Friday, March 20, 2015

I'd Like to Think

This has been a tough winter. I (and the whole family) have been slogging through the mire, metaphorically. After months of this, I find it's a bit hard to carry on.

My niece, 14, was diagnosed two weeks ago with Crohn's Disease after an emergency admission to Children's Hospital. Her life just changed, and not in a "You won the lottery!" way. She had just been accepted to the International Baccalaureate Program, but maintaining honours will be difficult -- may well be impossible -- with active Crohn's and the school hours she will inevitably miss. And then there's the malnourishment...and the anemia...and the pain.

I know there are drugs (big, mean, serious drugs: she's on the same immunosuppressants that my husband takes for his kidney transplant) and I have heard the happy sunshiney people blithely sing out that their friend with Crohn's has been in remission for years, but.

There are a number of people, let's just say, who haven't.

Piper, my dog, who just turned 7 in February, spent four horrible nights suffering from grand mal seizures. On the fourth day, he couldn't even lift his head off the floor. After a battery of tests and hours spent examining him and observing him, the vet was stumped. And we were so exhausted and stressed out, all we could do was cry (me) and worry (Mr HSB). I phoned my homeopath and he told me to give Piper a remedy, which I already had in the house. He revived within about 30 seconds, and has been almost normal since.

But he's not himself (does it make sense when I say he seems very sad?), and we think something is seriously wrong. The vet says she's ruled out everything below the neck: the next step is taking him to Vancouver to get an MRI on his head. Thousands, my friends. And that's before he has a single pill, chemo treatment, or surgery. Not happening.

So we wait and hope we still get to keep him for a while.

Then, head lice. And I don't really want to talk about that. Suffice it to say, that particular child is never coming over to our house again, and the laundry machines have aged years in two weeks, and I now have a pixie cut again after 9 months of growing out.

There's more, but I'll spare you.

I don't like these times, and not only for the obvious reason that it's painful and difficult. I don't like them because I feel embarrassed about being that person who is always going through something. It's almost like it's my fault or there's some kind of drama that I should be able to control.

On the up-side.

School is going well, comparatively, though with all the bad juju going around, we haven't had much time or energy to cover lots of ground.

And I started a new job. (!) It's just one day a week, and that day is only five hours, but the kids can come with me if they want to and I just love it.

I'm working at the local yarn shop.

Getting paid in yarn is wonderful. I know my husband would rather there be money involved, and that's an option in the future, but at the moment the arrangement is just what I need. If I were being paid, I'd be putting it all straight onto the (gigantic, fearsome) Visa balance, or making another payment on Avery's new  braces, or the vet, or summer tires for the Mazda, or the complete brake job for the Civic, or riding lessons, or, or, or.....  But the one place that money wouldn't go, is toward a luxury like yarn. So right now, Thursday from 11 to 4 makes me happy.

My daughter is turning 11 next week and we have a whole plan for her birthday week. We're going to make sugar cookies (flower shapes, I'll post a picture), go to Cinderella, spend an afternoon at the barn doing PPG (in slow motion), paint with an artist friend of mine, go shopping in the next town, and have dinner out. I might try to fit in a drop-in clay class so she can have some more time on the pottery wheel -- she loves that.

Spring is here, so I'm looking outside. I don't know whether there will be a lot of visible progress made this year (I had wanted to get to a couple of mowing paths and maybe plant a hedge), but we can at least go outside and pull a rake around, right?

Any minute now it's bound to turn a corner, and good things will start happening. That's what spring is about.

I hope.

I hope.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Cup of Kindness

In September 2010 my best friend Sandy died. It was a hard year, watching cancer progress and my friend suffer, and her family suffer.

Christmas didn't feel much like Christmas that year. At least -- it didn't feel like I was used to it feeling. The magic seemed to have lost its power. I worried about it but told myself, 'Never mind, it will be back. Next year it'll be just the way it was before.'

New Year's, the last night of 2010, was unnerving. I wasn't prepared for the grief I felt. In my heart I stood before the doorway draped with holly, mistletoe, rosemary and snowdrop, and realized it was time to step through and leave Sandy behind.

I saw the last page of the chapter and the blankness on the other side, inviting me to turn the page and begin the next part of the story, and thought I'm not ready; I want a re-read.

New Year's Eve 2014. Here is the close of a chapter of painful loss and painful growth. Our lives have changed this year -- my daughter was forced to face the reality that a part of her life that she loved, the world of horses, in which she excelled and in which we all took a lot of pride, was actually a destructive force for her spirit. She brought it to a nearly complete end.

