Saturday, December 31, 2011

In Retrospect

EDIT: Dave reminded me that my post "Peace be With You" was nominated for Best Blog Post in the Canadian Blog Awards. I squeaked through into Round Two, so if you'd like to vote for me that would be great. (If, of course, you think the other four posts are not as good as mine. You must vote with your conscience, and you only get one shot at each poll.)

I have been sitting here for forty-five minutes halfheartedly clicking around the web, and I ended up on my own blog to answer the question (asked by myself - the only interested party) of how many New Year's Eve posts I have written.


I'm surprised: I thought it would be more.

I read the post (from 2006, amazingly), then scrolled down to see a photo of my children from Christmas Day five years ago. A five year old and a two year old - how shocking.

As far as recording history goes, this blog isn't much use, is it? I guess the fact that it's public keeps it from having any kind of archival accuracy - I keep my children off the blog, mostly.

But look at this. Christmas week, 2006:

And Christmas week, 2011:

Can we all just sit and marvel for a moment at the lightning-swift passage of time?

A moment is all we have time for, though.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

You're a Mean One.

We went to the city yesterday. We had some gift cards to spend, and since Chapters online can be hard to navigate, we took the kids to the brick and mortar store.

Woodgrove Center Mall a week ago was a happy and bustling place, filled with (mostly) pleasant, excited people who smiled at you when you made eye contact. "Merry Christmas!" was a euphonic chorus on my ears.

And now, Baby Jesus is looking around going "Hey! Where'd everybody go?" Fast forward a few days, to December 27.  ALMIGHTY. Those people are cranky!! I mean, they are MAD cranky! This one guy went past me in the food court (which was like the eighth circle of hell), and he practically flipped me the bird when I happened to glance at him, made eye contact, and gave a half-smile. He nearly snarled. His brow descended and I swear his lip curled. I looked away, kind of scared, and accidentally made eye contact with someone else. Oops! sorry. I'll keep my eyes on the floor from now on.

You should have seen the sad, pitiful tables at Winners, full of 50% off last-ticketed-price "Christmas Decor" items. Packs of six ornaments, one in smithereens, propping up listless, haphazardly-coiled wreaths of red-painted styrofoam balls, with their paint flaking. Every Santa's hat was crooked, every cheerful elf missing the toe of one resin shoe. Drifts of glitter sifted down to the peeling tile, to be kicked around by wet and muddy boots. The last week of December, they should change their name to "Losers".

By the time I got home, I just wanted to throw everything away. Like, everything I own. Take everything (except my new slippers), shove it into a bag, and bin it. Take that tree, ornaments and all, and throw it on the compost. Take all the tins of baking, full, and chuck them in a dumpster. I bought a "Boxing Day Door Crasher" $4.99 Blu Ray of "The English Patient" today -- screw it. Kick it to the curb.

And it's all because of that unholy mall. It's all because of those stupid people, pushing and shoving and frowning and glowering, because they didn't get the iPhone they were hoping for, or their kid threw up on them after too much eggnog or the turkey was dry or the turkey was raw or they forgot the potatoes. Or because they ate too much or drank too much, or because they didn't drink enough. Because three days ago they spent too much money panicking about little Johnny's stocking not being as full as little Janey's, and now they are out at the mall to find some 'deals' and throw good money after bad.

I solemnly swear, by all that is holy and by all that I hold dear...I raise my hand to the heavens, fall on my bended knees and pledge a vow here and now, that I will NOT LEAVE MY HOUSE next year from Boxing Day right through to New Year's Day.

I will keep my Christmas spirit to the last! Right, straight through to Epiphany.

I could still get it back, I think. If I medicate myself carefully with carols, coffee, and rum balls, I think I can recapture that elusive Spirit.

It can't be gone for good, right?

Time for King's College Cambridge, and Captain Morgan. Stat!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Theme: What I Knit for Christmas

On October 20, Gwen emailed everybody with her Christmas list. On it was "A great big sweater to swath myself in. Preferably in some shade of green."

I, in turn, emailed everybody (except Gwen) and said "I call the sweater."

The "green" thing didn't happen - Gwen likes cables so I decided on a gansey, which is traditionally blue. So, blue it was.

November was a little busy for me, but I did manage to win NaNoWriMo AND knit my sister's sweater within the month allotted. 

Sadly, I was so stinkin' sick in the first two weeks of December, I didn't manage to take any photos of Gwennie's Gansey before it had to be mailed.

So I had to ask Gwennie to snap some photos for me, which she did with alacrity.

My favourite one is this one below, showing the Gansey nestled among its fellows - garments I have knit for Gwen in the past. Isn't that something! That whole drawer - all handknits. And I don't mean to brag, or anything, but there are lots more that aren't showing.

There are layers in that drawer, baby!

Thanks, Gwen, for the photos. Love you!


Yarn: Harrisville New England Highland Aran 10-ply in Cobalt - #31.
Pattern: Based on the Robin's Hood Bay gansey from Gladys Thompson's Patterns for Guernseys Jerseys & Arans, with some modifications based on "Fylingdales" (Lisa Lloyd, A Fine Fleece). I increased the length of the stockinette portion at the bottom of Robin's Hood Bay, cut WAY back on the length of the cabled portion so it begins about 4 inches below the armhole (I think it's more flattering this length), took out the knitted initials, added Lisa Lloyd's welt and used her button band, used a plain 2X2 collar, and added a top-down, knitted-in saddle shoulder of the rope cable, flowing down the sleeve to the cuff. The cuff is about 4.5 inches long and knit quite tightly, to enable folding back of sleeves. (This is a house sweater and as such should be able to be shoved up to the elbows while using flour/water/detergent/towels/hair products.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Solstice

Today's ornament, a ceramic angel with a concertina (lucky). I've always wanted one. (A concertina, that is.)

