Saturday, 12 August 2017

Miss June

So something interesting happened to me when we were out at our “bedroom by the sea”.

I had decided to look for a magic moment every day while we were out there. For me, magic is a feeling of amazement, wonder, or enchantment – something you might not notice if you weren’t looking for it. So I opened my senses up to the possibility of magic.

And oh, my! The magic moments piled up. There were streaks of emerald green in the turquoise blue water: magic! The sunsets: magic!

The tide came in, the tide went out, never stopping. What a wonder! A pod of porpoises jumped out of the water as they passed the kayaks our kids were in. Wow! Wow! Wow!

We managed to get family photos in which everyone looked pretty good – not only magic, but a miracle! Pretty soon, you couldn’t help but see magic all around you.

Now, if you believe in magic, and are on the lookout for it, your mindset changes. You get back in touch with that little child inside of you for whom everything is amazing, wonderful, and worth checking out. Fun is the name of the game. Do you remember that little child you used to be?

Do you know where your inner child is now? Has it been a while since he/she’s been invited to come out and play? It certainly has been for me. Oh sure, sometimes I set aside a play day for myself, when I try a variety of quilty things I wouldn’t normally do, just to see where it leads. But too quickly that becomes serious business. I begin to insist that it has to result in something, don’t you know? Something good, of course, something useful I can incorporate in my next piece of art.

It was about a week into my practice of looking out for magic when the inner child popped up big time. The campground was empty – all the neighbours were gone. The sun was shining brightly and the water was sparkling. I’d just stepped out of the shower when I spied my big straw hat lying on the bed. As I dried myself and pulled on my capris, I started to giggle. That hat reminded me of “Calendar Girls” – a movie about women of a certain age who decide to pose for a pin-up calendar to raise money for a worthy cause. They stripped for the camera, using flower pots, balls of yarn, books, cooking pots, whatever to cover up the “naughty bits.”

I checked it out: yup, that straw hat provided enough coverage. Maybe, with the campground being so empty, this was my big chance to be a calendar girl myself. I appointed the RS to be my photographer (I won’t repeat what his reaction was, but he did it, anyway. He’s my hero, indulging my fantasies.) Hat in hands, I posed in front of the ocean and had my own private calendar shoot.

Why? Why not? Who knows why I did it? Maybe my inner child that day wanted to feel the sun on her bare back, to feel the breeze caressing her shoulders. Maybe my inner child wanted to be free for a bit, to thumb her nose at the strict guidelines that are laid out for old ladies. It was such a little act of insubordination, but it reminded me that it had been too long since my inner child had lured me into letting go and having fun, hang the consequences.

In his book Whistling in the Dark author Frederick Buechner points out that the differences between 8 year olds and 80 year olds [or between 7 and 70] are not as great as we might think.  He writes: “Second childhood commonly means something to steer clear of, but it can also mean something else. It can mean that if your spirit is still more or less intact, one of the benefits of being an old crock is that you can enjoy again something of what it's like being a young squirt.

Eight-year-olds like eighty-year-olds have lots of things they'd love to do but can't because their bodies aren't up to it, so they learn to play instead. Eighty-year-olds might do well to take notice. They can play at being eighty-year-olds for instance...

Another thing is that if part of the pleasure of being a child the first time round is that you don't have to prove yourself yet, part of the pleasure of being a child the second time round is that you don't have to prove yourself any longer. You can be who you are and say what you feel, and let the chips fall where they may.

Very young children and very old children also have in common the advantage of being able to sit on the sideline of things. While everybody else is in there jockeying for position and sweating it out, they can lean back, put their feet up, and like the octogenarian King Lear "pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh at gilded butterflies."

Or become a Calendar Girl for a while.

Since 2013, the year I turned 65, it’s been my practice to create a self-portrait every year, reflecting where I’m at in my emotional and spiritual life. I had another birthday recently, and now I have an idea for my self-portrait.  I’ve got an outline, now I have to fill in the blanks. Stay tuned!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Watching the World Go By

On July 2 we moved into our “bedroom by the sea” at a campsite just 20 minutes north of town. We’ve been coming here for 6 years. It’s a very small campground, only 4 sites, located at the edge of the sea on a working farm. There’s no pool, no boats or jet-skis for rent, and no sandy beach. The wind off the ocean is often chilly, and the wi-fi connection can be iffy. No TV, and as for tourist attractions – well, been there, done that, since we live in the area all year long. 

So what’s the point? Why not stay home? It’s a question we’ve often been asked.

We tell them, "We’re watching the world go by."

Literally. This week, a big white cruise ship loomed on the horizon. It was called The World.

Wikipedia describes it this way: “The World is the largest privately owned residential yacht. The residents, from about 45 countries, live on board as the ship travels, staying in most ports several days. A few residents live on board full-time while most visit periodically throughout the year....It has 165 residences (106 apartments, 19 studio apartments, and 40 studios), all owned by the ship's residents. Average occupancy is 150–200 residents and guests.”  There are restaurants, shops, a gym, a pool, a deli, and a putting green on board, and a staff of 280 employees caters to your every need. Itineraries are set by the residents. In 2012, The World sailed through the North West Passage, and other ports of call have included a deserted island in the Maldives, prime scuba diving sites, and a remote tribal area in New Guinea. A short video on another site has voice-overs of residents extolling the virtues of life aboard The World. It  offers a macro experience: seeing and experiencing  as much of the world as you can. You need to have a macro wallet to do this, of course.

We don’t have a macro wallet, nor a desire to see as much of the world as we can in the days that we have left here. We’re watching the world go by in a very micro way.

When you sit in the same spot day after day, year after year, in all kinds of weather, morning, noon and nighttime, it’s amazing what you can see, and what you notice.

This little place of ours becomes a microcosm of the world, a small world that contains all the elements of a much bigger world, if only you have eyes and ears to see it, and take the time to experience it. Staying in one place and getting to know it well helps you feel the deep connections that exist between all things.

The wind, the waves, the sunshine and rainshadows, the rocks, sand, islands and mountains – these are the elements of which the whole world is made.

