Snow-shaker, Ice-breaker

This is only September but …
Postcard Christmas snow burdens the branches IMG_6312
pristine heaviness
Silence of snow
insulates the earth,
muffles the birds
Invites me
to withdraw from the world
As outside it piles heavy on unprepared trees
Branches about to break,
Like humans under the weight of worry.
Be a snow-shaker, when you can …

CrazySunday I was picnicking with friends in 25 degree weather, and
Monday morning it snowed, and snowed for three days and three nights … the branches sagged till they met earth.
Tuesday on my walk I delighted to see the branches spring back with a light shaking … it was kind of fun. That evening Mayor Nenshi of Calgary was on the news asking people to give branches a gentle shake, to reduce the burden on the trees. Trees full of leaves, each catching more snow to add to the weight.
Wednesday Armed with a three-prong rake I went out, hooked higher branches, shook and released. This was play in the snow for me. This also became my version of the current ice-bucket challenge as heaps of snow dumped on me as I moved from tree to tree. Satisfaction as the branches lifted off the ground, back into the air. It struck me how helpless the branches were, totally dependant on someone to relieve them in this dilemma.
Thursday I met a new neighbour, who had witnessed my snow fun, she had also tried some shaking.
By Friday, most of the snow had melted and I wondered if it had made any significant difference-even though I saw an immediate change-but maybe they wouldn’t have broken, and maybe it would all have been okay, and maybe I did prevent a few broken limbs … and maybe it does not matter if I know. All appeared back to normal.

In my life I have had both snow shakers,IMG_6362 and ice breakers, people that chipped away the cold, shook me out of the doldrums and lifted the spirits. I am eternally grateful for those people.
And now I have the privilege to play it forward, for others weighed down.

Worry weighs us down, a cheerful word picks us up. Prov 12:28 The Message

An anxious heart weighs a man(woman too) down, but a kind word cheers him(her) up. NIV

Pick Me Up, I’m Falling Again

IMG_5699Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits.”
― Samuel Butler
Is it just me, or does fall come more quickly every year?
The overachiever tree along my bike path turned yellow a week ago and by now has dropped most of his leaves, unaware that the world is not quite ready for its glory. The back to school busses have increased the local traffic, but at least a few tired moms smile with the return of school structure.
Thankfully I haven’t seen the geese heading in the other direction, I might have to shoot them.
When I lived in Australia for two years, I realized that I actually missed the distinct changes of season. It was hard to complain when every day was near paradise. The Ozzie’s lame lament about their cold was spitting in the wind. The first winter proved to match temperatures with the prairie summer I had left behind. My school teacher sister had been reluctant to miss summer to visit me down under in the cold season, only to discover that an Australian winter was similar to a Canadian prairies’ summer.
I think each passing fall makes me realize I am truly more in the autumn of life than spring or summer. I have matured into foliage.IMG_5640
Having grandkids could be considered one of the qualifications. Instead of begrudging autumn’s arrival, lamenting the lost long summer days, I want to choose to embrace the season’s gifts. I enjoy the settled peace of September. Fall brings it’s own new beginnings … unlike the artificial New Year, where I feel coerced into resolutions of new direction.
Fall transitions naturally … the change in weather invites me to try something new, read a book, try a course, dust off my hobbies. I stopped at the Michael’s craft store on a cloudy day this week, and with forecasts of single digit for next week, I bought a knitting book! Not any knitting mind you, but arm knitting, it’s a loose weave, where the upper limbs turn into a kind of giant cat’s cradle game. She must be going bonkers, I was thinking of myself, as the negative voices in my head chastise me for starting something new again, that I might not finish. And I talk back, it is better to start ten things with enthusiasm, perhaps finish one of them, than not start at all. Much of the enjoyment comes from the possibilities of the dream, I could envision lovely scarves.

DSC_0962I recognize an unspoken longing that perhaps this next season will meet expectations, that desires be met, and I realize This is Life. Live it as it is, where it is, in this moment, in this season. I cannot go backwards in time … I don’t know what lies ahead, but I have this day. I choose to make the most of it.