Victoria was interesting. The much-vaunted carol service was a slight disappointment...definitely the most watered-down Christmas service I've ever attended. The last time I was at this particular service was more than ten years ago: when it comes to Christchurch's theology, apparently the intervening decade has been one of dilution. In a church carol service on December 18th, don't you think "baby Jesus" should come up?

Neither have I ever been terribly fond of removing gendered language from carols: such as, in Joy to the World, "Let earth receive its king". Or, in Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, "Pleased as one of us to dwell" (rather than "Pleased as man with man to dwell"). I suppose in the scheme of things it's not going to kill me to sing that, but it does feel faddish.

Tony Parsons proved to be an excellent reader of Scripture, though, and the book of Isaiah was never so sonorous.

(In case you're curious - he seems shorter in real life. Also, he did not sing "Hark, the Herald" with the congregation. Instead, he was bantering amusingly with the woman sitting next to him. I suspect he might have been joshing about the robes and swinging censer of the clergy passing by him for the choir recessional.)

In any event, we are home. I came back with something quite beautiful...I have not impulse-bought such an extreme price tag in years. What do you think?

They were half price, though, so I feel entirely justified. I would normally not buy myself something right before Christmas, but I had saved my lovely mother-in-law's birthday cheque for just such an occasion, and am completely satisfied with these.

I think I'm retiring from the internet now, and will rejoin you around the New Year. My very best wishes to you all for a Merry Christmas. Enjoy the day and don't skimp on the rum balls!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

In one week

Thank you for your comments and good wishes on the last post. My friend's surgery went well - she was even able to keep part of her thyroid. Further treatment is still undecided.
* * *
This Sunday, the 18th of December, I am taking my daughters to the Festival of Lessons and Carols at Christchurch Cathedral in Victoria. I'm so looking forward to it. If you are at all interested in traditional carols, liturgical Christmas celebrations, or the ambiance of a church at Christmas, I do recommend checking Anglican or Catholic churches near you to see whether one is offered.*

The crazy Catherine-wheel of Christmas is in full-tilt here. The next week is going to be "hair-straight-back", as my mother amusingly says.

I have no knitting. My needles are all empty. For weeks I have been debating what to cast on, but I just never seem to do it. I have so much yarn, so that's not the problem. Must think about it.

But first I must bake some things. I've made gingerbread (a titanic batch, actually - compassing 3 cups of butter and 13 cups of flour) and we have iced them, and that took three days - but other than that, I have no baking done. Molasses Crackles, Scandinavian Almond Bars, and Ginger Spice Cookies are for tomorrow. I am saving making my sister's Rum Ball recipe for when we get back from Victoria, because if I make them too soon I will eat them all in a welter of stress-induced pre-Christmas gluttony, and will have nothing yummy left for the Day.

The featured ornament for today is this little Victorian girl, in her green coat and buttoned boots. I've only had her for about 8 years, but I like her. I have dozens of ornaments, but I only put a handful on the tree every year, as I like my tree to look unadorned and natural. There are a lot of berries and birds, and very few other decorations, but she always makes the cut.

* If you lived in downtown Toronto, for example, you'd have a few choices - one of them being 7 PM at St Thomas' Anglican Church, which is fairly close to where you'd live, hypothetically, if you lived in downtown Toronto. (Hi, Joe and Dave.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The long night of the soul.

Life is a strange thing, isn't it? You step onto the path and you can see it winding away among the trees, picturesque and inviting. Then at some point you round a corner and find a tree down over the trail, and it takes some scrambling to get over it. Later, the path takes you pretty close to a steep drop, and you sort of hug the wall on your way past. Later still, you come face to face with a stream, swollen by rain, that has crumbled away most of the path you're following. Getting past is going to take some ingenuity and some perseverance, and not a little courage.

After a while, you start to wonder nervously what else is in store for you. What else will you have overcome by the time you get to journey's end? It's not surprising that we feel a little fearful every time we can't see around the next corner.

My friend has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She is a little younger than me, with children around the same age. I have just spoken to her on the phone - I checked in because tomorrow is her surgery. She's going to have her thyroid removed, along with the tumour that has grown in her throat.

If this were happening to me, I think to myself, I wouldn't sleep all night. I would wander the house like a restless spirit. She says "I won't have trouble sleeping...I'm a good sleeper. I'm already tired."

I hope so.

I remember that Sandy emailed me the night before her surgery. She said
I tried to read. Can't. Tried to watch TV. Can't. Long hours of night stretch before me, and I don't know how I'll reach the end. I think I'll start that blog - how do I get going?  
It makes me think that we are so frail and lovely, we humans. So fragile and frightened. It's terrifying when things happen to our bodies. When we're facing it, our souls reach out. We start conversations. We start blogs. We write letters which we may never send. We crave communion.

C.S. Lewis famously said: You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body. 

It's true. And how does this change me? How does this change the way we live, and the way we face our fragility: our mortality?

* * *

Christmas is ten days away. I have gingerbread dough chilling in the fridge.

My tree is up.

I'm happy.

And I'm praying for my friend, whose Christmas has already gotten lost. Next Christmas, may she be up to her elbows in flour, hiding her children's presents, talking on the phone to her sister, and looking back on tonight, thinking 'How long ago it all seems!'

I hope.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Brain Clearly Still Not Working Properly.

Sitting on my lounge of lurgy this morning (thanks for that one, Ames), I was perusing some Facebook posts about the ethics of Islamic justice. Fell down the rabbit hole for about a half hour and then came upon this headline:

Saudi Arabia: Men ‘Behaving Like Women’ Face Flogging

upon which I flinched and said to myself, "Ouch! Imagine being flogged on your face! Oh......oh, wait......oh "face flogging", not face-flogging. Never mind."

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


I write to you today from my couch of pain. I have been slain by a head cold. I have been prostrate for two days, propped up with cushions in a vain attempt to reduce the congestion.

