not assist in a feeling of hopefulness or optimism.  Through this impact, I’ve become very mindful of supporting the Canadian economy in my purchases and spending.  And, I will continue to do so.

However, I wavered in one regard.  The only way that I would have the opportunity to see my high school bestie before she left her volunteer position at Big Hole National Battlefield in Montana for her home in Michigan, was to travel across THAT border.  My heart ached to be with Ramona, so, setting all of my concerns and worries and sadness aside, I got up one day and decided to go.

There is something inherently magical about road trips and I am no stranger to doing road trips on my own, but this time, I even left my beautiful and loyal companion, Max, behind.  This was the second time in 12 years that we were separated.  I think I heard him barking, “POOP HEAD!!”, as I pulled out of my spot in front of the house and headed for Magrath.

My Auntie Ruth doesn’t mind me hanging out with her and I really like her company.  You want a Wild Cherry icecream cone?  Of course!  You haven’t got milk or bread?  Let’s go!  It’s been a while since you saw your sister?  Heh, hop in the car!!

Driving on roads that I used to share with my grandfather…evening light…canola fields…magic!

DSC_0001

I cut across from Claresholm to Barons on my trips…this time, got stuck going 30 kms and hour behind a line-painter. What a hoot.

DSC_0003

I’m not so great with selfies…but, Auntie Ruth was willing, so the effort was well-worth it.

DSC_0004

Ms. Independent at 92 years of age.

DSC_0005DSC_0006DSC_0007

DSC_0008

I adore these two women. I’m grateful that they are in my life. I treasure every moment. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my recorder with me because we had such a great yack and many more memories of family were shared.

I didn’t sleep well that night, so was up and on the highway at around 6 the next morning.  I filled my travel mug with hot coffee and topped up the gas $1.28 and headed east for Raymond.  I love early-morning driving.  The journey continues in Road Tripping.

Bounty

You may be glad to know that I have sought out support for my grieving and the big losses of this past year.  Thing is…in short, I’ve been given permission to write it out, paint it out, cry it out, sand it out…do it out…whatever it takes.  I guess it’s not for others to judge the form that grief takes in others, so don’t worry on the mornings when you see twenty blog entries…it’s my manic grief finding expression…and if I can find a way to breath, then my readers can as well.  I guess I’m asking you not to suggest when to empty my closets. Thing is, you folk need to know that I’m not sharing my dark nights with you here…in fact, the only clue you really should have that something is going on, is the extent of my writing.  I’m keeping a private journal for the dark moments. I’m painting a mandala for my mother in the deadly quiet moments.  I’m painting again. (Thanks, Mom.)

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

T.S. Eliot

Action is key in my life…taking action of any sort that is not harmful to others is typically alright with me.  I’m not one to have in my language, words like boredom, fear or helplessness.  I’m all about ‘doing something’ about everything.  It will be helpful though, if I have the support of my family and friends as you observe this very phenomena…it is likely not that unfamiliar to you, in regards to ‘moi’…please don’t judge me because if I feel I need to do something differently ‘for your comfort’, then I will struggle needlessly.  I’m tending, lately, to be alone…at home, but also in crowds.

I am the one who is NOT contributing to a conversation, and when I am, I am not doing it very well.

I am the one who is arguing with confrontational atheists, likely because they are rattling the cage of the very thing that is getting me through this, my faith.

I am the one who is booking into countless programs in the city…more so than ever before, if that is possible, as a way of not staying home where I hear every now and then, “Oh, it’s time to skype with Mom.”

I am the one who is blogging about ridiculous things and taking photographs of step-by-step recipes.

I am the one who is enforcing by-laws about back yard fire pits and front yard cats.

I am the one who becomes confused over more than two instructions/directions and I am the one who will stare blankly at you, rather than ask for clarity.

I am the one who loses track of the number of cups of coffee I have sipped while watching birds at my bird feeder, wrapped in Mom’s flannel nightie…and in her flannel house coat…ten sizes too large, but, as close as I can physically get to her.

I am the one who could not host a Thanksgiving feast at my feast table this year because Elma would not be there…for the first time in a zillion years…because this year, as my own mother was battling pneumonia, dearest Elma was quietly slipping into the arms of heaven also.

The news of the world continues to roll…a giant super storm on the other side of the world, gives me pause and I bow my head for strength for India.  So many mothers.  So much loss.  But still…in all of this…there is BOUNTY.  Here, I am warm…I am sheltered…I am well-fed…I am blessed with my three beautiful children.  There is bounty everywhere I look.  This year in Alberta, a bumper crop for the farmers.  The fields look glorious this harvest.  The trees are golden and the sky, blue.  I am safe and blessed.