All photos by Jocelyn

Silence & Sacred Idleness

Work is not always required …there is such a thing as sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected.

George MacDonald
DSCN7439
Silence is scary … I am left with my own thoughts. The voices in my head.
I think one of the reasons technology does well is that few people want to be alone with their thoughts. In fact it’s difficult to get the peace and quiet to be in that space. Being (Over)busy, has become the accepted hallmark of value and approval.
But when something desperate or traumatic happens in life, be it a big or small desperation, the necessity of silence and the need to address the inner voices becomes inescapable. At that time I have the power to stifle the voices, to run from them, or to ask them – what is it I really need to learn from you?
Being alone with my thoughts … I confess to not minding my own company … I value times of silence. A dear sister and I expressed the mixed fear and delight of becoming these eccentric mature ladies-didn’t want to say old. I would be vividly odd, and she would be cerebrally offbeat, and strangely enough we think it would be ok. It’s the freedom to not care what others think anymore, and the urgent desire to listen to and give voice to that too long silenced inner self. One of my favourite images comes from a U2 song line …
she is running to stand still.
Be still and know that I am God ….IMG_5687
Those were the words that came to me many years ago, in the middle of a snow storm … My daughter Kristen and I were speaking at a Mother Daughter retreat … and I was contemplating the busyness of life, a possible new career direction, or a decrease of same. Options weighed on my mind as I took a short walk in a Nov snow storm and came to a clearing in the woods … in that small magical space, snow whirled all around me and here I was …. Calm and Silent, as though I was in the eye of the storm. The silence spoke powerful peace into my soul … and the ancient words came to mind …. Be STILL and KNOW that I am God. How could I know? I’d been so busy running, flapping on the spot … the way I see the ravens in a strong wind … flapping before they soar.
At that moment I knew I could not take on one more thing, as good as it was.
I often remember what the silence of the snowstorm did for my soul.
No longer do I apologize for my time to sit by the river, to absorb the beauty, to let the chaos of mind seep out of my body.
Although it’s been a tad hard to buck the norm, I have never regretted a moment of Sacred Idleness . IMG_7562_2

Silence does not exist in our lives merely for its own sake.
It is ordered by something else. …
Silence is the strength of our interior life.
Silence enters into the very core of our moral being.

Thomas Merton
from his book No Man is an Island

Tribute Tarries

tributaries_06
(Photo by Joel Krahn, African River tributaries)

Like a river that flowed and reached into dry corners
she spread her love and acceptance
Beneath Martha she hid her Mary soul
But that woman, she knew how to clean ….
She opened both her well vacuumed home and her heart …
Her brother said, her walls always had a window,
a window that had been recently cleaned …
She loved, she accepted, she cared, she stayed in touch …
All spokes led to the mamma … the hub of the family.
I don’t think she ever missed a game.
She was loyal, caring, kind
Her faith always practical
Thank you for being my friend.

The initial message of her passing came via email … and said that she “had gone to her eternal rest.” One thing I know about my friend, she wouldn’t want to be in eternal rest. She was an active person. I don’t think rest is what Heaven’s about. I used to wonder about eternity … if it was going to be forever anyways, I saw no rush to get there. But after I had two term deposits, my perspective changed. Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven, paints a phenomenal picture of experience and beauty, an exciting future he believes will greet us upon arrival. He is convinced that we continue on in our creativity, and work in the eternal future. Somehow, I don’t think my friend will be vacuuming her days away.