I have that weird sensation of absolute clarity in my actual nose, but with sinuses so completely blocked, so completely pressurized, that my ears are aching and my forehead feels swollen. I feel like my head is gone and I am carrying an aquarium around on my neck. Heavy, sloshy, and slow to respond.

I have a feeling this might be just slightly related to NaNoWriMo -- I often find that, once a stressful deadline has passed, I succumb to whatever virus is currently stalking the town. In this case, it's this stupid cold.

NaNo went well, I think. The word count goal was met, but of course I haven't written "The End" yet...I am about two thirds of the way through. I have a bit of writing, and a lot of editing and reworking still to do. The book, like me, is resting for the remainder of 2011 and will be ready for another hard slog in the New Year.

I haven't started Christmas preparations feels too early. This is silly because it is only 18 days away. Most of my presents are bought, but I haven't done a scrap of cleaning and no decorating. The one exception is the Advent calendar, which of course has to be done on December 1st no matter HOW little one is in the spirit.

I was reminded of this series of posts by one of my favourite bloggers, and went to look it up for you. Lene posted several photos of her beautiful Advent calendar in December of 2007, and I think of this series every year. I was surprised to find, when I searched for it, that it was so long ago...between one thing and another, these past four years have flown by.

So enjoy Lene's lovely Advent calendar, and think of me with pity, here on my davenport of sofa of chesterfield of chesty coughs.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011


thnk u

thnk u 4 yr comnts

werds all used up

more l8r

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How'm I Doin'?

I am in despair.

Word is interrupting my writing to tell me, of all things, that this phrase:

    ...maybe it’s better this way

is incorrect, and it suggests that I change it to:

    ...maybe its better this way.

Sometimes I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. "Make straight the English language", I'm begging you.

Just in case you simply can't believe it, here is a screen shot:

Sunday, November 06, 2011

My Inner World in Four Minutes and Nine Seconds

Gwen, this is our past...this is our future.

Shannon & Gwen, together forever.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Luuuv my girl.

My seven year old, gloomy look on her face, just came in to the bedroom where I was writing, and crawled into bed beside me. "What's up, honey?"
"Charlotte just came and kicked me off the computer where I was playing Angry Birds. She wanted to write her book. She said "I'm gonna lose Nanabooboo all because of you."

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Using all my words up

So I will probably not update for a good while. Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Arresting the Decay of Language, Cont'd

All right, listen.

There are two ways to say the word "the". You can say "thUH" (short E: phonetically spelled thĕ [the underlining of th indicates it's the "voiced" th, as in "they" - as opposed to the "voiceless" th, as in "throw"]), or you can say "th-EE" (long E: phonetically spelled thē).

Generally speaking, when "the" precedes a word beginning with a consonant (or hard) sound, you would use the short "the", as in this phrase:

The dog ran past the car.

"Thĕ dog ran past thĕ car".

But if "the" precedes a word beginning with a vowel (or soft) sound, you would use the long "the", as in this phrase:

The owl hunted the otter. 

"Thē owl hunted thē otter."

What you'll find, in these troublous times, is that people use only one version of "the" - the one with the short vowel sound "thUH". But if you use a short "the" right before a word that begins with a vowel (osprey, end, abstract), the sounds run together and you end up with a phrase like "the udder" sounding more like "thuhuhdder". Well, obviously that doesn't work: there has to be some kind of delineation between the two vowel sounds.

Enter the glottal stop: Ɂ .

Do you know what a glottal stop is? It's a tiny halt you make in your throat, during speaking, to cut off the flow of air for a split second. It sounds weird, but try saying "thEE udder", and then try saying "thUH udder" and you'll see what I have to do a glottal stop whether you've heard of it or not. You'd write it "thĕ Ɂ ŭdder".

Well, glottal stops are all very well - nice and technical, and all, but why use them if you don't have to? Why not just use the correct pronunciation of "the"?

Good question.

Thē ĕnd.

Friday, October 21, 2011


I'm thinking of doing NaNoWriMo.


Monday, October 17, 2011

International Day of Shan

Yesterday was my birthday!! And you all missed it....I'm so sorry for you.

A good time was had by all:

(Empty bottles = a good sign.)

And lots of food. My sister gave me "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and, 8 hours after I opened it, I gave it its first grease stain and hand-written notation! Super exciting.

(The grease stain is at the top right corner of that photo.)

I am thirty-eight now! And, on that note I must add a small gripe about our society. (Of course I do.) What is this fashion for calling we older women "29" as if it's some kind of compliment? Four different people said that to me yesterday. "So!! Twenty-nine, huh?!" [wink wink]  Please, I said. 29 is a beginner...I am "skilled intermediate". Ten more years to "advanced" and then another ten to "master".

Monday, October 10, 2011

Poems for Life

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 11, Number 2

Selected by Laura Barber
After a long hiatus from reviews, I have a backlog of books to share with you. I found a wonderful second-hand bookstore a week or two ago, which provided me with an enormous stack of volumes, and I've also got a whole collection of other things I've meant to tell you about for - oh, at least two years.
For today, I'm looking at an anthology I bought in a sudden burst of self-directed generosity, purely motivated by the title and the cover, and the knowledge that Penguin never lets me down. It's a collection of poems relating to our personal journeys through life - the ultimate human condition, the sweet and bitter, emulsified joy and suffering.
"The effect of a poem can be real and tangible," editor Laura Barber writes, " seems there are plenty of times in our lives when only a poem will do." The hundreds of poems in Penguin's Poems for Life, though just a smattering of what's out there, Do marvellously.
Love set you going like a fat gold watch,
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
          -Sylvia Plath, from Morning Song