I received a phone call from Bobby…spoke with Bee…messaged Adrienne…left a voice mail for Mary-Lou…spoke to Yvonne on telephone…made a cell phone call to daughter, Cayley, on the coast…chatted with Glo and Bill Webb…skyped with Dad and Val, JP and Eliane and Louis…texted Margy.  Wendy asked, “How was today?” and…invited me to Beanos.  The circle of friendship continues to close around me. It seems that a feast table is a metaphor for something much larger.

With gratitude, I went to my daughter and son-in-law’s for dinner…we prepared a whole wad of recipes we have never enjoyed as a tradition at the feast table.  I have collected some images here.  It was a wonder-time with Erin, Doug and thankfully, James.  I feel blessed.

Rolled Cranberry Turkey Breast with Creamy Gravy Recipe: Canadian Living

P1130373

P1130408 Kale and Pancetta With Crispy Shallots: Canadian Living Recipe

P1130359P1130404P1130361Roasted Chili Lemongrass Squash: Canadian Living…

Highly recommend this one!

P1130342

P1130354

P1130357P1130416Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Horseradish Vinaigrette

For me, too sweet…less honey than called for!

P1130405Chopping water chestnuts for pre-function spinach dip.

P1130349 P1130364Smashed Potatoes with Rosemary

P1130413

P1130351 P1130352 P1130356 P1130366 P1130368 P1130371 P1130417 P1130419 P1130420 P1130422P1130380

Unplugged

Over the course of our lives, there are times when we need to step back.  Grieving for my mother has caused me to step back from writing and any significant connection with technology. That’s been good.  In some ways, I feel as though I’ve been sort of floating through life these last couple of months.  If the things that really matter are imagined to be beautiful balloons, I have been holding tightly, the past couple of months, to the strings that link me to family and faith. Now it’s time to grasp for those strings that reconnect me with my art and my words.

Good-bye 2011.

Good-bye 2011.

Good-bye 2013.

Good-bye 2013.

One Voice

Trying to Find My Bird Movie 129I spent four weeks tracking a warbler every morning and afternoon…trying to get close enough to identify the little guy.  And for all of that time, he rarely stopped singing.  When I return home, I will publish the song archive that I collected and perhaps one of you will help me to identify him. For all of those days, this small bird distracted me from a sad heart and filled the empty space once filled with my mother’s laughter, with a song.

Because I was so intent to listen to this single bird voice, I could hear the voices of others; chickadees, cardinals, blue jays and black birds, voices woven through the old Belleville trees. The transforming landscape, full bloom of maple, elm and willow, caused the red flash of cardinal to stand out against countless shades of green.  But more magnificent for me, each morning when the dew was still wet on the grass, was the little bird perched on the highest single finger of a blue spruce tree, seeking a mate…no answer to its determined voice.

Helpless

Sometimes we are helpless in our circumstances.  Tonight I’m writing about helplessness.  I want to make an important distinction, however…because I am not writing about hopelessness. For me, they are different.

help·less 

1. Unable to help oneself; powerless or incompetent.
2. Lacking support or protection: They were left helpless in the storm.
3. Impossible to control; involuntary

hope·less

1. Having no hope; despairing.
2. Offering no hope; bleak.
3. Incurable.
4. Having no possibility of solution; impossible.

 

Tonight, certain situations come to mind.  Some are very large.  Some smaller.  But, in the scheme of life experience, it all matters. With all of my heart, I lift up prayer for those in utterly impossible circumstances. On the east coast, a family has lost their eighteen year old daughter.  Also…somewhere…a sister has lost her brother.  A mother has lost her child.  A child has lost his mother.  And yet, every moment of every day, a new life comes to be.  Birth does not, however, exclude the pain of loss.  Grief is a huge reality.  I pray for you all in your grief; for your loss… divorce, separation, abandonment, disloyalty, death, illness.

lola-hellabrunn-zoo-munich-germany-photo-bancroft-landov

Lola passes at the Hellabrunn Zoo Munich, Germany-Photo: Bancroft-Landov

A facebook offering from Information Blitz.  Orphaned elephant.

A facebook offering from Information Blitz. Orphaned elephant.

My mother sleeps in a long term care facility room and I wonder how she is sleeping and try to remember her laughter.  I want to pull her blankets around her.  I do not know and can not know her thoughts.  She can not communicate any more about the things that hurt her.  I feel helpless.  I have to trust in the love of her care givers.  I pray for all of those who have family members suffering dementia, loss of memory, loneliness or depression, ill health.