The animals and birds live out their lives within view, ignoring us for the most part as they scamper about, or caw, or splash. We call the seal who patrols the beach at sunset "The Coast Guard". The heron appears often, amazing us with his watchful patience.

One day we saw an eagle doing the breaststroke: he'd dived down to catch a fish in his talons, but it was too heavy for him to lift, so he swam to shore using his wings as arms. They are living their lives as ordained since their creation, and this is no show for the tourists. This is the real thing.

And the people! Yes, we do have neighbours, and believe me, when you live out in the open, there are many kinds of behaviour you are forced to observe.  Too often, we recognize our own foibles reflected in the lives around us. But fortunately, also, our strengths. The family beside us who we feel may be treating their children rather harshly are the same people who rescued our tent when it was caught by a wind gust and blew into the ocean when we weren't home. Isn’t that just like life? The good, the bad, and the ugly, all mixed up.

We take deep breaths, and decide that all those busy-making things back home, while necessary, don’t have to occupy our minds and hearts 100% of the time. There’s a whole big world out there that we could be visiting, and there’s a time for that, but vacations don’t always have to be about far away travel. We need  times to sit and reflect, to talk about this and that, to play, to sleep in, to visit, read and write, and to invite friends and family to come and sit and  watch with us ... as the world goes by.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Next Chapter

Last week I shared my dad’s story of how and why our family immigrated to Canada. Many of you shared how much you enjoyed what he’d written and were wondering if there was more. Well, yes, there is. Today would have been mom and dad’s 70th anniversary, and so to honour them one more time, here’s what happened next...

Mom was pregnant when they arrived in Canada. The baby was due in April. I cannot imagine how anxious she must have been as she approached her due date. She would be giving birth in a hospital  which in her experience was where you went when you were sick. And she’d not had much time to pick up any language skills.

When we were younger, mom made the story of my sister Sue’s birth into a funny story, but I don’t think it was funny at the time. Here’s how she told it: “When I got to the hospital and was on the delivery table I saw that they were going to give me a needle, and I was really worried. I thought something was going wrong. I didn’t know that women in Canada usually got an anaesthetic when they had a baby, and were not awake for the birth. When they brought her to me the next morning, I was woozy and sick from the anaesthetic, and I was sure there was something wrong with the baby because her face was all squished up from the hard delivery. When dad finally came to see me and the baby that evening, I told him, “Don’t be shocked, I think there’s something wrong with the child, she doesn’t look good to me.” He immediately went to the nursery to look at the baby through the nursery window, and came back quickly. “I don’t know who’s got something wrong with her, you or the baby. The baby looks fine to me, she is beautiful.”

When dad told the story years later in his biography, he gave the story a completely different slant. While I’m glad my mom had the pluck to turn an emotional and difficult time into something good, I love dad’s version too.

The first major event in 1950 was the birth of our daughter Susan (Sieuwke) on Thursday, April 13, in St. Joseph’s Hospital, Hamilton, shortly after midnight. Mr. And Mrs. Merritt had taken Mom there on the morning of the 12th. I was waiting anxiously all day for more news about mom, but I heard nothing at all. When I used Mr. Merritt’s phone to contact  the hospital at bedtime (we couldn’t afford to have our own phone yet), the reply was very short: no change. The next day, when we hadn’t heard anything yet by 11 a.m., Froukje [our Dutch neighbour lady who was taking care of me, and whose husband also worked for the Merritts] used the farmer’s phone again to call the doctor’s office. The girl answering the phone told her that the baby had been born the night before, but she didn’t know whether it was a boy or a girl, and the doctor was still asleep, so we should call again in the afternoon. At my request, the farmer did so. That’s how, more than 12 hours after the fact, I finally received news of Sue’s birth.

Of course, then I longed to see mom and our brand new daughter, but the hospital was 35 kilometers away, so I needed a car, which we didn’t have yet. But Jop Swieringa, working on a neighbouring farm, had just bought a 1930 Chevy, a 20 year old car but still good enough to help out for the time being. I don’t think he had yet gotten his driver’s license, but I had my chauffeur’s license – I needed it for the occasional use of Mr. Merritt’s pick-up truck for work purposes. I asked him, “Hey Jop, what about going together to the hospital tonight in your car to see my wife at the hospital?” His reply was, “Well, just take my car and go by yourself.” It wasn’t hard to take that offer.

And it was such a great relief to be together again for a while. For mom it had been an especially difficult 36 hours. Not only was the long delivery very hard on her, but also in all those hours there wasn’t anyone around on whose shoulders she could cry out. Without such support, the whole process had been so much harder. And her knowledge of the English medical language and terms was still very limited, and therefore she didn’t always understand why she would get injections, and what they would do for her. But, when we were together, that was all a thing of the past, and we could be very thankful for a new gift of life, and that everything looked well.

On Sunday, mom and the brand new baby came home again. The boss and his wife went with me to pick her up in their brand new 1950 car. It happened that Father and Mother Hofstra were celebrating their 25th anniversary with a party the day the telegram arrived, so they could share the happy news with the guests. And since my parents were there as well, guests could also congratulate them, especially my mother, after whom our new daughter was named: Sieuwke, which fairly soon became Susan. The anniversary was the first event we had had to miss as a result of our immigration, but mom’s brother thought that we had received a very nice consolation prize, our Susan.

You can talk about romance and roses when it comes to love, but I think this is a pretty good love story, too. Mom and Dad lived to celebrate their 56th anniversary.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Looking back...Canada 1949

I’ve been digging into my dad’s biography as I add pages to my memoir.  It was very meaningful to me, in this week leading up to Canada Day, to read through the pages that led to the decision of my parents to immigrate. They were living on Dad's parents' farm in a closely knit community. Dad was hoping eventually to have a farm of his own. In the meantime, he was working as a hired hand at a neighbour's farm.