Barber continues, "The structure of the book was inspired by a few lines in Shakespeare's play As You Like It, in which one of the characters, Jacques, describes a human life as having seven distinct stages." The book is divided into chapters accordingly: Birth and Beginnings; Childhood and Childish Things; Growing Up and First Impressions; Making a Living and Making Love; Family Life, for Better, or for Worse; Getting Older, Looking Back; Intimations of Mortality; and (an extra chapter) Mourning and Monuments. 
How can the bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing.
          -William Blake, from The School Boy
One of the things I like best about the anthology is that the poems are organised within the chapters by theme and expression, not by chronology or author. So, reading along, you might finish off an e.e. cummings, turn the page, and find Geoffrey Chaucer.
All the handsome boys from school
rode up front, and crowded there
at the prow of that long canoe. I
remember how we watched them. At night,
we slow-danced with them too. Their hair
was damp; we pressed ourselves
dreaming against their dark jackets like
butterflies in our thin dresses, caught.
          - Kirsty Gunn, Mataatua
The day I received this volume I didn't have time to look at it properly. The next day I sat down with it and opened it up to the first page, the first poem. It was Sylvia Plath's Morning Song. It only took a few lines before I remembered that I need to be careful with poetry - it's too truthful to take in large doses.
I am the ship in which you sail,
little dancing bones...
          - Maura Dooley, from Freight
Whammied by Sylvia Plath on the first page, I realised I wasn't going to be able to read the whole thing in order, as planned. I was going to have to administer tiny little doses seemingly at random, like putting a new CD on shuffle until you get to know it. I shut the book and then reopened it to any page, brushing a few lines here and there, never reading more than one entire poem at a time.
She sits in the park. Her clothes are out of date.
Two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt.
A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt.
Someone she loved once passes by - too late
to feign indifference to that casual nod.
'How nice,' et cetera. 'Time holds great surprises.'
From his neat head unquestionably rises
a small balloon...'but for the grace of God...'
They stand awhile in flickering light, rehearsing
the children's names and birthdays. 'It's so sweet
to hear their chatter, watch them grow and thrive,'
she says to his departing smile. Then, nursing
the youngest child, sits staring at her feet.
To the wind she says, 'They have eaten me alive.'
          - Gwen Harwood, In the Park
I suppose poetry is one of those things that some people just don't like. I suspect, though, that this comes from its association with school - it's one of those things you were forced to study just at the time of your life when you were least able to understand it. (Like me, with algebra.) Maybe if the prosaic among us could take a look at a carefully-selected poem later in life, they might feel a resonance within themselves.
I always remember your beautiful flowers
And the beautiful kimono you wore
When you sat on the couch
With that tigerish crouch
And told me you loved me no more.
What I cannot remember is how I felt when you were unkind
All I know is, if you were unkind now I should not mind.
Ah me, the power to feel exaggerated, angry and sad
The years have taken from me. Softly I go now, pad pad.
          - Stevie Smith, Pad, pad
To speak to outward appearance, this book is one of a series Penguin has published of clothbound editions which are really lovely on the shelf. They're not going to be enormously valuable collectors' items, naturally, but they are several steps above the mass-market paperback, and worth collecting for, say, a teenage daughter who will one day take them when she moves out. I'd like to get them for my children...though I have quite a few years left before they'll be on their own.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child
  for the past.
          - D.H. Lawrence, from Piano
There are times, says Penguin's Poems for Life, when only a poem will do. This anthology, so carefully chosen and so eclectic, will end up being a perennial favourite of mine. If a person didn't know much poetry and didn't know where to start, I'd wholeheartedly recommend this book to begin their education. With its thematic power, and its beautifully selected material, it has a value far beyond its price.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
          - Edna St Vincent Millay, from Dirge Without Music
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
          - Raymond Carver, Late Fragment

Friday, October 07, 2011


It's getting colder around here - very damp, too, which is seasonable. We do turn on the heat fairly early because we have old windows therefore a dampish house, but in the main, I try to put it off as long as possible. I just add layers.

Someone knocked on the door this morning and when I opened it, they did a double take. I realised that I've seen a lot of that lately, when people knock, so I took a picture of myself to objectively assess my "look". I have no idea what the problem is:

Am I dressed in clothes rather than pajamas? Check.

Am I wearing seasonably-appropriate colours and fabrics? Check.

Are my clothes clean? Check.

There's a faint whiff of demented, washed-up Highlander about it, but overall I think I'm doing pretty well.

(Maybe it's the hair?)

Monday, October 03, 2011

If nobody tells you, how can you know?

Dear People of the English-Speaking World:

The word is "normality".

Think about "formal", which is an adjective. Now make it into a noun....did you say to yourself, "formalcy"? No, you did not.

There is no such word as "normalcy". You may have used it yourself, and now you're saying "What? Of course there is!" But don't feel badly; you couldn't have known. It's everywhere - like "impact" used as a verb, as in "Your hydro bill won't really be impacted by that." [im-PAC-ted...yuck]  When, really, if you're not talking about a wisdom tooth or a bowel, don't say "impacted".

You could say "These changes won't really have an impact on your hydro bill."

Is "normalcy" in the dictionary? Sure. So is "LOL", and you won't catch etymologists and grammarians using that, either.

So please practice this: "The English language has to regain some semblance of normality."

You are a person with free will - of course you are. And if you decide to say "The English language has to regain some semblance of normalcy," nobody will arrest you. You just won't have my blessing, that's all.

And really, who cares about that?

Carry on.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Intentional Joy

Ten minutes ago - a knock on my door, a flower truck in the driveway.

The note began "Welcome to the year of intentional joy."

I laughed in happy disbelief.

Uncles mine, thank you!


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Peace Be With You

If you ever came to church with me, there's a bit of the service where the Pastor says "Peace be with you," and the congregation responds, "And also with you." He continues, "And now let us share this peace of the Lord with one another." So we all rise, turn to our neighbours, smile, shake hands and say "Peace be with you."

It's a bit funny to see someone who isn't used to this prescribed greeting, and visibly feels awkward or embarrassed. They sort of glance away, maybe mumble a half-hearted "You too" in response to your smiling greeting.

Sandy came to church with me a few times - once to become my daughters' godmother - and each time she did the cutest little self-conscious giggle when she shook my hand. "And also with you!! Hee hee!"