P1100418Today it was reported that a baby was left as sewage and then miraculously saved when “a tenant heard the baby’s sounds in the public restroom of a residential building in Zhejiang province in eastern China.”  This and many atrocities against the innocent come to mind and I feel helpless.  Most days it feels like it is not enough to be appalled.  I pray for the unborn…and for children…that they are protected, sheltered, fed and loved.

(Photo: AFPTV AFP/Getty)

(Photo: AFPTV AFP/Getty)

 Photograph: Imaginechina/Rex Features

Photograph: Imagine China/Rex Features

I found a wee nestling when I arrived home yesterday, Mr. and Mrs. flying urgently about, helpless to aid the still-breathing moving bird.  I slipped it cautiously back up into its nest and reinforced the broken vent.  Assistance was generously given by Peter and Rick.  Taking action minimized my feeling of helplessness.  But, today it is quiet at the nest…Mr., as though by instinct, returning again and again, to look in.  Helpless.

sparrowbaby2012

Before the Fall

Mrs. Before the Fall

Mr. After Nestling Returned and Entrance Reinforced

Mr. After Nestling Returned and Entrance Reinforced

Matthew 10:29-31

New International Version

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.[a] 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

We live in a big world full of remarkable circumstances and moments that change us forever.  Some of these moments can only be described as miraculous and others, on the flip side, devastating.  We are very fragile beings, each one unique and irreplaceable.  Love hugely and in the deepest sense.  And when you feel helpless, pray.

Birth Days and Mother’s Days

I was born on Mother’s Day in 1955.  This May, I’ve thought often and hard about my mother who has struggled the past few years with Alzheimer’s disease.  I thought about Mom on my birthday.  And I thought about her again on Mother’s Day…and I’ve thought about her pretty much every day since I left her bedside last month.

Christmas St. SylvestreI want to thank those of you who brightened my days with your love, your wishes, your prayers and your cards.  It has been another year filled with blessings as numerous as challenges.  I am grateful for all of it.  I am grateful for you.

P1100990

 

Gorilla House LIVE ART: March 27, 2013

I went to paint with my community last night…not for the sake of an auction at the end of the evening, but as a way of working out my frustration at being here in the west while out east my Mom is sick and my Dad is worried.  I’m grateful to my sister and my daughter who are there as supports…grateful to my uncle who drove from Montreal to love and support…but still my heart aches to be there…so I painted.

I have captured a likeness of my mother at a young age, but recognize easily the bits that need to be perfected to give a truly accurate depiction.  S’ok though, because in two hours, the place I arrived at was a peaceful place.  In attendance, and greatly appreciated, were Clayton, Margy, Wendy and Jen….and with open arms and big hugs; Bassano, Jeff, boy-Morgan, Karen, Jess, Harold, Tamara, Andy, Bruce, Jeff, girl-Morgan and of course, Rich.  Oh yes, and there was one wee girl who observed from behind for much of the evening and finally approached.  Her hair was in a thick mass of curl.  She said sweetly, “If that lady had brown eyes, we would be twins.  I think I look like her and she’s beautiful.”   Great conversations were shared while painting and I thank the people who attended for the first time and the people who stopped to give me their thoughts on my process.  It was wonderful.

So, no, I did not paint the inspirations of the night…and I began upside down and then shifted to right side up during the last half hour.

P1100278 P1100279 P1100284

October 31, 2008

Halloween evening…traditionally, a big ‘thing’ for me…loving the ‘characters’coming to my door.  Also, this year, I am  letting go of an anniversary…and we all know how those ‘firsts’ are a struggle…here is a ‘first’ for me. This evening Max and I curl up in the family room…he snoozes now in his red chair and I sip a glass of a beautiful Chianti 2005 from Castiglioni.  One of my Thanksgiving guests must have left it behind for me.  It is beautiful, and a perfect treat as I sit and write an update here.

One daughter in London, England,,,another, in New York City…my son out for the night…I find myself alone with memories of past traditions and rituals, facing again the sense of being an individual in the world.  Memory bubbles, like those strung out above a comic strip character’s head, are filled with words like, “I remember when…I miss…We used to…”  If only you could know what a happy rich family life we had, carving the pumpkin with the face that my father always carved into ours back at home.  It didn’t matter that we moved every two years or so, there were experiences that we brought with us, wherever we settled.  And I brought them with me.