 And yet, Mom, 31 and pregnant, dad, 32, and I (15 months) boarded the SS Veendam, crowded with immigrants, in September 1949. We left Rotterdam and sailed into a new life. " nightfall the Dutch coastline disappeared. With it a very important chapter of our life, the years living in the country we were born in, had ended. And a future, to a great extent still unknown to us, was laying ahead. But we trusted that in this future, God's grace would remain with us," Dad wrote.

Holland-America Line's SS Veendam was originally built as a cruise ship, and could hold about 600 passengers.  

It was not an easy trip for mom, who was bedridden with seasickness and morning sickness. Dad took care of me and I apparently enjoyed the fun and games.

This morning, Canada 150 Day, I turned the page of Dad's biography, and found the story of their first few months in Canada. Dad would have been 100 years old this year, but I can hear his voice loud and clear in this chapter. So I’ve given today’s CrowDayOne  post to my dad, Foppe Arends (Paul) de Jong. With very few exceptions, I did not edit anything, so you will occasionally hear his accent and Dutchisms. That’s my dad you’re hearing. I hope you enjoy the insights and descriptions as much as I did. Happy birthday Canada: I'm so glad mom and dad took the risk and brought us here.

Canada: The Second Chapter of Our Life Story
Why do people actually immigrate? Many reasons may be given, but the main reasons why post-war immigrants came to Canada [from Holland] was: more space, more opportunities, and less rules and regulations than in our over crowded homeland. They were good reasons, but nevertheless, immigration was a decision that had to be taken very seriously. For we immigrants left so much behind: dear relatives, familiar surroundings, so many friends and acquaintances of long standing. Whereas the land we were traveling to was virtually unknown to us where they spoke a language unfamiliar to the majority of us. All we knew for sure was that it had more and better opportunities for us and our offspring. But farther on, we would have to wait and see!

On Tuesday, Oct. 11, 1949 we arrived in the New York harbour. From there on the hardest part of our journey began; to travel [by train] through New York City and New York State and at Buffalo cross the border into Canada, all with a minimal knowledge of English and hardly any experience to converse in it. Add to this that we had studied UK English with different expressions and pronunciations then used over here! Quite confusing, man! But oh well, we lived through it. And arrived safely the next morning in St. Catherines at the parsonage from Rev. Persenaire, where waited us a hearty welcome. Rev. Persenaire was a first cousin of our brother in law Nick Willemse, who had brought us in contact with them. We stayed there for two weeks, in which I was working at a [gardening] nursery. Then we moved to the farm of Mr. Leslie Merritt in Smithville. Where in the meantime our furniture arrived. We could take very little money (just $275) with us to Canada [by Dutch government law] but all our furniture, clothes and household items. They had to be cleared however for duty-free import at the customs over here which meant: I had to make a trip by bus to Hamilton. When buying the ticket, I was asked, “Single or return?” What could that mean? But quick thinking helped me out; return must mean the same as the French word “retour” which was much used in Holland. The necessity to communicate was at the same time a strong encouragement to use our very limited knowledge of English to the fullest. And at the same time increased our knowledge of it in an amazing fast way!

The old farmhouse near Smithville Ontario where we lived for 3 years when we first arrived in Canada.
Mr. Merritt, our farmer, was a descendant of the United Empire Loyalists, who, after the United States had become independent from the British Empire in the 1780s, moved northward to Ontario and settled in the surroundings of the Niagara Peninsula, beginning a new life over there. Mr. Merritt owned and operated a 216 acre farm. On his farm he had a small dairy, in which his milk was pasteurized and bottled to be peddled out in Smithville and surroundings. He had also a dealership of the DeLaval milking machines. He had two Dutch immigrants working for him; their families living in an old farmer’s house, big enough to divide it in two apartments. [Our family lived in one of those apartments.] Our wages were: free home, free milk, free wood for fuel, and $20 weekly, in due time raising to $25 and $30. Though it doesn’t sound like much compared with today’s wages, we nevertheless were well off, compared by the then-going rate. And were able to save some so we were able to buy a washing machine, a radio, and last but not at all the least, a car! Later on the boss also hired a single man, who too was a Dutch immigrant! So then he had a whole farm staff of Dutchies! It gives a good indication, how great the need of farm workers was in those post war years and why the immigrant farm workers were so welcome in the farmer’s circles.

We also had a good relationship with the farmer and his wife, in spite of language difficulties in the beginning. But that problem got solved very soon. And a great help for us was also the fact that so many Dutch immigrants arrived here in those days. Right away after their arrival, they sought and found contact with each other and in that way helping each other to get acquainted with our new country, its customs and their way of life in general, which in so many ways differed from the customs and rules from our old country. And in emergencies such as sickness, unemployment etc. everyone chipped in to help. We were all short of cash, since due to post-war restrictions the amount of money we were allowed to take along was minimal. Besides that, many of us had to borrow money to immigrate, a loan that had to be paid back in dollars. Which was for us all an additional disadvantage. And could we do without a car, when living on a farm way out in the country?! We also needed appliances because of the different voltages and frequency of hydro over here. Plenty of problems, man! But one good thing we had in common: we all had gone through 5 years of war with untold problems, many of them so much more serious as than the one’s we right now were confronted with. So why not take up this challenge just as well! Old, rundown cars, but still usable, could be bought for prices within reach. Salvation Army stores helped us on clothes for bargain prices. Auction sales became the sources for many so much needed household items. And if we were short of storage space in our houses, orange boxes could be got for nothing from the grocery stores. From which we, with some curtains and wallpaper, made closets, shelves and bookcases. In that way we together succeeded!

And what is even more important, it drew us, while being together in the same boat, very close together. One’s problem was everybody’s problem. And we helped each other to solve them, just as if we were one big family.

Besides that, the Christian Reformed Church has been a tremendous help in those days. And not only for its members; many others have been directly or indirectly helped by it too. The ministers sent by Synod as home missionaries to Canada to care for the spiritual needs of those immigrants, helped them also in many other ways. Since they all could speak Dutch as well as English, they time and time again acted as interpreters. And since they were well acquainted with customs and traditions over here, they could give valid advice to them in so many important matters. And then there were the field men, appointed by the church to find employment for the many boatloads of immigrants arriving here and give them advice, helping them through those first days over here when for some people everything seemed to get haywire.