I remember feeling this way as a young girl, the first time I went to a church where there was a "shake hands with the person next to you" moment...I hated it. I felt like no one would approach me, or if they did I wouldn't know what to say and they'd think I was weird, or stupid. So instead, I decided THEY were weird and stupid. You know - for saying "Good morning" to each other in church. Fatuous idiots.

When I started going to the church I attend now - Lutheran - it took me a couple of Sundays to figure out that there was a loosely prescribed order to the proceedings: they would say "Peace be with you!" and I was meant to say "and also with you." I wasn't sure of this, so I smiled and said "You too" for the first two or three weeks, then sat down feeling oafish. After a couple of weeks I forced myself to say the expected words. I felt silly at first, offering the greeting or the response, but before long it felt okay.

Then it felt sort of natural.

Then it felt like I meant it.

Now, after that five minutes of the service, when everyone has smiled into my eyes and said "Peace be with you!" and I have replied, fondly, "And also with you", I feel it.

I feel peace.

I have been thinking a lot about the deliberateness of emotion. When I was younger I always thought emotion led to the action - so anger led to aggression, love led to being loving, and so on. I hated that trend I started to notice in my 20s - the "love is a decision" fad. If you don't feel it, I always thought to myself, you don't feel it - and that's that.

The part I didn't understand was the transience of love. The way it comes and goes. Sometimes, as a child, let's face it: you hate your sister. I mean, really hate her. You don't love her. And it's possible, as a parent, to wish your children would go away. Really wish it. Wish they weren't your problem anymore...ever. And sometimes you stop loving your spouse because the relentlessness of marriage has stripped away the sparkle and the humour...the new car smell is gone, you've spent too long in there being tired and crabby and impatient, and now it's just endless fill-ups and washer fluid and the console is stuffed with receipts and fast-food napkins.

Twenty years in, I know a bit more about relationships. I know a bit more about myself. I understand that emotions describe a circular path, not a linear one...and that you can jump on at any point in the circle.

Loving someone doesn't have to begin with the feeling. It can begin with the action: the verb use of the word. "I love you" doesn't always mean "I feel love for you." It can mean "I promise I will stay with you" or "I'll never send you away" or "I give you what you need." It can mean "I do all of this for you, without resentment."

You can train your emotions. You can love someone - the verb - and it can, wait: it IS...Love, the noun.

Mothers intone, "Be nice!" to their toddlers. This is the earliest training we get -- our mothers are telling us "I know you don't want to act this way - you want to act another way. You want to snatch things, to hit and to dominate your playmates. But you must DO niceness even when you don't FEEL niceness."

Life is full of these decisions. It takes discipline to implement them; real self-discipline to continue practicing them. They are the basis for civility.

Do love, and you will feel love.

Be gentle, and you will become gentle.

Practice patience, and your patience will increase.

All actions require practice. The first time you did anything, it was hard. Walking. Speaking. Riding a bike. Climbing a mountain. Painting a wall. Changing a diaper. Doing yoga. It only got easier as you became familiar with the mechanics of it, and your brain and your muscles learned how to do it, and then it became second nature.

On Sunday morning I shake hands with about twenty or thirty people; the ones on my side of the church. Each of them leans towards me, offers their hand, and a genuine smile as they say with friendliness, or gentleness, or humour, or quiet firmness, or with love, "Peace be with you." And I lean towards them, return the pressure of their hands, and say with fondness, eye contact and a smile, "And also with you."

The order of greeting has become my choice, and theirs, and what we are giving is what we receive: just what we are offering each other. Peace.

Sandy has been gone for a year. I've written about the way I have grieved for her, and I've said everything I want to say about that. During the past year I explored the process of grief, and practiced and observed the rituals of sorrow.

Some people "claim" a word for a given year, and meditate or dwell on that word throughout the year. Last year my word would have been Sorrow. This year I think my word will be Joy. I'm going to practice Joy and I'm going to practice Peace. I have held Sandy, I have thanked her for being in my life, and I have let her go.

Sandy, Peace be with you. What I give to you, I also receive....peace.

And to you, my patient readers, I offer my grateful thanks. I don't think it's easy to analyse and explore death and grief as I've been doing this year, so I thank you for reading and for writing. The dialogue with you has been such a gift to me.

What you wish the world to be, you must be. What you wish your world to have, you must give it.

What you wish to feel, you must do.

So. From me, to you.

Peace be with you.

Friday, September 23, 2011

3, 2, 1, blast off.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of Sandy's death. I just want to share a few short sentences from her last three posts...I was revisiting them each on the days they were written, but saved the last three for today.

I don't want to add anything else...I'll be back tomorrow to close this year out, give some final thoughts. In the meantime, I'm going to think about my friend and remember the last few days with her.

...the truth is that I don’t really know how I am. I don’t know if the chemo is working, I don’t know if the cancer is shrinking, I don’t even know most of the time how I am feeling because so much of how I’m feeling is because of chemo, or the drugs – so it’s difficult to say what part of my discomfort is because of chemo, and what part is because of cancer, and what part is because of being tired of it all, and wanting some reprieve.

Sometimes I feel that I am standing at the edge of the abyss, looking down into the river of lava at the centre of Mount Doom. It is the end of all things. My feet are torn and dusty, my lips cracked and parched. I am tired, filthy, crabby and confused.

My heart is going to break.

But. I am not alone.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Helpy Helpish

I've finished the Garden Jacket, but am completely stymied as to whether or not to add the pockets. Useful? yes. I need a place to keep Kleenex and Atavan. But it's not as pretty as I'd like.

Comment and tell me Yes or No on the pockets. Here are some photos to help you decide.
The sweater front "au naturel". Adorned only with a garden fork.

The sweater front with pocket in position. I had to mess with the colour so you could see the knitting better, so don't mind my freakish alien hand. In real life I am not a pale celadon hue.

