A Hard Decision

It is the last week of May. My Martha Washington geraniums are planted and the decision not to have a vegetable garden this year has been made. Somewhat reluctantly. But a garden does take time and effort and love. This year we do not have the time and effort to put into loving our garden. We still have time to change our minds—but if we do, we will just be growing some tomatoes and peppers. I will be planting a row of Boston lettuce in a planter on my back porch though, but that it about it for this season.

I love having a vegetable garden. But, as with most things, I love the idea more than the reality. The reality means getting the garden ready which involves some spade work, the addition of new top soil, the decision of what to plant, and then the planting itself. I love to see the newly planted garden—everything neatly in its row and visions of salads and side dishes dance merrily in my head. This of course is the calm before the storm. The storm being the constant tending of the weeds, or in my case, the occasional tending.

I do not have a green thumb. In fact, it is my eldest son who generally decides to plant the garden and this year he has decided that he has enough on his plate without adding our backyard garden to his duties. And I understand. Tending a garden takes work; and not tending it makes it an overgrown mess. Last year he kept the garden up—it was virtually weedless and the harvest bountiful. But the dedication meant long hours in the hot sun.

My parents always had a large vegetable garden—but I remember they spent hours taming it every night after supper. To them, it was well worth the effort. This year my eldest son and I have done the math, and the effort that needs to be expended is just not in the cards. We have other matters to attend to, things to do, people to see, other work that is shouting for our attention. So we will not be planting peas and carrots and onions; there will not be six varieties of peppers or four of tomatoes; and we will not be growing our own jack o’lanterns.

It is our loss I know, but one we have made peace with.

Are you growing a garden this year?

Published in: on May 26, 2015 at 12:37 pm  Comments (12)  

Opening the Cottage

Just a note to those reading this who are not from Canada: this last weekend was a long weekend in Canada when we celebrated Victoria Day and it is our “unofficial” first weekend of summer ~ this is my column for the week:

The unofficial first weekend of summer is almost over as I write this, and I no longer have to open “the” cottage only in my imagination. No, I do not own a cottage, but my sister Peggy, and brother-in-law, Herb do, and they do not mind me referring to it as “ours”. They are pretty safe in letting me refer to it as partially mine as it is nine hour away as the crow flies, or this being Kingsville, as the Canada goose soars. Twelve if you get lost, or are a hummingbird. We got “lost” last summer having read the instruction we got off the internet incorrectly. 12.0 km is a lot different than 120 kilometres. Just saying…….

I have only been to “my” cottage twice, once last August and about a month and a half ago when the lake was still frozen over, and there was still some snow on the ground. It is a year round cottage and Peg and Herb, being only an hour away from it, use it year round. While that luxury is open to us, the nine hour trip makes it not quite as palatable for a weekend trip. We could have gone up this first unofficial long weekend of summer—and gotten in on Saturday night, spent Sunday there, and then turned around and come back on Monday morning—but it did not seem quite worth it. Maybe when we get our private plane…..after we win the lottery.

The cottage is set on an Eco lake, which means you can paddle on it to your heart’s content, or use an electric motor on a dingy. So it is lovely and quiet. Last August on the last day of our vacation I sat on the end of the dock with my sister as we dangled our bare feet in the water. It was idyllic, and this year, in August I intend on doing the same, except on the first day of vacation and every day thereafter. When I was there in early April, we did not dangle our bare feet off the dock—as the cottage is in Quebec, about an hour outside of Ottawa, and they have true Canadian weather up there. The lake, though still frozen, was beautifully serene.

Looking out over the frozen lake, with bits of snow in the tree branches was a different experience than my summer visit. But with a fire going in the wood stove (backed up by electric heaters in each room) it was cozy and welcoming. We were “recovering” from a memorial we had attended a few days earlier for our brother John, and the cottage was healing in a way. The summer before he had made the trip up to the cottage and we reminisced about sitting on the deck and laughing and eating and drinking, and generally having one of the times of our lives we would look back on fondly.