My other daughter has spent this year grieving as her older sister grew up and away -- suddenly the 30-month gap mattered in a way it never had before. It's rare now to hear them playing together: more common for the older one to be texting her friends trying to find someone else to hang out with. So the younger sister has been struggling with that feeling of being not enough for the most important person in her life.

And, of course, as the year turns over tonight, we will be leaving my father-in-law David in the past.

There are awful things about being immersed in the moment of grief; the days and months surrounding it are full of hurt and painful introspection. For a while we're in that Between state, out of the main current of the world turning over our private sorrow, reliving all the past happy times, and all the more recent suffering and uncertainty. It can be terrible.

But it can also be satisfying -- meeting our own deep need to come to terms with sadness and loss. As much as it hurts, it feels right. And the memory of the loved one we have lost is keen and fresh, and still very much part of the present.

At first Dad is right in front of you, wherever you look. The last email you got from him was just a few weeks ago. There he is, in the photos you've been meaning to edit from the family reunion. I remember finding books Sandy had lent me, in a pile waiting to be returned to her. It's almost as if your loved one has become a cloud that you move through wherever you go -- a cloud both of presence and absence.

The time goes by until one day, in order to see them properly, you find you have to turn your head.

Now that Dad's last year is ending completely, we'll have to turn all the way around, our backs to the future, and look behind us.

Tonight I'll light candles and think of Dad, and my children's waning childhood, and all my many private sadnesses. I'll write a list or two and dwell for a little while on what I hope will happen in 2015. I'll pray for all the people I love.

As you carry both your happy things and sad things through the doorway into 2015, I hope that you'll be able to put down what you need to. Set some extra weight on the ground and leave it here where it belongs, in the old year. I hope that you've had laughter and tears in 2014 and that both have served you well.

We've wandered many a weary foot. So here's a hand, my trusted friend, for the sake of times gone by.

Be well, and Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dress Shop of Dreams

The Dress Shop of Dreams: A Novel

Christmas is here, with all its spice and sleepiness. For the first time in months, I spent a few hours today reading a book: Dress Shop of Dreams, by Meena van Praag. It was a great way to pass the afternoon. It's a lovely thing like a slice of what they call 'plain cake'; simple yet sumptuous.

Dress Shop of Dreams is a sweet story about a few people who are turning in the wrong directions and need to be put right. The book has romance, clever plot turns, a little suspense, a good dose of emotion, and just a whiff of sorcery.

The dress shop really is magical, and that element of fancy, of fantasy, made the book such a pleasure to read.

Amazon tells me that Meena van Praag has written a few other books and, having enjoyed this one very much, I'll be reading the rest this year.

Thanks, Meena, for this little swirl of magic at Christmas time!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Paging Linus van Pelt

I came online this morning and took a look at the blog, and thought: I've not posted for two months? I guess that sounds about right - on the one hand, I hardly noticed the time go by; on the other, sometimes every day is like a month.

Christmas approaches fast, and with it the end of a difficult year. I'm trying to use a single word to describe 2014, but everything I come up with, sounds so dramatic. I think, "Maybe "gruelling"?" But then I wonder whether "gruelling" is yet to come, and I ain't seen nothin' yet.

Not a very optimistic approach to the new year's possibilities.

My children come to me, anxious, upset that they're "not in the Christmas spirit." I feel so badly for them. Not in the Christmas spirit?! I worry, They're only children! But then I remember that, when I was 13, I despaired of ever feeling it again.

I guess they'll just have to get through it, like I did.

Like I do.

Hard not to scramble around trying to think of things to DO to make it happen for them.

Gingerbread? We could do another gingerbread house...

The Nutcracker is playing down-island...should I invest a couple of hundred dollars and take them...?

We could go up and spend the day snowshoeing on the mountain...

Maybe volunteer at the Food Bank again...

I hate that I can't fix it. I can't just put them in charge of directing the Christmas play, and getting a tree (a GOOD tree, not a POOR tree), and have them learn the true meaning all over again.

Solutions for this problem -- growing up -- don't come in 20 minute animated specials, classic though they might be.

And they don't come in blog posts, either.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

O Canada.

Watching the Parliament Hill shooting aftermath yesterday, I was filled with horror, sorrow, and rage.

Mostly what's left now is rage.

I like what Rex Murphy has to say.

And in case you ever wondered what an action hero really looks like, here's Kevin Vickers for you.