I'm thinking if I end up putting them on, I will make some 3-stitch i-cord and sew it around the seam so it's nicer-looking.

And I have cast on another project. While standing in the knitting section of the library one day I turned a page in an interesting looking book, and stopped dead. "That's IT!" I hollered. "That's exactly what I need!" Within 24 hours I had been to the yarn store, bought some alpaca/wool, cast on, and was 14 inches in. I'll show you more later but right now it looks like nothing at all, so.

Here's a wee picture for you. Colour fairly true.

Tuesday is the five-year birthday of my blog. What a lot I have told you about over the years!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Aw crap.

A couple of years ago I reviewed a book called "Knitting and Tea". One of my favourite patterns in the book is the Garden Jacket, a cool reverse-stockinette thing with a trowel and a garden fork knitted right onto the front. I LOVE it.

I started knitting it last week, using my stash sweater-bag of Jo Sharp "Luxury Merino 8-ply DK" wool, which is not really DK at all. Using the ball-band-recommended needle size, I got a comfortably dense fabric of 19 stitches to 4 inches.

The ball band says I should have 22.5 stitches over 4 inches.

With nothing else appropriate in the stash, and having stared at this yarn for a year, wanting to knit it, I decided to just go with it anyway. I did the math and cast on for the smallest size...with the tension difference, I will end up with a size 44, which is perfect.

I was really motivated on this project, and knit the back in about three days. The back has a great little flower motif knitted into it high up between the shoulders...look how cute.

Carrying on to the front, I knit the right side first, and was about two inches from finishing it, when something bad happened. I picked it up and noticed there was a tightly gathered row right at the bottom of the trowel motif (four inches or so from the cast-on edge). There was a yarn end at the side, so I thought it was where I had joined in a new ball of yarn, and that it must have been pulled somehow and gathered the row. I smoothed the gathering out, and to my horror this is what came next.


I think what happened is, I (or someone - because I have no recollection of doing anything like this) must have pulled that piece out of my knitting bag, and it caught on a stitch holder or something, hooking it onto the end of one knitted row. It pulled out a length of yarn and snapped it. I thought it was a yarn tail from joining in a new ball, smoothed the gathers out, and.....

Sigh. I'm reknitting the entire piece. It is fixable - I've done this kind of repair before - but honestly it might be for the best...the piece was looking like it might be a tiny bit too small. I was using a Hiya Hiya needle, which is just like an Addi Turbo. They're slippery and I think I tightened a little to compensate.

So now I reknit with a bamboo needle, and hopefully the size is better. And hopefully I remember to take all sharp, hooklike objects out of my knitting bag so we don't have to go for Right Front 3.0.

My in-laws are visiting from Ontario this week, and my lovely mother-in-law brought me some cool Old Stuff from her house. I love it when she does this. She has lovely old things she has saved from the previous generation, and doesn't know what to do with them all. When I came along and married her son, I turned out to be a good solution...I love Old Stuff.  Look at these beautiful tea cups she brought.

I love these colours. I think I'm going to go put the kettle on, so I can rip out my carefully-knitted trowel while sipping soothing Earl Grey out of a pretty new cup. "Frogging and Tea"...great title for a sequel.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Anywhere but here...

We had a family reunion...did you know? I can't recall whether I posted about it. It was about 3 weeks long altogether, but it felt like, alternately, a couple of days or a couple of years. I am tired.

We did a lot of cooking, plenty of eating, a great deal of talking and laughing, and some crying. We went camping, we went canoeing, we played badminton and jumped on the trampoline. We stayed up late, and got up late for toast and marmalade. We drank tea and home-brewed and mineral water, and a few bottles of wine.

We never got around to the champagne though.

Camped out with the whole bunch of us, at a nearby lake where we spent our happiest times as children. It wasn't so happy for my daughter, as you can see here:

Sorry in advance if the price of calamine goes up. It's a supply and demand thing. And we still don't know what kind of bites these are but only the blonde children were affected, Charlotte worst of all...over 300 bites. She looks cheerful here...that's the homeopathic ledum talking.

Celebratory roast chicken at my house. Sixteen of us were there - only missing one. My sister's husband couldn't make it. Pardon the homely laundry and ugly trampoline...I should have taken this photo from the other end of the table so you could see pretty flowers and so on.

On one of the last days, Gwen and I took four of the kids to the lake (not the one we camped at). This was the view from my of the most relaxing afternoons of the whole trip.

Mark, Amy, Gwen, Usko, and of course the Seven Dwarves....I miss you all.
Kiss, hug.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Things You Don't Know About


It seems, these days, not much makes it to the blog. There are a lot of reasons for this - most not very good ones, but one or two completely valid. Anyway, lots of text-heavy posts have shown up lately, and I feel a need for balance.

What I've been doing without telling you:

1: another doll outfit for a birthday present. It's become a goal of mine, when making these, to only use what I've already got in the house. Added some nifty needle-felting to this little vest.

2: One morning I said to myself, exasperated, "Where are all my knickers? I have, like, NONE." Then I remembered I own a washing machine. Here's what the clothesline looked like an hour later. (I nearly had to wear something from my thong collection, circa 1998. What on earth was I thinking back then?)

3: A pencil crayon roll, in progress.

4: Rheingold, blocking.

5: My daughter and I went to the beach one day.

6: And at the beach, a transient poem in the form of an unread letter, beginning "This is where I got over you." On a piece of driftwood, fittingly. One line says "This is where I found out I needed something new." I wish I could decipher the rest of it.

7: Mudpies with my daughter.

8: A sweater for Ruby. Knitted, sewn, blocked, wrapped, and delivered, with not a word to you about it.

9: Last year, I knitted a Sackboy. Here, he doesn't have a face yet.

10: Went to see Alison Krauss & Union Station at Vancouver Island Music Fest two weeks ago. No photos, as I decided to LIVE the concert rather than DOCUMENT it. Was quite amused by people getting frustrated trying to record favourite numbers on their cell phones, and as a result, missing the music.