The Sunday church services became right from the beginning the highlights of the week; spiritual as well as social. The participants, using all kinds of transportation (mainly old cars, some still using their Dutch bikes they’d taken along) coming together in some rented hall or else in an immigrant’s living room, to worship (for the time being, still in the Dutch language). And, though those immigrants were coming quite often from four or five different denominations in Holland, they started over here from the very beginning worshiping together, also in partaking of the sacraments and growing together as a strong spiritual unit, which soon would become a new congregation in a denomination also new to them all, but still caring for and meeting their spiritual needs.

And as I mentioned already, socially they lived as one big family, helping each other whenever they could. Something of the Jerusalem church after Pentecost was really reflecting in their way of life. In such a a family of faith we arrived here in the month of October 1949. Which made for us the period of adjustment so much easier. And when the year 1949 drew to an end, we celebrated the season’s highlights of Christmas and New Years with the members of our new family.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Life Lessons in the Garden

Gardening season is in full swing, and so  I’ve been wondering what the garden might have to tell me. I've been listening carefully, and it seems to me there are lessons in among the dirt, the plants, and the bugs, lessons that apply to life if we just open our hearts and listen.

1. Even ugly things have their uses.

Gardeners know that you need to let the daffodils and tulips die down completely if you want them to bloom again next year. The dying leaves, though not attractive, have a purpose: they store up nutrition for the bulb. If you remove them too early, just so things look nice and tidy, you won’t get much bloom next year.

I think about this as I recover from a time of mild depression and grieving. How tempting it is to censor the sadness, to tidy it up and put it away and move on. But the process takes time and needs to complete its work to be effective. I need to believe that deep down, new life is being prepared, to burst into bloom in the spring.

2. Stuff will fill a vacuum.

Strange as it may seem, gardening is not just about tending the growing things, but also tending the empty spaces.

When we left for our camping trip, the RS cleaned up the garden to within an inch of its life. But when we returned after 10 days, the weeds had sprouted everywhere. It took a few days of hard work to get things back into shape.

Empty spaces in a garden  are important – they allow air to circulate, for instance, and define borders. Empty spaces in our lives are important too, creating areas of rest and peace. But it sure is easy to fill up the empty spaces with junk – meaningless entertainment, mindless distractions and more –  if we are not careful.

3. Not every seed will grow and thrive.

Our green bean plot has been a huge failure this year. We planted lots of seeds, knowing some wouldn’t sprout because they were infertile. But only a very few came up, and the cutworms got those. Many of the failed seeds were eaten by unseen predators of the buggy kind who live underground, doing their nasty work in the dark.

When I look around at my art projects, or any creative work I’ve done, I realize that much that was begun in hope and anticipation never did bear fruit. This is a hard lesson to bear. I wish everything in life had a happy ending. Not so. I do believe that nothing is wasted -- just as in the garden the cutworms and sow bugs grow from our generosity, I too grow and learn from the aborted projects that are in my closet.

There’s still time this summer  to plant a bean patch in a different spot. Perhaps at the end of the summer I’ll be able to post a photo of a pot of beans. Or maybe not. That’s life.

4. Unexpected guests can add a great deal of beauty and delight  to life. (But you have to let them in the door.)
The sunflowers (foreground) and the foxgloves both are uninvited guests in our garlic patch. Both add charm and beauty.
 Foxgloves are unexpected guests in a West Coast garden. They spring up where you never planted. Your garden is all nicely planned, and then, there they are: in the middle of the garlic, on the edge of the fishpond, horning in on the potato patch. So, like the unexpected guests who show up on your doorstep just when you had other plans for the day, you make a choice. Go with the flow, or go with the plan. Each has its benefits. But as for me, I’ll go with the flow – I love these unexpected visitors, who provide beauty and delight,  and as a bonus, a whole lot of nectar for the bees.

5. If you feed them, they will come.

This flicker visits occasionally.
We’ve added a new feeder to our garden this year, with better food and a new design. And of course, the ripening berries are a big attraction too, as well as the water flowing into the pond. The birds that are now filling our yard resemble the landing strip at Pearson International Airport, zooming in, taking off, jockeying for landing rights: chipping and house sparrows, pine siskins, goldfinches, hummingbirds, a blackheaded grosbeak, chickadees, juncos, robins, towhees, a nuthatch, and a flicker; even a pileated woodpecker made a brief stopover.

So if you feed them, they will come. Any parent of grown kids and any party planner knows this is true. Lay on a feast, and they’re there. And that adds a lot of pleasure to life.

There’s one more lesson I learned, by accident, for which I will not share a photo. It’s this: if you accidentally step in dog poop (a grand-dog's unexpected deposit), the stink will follow you around for a long time. No further elaboration needed, methinks.

I posted something similar in an earlier blog (“Crow on the Go in the Garden,” May 10, 2014) .

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Bucket List Musings

No, no, it’s not Saturday.

I know that this post is totally out of whack –normally the crow squawks only on the weekend. And lately, she has grown silent, anyway, so why post this in the middle of the week, and why post at all?

So I’ll explain: it’s my birthday today, and I get to do whatever I want. I sent the RS off to his normal Tuesday activity, the woodcarving group,  even though he offered to stay home and help me celebrate. He started my day right by bringing in the first rose of summer, and I know there's several bottles of wine to choose from when Happy Hour arrives, and then there's tickets to a concert with Murray MacLaughlan, so that's all good. But first, I need some alone time.

He’s perhaps a little hurt that I would choose alone time rather than together time. But I need this morning to sort out a bit of life and to look ahead at the coming year. Besides, we’ve had a lot of together time lately. So thanks, sweetie, for indulging me.

I’m using you, my readers, all 14 of you, in place of my journal today. The inner crow seems to need to do this, and mine is not to question why.

A year from now, I’ll be 70. (“The Lord willing,” I hear my parents whisper in my ear. Never assume anything.) Oh. My! How did that happen? Yes, I know, a day at a time, a year at a time.

