Sunday, 28 July 2013

Joy in the little things

When we lived in Edmonton, my favourite place to buy a wedding gift was Cher Sliger’s pottery stand at the Strathcona Market. Her pottery decorated with ladybugs proclaims “Joy in the little things.” While Cher was probably encouraging us to appreciate bugs and slugs, I took it a step further: joy in the little deeds and acts that brighten up life

Okay, I know that “joy in the little things” is pretty simplistic. It doesn’t solve the big problems that surface eventually in any relationship, whether it’s marriage, friendship, business or family: problems like really listening to each other, respecting boundaries, negotiating power struggles, and deciding whose turn it is to do the dishes.

Still, would it hurt to take joy in the little things, even then?

The quilt I chose to illustrate this blog is one I made about seven years ago, when I was just spreading my quilting wings and trying new things. As I pinned the wonky, brightly-coloured blocks to my design wall, I sure had my doubts. “Is this cool, or is it truly ugly?” I asked myself. Then the resident sweetie Al (and, I must be honest, occasionally, aka  resident grump) walked in. “Hey!” he said. “That’s cool. I like that!”

It was just a little gesture, but it helped. “Hey!” I said. “Thank you. It’s yours!” (I don’t know if he was expecting that, but it’s still hanging in his office. A little thing...but still). I kept working at it, and in the green border outlining the blocks, I quilted these simple words:  “Joy in the little things: bugs, bees, butterflies, birds, bubbles, beauty.” There was lots of room for more, and I was on a roll, so I added more values I believed in, values such as “Give thanks every day. Hold hands. Hug and kiss and laugh lots. Share with a smile.” Little things.

There are two ways of looking at the issue of little things. Benjamin Disraeli said, “Little things affect little minds.” In other words, only little-minded people occupy themselves with little things.  But philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal said, “Little things console us, because little things afflict us.”  Author, businessman and politician Bruce Barton writes, “Sometimes when I think of what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things.” My money is on Pascal and Barton.

I’m thinking about the importance of little things because the resident sweetie and I celebrated another anniversary this past week. Yes, we had to negotiate power struggles, boundaries, dishes...the whole kaboodle. Still are negotiating, as a matter of fact, after 42 years together. But the little things do a lot to help us hang on to what we’ve got. Taking joy in the little things is not the whole answer to the riddle of life and relationships, but it’s not a bad place to start.

When he shares the first few strawberries from the garden with me, instead of eating them himself, when he hauls the trailer out to a lovely campsite and then leaves me and goes home again because he knows I need a retreat by myself, when he (almost) always leaves the toilet seat down, when he makes me laugh unexpectedly, I figure I won the lottery when it comes to mates.

Thanks, sweetie.

Saturday, 20 July 2013


I was going to write about our grandson Solay’s 5th birthday this week, and the wonder of grandkids. But then, I picked up Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. It’s all good, but the section on Wow! is just too good not to share with you.

Describing the feeling of awe and wonder, she writes, “[You say] Wow, because you are almost speechless, but not quite. You can manage, but barely, this one syllable.” I know the feeling: small wow moments, like biting into a bowl of tomatoes warm from the garden, sprinkled with basil freshly cut;  bigger WOWs inspired by the Rocky mountains and the Grand Canyon. Sometimes, life just gives you a shake and all you can say is, “Wow!”

 Then Lamott adds a “wow” sentence: “When we are stunned to the place beyond words, we are finally beginning to get somewhere.” Yes, we were stopped in our tracks, but now we get to go someplace new. When we say Wow!, we give ourselves permission to grow. Wow moments make a space for new insights, new perspectives, new ideas.

You don’t need to go very far to find a wow source: just look for kids. I realize that writing about a child’s birthday and writing about Wow may not be so different, after all, because what I wanted to say about Solay – and all other children – is Wow!

Solay was born 5 years ago, on a warm July afternoon, at home, while I was taking care of his older four-year-old brother Aya. I’m sure Solay’s birth was a wow moment, but so was the afternoon I spent with Aya while we waited. We passed several hours in the sun-dappled shade down by the river across the street from our home. Aya played as only children can: deep in his own imaginative world as I sat nearby. Dams were built, rivers dredged up, rocks became magical creatures, leaf barges floated down the stream, bugs were given safe passage, fossils were collected and time stood still for us both. It was a wow experience.

So often, when I am in the presence of children, I am “stunned beyond words.” In response to my suggestion, at Sunday School, that we will now pray, five year old Jack flops down on his belly, his head buried in the carpet, his hands clasped, and begins: “Dear God...” He looks up. “So what should I tell him?” I suggest thanks, and he continues: “Thanks for people, and thanks for love. Amen.” Yes, that about sums it up, Jack. Why can’t we keep it that simple? Wow!

The unfinished quilt "A Child's World" that illustrates this piece of writing was inspired by Solay when he was about 2 years old. He was dancing about in our garden, full of wonder at the things he was seeing: butterflies and rocks, clouds and slugs, toy trucks and sand pails.  He’s an equal-opportunity wonderer.  Anne Lamott says, “Gorgeous, amazing things come into our lives when we are paying attention: mangoes, grandnieces, Bach, ponds ... Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, so much is given. We just have to be open for business.” 

Thanks, Annie...and thanks, Solay, for inviting Opa and me to your birthday party on the beach, where we sat in the sunshine and flew kites, launched rockets and said grace for the sushi, where life stood still for a little while and we could say, “Wow!”

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Circle of Life

“So a cheque makes you old, huh?” comments my cheeky son about my last post. No, Kevin, but looking back reminds me of the passage of time.