IMG_6150While kayaking last week, heavy with thoughts of my friend’s life, and the upcoming funeral, I saw the most exquisite flowers, unlike any I had ever seen before, what made them so unique? They were underwater. I have seen enough seaweed and lily pads, to know this was exceptional … I kayaked over the clear blue green mountain lake waters again, to be sure my eyes had not deceived … yes, there a few feet below the water glass top, tiny yellow and white flowers smiled up at me … the water dimmed their colours, but they truly were blooming where planted. What a picture of hope for me … under the ocean of grief new flowers can bloom.
The reason I like Sudoku is that there are nine squares, nine numbers fill those squares, only one way to do it. Simple, clean, no deep mystery.
Grief is not like that.
IMG_0592_2

Emily Dickinson says:
On subjects of which we know nothing, we both believe and disbelieve a hundred times an Hour, which keeps Believing nimble.

Deadheading

The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.
Emily Dickinson

Deadheading begins with the head?
Earl Grey tea warms as I sit cozy on my balcony, Sarah Ban Breathnach’s book,IMG_5586 Simple Abundance, invigorates as hardy petunia’s smile at me, potted in shades of purple, pink, and white. I reach out to pick off the done blossoms. Sarah writes about her search for wholeness in the everyday epiphanies, the mystical in the mundane. This day she speaks of changing our clothes, our style, in order to keep the creativity alive. Not that out of date clothes are the factor, but the idea to allow the inner authentic self, to be expressed. Letting the inner child out is not a new concept, but is shed like a garment outgrown, in my need to be responsible, frugal, productive. A continuous mini-war goes on inside my head, how much I do for my own self nurturing … versus the belief that it is selfish to do so. “Selfish” is a very bad word in religious circles, it carries heavy judgment … But its judgement has come into question for me.
Many times I quote a favourite fridge magnet—Take my Advice I’m not Using It … at times it comes back to bite me. I do recognize the importance of others taking care of themselves, while hesitant to apply that to myself for fear of being “selfish.” It has been a continual balancing act … lately I’ve come to think of it less in terms of a rigid balance scale, and more as an ever moving line, a wave, a slow dance that responds to the music of life. Why am I trying to contain myself when I see all around me evidence that the creator is abundantly lavish in creativity, in beauty, in breaking His own rules.
The dried blossoms drop to the floor, are picked up by the wind, and carried away.

I see beauty and music as universal soul therapists. Fifty shades of sunsets clamour for attention. A week ago my sister came to visit; as I saw the sky IMG_6065change colours I said “We need to go right now!” After a quick drive to a higher ridge, we inhaled the the majestic mountain background, with ominous thunderheads to the south, a phenomenal lightning show, ecstatic, electric beauty that was available for all to see, but we were alone in the viewing.
Sometimes we need to go now, or we miss the moment.

Last weekend, sisters joined under and over the rain tarp as showers and sunshine competed, in a Rocky Mountain setting, while the Canmore Folk Festival provided music to set toes a tapping, and bodies swaying. It was a deadheading of the soul.
Words sung by Blues singer Guy Davis still ring in my ears “Had my old shoes on, got new shoes now, had my old clothes on, I got new clothes now and I feel like dancing.” The power house lines for me: Was thinking my old thoughts, well I’m thinking some new thoughts now, and I feel like dancing.”
Warning—Deadheading leads to dancing.