Chin hairs, gray hairs, wrinkly skin and all: that's me at 69.
When people mark special days such as this, it’s not uncommon for their thoughts to turn to the things they hope to do yet in the time that is left to them – a bucket list of sorts. The RS and I have created bucket lists from time to time, and whenever we revisit the list, we realize that the dreams that were in the bucket five years ago are no longer dreams we care to pursue. In fact, the bucket list is growing shorter, not because we’ve given up on living a full life, but because we’ve changed, our hopes and dreams have changed, and, I think, we’re appreciating more and more the life we have in the here and now. Where you are, that’s where you’re supposed to be. Appreciate each moment for what it is.

Still, there are a few things left to do. When my dad was in his 70s, he decided it was time to write the story of his life. This was on his bucket list. This is not unusual in our family, by the way. I have manuscripts of various ancestors on my history bookshelf. They are amazing treasures to help me understand who I am and where I came from.

Dad was ever a quester, trying to figure things out, and since his handwriting was nearly indecipherable, he began writing his autobiography using a typewriter. However, when he saw what a computer could do, he was excited. (“look at that, you can cut and paste right on the screen, not with a scissors and scotch tape!”) This was in the dinosaur days of the computer, on a Commodore 64! He set up a table in the guest room, and every day he entered his sanctuary and worked on his labour of love using a painfully slow  hunt-and-peck method to record his memories, beginning with the family history stretching back into the 1800s. There followed the story of his own birth family,  the story of my mom’s family, his memories of the war, their courtship and marriage, and everything that happened after that – children, immigration, community involvement, aging, travels and more.

Dad moved on to an early version of the Windows computer and learned that system (but never learned to type faster!). He only stopped when his vision narrowed to almost nothing because of macular degeneration, in his early 80s. By that time, he had caught up with his life story, but he often said to me, years later, “The story isn’t finished yet. If I wasn’t blind, I would add more.” And I would say, “Don’t worry dad, I will finish it for you.” Thirteen years later, that is still on MY bucket list.

I’ve been thinking how best to do this, and of course, as an oldest eager-to-please child, feeling guilty that I have not fulfilled my promise. Recently, however, I had an aha moment when I realized that if I write my story, I will have finished Dad’s earthly story, too. And telling my story has been in my personal bucket for a number of years. Each time, I think I’ll start, and each time something doesn’t work out for me. Perhaps I wasn’t ready yet.

But if not now, then when? And if now, then  how, and what? I love writing, and I think I could happily spend hours in front of the computer screen, but I also love art, and my family, and friendships, and CrowDayOne, and other wonderful things that make life rich. It’s a wonderful dilemma, isn’t it? So that’s why I needed this morning, to look ahead at the next year and sketch out an idea of how writing and quilting a memoir might happen in the middle of living the life I have. One thing I know, it will have to include quilting too.

Writing all this down and sharing it with you, for some reason, generates creative thoughts, which I hope to put into practice in the next year.

What needs to happen now is this: I need to begin. Stay tuned, and wish me blessings on the endeavor.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

There is a time...

"There’s a time for everything," says the wise writer of Ecclesiastes, "and a season for every activity under the heavens." So true, so wise!

In some cultures, a crow is considered a symbol of wisdom. A crow may have helped the writer of Ecclesiastes formulate this chapter. At least, crows often inspire a blog theme for me. So for the past few days I’ve been watching crows at our campsite. These “wise” crows were pretty wary, staying away from places where they could see people. But the minute we were out of sight, they swooped down, pecked a hole in our garbage bag, and were feasting on scraps. There’s a time to stay out of the way, and a time to jump right in and do your thing, apparently. Should I blog about that? Nah.

When we shooed them away, they made a real racket, indignantly letting us know that we were interfering in their good luck. But later, a crow landed on a picnic table at an empty campsite nearby. She seemed to be quite content to sit there quietly, checki6ng out the neighbourhood. There’s a time to squawk, and there’s a time to be silent.

Hmm. Now there’s a topic with possibilities. If you are a regular follower of CrowDayOne, you may have noticed that lately, the crow has been pretty quiet.

There is a time for everything: a time to speak, and a time to listen. And right now, I’m finding myself doing a lot less squawking, and much more listening.

These past 4 years of writing this blog – starting with my 65th birthday –  have been such a pleasure. For a while, I was just bursting with discoveries I wanted to share with you, and it was so gratifying to have many of you tell me, “Really? That happened to you, too? You’re thinking about that, too?” Apparently, many of us  are living parallel lives, wondering about the same things, pondering the mysteries of life and the spirit, experiencing the same frailties and frustrations. Whether we are younger or older, men or women, dedicated believers or dedicated searchers, we have so much more in common with each other than we perhaps knew. Writing the blog has been an eye-opening experience for me, learning about our interconnectedness. It’s been the best lesson ever!

But lately, as I’m fast approaching my 69th birthday –  I’ve found I haven’t got so much to say. The older you get, I’ve found, the less you know. It’s a very humbling experience.  So, as the wise campsite  crow showed me, it must be time to listen. 

Listening is not just using your ears, I find. You can listen in so many ways. Currently the RS and I  are camping along the banks of the mighty Fraser River, with lots of lovely walking trails. So we are “listening” to nature with all of our senses: sight, smell, touch, and taste as well as with our ears. The listening brings us peace and rest.

And we are listening with our hearts as we attend a play and a concert that feature the three grandgirls who live here. How beautiful children are, and how much hope they give us for the future.

pardon me while I brag a little: Geneva played Charlotte in Charlotte's Web at her school. Here she is posing with her friend Wilbur. Some spider, some pig!

Aerin was "some cow!" in the same production.

And Karina sang her heat out with the Pacific Mennonite Children's Choir Concert. So beautiful!
We listen with our hearts, as well, as we participate in the life of friends and family. Some are sad and grieving as they experience loss, illness, disability and looming death. Some are joyful as they participate fully in the life they are living, enjoying travels, children, making plans. We listen with our hearts, and our hearts grow bigger to encompass it all. Perhaps that’s the way it is with you, too? We’re listening to life: the sadness and sorrow, mixed up with the joy and the gladness. It’s hard to separate the two strands. Right now, words don’t cut it. It is time just to listen and ponder.