The cottage is open and airy, and slightly rustic in that the wood floors are painted white and the beams are exposed—but it has all the amenities of home. And because it is my sister’s, it is decorated impeccably. She has the eye of an interior decorator, and taste similar to mine, so of course I think it is faultless. Vacationing at the cottage is a true vacation. And since the cottage is not truly mine, I do not have the worries, concerns, cleaning, or bills associated with ownership. Plus Peg and Herb fete us like royalty when we are there, and cocktail hour usually begins with the words “it is five o’clock somewhere”.

I am sure all of us brought in “summer” in a different way this last weekend. And even though the weather this week is more spring than summer, we have had a taste of the warm months to come. And whether you opened your real cottage, lay claim to someone else’s, or are content to go to that lovely cottage in your mind, I think we all bid summer a hearty welcome. What lay ahead are picnics and barbeques, festivals and fairs, and for us, a trip to “the cottage” in August.

Living in the moment seems to be the modern mantra, but remembering good things from the past, and looking forward to good things in the future cannot be discounted.

Should we limit ourselves to just living in the present–or have we learned that lesson well enough to start incorporating the past and looking forward to the future?

Published in: on May 20, 2015 at 12:57 pm  Comments (16)  

Saturday Morning

on thehomefrontandbeyond:

seriously something to consider…..we can meditate anywhere

Originally posted on Live & Learn:

Meditation can happen anywhere – in a supermarket, in a forest, in your hospital bed. It is not a ‘doing’ but the unravelling of doing, a remembrance of the immediacy of life, the thrilling closeness of experience, the fragrance of Home. A single breath, the sound of a bird singing, the beeping of a heart monitor – all of these are little reminders of your true life. With your eyes open, with your eyes closed, remember, you are here, and always will be.

Make contact.

— Jeff Foster, Unexpected Meditation

Photo: precious things

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Published in: on May 16, 2015 at 1:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

They Left Us Everything

“I used to think parents should clean up their own mess before they depart this world; now I think just the opposite.” These are the words of Plum Johnson, an award winning Canadian author who wrote a book called “They Left us Everything”. It is a book everyone should read. I do not usually make such sweeping statements, but after reading this book I am convinced that everyone would not only benefit from Plum’s wisdom, but enjoy how she delivers it. The book begins on a bit of a discordant note, but anyone who is part of a family will connect to it—we have all been there—some of us will recognize the dissonance immediately and relate; some of us, luckily, may not.

Throughout the book, the author comes to understand the roots of her discord, and begins to appreciate the people who left behind what she calls the “mess”. The “mess” is in the form of a large house much loved by all who resided there and the things left behind by the death of her parents. To say that her parents were hoarders would not be fair, but to put it in some perspective for you—they had 4000 square feet of home and it was jam packed with family history, antiques, historical papers, the detritus of everyday life, and yes, some junk.

I have often said that I must clean up my house and particularly my bedroom before I deign to breath my last breathe, but no one knows more clearly than I that we do not generally choose our death or where we die. It may be ordained somewhere by someone, but we are not let in on the secret. After reading this book though, I think leaving a trail behind for my children may lead them to make some discoveries of their own.

The author of the book, Plum, is tasked with sorting out the house her mother leaves behind when she dies. Her father died three years earlier, and her mother had no interest in going through her husband’s “stuff” thus it is left up to the four remaining siblings to sift through the lifetime of their parents and what they left behind. And what they left behind not only tells their story, but the story of the generations before them.

Plum lived in the big house for 16 months before it was taken over by new buyers who were deemed worthy. In that time she had the help of many friends and her three brothers, but she was the one who took fastidious note of what had been left behind. Then she spent two years writing her book. And in the process she came to the following conclusion: “Earlier I’d resolved to clear out my own mess,… so my children wouldn’t have to face it, but since then I’ve had a change of heart. Now I believe this clearing out is a valuable process—best left to our children. It’s the only way they’ll ever truly come to know us, discovering things we never wanted them to find.”