And that's all, folks! More later, when I'll bring you up to date on the (soon and very soon oh my gosh I have so much to do) family reunion happening here in ten days. Smooches!

Monday, July 11, 2011


In the last post I wrote about being aware of the moment - how important it is not to distract ourselves from what is happening. That if we are open, if we allow ourselves to Be where we are, change comes - we grow. Amy left a comment in which she quoted the phrase "Beauty for ashes."

It's from one of the world's most poetic and beautiful texts: the Bible - Isaiah 61. Expanded (and expurgated), it reads:
...the Lord hath sent me to bind up the comfort all that give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness...that He might be glorified.

I feel better about everything, ever, just from reading that.

As a Christian, one of the interesting - and sometimes difficult - parts of my life is that it is always reflecting God. Even when I don't talk about it (maybe especially when I don't talk about it), even when in my frailty I do a pretty damn poor job of it, I am here to represent Jesus.

There are lots of signposts in the Bible. There is the bit about going into all the world to preach, and there is the bit about forsaking your family and everything you have to follow Christ. Well, the Bible also says that we're all given different gifts, different talents.

It naturally follows that different parts will resonate with different people. Here are the bits I like the best:

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might." I've been doing this all my life. Living HUGE. Chopping wood? Put your goggles on, baby, because the chips will be a-flyin'. Knitting? Hold onto your hats, people, my needles are smoking and I am churning out cables, colours, socks, lace, you name it. Cannonballs? That pool is going to be EMPTY, I tell you. Better move your towel.

And then there's the quote above, another favourite of mine, from Isaiah. "The Lord hath sent me to bind up the comfort all that mourn..." Can I claim that part? I mean, I'm not a prophet, and I live thousands of years after the man who wrote this passage, and I have nothing to do with Zion, as such, but....this speaks to me.

"Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." This one is tricky. Ten little one-syllable words, When you think that one through, right through to all the possibilities, it's actually a little scary. Thing is, in this life bad things happen. Where does my help come from? Well, I choose to call on the Prime Mover, the Creator, the Maker of heaven and earth, who is more interested and invested in me than I have even the slightest idea. That makes me feel okay about the 'trusting' part.

A few days ago there was another of last year's posts to read - fourth from the end. In this post Sandy wrote about going to the school she taught at, to speak to the students during a chapel (it's a Christian school).

I wanted to go to the students and tell them that God is listening.
I wanted them to know that He is working.
I wanted them to see that I am alive, and to tell them that my heart is being healed, and renewed, and changed, and restored.

And that my body still needs some work.

I wanted them to know that whatever happens to me, God is still GOOD.
I needed to tell them that God is GOOD no matter what. Even if my body dies.

"Even if my body dies."

Do you know what's cool about this? And what's important about this? It occurred to me today that one thing leads from another. The amazing and wonderful and intense things that happened during Sandy's last year - how fantastic it all was, how lifechanging - those things came from the spirit realm. Was her death any more significant than anyone else's? In the big picture....No, probably not. Though, to quote again, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." To God - yeah, it was significant. She was precious to Him and He valued her death as He valued her earthly life, and as He values - indeed bought at considerable expense - her afterlife.

The thing about Sandy's death, and the ripple effect it's had on me and on others, is that all the events leading up to it were made possible by spiritual openness. On her part, on my part, on the part of others who were involved.

Her openness to the end of her life, her openness to the will of her God, her trust in His ultimate goodness, created a passage through which incredible power flowed. People saw it, were touched by it.

Even you, reading this blog over the last year, have been touched by it.

I love how, though months have gone by, that power hasn't stopped flowing. The lessons just keep coming my way - little epiphanies keep happening, little bits of my life keep falling into place. The quote from Isaiah, which I've had in my memory for so long that I don't remember not knowing it, has come back to me via my sister-in-law, through a comment on the internet. How weird is that?

And now I'll put those two quotes together.

The Lord has sent me to comfort those who mourn, with all my might, that He might be glorified.

"And I did that!" I marvel to myself. Yes, with all my might. The way I do everything. The way God made me.

You know what else I love about this? The "glorified" bit at the end doesn't have any directive attached to it. Do you notice the passive voice? The passage could read "The Lord has sent me to comfort those who mourn, and to glorify Him while doing it." But it doesn't say that. It just says to bind up the brokenhearted, comfort those who mourn. And He will be glorified.

Because I'm just here to reflect. I'll be open in spirit, I'll do what I can for people with all my might, and He'll make sure that what needs to happen, happens. It's such a relief not to be in charge.

All this time, for the last year and a half, I thought I was mourning. And I was - I am - but I'm also learning. And it turns out that all along, important bits of theology, spirituality, and guidance for my life have been waiting to be revealed.

Looking ahead, I am excited about life for the first time since Sandy died. Not excited about an event, a concrete time or thing that I know to expect, but excited about the big impulsive unknowingness of it all - happy about the way God's plan keeps turning out to be better than my plan.

I like that about Him.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


I was thinking today about the last six months of Sandy's life. It occurred to me that a lot of people miss out on things - critical truths about life and the nature of being human - because they don't want to look closely at the process of death, the leave-taking from Earth, the last stages of the first stumbling journey.

I'm trying out these sentences on you:

The best thing that has ever happened to me is that my best friend died.

The most important thing that has ever happened to me is that my best friend died.

I am who I am because she died.

I'm so thankful that God handed me this gift - the gift of walking beside her, holding her up a little bit, listening to her, watching her turn away, and then throwing her, with enormous effort, into blinding light. How many people get the chance to be there when the door opens and then closes? How many people catch that glimpse through the veil as it's pulled back for a soul to either arrive, or leave?

Her blog continues to be a gift to me. She wrote down a little bit of what she was going through, and although I suspect she didn't share the half of what was really going on, what she did write was full of import. It came from a person already partly gone.