I feel the same way as I experience anxiety  for our world, for our nations, for the environment, for the differences that separate people and make enemies of those who are, after all, not so different from us, who have the same hopes and dreams. What to say about that? My listening involves storing these realities in my mind and heart, processing them, waiting until I know it’s time to squawk, know just what words to squawk as well.

I’m finding that this time of listening is not giving me many answers, many formulas to make it all better, not many nuggets of wisdom to pass on to you. But the listening is an experience that is also enriching and a blessing in itself.

Above all, as I commit myself to this time of listening,  my spirit listens for the voice of my Creator, the source of all creation and creativity. I listen, waiting to hear and feel that little thrill of excitement that tells me, “This! Yes, this is something you need to share.”

And when that happens, the crow will squawk again. Maybe sooner, maybe later. After all, there is a time for everything.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

A story about a story

Through all cultures, cloth has long been used as a vehicle to tell stories. For instance, the grave cloths in Ghana were stamped with symbols that told the mourners about the character of the deceased. In Chile, women embroidered small wall hangings as a protest against police brutality and the oppressive dictatorship they lived in. And the Hmong hill people in Laos embroidered story cloths depicting aspects of their life. Those cloths accompanied them to a new land as they fled a repressive regime so they could remember and tell their children about their stories.

I bought this "priceless" piece at a thrift store (where else?). It has some mildew stains on it--but beautiful, nevertheless.

Every quilt tells a story, say quilters. Some quilts tell stories of the maker’s delight in colour and design. Others praise nature. Some quilts, by using scraps of fabrics from old clothes, may tell the stories of a family’s history.

I don’t think every quiltmaker sets out to tell a story. But that’s what happens as they work. And that’s what happened to me, too.

It started with a challenge posed by a member of our Small Worx group: create a piece using a technique that is not part of your culture. The original image in my mind of a clothesline hung with articles of clothing from around the world morphed as I noodled with that idea and it became something else altogether.

What if...? Those two words are a universal kickstarter for creative thinking. What if the clothesline held quilts or blankets from around the world? Like, a Hudson’s Bay blanket, a Haida button blanket,  an Indian coverlet stitched with Kantha embroidery, a cloth of African batiks? What if the clothesline extended across Canada? Over the centuries Canada has welcomed many immigrants, and our population consists not only of many aboriginal cultures, but also of more than 190 people groups that “came from away”, each with their distinctive cultures and crafts. What if...what if I titled this quilt The Great Canadian Clothesline: Canada Airs Its Quilts? What if...what if I let this be my own quiet little political statement about what’s important to me, a thumb of the nose to #45 down south? Ah! Now we’re talking turkey. This was the beginning of a story.

I began. I sorted through my ethnic fabrics, and cut little blankets from them, embroidering and beading them in the evenings while I watched TV. I created a background. What had originally been intended to be a 12 x 12" piece had grown into 10" x 40" so I could accommodate Canada from ocean to ocean, from coast to coast. The green ground, consisting mainly of sari silk remnants, had to be redone several times so it would lay flat. I had to go on a major hunt for a blue sky that wasn’t too distracting. And then, there it hung. Now what? Just add poles and a clothesline, and hang the quilts?

Have you ever noticed that storytellers often embellish their stories? The story evolves from its simple bare-bones plot outline, and with each telling more details are added. That’s what happened to my story quilt, too. What if I added a background of silhouettes in the distance, showing features of the Canadian skyline? This was scary business. “What if?” may kickstart creativity, but “I doubt I’m able” can nip it in the bud. I wasn’t at all sure I had the technical skills to pull it off. What if, when I hung it for display, people said with a tight little smile, “Oh, isn’t that cute?” or even worse, “Interesting!” Who did I think I was, after all? Grandma Moses?

Fortunately, the resident sweetie knows how to give me a kick in the pants when I need it. “Just try it,” he said. So I did. I put a sailboat in the Pacific Ocean, stitched some Snowbirds in the sky, and created the Coastal range of mountains. Next came the totem pole, with one wing shorter than the other. Oh well. Keep moving, you can fix it up later. That was day one. My assessment: maybe. Just maybe it might work. The RS smiled.

Day two: some lower mountains in the interior of BC. The Rockies. Calgary. Hmmm. Okay! Keep moving! It took me all week to finish Canada: an oil well, a wind turbine, a train, grain elevators and many more features, all the way over to a lighthouse on the East coast.

Each day, I looked at the piece with anxiety and dread – was this the day I would mess it up? Was it really any good or was I deluding myself? -- but I did it anyway. I told my story.  These features live in my heart and in my memory. I too was an immigrant once upon a time, albeit a very little one, and grew to love these features. They are probably part of most Canadians’ collective memory, and they will become part of our immigrant newcomers’ story, too. I love that story.

It’s not done yet. I need to put up poles and string a clothesline, to which I will clip my tiny quilts with the cutest little clothespins I found at Michael’s craft store.

I will make many more tiny quilts than will fit on the line, and store them in a tiny laundry basket so I can change the picture from time to time. At any step in the process, I may still find the piece is not going to work, after all. That will be hard. But it will not be the end of the story. I will continue to keep plugging away at it until the story I want to tell is there for all to see. Because it is the viewers' story, too. Since this is Canada’s 150th birthday year, I will put it on display at our Guild’s Quilt Show, and also at the Valley’s Fall Fair.

It’s not perfect, not breathtakingly beautiful, maybe just cute and interesting. I doubt that it will win any ribbons, but that’s not what this was about. This is a story, our story, and we have much to celebrate.

As I worked on this story, I realized that I have left out a big piece of the story. I have not acknowledged that immigrants have a story to tell because they moved onto land that originally belonged to our First Nations. There's another story waiting to be told, if I have it in me. Time, and the design wall will tell.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Designing Ideas

This piece, “Morning Has Broken”, has been sitting on my design wall since mid-January, but this week I took it down and finished it...I think!

