Monday, May 04, 2015

At the Water's Edge





Today I finished "At the Water's Edge". Sara Gruen, the author, also wrote "Water for Elephants", which I read not too long ago.

In this novel, set in early 1945, the main character is an American woman visiting Scotland with her husband and his best friend. Back in Philadelphia, they are socialites with more money than direction or purpose, and their trip to Scotland in the middle of World War II is more of a frolic than anything else.

They are after a sighting -- and hopefully photographic proof -- of the Loch Ness monster. This fact, coupled with their truly awe-inspiring rudeness toward everyday, working-class people, alienates the sympathy of the local populace with surprising speed.

Mild hijinks ensue and our heroine, frequently abandoned at the inn while the men go adventuring for days at a time, winds up interested in, attracted to, and understanding of the hardworking locals.

I have to admit, here, that I didn't feel captivated by this book. The conflicts seemed overly contrived, and because the villain spent so much time off-stage, I didn't feel very invested in or concerned about the threat to our heroine. I never really believed she was in any danger -- certainly none that a bit of stiff upper lip couldn't prevent.

With all its faults I preferred "Water for Elephants" to this one. Still - I'm glad I read it and it was a nice way to pass a few hours over the last week or so.

Up next -- Kazuo Ishiguro does it again!

Friday, March 20, 2015

I'd Like to Think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the up-side.

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

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

I'm working at the local yarn shop.

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

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

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

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

I hope.

I hope.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Cup of Kindness

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Be well, and Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dress Shop of Dreams

The Dress Shop of Dreams: A Novel



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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Paging Linus van Pelt

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

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

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

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

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

Like I do.




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

Gingerbread? We could do another gingerbread house...

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

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

Maybe volunteer at the Food Bank again...



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




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

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


Thursday, October 23, 2014

O Canada.

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

Mostly what's left now is rage.

I like what Rex Murphy has to say.




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

 


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

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

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

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

God keep our land.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Another Farewell

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

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

He saw much and said little.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye Dad, with my love and thanks.


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

May your Blessings be great...
.....love/Dad