It’s been a difficult week.  We were pretty late last Thursday, getting down to the river for our walk at the off leash park.  I guess the breeds run in shifts, the larger guys showing up as the sun goes down…big guys with drool, jowls, thick jaws and strong-looking legs.  Max went skipping into that mix and for a short while it put a smile on my face.  While his ‘dad’ leaned on a fence and spoke on a cell phone, a broad shouldered pit bull took off running after Max in the tall grass.  Max, as per usual, wore a smile on ‘his’ face and I saw the tip of his tail, like a flag, bobbing up and down against the purple sky.  As I continued to hike north, eventually Max was able to pull himself out of the circle, and spew his way back in my direction.  A relief!

What didn’t go so well was an encounter as we headed back south along the river.  We were making our way through a stand of trees and dusk had arrived…colours were being absorbed by night and sound became more distinct…and travel seemed faster on foot than what it had seemed in the light.  From the woods, sped a large dark form…Max saw him coming from a distance and immediately sat next to me, completely submitting and afraid.  It was only seconds and the huge furry beast was upon him.  Max was being bitten, I knew it because he was crying out in loud yelps.  I had no choice but to stand back.

Calling out to the owner, I asked her to call her dog off, at which point, she made a weak effort, calling out, “Montana”.  It seemed like forever, for her to catch up to the collision and Max continued to cry.  As the owner walked by, with NO acknowledgement, Montana, withdrew and I stepped over to my pooch.  He was shaken, but seemed alright…no limping…just a very close rub up against his Mom and then he was, like a shot, heading for home!

I breathed a sigh of relief and once home, took Max into the warm light of the kitchen to do an all over inspection.  I was very relieved to find that all was well and so for the next six days, all WAS well.  However, on Wednesday, over my noon hour, I noticed a wet spot on Max’s hip…while he was somewhat protective of the area, I got a close look and saw that there was a gaping wound and I knew by his reaction that it was hurting.

Long story short: Max had surgery yesterday morning…debriding and stitching the wound…a course of antibiotics…a day of sedation.  Now we are in the midst of a 10 to 14 day blitz with the protective cone.  I took him down to one of ol’ Laurie-dog’s favourite spots tonight for his fresh air and he seemed to be just fine.  It’s just going to take both of us more patience, protecting the eight stitches that are needing time to heal on a very open part of his body!

Dr. Marty told us both, not only is it best for my skipping happy Maxwell to stay away from the off leash parks…but it’s likely equally as healthy for me to stay away from them as well.  The occasional dog is nasty and ill- tempered…they may be protective of a toy…an owner…or just NOT feeling well.  It only takes an instant for things to turn from good to bad…and so Max and I are going to find a ‘better place to be’ for our two hour evening-wander.

Tonight we will share the evening together, curling up with Friday night television and perhaps some time in the studio…and after the excitement of the week, this all seems fine to me. Blessings on your weekend, dear friends and Happy Halloween my special  family!  I think of everything you have been in my life…the happiness we have shared and I love you.

My Teacher and Friend

I received news yesterday that my friend of many years, Pauline McGeorge, passed away on July 2nd in Kaslo, B.C.  She has had tremendous influence on me as an artist, but primarily, as a person.  We have shared letters and art invitations over many years as I first met Pauline in 1973 when I began my work in the art department at the University of Lethbridge.  The news of her passing actually influences me to pursue my art…to contribute to the world…and to see that by teaching art, I can also carry a similar positive influence with my students.  Pauline will continue to be present to me in my studio and I will never forget her.  I will do everything in my power to attend the celebration of her life out in Argenta in August.

 

Lawrence

I just sent out a letter of recollection to some of my electronic mail list…to share with you, the loss of my old and dear friend, Laurie-dog.  I’m publishing it here as well, simply because it poured out of my fingertips as a reaction to one of the most difficult experiences I have shared with my children.  Here is the story of Laurie.

I picked Lawrence up in the small hamlet of Kircaldy.  It was a blustery blizzardy morning in Calgary and I was having my coffee at the kitchen table at our home on Mountain Park Drive.  I had a Calgary Sun newspaper, unlikely, as I am a Calgary Herald-girl, but it was the Sun.  I arrived at the obituary pages and found facing me, the picture of Margaret Lawrence Van de Ryse, a lady who had been my first-born’s first and most wonderful babysitter.  I wept silently at the kitchen table because I had lost contact with Margaret and her husband, Ambrose, and I really felt, again, how essential it is to soak up love for one another and never take a moment for granted.