I wrote about this piece, my response to grief, in my January 14 post. It's still on my design wall because I'm not sure whether I should add some more sun rays stretching out into the black border. Hmmm.

Since then, the term “design wall”  has been rattling around in my head.In quilter’s terms, design walls are like giant bulletin boards where quilters mount quilt pieces temporarily and move them around till they like what they see. “Just right!” they say, and then proceed to sew them together into a lovely, delightful whole.

The design wall in my studio is totally essential to how I work. I put unfinished pieces up there, and they sometimes stay up for weeks, months, and even years until I figure out what I need to do next. Here's what's on my design wall right now:

This one has already been pulled apart once, and may not have enough life in it to get completed. Time, and the design wall, will tell me.
The idea of a design wall expanded in my head, and I was thinking it was perfect for this week’s blog post. The design wall which is my brain held all the pieces of my blog post, and I thought I could just stitch them together when I sat down to write. Not so. The pieces didn’t mesh, they didn’t look good together, and I had to pull them back and wait. This is when art imitates life. Or is the saying Life imitates art? Whatever. There just seemed to be a synchronicity between what I’d planned to write and what actually happened.

Sometimes ideas are not ready to be born and need more time to gestate; sometimes, our creative thoughts just need to mellow and gel before we put them out there for the world to see. Perhaps we should consider that our life has a design wall, too. Sometimes elements of our life are just not ready to move forward and need more time before we can put them into practice, before we can make decisions about the future. Perhaps we shouldn't be in such a hurry to get through stuff so we can get on with the next big thing. What do you think?

This idea obviously needs fleshing out, a little more depth of thought, some more noodling -- that's why I'm posting it on your brain's design wall today.  If it seems to you there's something here that bears further exploration, you can fiddle around with it till it feels right to you!

I don’t know how my friend Joy does it, getting into my head space and stealing my ideas ... I opened her blog post this morning, and there was the blog I was supposed to write, all done for me. Thanks, Joy! You can read her post by clicking on the link to Life by the Swake to the right of this.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

BLOB's Book Club

As I was thinking about writing another blog post, it occurred to me that I am a BLOB – Blogger to Lovers of Books. So welcome to the first meeting of the BLOB book club, with me doing all the talking. (There’s often someone like that in every book club, isn’t there? Today I get the honour. But please talk back in the comments section.)

Until recently, I didn’t have a lot of interest in book clubs – tried it once, but it didn’t work for me.

But now I’ve just joined a book club with a difference: only two members, hence the name: TWITS: Two Women Investigating TextS. We meet once a month over supper in a cozy restaurant with very tolerant owners (the meetings have lasted more than 2 hours, and the waiter keeps saying, “Take your time, take your time!”) We do not have assigned reading – instead, we just talk about what we’ve read this month. And talk. And talk.

Would you believe the title of this picture refers to these women as OLD women? Not us!
A book club with only two members? But it works. At our first “meeting” (and I use the term loosely), my fellow TWIT handed me The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. Schwalbe and his mom, a two-member club, met in the hospital periodically and shared books and ideas  as she was undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. This heart-tugging memoir  is like a fruitcake studded with goodies, each chapter full of ideas for further pursuit. I’ve been gobbling up the goodies full tilt lately.

One of them features another two-member book club. In The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, Queen Elizabeth (yes, THAT queen Elizabeth) discovers a bookmobile by the back door of Windsor Castle when she is out walking her Corgis. She pokes her head inside and discovers one of her kitchen staff browsing the shelves on his lunch break.

This gets the queen thinking. “She’d never taken much interest in reading. She read, of course, as one did (throughout this short book, the Q refers to herself as “one”), but liking books was something she left to other people. It was a hobby, and it was in the nature of her job that she didn’t  have hobbies...And besides, reading wasn’t doing. She was a doer.”  Doing involved  reading briefing notes, reports, speeches from the throne. However, as a polite gesture,  she asks the library technician, “Is one allowed to borrow a book? One doesn’t have a ticket.” Although, she adds, “one is a pensioner”, not sure that would make a difference. That simple act changes her life.

“Briefing is not reading,” she tells her secretary. “In fact, it is the antithesis of reading. Briefing is terse, factual, and to the point. Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject; reading opens it up.”

Nicely put, old girl.

Her Majesty promotes her eager-reader kitchen helper to become her personal book assistant, and they have a wonderful time sharing ideas and following rabbit trails from one author to the other, until the rest of the staff gets their knickers in a knot...ah, but you need to read it for yourself to enjoy the surprise ending.

Her Majesty is right: reading opens up your world. Reading has been opening up my world for as long as I can remember, and even before that. As a toddler,  I used to pull all the adult books off the bookshelf and look inside each one, over and over again in spite of being disciplined for it. It was an act of exploration, I think. Somewhere in those books, I sensed, were other worlds to experience.

I became a besotted reader. Saturday mornings were library mornings. Bedtime was reading time. So was almost any other time. I alienated a lot of would-be friends because I wouldn’t get my nose out of a book when they visited. Finally, I found a friend who loved reading and read at the same pace as I did. We would sit side by side on the sofa, reading the same book, nodding when we were ready to turn the page. It was another two-person book club. Ah, bliss. And so my reading habit has continued right up to now – just ask the resident sweetie. “Did you finish it?” he mumbles sleepily when I stumble to bed way after midnight. Of course. But he’s back to sleep already, before I can tell him all the gory details.

The RS and I might also be called a two-person book club, although it’s a little lopsided. He’s a good listener, but an indifferent reader. I read the best parts of my discoveries to him, which we discuss as we sit side by side in our easy chairs, a la Dagwood and Blondie.
Couldn't find an appropriate Dagwood and Blondie cartoon on the net, but this works, too!

