Saturday, 28 December 2013

Crow in the Snow

It's been a busy week, full of family, food, celebrations, partying, rejoicing, and playing with my children and grandchildren. So the crow who lives in my backyard volunteered to write today's post. She went walking in the yard, and came up with some nuggets of wisdom which may enrich you as you enter a new year.

1. No experience is wasted if you use it as fertile soil for further growth. May 2014 be rich in experiences.

2. If you cover your eyes, you’ll never see the beauty around you. 

3. Life is busy, so it is good periodically to sit and rest a spell. You'll get a new perspective on things, and get strength to carry on. 

4. Take time to smell the roses. Rosemary will do if roses are not available. There's always something good to smell.

5. Sometimes a good thing is just out of reach. Take a risk and go for it anyway.

6. Just because there’s snow on the roof doesn’t mean that there’s no good stuff inside. (Think about it!)

7. Go ahead, take a chance. Make friends with someone who is different from you.

8. You need to refresh and rehydrate yourself often, both spiritually and physically. Go to the water.

9. Face the future with hope. When things are looking bleak, remember the old adage: “Things are darkest the moment before the dawn breaks through.”

10. If you're hoping for a good new year, you can't go wrong if you pray and work for harmony, peace, unity, love and joy.

The crow is a girl of few words -- but they're good ones. Thanks, crow!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Christmas Spirits

I’ve been visited this week by the spirits of Christmases past.
An early memory I have is of Christmas 1955. We – mom, dad, my sister Sue and I – were living on the top floor of an old mansion converted to apartments. The week before Christmas, a measles epidemic swept through our small town. Measles was serious business ... a child my age had already died from it. Sue and I both got sick, and shared a bed in a windowless room, since light hurt our eyes. What I remember is hushed voices, doctor’s visits, and mom sitting anxiously beside our bed keeping vigil. During the worst of it, I slept round the clock. I cannot imagine the anxiety my parents must have felt, but I do remember the glad sound of relief Mom expressed when I finally opened my eyes, the fever broken and the worst of it over. A day or two later – it must have been Christmas eve – Mom and Dad each picked one of us up out of bed, saying they had a surprise for us. When they carried us into the darkened living room, there stood a Christmas tree glowing with lights and tinsel. How beautiful! The spirit of that Christmas was the spirit of joy and gratitude. Just as Advent leads to Christmas, the hard wait was over, the celebration could begin.

 My parents tried hard to hang on to the Dutch tradition of keeping the secular and the sacred as separate celebrations.  St. Nicholas Day in early December was the day for giving small gifts, while Christmas was a spiritual celebration. But it was a losing battle. So for a few years, we’d do our gift giving a week or so before Dec. 25. Gradually the gift-giving migrated to Christmas Eve. That evening, we’d do what was rarely done: we’d eat a supper of finger foods in the living room – chunks of sausage, pickled herrings, cheese, potato chips and other treats, followed by the gift opening. It was our own special tradition. Truly gezellig (cozy)  as the Dutch would say. I’m not sure which year this Spirit of Christmas Past comes from – perhaps about 1963. It was 5 o’clock, and we were preparing bowls of snacks and setting out the candles for our special time, when there was a knock on the door. We looked at each other in horror – it couldn’t be Mr. V, could it? Mr. V, a travelling salesman and a fellow immigrant, made periodic unannounced visits to our home, always at suppertime  so he could be invited to join in our meals. I am ashamed to say now that we teens called him Freddie the Freeloader. Not only did he like to eat, but he also loved to talk, and talk, and talk. Sure enough, Mr. V it was. We told him what was up, but he didn’t take the hint, so he joined us for our special feast, amended by hastily warmed-up soup and a few sandwiches. At the time, I was well and truly ticked by this visit, which lasted about an hour too long, in our opinion. Now, years later, visited by the spirit of that Christmas, I think about the old familiar story, Mary and Joseph asking for lodging. My teenaged heart would have closed the door to Mr. V, but thank God, the Spirit of Generosity and Hospitality implanted in my parents’ hearts was bigger than that. There was room at our table for Mr. V.

When Al and I got married and had our first child, we moved west to Edmonton, far from home and family. For a few years, we tried to go back to Ontario for Christmas, but that became too much. Our friends became stand-ins for family.