I agree with her almost totally, though I believe I am not (at least at this point) leaving any evidence behind of things I do not want my children to find. I have edited my life in such a way that, though I am messy, I am not leaving anything behind that will incriminate me. Or at least I do not think so.

They will find books upon books, stashes of costume jewellery, books of poetry written while I waited for them to come from basketball practice or some other after school activity, perhaps some hidden chocolate bar wrappers (I particularly like the fruit and nut chocolate bars) and lots and lots of odds and ends—a notebook my dad left behind from work; a pair of my mom’s old glasses; a pair of white leather gloves that I love but have never worn. They will find hats that I have not been brave enough to wear, millions of scarves in all shapes and sizes, and boxes at the back of my closet holding the paraphernalia of the girl I used to be—the one who wore a Juliet dress to a formal in university; old perfume bottles; and more knick knacks than you can shake a stick at (an odd phrase but one that fits quite neatly here). They will also find remnants of the life I have led with their father, beginning with my wedding dress (handmade by my mom), saved but not too carefully—which says something about me and not the reverence I hold the frock.

No life can be neatly wrapped and tied with a bow. My advice: read the book and be aware that what you leave behind tells its own tales.

What will your children find?

Published in: on May 12, 2015 at 7:14 pm  Comments (15)  

Should? Must is different.

on thehomefrontandbeyond:

I “must” reblog this……..

Originally posted on Live & Learn:


When we choose Should, we’re choosing to live our life for someone or something other than ourselves. The journey to Should can be smooth, the rewards can seem clear, and the options are often plentiful.

Must is different. Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s that which calls to us most deeply. It’s our convictions, our passions, our deepest held urges and desires — unavoidable, undeniable, and inexplicable. Unlike Should, Must doesn’t accept compromises.

Must is when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own — and this allows us to cultivate our full potential as individuals. To choose Must is to say yes to hard work and constant effort, to say yes to a journey without a road map or guarantees, and in so doing, to say…

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Published in: on May 11, 2015 at 1:49 pm  Comments (4)  

Sounds of Silence

This is dedicated to my online mentor, David Kanigan, who has of late, been the muse behind my weekly column:

“….each silence has a character of its own. No meditation better
clears the mind than to listen to the shape of the silence that surrounds
us. It focuses us on the thin line between what is there and what is not
there. It opens our heart to the unseen, and reminds us that the world
is larger than the events that fill our days.” ~ Kent Nerburn, ‘The Eloquence of Silence’

I bask in silence and need it to nurture what I think of as my soul. In his essay, ‘The Eloquence of Silence’ from the book, “Small Graces: The Quiet Gifts of Everyday Life”, Kent Nerburn captures the very essence of silence. Silence dressed in the white flowing robes of clarity provides us with the room to think; the room to contemplate; and the room to gather the scatter of our lives. Not all silence is calm. Sometimes, in the shroud of darkness, it shouts and in that silence there is no peace. But the silence that I find nourishing has no specific voice other than the one I choose to give it.

I know people who thrive on the busyness of life. And I understand. There is satisfaction in getting things done; going places; and being industrious. Sometimes I thrive on these things, but I need the balance of silence to offset the demands of a hectic life. Of late I have been spring cleaning, and if I do say so myself I am appalled at the dust bunnies, cobwebs, and detritus of everyday life that I have ignored during the cold months. But in my diligent hunt to eradicate dust and dirt, I pause and sit in silence to enjoy the harvest of my labours: the clean front window, the no longer grime encrusted kitchen fan, the clean bric-a-brac that litters every surface in all my rooms. (I am just this side of being a bit of a hoarder.)

In silence, I relish the life that busyness has created. I revisit the pleasant lunch I had with my sister who is visiting from Ottawa; I listen once again to the music of a rare concert; I revisit the laughter of times spent with friends. If I did not have silence then the events of my life would have one note. With silence, I have the whole melody to revel in the complexities of life.