Occasionally he decides he’ll try reading too. His interest was twigged by my reading excerpts from Post Traumatic Church Syndrome by Reba Riley. Riley was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home and church, and she has the scars to show for it. Actually, most of us have scars to show from growing up, no matter what religion or no religion we were raised in, and no matter how idyllic our childhood. But Riley is brave enough to undergo a quest to heal these scars by visiting thirty different worshiping communities that range from Native vision quests to Buddhist and Hindu temples, and everything in between. In the end she finds...ah, but that would spoil the ending. Read it for yourself – it’s a good one. And, as Her Majesty says, it opens up your world.

It’s always a grand day when I discover a new novelist that makes my heart sing. My latest discovery, recommended by my TWIT pal, is Kaya McLaren.  I read On the Divinity of Second Chances, about a polarized family that eventually transforms itself into a strong and healthy unit. Their individual journeys prove that there is a God of second chances who smiles when we get it right. “I know time can never go back,” says Phil, the dad. “The past can never be revisited. At best, I can take elements I enjoyed in the past and re-create them in the present. I am no longer in a state of retirement; I am in a state of reinvention.”

Oh, gee, where has the time gone? Look at that, we’re the last ones left in the restaurant. Reluctantly, we pack up our books and set a date for our next meeting.

Reflecting on TWITS, the associate TWIT says, “I've loved being able to talk about whatever I'm reading and am doubly delighted when we both enjoy something. I also pay closer attention to what I'm reading so I can talk about it somewhat intelligently. And that's a good thing.”

Nicely put, old girl!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Listening to my Gut

In these troubling times, with #45 in charge south of the border and snow, lots and lots of it, north of the border, it is very tempting to hide away. I want to pull the blankets over my head and say, “I’m staying here until things improve. Wake me up when the world is a warmer, kinder, gentler place.”

Turtling lite, I call it, retracting into my shell from time to time, trying to avoid the nasties. I try to ignore the worst news stories, the ones that predict gloom and doom. I refuse, mostly, to click on Facebook links to heavily partisan sites, whether leaning to the right or to the left. But once in a while, something gets by me, and once in a while, I feel a churning in my gut. When my gut speaks to me, I sit up and pay attention.

I imagine we all have a little warning signal built into us, a vestigal remnant reaching back to pre-history. Those bodily reactions warning of danger kept people safe, and they still do. For some, the signal is literally seeing red; for others, a headache or shortness of breath or an accelerated heartbeat. This is wrong, we say to ourselves. For me, it’s a feeling in the center of my gut, a clenching, turbulent feeling. Danger! Danger! Danger! these signals tell us. Do something.

Running further away, or pretending this isn’t happening, is one option, or pummeling the signal into submission. In the long run, these don’t work. The poison is still out there, and won’t go away. Lashing out takes you in another direction, spewing your raw emotions all over– onto FB, letters to the editor,  or into your social conversations, or taking it out on innocent bystanders. I have been guilty of all of these reactions and more, and I have lived to pay the price. Avoidance produces a long slow simmer of angry stew which eventually boils over. Lashing out means that when the venom is vented, you are left with a mess on your hands to clean up: apologies, corrections, shame, guilt.

Another gut warning just came across my FB feed the other day. It was a video of a TV channel, on which a  perky young woman with a head of blonde curls was given the opportunity to editorialize on  “A Day Without A Woman”, a day of protest that had just been held. It didn’t take me more than a few seconds of listening to realize she thought it was a crock. “Look at me!” she said in effect. “See how well I’ve done? And I didn’t get any help from anyone, I did it on my own merits.” Among other things she pointed out that if women made poor choices, they only had themselves to blame for the mess they were in. They could protest all they wanted, but it wouldn’t get them anywhere. And even if she had said something positive, her derisive tone of voice said, “You folks are fools!”

I’ll admit that I had not paid much attention to this protest, so didn’t have strong feelings about it. And yet, I heard the alarm bells: Danger! Danger! Danger! My gut was tied up in knots immediately. The problem was, there were just enough smidgens of truth in her rant to make her followers give her the high five. Right on, tell it like it is, sister! And there were just enough clever, high-sounding sentiments to silence the undecided, or cast doubts in the hearts of feminist supporters. Danger, indeed. The devil knows all about clever sentiments and half-truths. (S)he can smooth-talk you into believing night is day and day is night.

I’m not saying this woman is the devil. Far from it. She has opinions, and she wants to voice them. But just because she is passionate about her cause doesn’t mean she’s got a corner on the truth. Her rant left no room for thoughtful dissection of the issues, the pros and cons of A Day Without A Woman. Worse, she was so good at what she did, and so attractive, that many listeners didn’t feel the issue deserved a second look. I watched and wondered: if she wasn’t so young and attractive, would she have had this opportunity to sneer so publicly at feminists? Was there any room in her heart for the woman who was abused as a child and is so broken that her choices are poor? Is this derisive sneering going to lead to a kinder, gentler world? I knew I had to do something.

I created this piece several years ago, as a reminder to myself that I should not be silent if there is something important to say.
So what should we do when the alarm bells begin to chime in our bodies, when we see injustice happening, or one-sided reporting, or downright cheating and lying in public, with lies disguised as the truth? It’s happening more and more, and hiding under the blankets will not make it go away.

Here’s my thoughts: first, we listen. We listen to our bodies. Usually, your gut (or your head, or your breath) has got it right.

Then we breathe, deeply, slowly, thoughtfully, deliberately to clear the anxiety and anger, and to examine our own motives. That may take a while, but time lends perspective. Sometimes the problem is not what is outside us; the danger signals may alert us to something within our own lives that needs attention. Better to take care of that before we try to fix the world.

We open our hearts, our spirits and our minds to a higher power, listening and trying to discern what the right action is.

And then we do what we feel called to do. Some of us may do some housekeeping of our own souls. Some of us might write a letter to the editor – a thoughtful, careful letter. Some of us might post an antidote on social media – an inspiring quote, a humorous meme, an informative, unbiased story. Some of us might call a friend who has been hurt by the injustice. We might give money or volunteer time to an organization that stands for what we believe in. Each of us is different, and we are called in different ways to do something good to restore the balance of the universe. Even just a smidgen -- every little bit is important.

As for me? I blog.