I feel at loose ends. I wish Ottawa were not so far away because my impulse is to go there. I'd like to wear my red and white, and walk through the grounds and talk to other Canadians on the same pilgrimage.

But I can't do that. So I went to the Cenotaph today, wearing the Remembrance Day poppy that the Veterans sent in the mail, and laid a bouquet in thanks for the two soldiers killed this week, and for the heroic action of the Sergeant at Arms.

I can't really do anything, but I can be something: I can be all the things that Canada promises. Free in my choice of religion, free in my choice of lifestyle.

I probably won't ever be called upon to physically defend my country, but if that strange day should somehow arrive I would be glad to pay Canada back with anything and with everything.

God keep our land.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Another Farewell

My husband lost his father this month, to a long and bewildering mystery disease. Officially I think it's been finally named 'brain cancer' but those two words are insufficient explanation, given by baffled doctors only a week or two before his death, for the last two years of his life.

In person David was unassuming - quiet to the point of near silence, introspective almost to an obsessive degree. You could well forget he was in the house.

He saw much and said little.

As opposite as we were to each other, he treated me at all times as if I were his own daughter. That is to say, his characteristic reticence applied to all of us equally. He never said much to me on the infrequent occasions when we were in the same room. Not because of who I was, but because of who he was.

But email, when it came along, was a boon to him. He grabbed hold of it as if it were a voice he could finally use. Messages from David would arrive in my inbox with a frequency and a cheerfulness that never ceased to amaze. Often I couldn't imagine him actually speaking so many words in person. Not only the number of messages, but their tone, was unprecedented. Normally David reserved his emotions, but when emailing he was able to be more open...and to use exclamation marks liberally.

In 2010, after the death of my best friend, I wrote a long series of very open and heartfelt posts. I hadn't thought much about their audience, but I found out afterwards, to my great surprise, that David was keenly reading every single one.

Four months after her death, when I had written my last post about it, he sent me an email that floored me. It was the most I have ever seen into his heart, before or since, in the 18 years I've spent in his family. And now, when we have parted from each other, I realize how apt his words were - how perfectly they described his own true self.

I have struggled a bit over whether to include his message, bearing in mind that if you were all seated in a room and there was a microphone at the front, Dad probably would not have stood there and said it with his own words. But then I thought that however foreign it may have been to him, and in whatever eccentric light I might have appeared to him, Dad valued my complete openness.

So here is David's message to me, and, really, his message about himself. I post it with respect, to honour him.

Goodbye Dad, with my love and thanks.

I had this one thought yesterday, when your parcel were sorry not to have some "pretty" wrapping .....I thought it is not the outside which is important, but what the inner content is, whether applied to a parcel or a person.  The old expression,"it is the thought that counts" can apply to many of life's encounters.  Having just read your Pacific blog, which I will shortly show Mom, I am struck by how much that old expression applies to your parcel "wrapping" concern and  to you over-all as a person.  And how truly impressive were the words of the blog and how enjoyable the final picture....the one Mom and I had thought was just terrific! have a marvelous talent for writing how you feel,  how circumstances  are dealt with, no matter how severe or difficult they may be,  and how in the end, life does go on,  with one becoming more aware of how life's moments can be so precious if only we take a breath and consider how significant those moments are.  

May your Blessings be great... 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Heist that Wasn't

Did I ever tell you about the time I nearly got arrested for attempted bank robbery?

It happened like this.

I grew up in a small town where there really wasn't much for young people to do. There was an arcade (which we all called "The Arcade" to such exclusion that I don't think I ever knew the actual name of it), but since only 1980's punks and losers hung out at it (much scarier than modern punks and losers), we never went there unless we had a spare period and it was broad, bright daylight.

We had a couple of video stores but those, too, were small, badly lit shops, most likely fronts for illegal activities, and choked with gritty pornography and scary horror movies on greasy, well-thumbed VHS. Anyway there are only so many times you can watch Ferris Bueller have a Day Off. Soon, you start looking for something to DO.

We were Christian kids. Christian kids attending a Christian school, which in those days didn't mean "We had to leave the school property to smoke." We really, truly, honestly were upstanding and ethical, with great morals and integrity. Which meant if we wanted something to Do, the answer would never be "drugs" or "each other".

By the time we were in our late teens, we were thoroughly bored.

After graduation, there was an ecstatic summer in which anything was possible. Graduation gave us the first sense of completion most of us had ever known. Those first jobs had given us a tiny taste of money and choice. Come the fall, with formerly-daunting local college classes suddenly feeling like "just more school", we looked around and realized we hadn't moved: we were still in our hometown, only with later curfews.