However, for Christmas 1978 most of our friends had their own plans, and we would spend Christmas Day alone with our two boys, aged 4 and 2. I was 7 months pregnant and feeling a bit homesick and sorry for myself, but decided it was time to create our own memories and family traditions. So, brightly, I asked the boys, “What shall we have for Christmas dinner?” I had visions of turkey and gravy, but they said, “Meatballs!” I swallowed my disappointment, and their choice was a good one. I had very little to do in the kitchen, and because it snowed that day we had lots of fun playing outdoors. They smacked their lips and had lots of meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy. I’d decided to humour myself, however, with a fancy dessert: a chocolate fondue in front of the fireplace in the living room. Al rearranged the furniture while I chopped up the cake and fruit in the kitchen. He carried those into the living room and placed them on the coffee table while I warmed up the chocolate sauce in the kitchen. He sat down to read and the kids played in the living room while they waited for me to finish up in the kitchen. A coffee table laden with goodies within reach of little hands and a dad who’s not paying attention ... can you see where this is heading? Yes, the goodies were mostly gone by the time I came in with the chocolate sauce ... which we served with ice cream. It was a Christmas that burns bright in my memory. That Spirit of Christmas past is all about expectations, and welcoming the unexpected.

Speaking of unexpected...we expect to see a partridge in a pear tree at Christmas time, but a crow in a Christmas tree? The crow will be greeting our children and grandchildren in a few days when we are all together for Christmas, and creating some Christmas spirit of our own as we sing, eat, play and rejoice together.

 May the spirits that live in the message of  Christmas – the spirits of joy, gratitude, hospitality, generosity, hope, expectation, and so much more – bless you as you celebrate the coming of the Gift of Love this year.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Crow Lessons (2)

When I created my first small crow sculpture to attach to the Winter Tree piece (see post for July 7), I didn’t know what I was starting. That crow has led me on a journey that has taught me much. I have read everything I can get my hands on about crows, listened to dozens of crow stories, and created, to date, 5 art pieces based on crows.

Today I want to share with you the story of  The Secret Life of Cassandra the Crow. Who knows how creativity works? When someone, knowing my interests, commented that crows love shiny things, I “saw” in my imagination a crow playing with glass, diamonds, keys, and silver jewelry in her bedroom.

It was a blast working with that image. I immediately called my crow Cassandra and placed her in  “the boudoir”. Mais oui, cheri!  I pulled together fabrics that felt bright and light to create a background, and then began sorting through my own assortment of bright and shiny objects –  mostly thrift store finds I couldn’t resist buying. Apparently, it's not only crows that collect bright and shiny things.

Cassandra’s feathered body came together pretty quickly, so then the fun of dressing her up began. I gave her a mirror so she could admire herself. Ooh-la-la!

She tried on her diamond necklace with matching earrings, and I even gave her a nose stud. (Beak stud? Bill stud?) I created bracelets for each of her legs, and rings for a few of her toes. She was one swanky lady ... er, crow.

 Her boudoir was decorated with accessories – a jewel-studded telephone, a silver key, an extra piece of jewelry – everything the trendy well-dressed crow could want. Her boudoir needed a piece of wall art, and I had just the thing.

A recent browsing session at Sally Ann had really snagged a trophy: a unique brooch of a hand holding a silver bar from which hung various symbols of the successful life of a glamor puss/crow: a bag of money, a fur coat, an airplane, and a movie camera. Perfecto! My piece was finished.

 I hung it up on my design wall, awaiting a session with the resident sweetie, who would create a wooden frame for it. Months went by. Every time I walked into my studio, I smiled fondly at Cassandra. She was such a silly old crow, preening and posturing in front of her mirror, admiring herself. I could relate to her – and probably you can too. We have these secret sides of ourselves that we may not reveal to the public world, but which we trot out now and then in the privacy of our mental boudoir. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but it’s fun to try on these other personas.

It’s only fun, though, if we know the difference between real and pretend. One day, when I was looking at Cassandra, she didn’t strike me as being so funny anymore. I realized, as I’ve learned from my study of crows, that they have much to teach us, and Cassandra’s preening struck me as being sad and a mite foolish – just as foolish as I sometimes am, thinking that I need a few more shiny baubles and magic doodads – and yes, great thrift store finds – to bring me lasting delight. And how easy it would be for me to stay holed up in my studio, playing with my fabrics, ignoring the community whose fabric I am a part of. 