Nearly 42 years ago, Al and I set out for our camping honeymoon in a VW Beetle. The Beetle had a hole in its muffler and backfired every time we went down a hill, of which there were many in Cape Breton.. On the second day of our honeymoon, a man walked by as I was cooking supper outside at the picnic table. He asked Al if I was a good cook. Al said yes. Right answer!
We continued to camp as our family grew. Thirty years ago, when we camped, my parents sometimes joined us. The kids whooped it up on their bikes as they zoomed through the campground.  Mom and dad sipped their afternoon tea and cheered them on as I cooked supper at the picnic table.
We still camp, and we still make noise, and we still eat well. Last week, our annual family campout  included four adult children, three in-laws, five grandkids, and three grand-dogs. It’s still a hullaballoo, but this year as Al and I sat by the ocean sipping our Happy Hour wine and watching the children play, our kids were cooking supper at the picnic table.
Ah, the circle of life! 

Recently I read something to the effect that time is giant circle, which holds us all in its embrace. We can’t fall out of the circle, because it is closed. I like that idea, which I’ve tried to show with a mandala. (A mandala is a piece of art in the form of a circle, often with symbolic meaning.) The mandala shows a series of trees – a bright green sapling, a mature and sheltering tree in full growth, and a craggy tree clad in autumn browns and oranges. There’s new growth as well, including a tiny sapling growing out of an old stump.

Five years ago, when I made the mandala, I was grappling with a growing awareness of the questions and changes that aging brings on.  I used the trees to explore these questions, and to depict the cycle of life, particularly as it relates to women (hence the silhouettes of girls and women under the trees.). The trees each have their own beauty, and their own role in the forest community. Even dead trees are important as “nurse logs.” As these trees decompose on the forest floor, they generate warmth and create nutrients that are just right for seeds to sprout and seedlings to begin their new lives. Old logs incubate new life, and without nurse logs, the forest would be a poorer community. In my tree studies, I also learned that trees in a forest community, as opposed to stand-slone trees, are less likely to be damaged by storms and high winds – they shelter each other, and bend together. The diversity of a forest community makes it stronger.

The tree image illustrates well  the circle of human life. People are born, grow, mature, and in their turn nurture new life. Even if they don’t physically give birth, all people can contribute to community life. Those who come before us are important in the circle, too, since we grow out of the fertile ground they’ve created for us. In the same way, we’ll contribute something of our essence to the world that continues after we’re gone. 

The glowing centre of my mandala represents the source of this life. The trees dig their roots into it, and water flows around it. Personally, I call this source the Creator and Sustainer. The glowing centre reminds me that the circle of life does not have a vacuum at its centre, that we can rely on this source to hold.

I think with gratitude of the Source, and also of all the people who have been part of my community – not just my birth family, but the old folks at church who were interested in my progress, aunties and uncles who encouraged and affirmed me, teachers who challenged me, friends who listened, children whose insights have given me new eyes to see, even folks who disciplined me when I strayed. They are all part of the circle of life, in which we are held and embraced.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

On Being an Old Woman

Well, it’s official. I am an old woman. A cheque to give me security in my old age is deposited in my account every month just to remind me of the fact. I’m on the government payroll! The job of being an old woman is the most secure job I’ve ever had.

I don’t feel like an old woman, but the facts are undeniable. What kind of old woman will I be? I think of the role models I've had in other older women.

I could be the rascally red-hatted woman who speaks outrageous things loudly, and breaks with convention just because she can. I could be the Nurturing Earth Mother, who sits knitting in her rocking chair on the front porch, visiting with the neighbourhood as it passes by. I could be the Intrepid Trekker, travelling around the world with only a backpack for company, fulfilling her life-time dream of travel. I could be the Valued Volunteer or go back to school to get a Master’s degree in something or other, graduating at the same time as my granddaughter. It’s wonderful to have so many options.

To help me think things through, I fantasize about the future, using my favourite medium, an art quilt. I choose a winter tree as my image and begin to decorate it with symbols of the life I hope to live.
A Winter Tree

To communicate a spirit of  beauty, strength, and resilience, the trunk bends in a curve and the roots are strong and wide-spread.  Buried amongst the roots is a treasure, symbolizing the value I place on my ancestors.  I add a silver charm of a hand to depict the playful work I hope to continue doing till I drop. I throw in a few fantasy flowers and leaves to indicate that there’s life in the old tree yet. Silver raindrops hang from the branches because I do not want my old age to be dry and barren. Hearts are added liberally...I can’t live without an abundance of love. A dream catcher hangs from a limb – I hope I never lose the ability to have dreams for the future. A butterfly and dragonfly are added to symbolize transformation and metamorphosis, and faith that my life will go on in some form after I’m gone. A white mask on one side of the tree is balanced with a black one on the other, a reminder that life has its bright but also its shadow side.

As the tree’s crowning glory, a crow sits out on a limb, perched there with her mouth wide open. She’s communicating with the world. As a symbol of wisdom, knowledge and intelligence across many cultures, she reminds me that an old crow lives within my branches.

Then it dawns on me: by creating this tree, I have portrayed all of the things that I already love about my life. Roots and raindrops, hearts and butterflies, growth and communication – they’re all already part of my life today. Now I see that it’s not what I wear, or how I behave, that will define me in my old age. It will be my inner self, the self that is already growing now inside me.

When I am an old woman – no, now that I AM an old woman –  I will be myself, only more so, I hope. I can joyfully live with that.