I am not the only one who cherishes silence. Here are a few of my favourite quotes about silence from some pretty famous people, so I am in good company:

1. I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own. – Chaim Potok, The Chosen
2. Silence is a source of great strength. – Lao Tzu
3. Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence. – Leonardo da Vinci
4. Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact. – George Eliot
5. Silence is a true friend who never betrays. – Confucius
6. Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom. – Francis Bacon
7. Choose silence of all virtues, for by it you hear other men’s imperfections, and conceal your own. – George Bernard Shaw
8. There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub. – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
9. Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. – Max Ehrmann, Desiderata
10. There are times when silence is the best way to yell at the top of your voice. – O. A. Battista

Silence can shout and it must be listened to. When I do not have enough “silent” time I am decidedly off my game. I need silence to gather my thoughts; to put together the self that has been torn apart; to just be. And it is multi-dimensional, as Nerburn illustrates in this passage, which I think deserves to conclude a column dedicated to silence:

“We need to pay heed to the many silences in our lives. An empty room is alive with a different silence than a room where someone is hiding. The silence of a happy house echoes less darkly than the silence of a house of brooding anger. The silence of a winter morning is sharper than the silence of a summer dawn.”

Enjoy, delight, and revel in the many silences of your life.

Where do you find your comfortable silence?

Published in: on May 4, 2015 at 4:21 pm  Comments (17)  
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Lesson Learned

It seems that of late, all I can offer is my weekly column:

I have learned a valuable lesson: never judge a book by its blurbs. Case in point: I just finished reading Elaine Liu’s “sort of” (her words) memoir called enigmatically “Listen to the Squawking Chicken.” I loved the book. I could not put it down. Loosely it is about her life and the effect that her mother has on that life. Very loosely. But I will get into more of that later.

On the back of the book, titled Praise for “Listen to the Squawking Chicken”, were these words from the magazine HELLO! Canada: “If you’re a fan of dry wit, self-deprecation and unintentionally touching mother-daughter moments, then this book is for you. I pretty much spit my coffee out laughing through the entire thing. And it makes you want to hug your mother a little bit tighter.” My first bone to pick with this quote is that it used the pronoun “I” yet there was no name attached to the quote—so are we to determine that a magazine can talk? But that is just me being finicky. I also did not find the book funny. Not at all. If I were drinking coffee, I would not have spit it out in laughter.

CBC Books also had a quote that was not attributed to a particular person. And the quote also called the book “A laugh-out-loud, surprisingly sentimental, self-proclaimed ‘sort-of memoir’ that is a loving ode to Lui’s loud, no-nonsense and always-right mother.” I did not laugh-out-loud. I did not find the book funny.

Jan Wong from The Chronicle Herald called it “A funny, new Chinese-Canadian memoir….” Again I did not find the book funny. Perhaps my funny bone is located in a much different place than the reviewers quoted on the back of the book. The Winnipeg Free Press also called it “funny”, and author Kevin Kwan said that the book “had me laughing till I rolled off the bed.” I know this is getting repetitive, but I did not fall off the bed laughing; I did not spit out my coffee laughing; and, I did not find it funny.

What is funny? Perhaps my definition is too narrow. Funny to me is light-hearted. And this book was not all that light-hearted—though in the writing of it, the author, in her truth, did not spare any detail—whether it be unflattering or not.

Now there are a lot of things in the blurbs that I agreed with. Author Jenny Lawson said that she “devoured the book in one sitting…. alternately cheering, laughing, cringing and gasping in horror.” I think she wrapped the book up quite succinctly in her assessment and I agree with all but one of her observations (and I bet you can guess which one). The Winnipeg Free Press, besides finding the book funny, also found it “honest, fearless…..smart, wise and irreverent”. The book was all that and more. The more is explained by Jan Wong in the rest of her quote: “Blending explanations of feng shui and filial piety (family loyalty) with frequent-flying f-bombs, the memoir offers counterintuitive, yet wise, parenting advice. Regardless of cultural background, anyone—parent or adult child—can glean lessons.”

Memoir is such a gentle sounding word. One conjures up memories of everyone sitting happily around the dinner table at Sunday suppers, going to Christmas concerts and applauding the efforts of those on stage, standing on the sidelines at soccer games with orange slices at the ready for snack time, and generally all “the feel good” moments of life. But a true memoir includes all the grit and grimness of everyday life, as well as the good stuff. And this book is a true memoir. It does not hide behind sentimentality, and when it is sentimental—it seems so by accident.