We were restless, with the shine still on our drivers' licenses, and gas at 59 cents a liter.

One Friday night, within 24 hours of finally doing the road test and earning the right to drive unattended, I borrowed the family car. It was a small-ish Pontiac station wagon, dating from sometime late 80's. It must have been the newest car we had ever had and was a dashing shade of navy blue. I drove to a friend's house in the gathering darkness, the road lit by the orange cast of intermittent streetlights and the warm glow of possibility.

In the basement of James' house, we began our Friday night question-and-answer ritual. The opening dialogue never varied.

Whaddya wanna do?
I dunno, what do YOU wanna do?

After that came a finely-tuned round of suggestions, coupled with vetoes. We ran through them all with the ease of long practice.

Wanna play Pictionary?

Wanna go to the arcade?
Too many punks with concealed knives.
[Insert side conversation about someone's latest encounter with an arcade loser.]

Wanna watch a movie?
No. We've seen them all.

Wanna drive the logging roads?
I'm not allowed to take the car off pavement.
[Insert side story about getting stuck while four-wheel-driving 15 km up the Duncan Bay Main.]

Wanna have a beach fire?
The tide's in. Plus it's October.

By now it's close to 10 PM and the stir-crazy finally drives us out of the house. "Let's just go downtown and hang around." At the worst, on those nights, you could go to one of the two open restaurants -- you had your choice between truck-stop Patty Jo's, the all-night pie place where cigarette smoke made the ceiling more theory than certainty, or Boston Pizza, where we'd spend two hours and ten bucks (all together) on bottomless pop. (Waitresses just loved us.)

But this night, no one was thirsty, and anyway no one had any cash for bottomless pop. By now we were impatient and irritated. Feeling at loose ends, we proceeded in a sullen, hormonal motorcade to a parking lot near the Bingo Palace, just behind a 1960s strip mall with a mundane, rain-pooling, gravel-bearing flat roof.

We couldn't go in the Bingo Palace, of course, being too young. And even if we could, a lot of us were Baptists.

We parked in a little knot of pickups and station wagons, and all sat on the hoods of our cars and looked at each other. Just as we were beginning to wonder whether we should just go home, one of us spotted something interesting.

Facing us across the alley was a row of garbage cans and stairwells leading to basement back doors. But at the far right of the nearest shop, the second business from the end, was a little flat, gravelled roof just a few feet lower than the overhang of an even higher rooftop.

I feel like it might have been me who saw it, and made the suggestion. But it could have been anyone - most likely one of the thrill-seeking boys. Of course, in retrospect, I think of myself as a thrill-seeking boy. In any event, someone put it out there.

Hey -- we could easily climb up there and walk on the fact, we could jump from roof to roof and walk along this whole row of shops!

Instantly we were down off the cars, across the alleyway, and giving each other legs-up onto the flat roof. From there it was an easy climb and we were up! We strode along, grinning from ear to ear, laughing - I was exhilarated for the first time since graduation night. Boys started running, of course, and leaping up or down from shop to shop. These roofs were all connected - this was no death-defying feat. But man, it felt amazing.

We walked up to the edge of the roof, overlooking the main shopping street below. We could see over Shoppers' Row, past the Discovery Inn, across the Foreshore to the dark void of ocean - and beyond, to the Quadra Island lighthouse. The traffic at the intersection below, only a few meters lower than we were, looked small, powerless, and totally different than it did at street level in daylight. A few cars honked their horns at us, six teenagers silhouetted along a strip mall rooftop in the darkness and the pattering, invisible rain of a mid-October sky.

Spread out along the entire block, some running, some leaping, some just standing...we were all staring down - not across - at the streets of our childhood: we had gained a new perspective and it was a rush.

Of course, if we HAD been at street level, and not in the back alley, we might have read the signs on the building and remembered what we already knew: that the business at the end of the mall was, in fact, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

Would it have stopped us? Well, it wouldn't have stopped the boys. But the girls might have sat this one out.

As fate would have it, none of us had the logic or foresight to put "Bank Roof" together with "Honking Horns". We were without guile. And being without guile, when the rooftop euphoria began to pall, we simply climbed down and resumed our car-hood seats in the alleyway.

There was a short silence.

"So.......whaddya wanna do now?"

A siren began, far off.

"I dunno. What do YOU want to do?"

The siren got a bit louder.

"I dunno. I might go home."

The siren stopped and a quiet, powerful engine approached slowly.