I took down Cassandra and added a reminder to the piece that the best of us does not live in an enclosed boudoir. I added a window to the upper left side of the piece, and behind the frosty window pane sits another crow, on the outside looking in. She’s a reminder to Cassandra, and to us, that while we can hide in our boudoir for a while, there’s a big world out there, waiting for us to come on out, come as we are, and play for real.

PS: Apparently, crows are even smarter than we are: I learned that it’s a myth that they love and collect shiny things. You can read about it at this website –

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Light Thoughts

The resident sweetie read and enjoyed my post last week, but suggested maybe this week I should keep it light, as in “not so heavy.”  He’s probably right...not everyone is enthusiastic about puzzling out the answers to big questions. I notice when I am pontificating about some weighty issue, sometimes my listeners’ eyes glaze over, and they yawn. This is called the MEGO affect (“my eyes glaze over.”) The trouble with being light, however, is that it is hard to do on demand.

I pondered possible light topics (The Very First Quilt I Ever Made, hahaha? Pet Stories aka What’s a dead guinea pig doing in the freezer? or The Anger Monster who lives in my Closet – oh wait, that’s not funny at all). Sigh. To paraphrase Kermit, it’s not easy being light.

Then a light bulb (pun intended) flashed in my mind: the word light can have another meaning. Light is the opposite of dark, and if there’s anything that December is known for, it’s darkness. We get up in the dark, and we eat supper in the dark, and in the hours in between the skies are probably grey or cloudy.
Opa helps Solay with lights.
We could all do with a bit more brightness in our lives at this time of year –  to be reminded that yes, Virginia, there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel. And it’s a good time to reflect on the light as we await Christmas, when we celebrate the arrival of God’s Light to the world.

 We’ve had a few fun experiences with light lately. It started last Friday evening at church, when we had a family potluck dinner to launch Advent. Each table was decorated nicely with a central wreath studded with Christmas lights. But we didn’t even notice those lights until the overhead fluorescents were turned down. Then the colourful lights right in front of our noses added a lovely ambience to our fellowship. Sometimes we have to be in the dark before we notice that there actually is light around us.

The next day, the grandboys had a Winter Faire at Saltwater, their Waldorf-inspired school. ( for more specifics on that form of education) We were the proud grandparents who listened to the singing and watched the candles being dipped and lit. There were lots of songs about light and candles, including “This Little Light of Mine.” Several times we heard the teachers explain that everyone’s job, including the kids, is to bring our light out into the world and let it shine. I like that! And it’s not too heavy an idea, either. Just do it!

This is also the season of Chanukah, a Jewish holiday that commemorates the victory of a small band of Maccabees over pagan oppressors. Miraculously, although there was only oil enough for the lamp to burn for one night, the oil held out for eight nights. Chanukah is a holiday that says: "Never lose hope." We got out the Menorah that we’d bought in Spain last year and lit the candles. Tradition says the Menorah should be placed in a window as a testimony to the world of God’s miracles. Light that is hidden can’t dispel darkness or offer hope. Another bright idea!

And now I am looking forward to the Advent Spiral, another event at Saltwater School.
I remember how it was last year. A large spiral path bordered by evergreen boughs lay on the floor. A flickering candle rested on a tree stump at the center. Gold paper stars were evenly dispersed along the path. Each of us, children and adults, was invited to take a turn to walk quietly and meditatively inside the spiral, holding an unlit candle that had been stuck into an apple. We would light our candle from the central flame, then place it on a star around the circle.

 But when you gather 15 preschoolers together, things have a way of taking a left turn. The first child, chosen because he was already squirming on his mother’s lap, didn’t want to place his candle on the star; instead, he put it down as close to the central light as possible. The next three children followed suit, and so there were four little candles huddled together close to the source of the light.

The next child found the star and put his candle down in the right place, but wasn’t so sure he wanted to leave the circle. Another child ran exuberantly around the spiral, laughing all the way. One child meditatively chewed on his apple candleholder on the way into the spiral. Several children hopped into and out of the spiral over the cedar boughs instead of walking on the path. One very little one lit her candle then walked over to her grandma to give it away.  But they all lit their candles and set them down somewhere in the circle, and the room was brighter when we left than when we arrived.

I guess we all stumble around in the darkness sometimes, and go round in circles; then someone lights a candle, and we can see the way home.

Work in progress: an advent spiral wallhanging. Hopefully next year, I'll embroider candles on it and use it as an advent calendar.