I appreciated this book, and felt the same as Kevin Kwan did at the end. When he composed himself (after falling off the bed laughing) he said that he rearranged his “living room furniture in a panic at 3:00 a.m. to achieve proper feng shui” and called his mother “out of pure guilt.” He said, quite rightly that “The Squawking Chicken (as Lui’s mother is monikered) could eat any Tiger Mom for lunch.”

So my hypothesis at the beginning of this column is flawed. You can judge a book by its blurbs, but keep in mind that what others think is “funny” may not be what you think is funny. This book is entertaining, enlightening, shocking, and makes you think about your own parenting techniques, but it is not funny!

What is your idea of funny?

Published in: on April 28, 2015 at 1:32 pm  Comments (13)  
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Zenku #253

on thehomefrontandbeyond:

I have been walked by a dog before…………

Originally posted on Zen Kettle:

Dog walking man



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Published in: on April 24, 2015 at 12:15 pm  Comments (6)  

T.G.I.F.: It’s been a long week

on thehomefrontandbeyond:

Has your week been like this—-sometimes invigorating…..sometimes not……

Originally posted on Live & Learn:


Source: Paper Ghosts

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Published in: on April 24, 2015 at 12:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Easily Ignored

My newspaper column this week, inspired David Kanigan:

Question: “What is a cloud like?”
Answer: “They’re like God’s dreams,…”

A taxi cab driver asked one of his frequent passengers, who happened to be blind, what the one thing she wished she could see. Her answer was “Clouds”. He was surprised at her answer, so he asked her why—and she said: “Because I cannot imagine them.”

The driver whose name is Ken Nerburn is now an author and he wrote a book called “Small Graces: The Quiet Gifts of Everyday Life.” In his book is an essay called, ‘The Gift of Clouds’, and in that essay he attempted to describe clouds. In the end he concluded that they “are like God’s dreams,” and the woman was peacefully satisfied with that intangible but apt description.

He did describe clouds more concretely–not as a climatologist or scientist might—but as a poet, an artist with words. He said:

“What else in this great universe so eludes description, so fills the spirit with wonder? What else floats gossamer and ethereal above our lives, never touching down but always present with us, a reminder of the majesty of an unseen God? As a child we are alive to their magic. We lie on our backs on summer hillsides, make up stories, find giants and dragons in their forms. They are God’s sketchbook, the measure of our capacity to dream. But as we grow, they fall victim to numbing familiarity. Their poetry and majesty, though still alive in our hearts, is easily overlooked, easily ignored.”

His words make you wonder what else we overlook and ignore. What other things that we found so magical when we were children are now just part and parcel of the drudgery of everyday life? As a child I did lay flat on my back in the soft grass in my front yard with my little sister and find all manner of wonderful things in the clouds: happy faces and dogs, magic carpets and fairies, castles and sometimes, sometimes, even God’s face—because when you are a child you think anything is possible.

Recently, I wrote a poem called “The Divine” and with your permission (I must ask because I know you do not have to read it) I will share it with you now. It celebrates some of those everyday things that make a life:

Prosaic poetry
Turns banal into inspiring
Evoking hidden magic
In the baking powder.
A tea canister
Holds warmth and comfort
Loosened by
Boiling water

Crusty French bread
Slathered in real butter
Heaven bursts forth
On the tongue.

Lunch with friends
Or favourite sister ~
Time stands still, waits,
Leaving a crumpled napkin.

Life delights
If you do not think about it too hard.

Nonsense makes sense
If you wait long enough…..

It is the small things that are the big things. The big things melt away revealing the important things that sometimes get left behind as we grow up, grow older, and grow familiar. It is in the familiar that we need to recognize life’s mystical charm.

What are your small things that are really your big things?

Published in: on April 20, 2015 at 1:49 pm  Comments (32)  
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