IMG_9987

Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever.
Isak Dinesen

Our Daily Becoming

The person inside struggles to get out
Eyes open … head shakes in terror … non-recognition … fear …
IMG_5790And my heart drops to my toes … this is not my friend
The next day …. I see her in those same eyes, my friend has returned
The intensity of the ICU waiting place…
The question lingers for me, Where has the she been in this time of unconsciousness? … while body fights for breath, tracheal tube blocks words from lips … but, this last evening, she responds with slight smile, the eyes are hers … lips shape words that cannot yet be voiced.
Intensive care—a reason for the name. Three other heavily monitored people share this sacred space … under heavy equipment security … machines record and alarm. The machined man diagonally across … at one point … seven staff members rush into his cubicle … curtains close to keep us out … and yet in the crack I see … syringes inject another fight for life. And the next day another body occupies the bed.
And sometimes I want to ask the nurses not just to look at the machines, but to look into my friends’s eyes … to know the person inside …. the beautiful person she is … and I cannot ask them that, as they are busy saving lives … but I myself can do that, I can look into her blue eyes and express caring.
… jazz vespers at church next to the heart hospital … as the melody begins … the minister speaks of the music’s power that transcends the cares and speaks to the soul … and it does.
And back to hospital room, back to hotel … and we discuss on patio in beautiful evening, in beautiful city, under full moon the heavies of life … over white wine … and we contemplate the recognition of who is the person … and how we have been challenged with the homeless people, the nameless faceless people, the hospital bed people, the walking on the street people… and a mouse sneaks along the edge of the patio … we are startled … no screams, but we do move back one table… and then someone else asks us “Do we have change so he can buy something at McDonald’s?” And we cannot walk by him, he has entered our space … I ask him his name, he is Keith … we ask if he has a place to stay, as my friend is looking for change … and gives him a bill … he assures us he will not buy wine … and she hands him the bill … he leaves and we look at each other and marvel at the day … so many people on this planet … our desire to be known … our desire to be cared for … our gratitude in life … being one of many walking the face of this city, this planet … from long hospital corridors, to musicians on the street, to biking the city, to our friend … the intricacies, delights and beauty of the day.
Wow, was all we could say … and God is good.

Our Daily Becoming
 
Adam Clay
Like animals moving daily
 through the same open field,
it should be easier toIMG_5734 distinguish 
light from dark, fabrications 
from memory, rain on a sliver 
of grass from dew appearing 
overnight. In these moments
of desperation, a sentence
 serves as a halo, the moon 
hidden so the stars eclipse 
our daily becoming. You think 
it should be easier to define 
one’s path, but with the clouds 
gathering around our feet,
there’s no sense in retracing 
where we’ve been or where 
your tired body will carry you.
Eventually the birds become 
confused and inevitable. Even our 
infinite knowledge of the forecast 

might make us more vulnerable
 than we would be in drawn-out
ignorance. To the sun
 all weeds eventually rise up.
 Poem from Poem-a-Day/ Poets.org by Adam Clay
  
 
 

Stampede it Up!

There is a time for everything …
a time to weep and a time to laugh
a time to mourn and a time to dance
(Ecclesiastes 3)

DSC_0576And a time to put on cowboy boots—Yeehaw!

I chatted with a couple from England, we were both in the line for cinnamon buns, having just missed one of the 20,000 free pancake breakfast tickets, part of Family Day at the Calgary Stampede.
The long line ups had the Brit’s coffee finished before their buns were even ordered, whereas my friend and I had split up, and managed to purchase coffee and cinnamon buns that arrived at the same time.
For one fun day with a friend from Zimbabwe, my eyes IMG_0201delighted with eye-popping creativity—artistry, athleticism, body stretching Peking acrobatics, and the cowboys’ perseverance, alongside a deep-fried version of almost anything edible.
For the rodeo we had our choice of standing room only tickets … stand up close and personal at the tarmac level in the hot sun, or on the seventh level shaded nose bleed section … we opted for the shaded nose bleeds … from above we saw the RCMP Musical ride pattern. One or two horses and riders IMG_0146individually were striking, but the coordination of rows of black horses in formation crossing in mountie red patterns was impressive … the bigger picture brought new life to my soul. We saw a cowboy dust off his chaps after being bucked off, as the announcer told him tomorrow was another IMG_0189chance, today wasn’t his day. Same announcer also said, It’s all about the money. And I thought it was all about the hats and boots, cowboy hats and boots of all colours and size everywhere.
Dodging dangerous bulls was made easy from the rodeo clown’s perspective. He scrambled up the gate just as the long horns charged and missed his target this sunny day.
The two sided coin of Diversion—delightful for a while, but detrimental when relied on for a life time. The beauty of this day, for a short period, I delighted in each of the moments. Which of you by worrying can add one hour or minute to a life? I remembered how a Moroccan woman told my daughter that, For just a little while you helped us forget our troubles, after a celebration where my sisters and I danced, henna’d and sipped mint tea with the local North African ladies.
To everything there is a season, a time to laugh, and a time to cry
Sometimes all seasons happen in one day.
IMG_0080When the sudden hail storm hit rodeo city at suppertime, all walks of life dashed for cover. We waited out the weather in the company of the volunteers of The Summer Kitchen replica … with memorabilia of my grandmother’s era along the log walls … a reminder of the ongoing changes of life and seasons.
A breath of fresh air, does not take away the pains that come our way, but it gives opportunity to re-energize and to gain perspective. The world is not only a waiting room … it is also a living room, and sometimes we wait out the storms in shelter. For me, distraction had its purpose and place that day. Frugality can be over-rated, especially when it comes to the soul.

Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.
Oscar Wilde

Whines and Wonders

It just seemed to be one of those days … a renovation project on the go. Scrape off (popcorn) stipple from a bathroom ceiling, and repaint, how bad IMG_5304could it be? Tough, I’d done this once before, and knew it would be messy. Who put stipple on ceilings anymore? That was something my parents did in the seventies, not when this eight year old bathroom came into existence. Someone’s pocketbook chose this style, of drop white bits on floor every time you throw a towel on shower rod, over the more trendy resilient knock-down finish. I didn’t get it. Whatever, my goal was to remove the texture and repaint the ceiling. And I had already done the dusty deed of removal, to find a poor tape finish underneath. My redecorating research IMG_5315produced ye old rag roll paint technique—I anticipated the project could become creative.
Cover mistakes with a coat of paint. (Visions of Old & New Testament prophets warning against white washed sepulchres came to mind.)
Make your flaws work for you.
If you can’t hide it decorate it
… various bits of wisdom that could be applied more easily than the paint, I came to realize.
My mother’s past words resurfaced: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.
I had been a rebel with that yardstick before, some things have to be done, and I’ve concluded that not everything is worth doing well. (Besides, how well is well? Perfectionism is over-rated.)
And this day had brought about it’s own disappointments … a friend’s heartache with love, my cappuccino machine stopped working, and news that another dear friend was quite ill … I had recently spent some excellent time with her. We’ve both drunk from the bitter cup run over with grief, and for her to now deal with major health issues seemed wrong in my books. And I am painting, and thinking of these two dear friends and the apparent unfairness of it all … I had picked blue and white for the bathroom colours, and somehow envisioned the vast prairie blue sky, and fluffy white clouds, that feel of things being right in the world … the blue was not deep enough, so I mixed a little dark in myself, only to have a stormy sky-ceiling. Next, the touch-up could have been my seven year old grand IMG_5015daughter’s work. Hmm …. Add more light blue … then dark blue … then white … roll off … dry paint on … step down from bathtub edge into paint tray … about five layers later … it looked not too bad … acceptable. Random symmetrical patterns are difficult to obtain … Does a sky with a perfect repetitive cloud pattern exist? No, the randomness would add.
After deciding the ceiling was okay, I searched for the sweet and salty pop-corn given me by the friend who’d been heavy on my mind, and thought of the popcorn prayers sent up for her throughout the day. The popcorn was nestled behind my red wines and as I reached for it, the bag caught the one full bottle and took it down … wine cracked onto floor, flowed and bubbled. Almost it was to laugh … the red liquid hurried under the fridge, 750 ml red wine lake on floor, kind of yeasty smelling. I threw one dish towel at it, and searched for an old beach towel.
Reminded self—don’t cry over spilled milk, this was a small issue, but one can whine a little over spilled Shiraz.

Well, at least this time my mother could be proud—I had done that one well, it was worth doing!