As one, we turned our heads to look at the entrance to the alley, as a police cruiser came around the corner. It stopped within ten feet or so of the nearest car.

A second car came around the other side of the alley. This one had a floodlight that immediately revealed us all, squinting, in a wash of glaring day.

"Huh," I thought, "They must be looking for someone."

You bet they were.

"Hey, guys," said the officer who emerged from the driver's seat bearing a MagLight that seemed to lay bare all my deepest thoughts, "Have you seen anyone around here climbing on the bank roof?"

Looking back, it must have been priceless to see our faces as his words sank in. You could see us all, frozen in merciless headlights, with the words "THE BANK" dawning in all of our teenaged minds at the exact same instant.

We were good, Christian kids. There was only one option.

"Yeah," I announced into the awful silence, "That was us."

The lights closed in as they moved forward. I wish I could relate word for word what followed in the next minute or two, but it's all a blur of dark-clad authority figures, questions, the digging out of shiny new IDs and the cool crackle of a woman's voice from their radios.

I do remember that they started by asking us if we had any alcohol or drugs. We laughed out loud, but they still checked our pupil dilation and our cars. At least we had the comfort of knowing they wouldn't find so much as a cigarette butt.

As they collected all our drivers' licenses and wrote down everything about us, including whether we still had our childhood teddy bears and how tall our dads were, they asked us the most inane question of all. And anger, at the sheer stupidity of it, brought me out of my fear.

The question was, "Why? Why did you do it?"

All the inaction, the flatness of life, the endless round of familiar streets and bus loop and the arcade and the classroom, the worn VHS, the all suddenly boiled over. "We were bored," I said loudly, an edge of defiance creeping into my voice. "We were really bored and we thought it would be fun."

And it WAS fun, I wanted to add. It was fantastic.

"Fun??" the officer repeated, as if I had said "It's fun to run red-hot wires into my eyeballs."
"Fun?? Surely there are other things you can do for fun."

"What are you, new in town?" I wanted to say, but instead I said "We've done everything."

"Well," he said as he took my license from me (my brand-new interim license, no photo), "What about renting a movie?"

I seriously wanted to punch him.

I settled for saying "We've seen everything."

"Everything?? Have you seen 'Glory'?"

I wanted to punch him again. He had managed to name the only damn movie I hadn't seen.

"No, I haven't seen 'Glory'," I said through clenched teeth.

"You should see it, it's good."

I had had enough of this big, tall, gun-toting police officer (I was still too young to feel the pull of police-officer attraction). I burst out in a frustrated cry, "You can only watch so many movies, y'know! This town has nothing interesting!!"

He didn't say anything for a moment. Then, "I know. There's not much for young people around here." I was completely taken off-guard. Obviously, he wasn't from around here. His was an outsider's perspective.

And a second later I realized that an awful lot of his job must involve this - giving warnings to groups of bored teenagers searching for purpose and settling for distraction. Scaring them away from the dangerous edge of a flat and featureless roof.

With one last glance at my interim driver's license, he handed it back to me. "Oh, by the way," he added, "Have a good birthday, tomorrow."

"Thank you." I took my license and folded it up. Just before they all got back in their cars, he turned back and called "Go find something else to do, guys."

And that's just what we did. Within six months I was dating my first boyfriend, and was packing to move to Victoria, university, and a new job. Two of my partners in near-crime had begun a relationship, that became a beautiful marriage, that is now in its 21st year and fifth child. Another travelled to Africa soon afterwards to live with and help a missionary family.

Next year will be our 25th high school reunion. Almost all of us are still in touch, and we like getting together to talk about old times. The Bank Roof story will be retold next year, and so will the one about the Stuck Truck. (Stuck Truck happened a lot.) And Window Jumping, and the one about Laura's Cat, and the one with the Substitute Teacher's Upside-Down Desk. And the Princess Bride Reenactment Era, the Double-Dutch Skipping Craze, and the one where my sister, finally fed up, Threw a 7-Year Old Bully down an entire 15-foot flight of stairs.

None of us knew how close we were to the end of that time. We were so busy staring down the road forward. We didn't know, didn't care, that in the getting there, everything we knew so intimately would retreat in our rearview mirrors.

Looking back now, I think our stories are all we've got to pass down, in the end - a way towards comradeship and common ground with the next generation. They make it possible to show someone the way things once were - they're photographs of a forest that used to be right where that hospital is now.

You wouldn't remember, we say, smiling. That was before you were born. There weren't as many streets then...all this was wilderness.

And the stories make me smile.

Thanks for reading.