I told my husband-at-the-time, that I was heading down the highway to Kircaldy (just outside of Vulcan) because I had to go and comfort Ambrose.  He asked, “Are you nuts?  Look at the blizzard out there!”

I said, as I shut the newspaper, “Never mind, I will be fine…just please, take care of the kids and I’ll be home by dark.”  I had once previously visited the farmhouse that edged the train tracks and set out on blind faith that I would somehow find my way.

I drove through frigid winds, slippy roads and blowing snow, but eventually came to Vulcan and then opened up the radio station wide and my eyes, just as wide, to find the little spot at the side of the train tracks.  With my spider senses, I turned in on the country road and managed my way into the open yard of the homestead.  Of course, in my head, I had wondered if anyone would even be home, and sure enough, Ambrose was just stepping out of the tiny house, his rubber boots, well up to his knees.  He was such a short guy.  He had done years of tarring on roofs and his skin was ruddy. On this particular day, he was buried under a layering of felt jackets and when he spotted me, he put his gloved hand up to his forehead, as though needing to clarify his vision in the whiteness, and with a quick moment of recognition, came bounding toward me.

He embraced me as though no time had passed between us and he sobbed in my arms.  I began to cry as well and then a beautiful old dog (who I later learned was named Sandy) came up to me, tail wagging and body rubbing up against my leg.  Amy asked if I would come into the place for tea.  We visited most of the afternoon and shared stories about Drumheller and Calgary and Margaret and her baking.  It was all so wonderful sharing several cups of tea and so many memories..

Ambrose was without direction, so strange to suddenly be without the constant of his life. “Should I stay here?  Should I move to the city?  What am I going to do with all of this stuff?”  Margaret would be laid to rest in her home town of Drumheller.  I asked what would happen to Sandy?  I told Amy, “I would love to adopt her if you can’t take her with you.”

Laurie-Dog

In his loud voice he asked, “Why would you take Sandy when she has a whole brood of pups, all weened, out under the shed?”  I asked him to show me, so we put on our coats and boots and headed out.

When I saw the number of beautiful pudgy 8 week old pups, I squealed with excitement.  “Oh!”  I cried out, “I can adopt a wee baby girl and name her Maggie after Margaret! Oh my gosh!”  And so began my quest for a female in the litter.  I so wanted a baby girl. (not even acknowledging that perhaps it wouldn’t be something that my partner at the time might want at all!).  Through the search, one pup kept chasing me down.  I looked at his sex and quickly rejected him, although he WAS beautiful.  Again and again, he followed me, rolled over me, tripped me, racing to places he shouldn’t have gone and finally, escaping the little shed.  And I said to Amy, “What is with this guy?  Is he nuts?”  Now…don’t get me wrong, he was as cute as a button….but I was looking for a female.

Amy asked, “What is it about a girl?”

“Well, I want to name her after Margaret.”

“Well,” Amy said…”Margaret was named after her father, you know?”

I responded, “What?”

“Yes!  His name was Lawrence….and Margaret is Margaret Lawrence….”  Well!  That was a shoe-in for this pup because Margaret Laurence is my favourite author and the book, The Diviners, drives my way of living.  I scooped Lawrence up into my arms, kissed his beak and told him that I would love him forever and I did.

Amy and I embraced.  He cried.  I cried.

I placed a small cardboard box into the space between the van seats and started my trek home.  I loved his small puppy-sounds as I drove.  And I loved the sweet puppy-smells.  I felt absolutely in love.

When I pulled into the garage, I decided to go into the house first…

I said only a few words. “Please, tell me I can keep him?”

And that is how Laurie-dog came to be my dearest and most loyal friend.

Laurie Dog 2002

It is May 3rd….and only an hour ago, I felt my Laurie’s last breaths move my hand up and down.  He was 14 years old and the best friend that I have had in life.  He shared many river walks with me. He sat with me while I painted many pictures in the hills.  He forgave me.  He healed me.  He understood me when others couldn’t.  He loved with unconditional love and these last few months, according to my wonderful vet, Marty, he has likely been doing a great deal of suffering.  My children, my former spouse and I were all with him to watch him gently move out of this life and to be born into a peaceful place.  St. Francis is there to greet him.  Many of you have met him.  He shared a titch of the love with you.  You were a part of his life and so you need to have his story also….it is my gift to you.

We will be gathering someday soon to sprinkle his ashes on the soft grasses of summer, down at the Bow River’s edge where we loved to walk.  The magpies will be there….and the red berries of the rose bushes…the pheasants will dive from the top of the ridge.  And we will remember and always love our Laurie-dog.

Laurie-Dog 3