Quack-grass like Apathy

DSC_0527After fourteen hours on the road, across two and a half provinces I arrived at the memorial garden dedicated to my son and daughter, in what has become my annual trek to plant the garden. It did not help that dark rain clouds hovered, and cold north winds blew, or that the harsh winter had killed off perennials of a half dozen years. Quack-grass had spread like apathy and despair, it crept in to take over where a lush garden thrived. As I stood shivering all I could feel was the extreme loss that had brought this garden into being. I felt like the lone still-grieving mother doing battle against the universe. In my tiredness, I saw the garden as unkempt, impossible to clean and full of weeds. And the beauty was hidden from my eyes.
I paused, and breathed a prayer. Surely the quack-grass should not dominate!
After the next morning’s rain and a good night’s sleep, I returned in the sunshine to discover, there was still much beauty here, the fountain was flowing, as was the offer from camp staff to help dig … spirits lifted.

Today the garden lesson for me was in persistence for beauty, that joys fought for are worth the battle, that passion for beauty nourishes the soul.
People have come alongside. Unearthing beauty and joy is my challenge and delight in the garden and in my day … so let me laugh in this moment, let me keep the weeds at bay … and let me use Round Up wherever I need to.
In preparation for this year’s garden trip, weather worn signs needed replacing and rewording.
What can you say as an epitaph for two vibrant young people?
In my search for words I came across this poem, and knew it was the one.

I Will Not Die an Unlived LifeDSC_0508
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
To allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
More accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

Dawna Markova

Photos are from previous years at the garden, evidence that beauty is present, and needs to be fertilized.

Serendipity

ser·en·dip·i·ty serənˈdipitē/ noun
the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”

One of spring’s sure signs is this one: IMG_4692
The beauty of garage sales … one person’s junk is another’s treasure.
This past Saturday of the long weekend I thought it would be fun to drive into the country for the five miles north of town sale … I breathe deep as a hawk soars overhead, the Rocky Mountains look hazy in the west. The sunshine most welcome after being hidden for days.

“If we can fold this lounge chair back in the bag, I’ll take it” … I can envision myself at Two Jack Lake, book in hand, feet up.
The owner shows me the collapse trick while he tells me that he and his wife are197712_400273336692344_62719513_n moving to BC. He sells a young man a hammer and crowbar for $3. Throw in a $2 camp pot for me and everyone’s got a great deal.

Back in town, neighbourly kibitzing happens as three houses make this a multi-family garage sale.
At door number three, a young lady re-aquaints with the house-owner.
Are you still at the school?” Turns out she had been the well known, long term school secretary-now would probably be called the office manager. (I am reminded of a slighter version of the iconic Ms Janzen from my high school era)
“Oh no, I retired about five years ago” I didn’t want to interrupt the conversation, but I was curious as to what I was looking at. Either a large dog bed, kids mat?

Oversized pillow shams, in a brown faux suede that had come with a bedspread she bought. Couldn’t haggle with a one dollar price, I could use them as a throw in my car for an impromptu sit along the river …
I took one, and the other bargain hunter snatched the remaining two.
Then she spotted the real treasure.
“Are you still painting?”
“Not so much.”
“I’ll take that, it’s beautiful. It’s like I have a Mrs Kelly original.”
“Oh, just hang it in your furnace room”
Mrs Kelly says.
“Oh NO” … she pauses … “You see my mom died recently and she always loved IMG_3029flowers, this painting makes me think of her.” The painting was a bouquet of hydrangea flowers, in shades of pink. Mrs Kelly gets teary eyed. I feel a part of this moment, and add “That’s so nice, in a sense it’s like the sympathy flowers … I think she should sign it.” By now I discover that it is Peggy and Kari, I am talking to. Kari felt so fortunate to have found Mrs Kelly and the painting. They have a hug, and I think I’d like a hug too … and they comply. What a beautiful moment. I tell them I will mention them in my blog … Kari wants to know what the blog is about, I say it is about grieving. After unloading at my car, I return to see if I could get a picture of the painting .. and Kari was gone … “Only for a moment and the moment’s gone.”
My vehicle is full enough and it’s time to head home…
Aah, the joy of serendipitous moments. I hope my eyes can stay open to them.

(Note the painting inserted is another serendipitous moment/story, the artist is Tyrell Clark)