Last June 15, Sandy wrote this.

I don’t really know where I belong anymore. Most of me is still in this world: doing laundry, making lunches, playing with my children, tidying my house; but at the same time, the rest of me is in this new place, a place where making long term plans seems presumptuous, and where I don’t really know what to do with myself. It’s a place of transition, maybe.

Part of me wants to forget that I’m sick, and go on as before. And maybe that’s what I SHOULD do; maybe I should just continue on as if nothing had happened, and live my life as best I can until I can’t, anymore, or until I’m restored to health.

But that seems so dishonest.

Dishonest. Dishonest to go on as if she had never been sick, as if she were not dying.

A lot of people denied that truth. They didn't want to either believe or admit that she was dying. This denial, this bright, cheerful confidence, this fatuous belief that things will turn out exactly the way we think is best if only we have enough didn't help her. She talked about it to me often. "It's exhausting," she said, "I feel like I'm a disappointment because I'm not getting better."

And then I need to prepare my children for life without a mother. But, I don’t know how to do that either – does that mean writing lists? Does that mean shopping for Christmas presents? Does that mean writing a journal of my life? Does that mean composing letters for every major event in their future? I don’t know.
People often said, "God wouldn't take a mother away from her children."

Oh really?

People said to her, "Cancer is not part of God's plan."

Oh really?

Last March Sandy posted this: "We have a propensity to make judgements about the things that come into our lives; to declare whether something is good or bad in our life....we make judgements about what happens in our story based on whether things make us happy or sad. If it makes us happy, it must be a good thing. If it makes us sad, or causes pain, it must be a bad thing.

And, we think we can figure out what it all means.

Maybe God will write some really hard things into my life to perfect my faith.
I don’t want to say that cancer is a bad thing in my life; that it’s evil. I don’t want to say that if God’s big plan is to use cancer to perfect my faith.

I was talking about this to a friend the other day. She lost her mum last February - nursed her through the final stages of cancer. She said to me, "I had 'accepted' that my mom was dying and that allowed me to be there for her and look after in a way that others couldn't. I still believe God is Sovereign and can heal anyone he chooses but he doesn't always choose that. And when we can grasp that we can move onto the next stage in a person's life journey...and that, I believe, is a gift to them."

What a relief, to hear someone else say that - and someone who knows what she's talking about.

When Sandy's life was drawing to an end, when she was suffering, when she was floating in pain and her consciousness was no longer of earth, it wasn't easy for me. Two days before she died I spent the day with her while her husband took a bit of time away. On that day, I messaged my sister and my mum midway through the day. I said "I'm screaming on the inside over here. I don't want to be here, don't want to be here."

But if you had showed up at her house, handed me your car keys and said "Okay, GO!" I wouldn't have gone. You couldn't have moved me with a lever. There wasn't a concrete thing I could do for her but I could sit there in her living room and love her like freaking crazy.

My answer for how to be with a dying person is the same as Sandy's answer for how to BE a dying person.

So, what do I do in this season of transition, or how do I live? I received the answer as I read Psalm 27. “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and seek Him in His temple.”

Simple. Just BE. Find Him where I know He lives, and soak in His beauty.

Just be.

Just be, I think to myself, watching her restless sleep and quelling the panicky, buzzing need to distract myself - do something, clean something, send an email.

But I suspect the deepest mysteries, human and divine, don't often unfold themselves to busy minds.

So be there in love, I tell myself, and let the silence go on. Let the truth be there. The map is laid out between us and we can both see the destination. Why pretend it's House Beautiful when it says Celestial City?

I almost wrote "I wish I could do it all over again," but the truth is that, though I miss her, I wouldn't change a thing. I wouldn't have her back if it meant she would never have been refined by her illness. I wouldn't have her back if it meant she would be fated for another forty-seven years in Vanity Fair. I wouldn't change what happened if it meant she and I must have continued as we had been: unchanged, ignorant, static.

This week, summer solstice marked nine months since her death. In the confusion and sadness, in the gradual lightening, in the altered quality of my emotions, what comes next?

I know this one. I already know. I had this lesson earlier.

Just be.

And be thankful.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What are you saying, girl?

We drove past an apartment fire today. Smoke poured out of a fourth-floor sliding door and wafted across the road we were on. As we crawled past the ladder trucks and the scuttling firemen my daughter looked up from her book and said, surprised, "Ooh, look! That building's on fire!"

The younger one sniffed the air and said absently, "Hm. Smells like cookies."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


We definitely didn't deserve to win, but I sure wanted us to.

La Coupe Stanley

I first got interested in hockey (like many people, I suspect) when I was 21 years old and Vancouver took the New York Rangers to seven games in 1994. Tonight we're doing another white-knuckle, seven-game final and everybody in the country is feeling antsy and a little nauseated.

My sister is defragmenting her hard drive today so that she can watch the CBC stream of the game without too many delays.

I'm making dinner right now, at 4 PM, so I don't have to do it later.

I have neither beer nor money, so we'll be drinking iced tea (from a mix - the Canadian way).

We're all a bit nervous. But also we're tired of waiting - Canada hasn't had the Cup in 18 years (though many Canadians have - 53.6% of NHL players are from Canada, with 18.5% from the US, and Europe taking the remaining 27.9%).

Just a few words of encouragement:

Luongo - Chin up buddy. Don't let the whole 15-goals-against-in-three-away-games thing bother you. Try not to choke.

Schneider - Dude, keep your helmet handy.

Henrik - SHOOT. You never know - you could get a rebound.

Daniel - Please don't try to punch anyone. We'll all die laughing and miss the rest of the game.

Tim Thomas - Your mother wears army boots.

See you on the other side..... [gulp] .....

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Just like that.

Yesterday my friend and I were talking about the child left alone in the car incident. From there, we went to abductions and missing children statistics. The problem with being a parent, we agreed, is walking that line between protecting your child and teaching them to be independent. Dangers, known and unknown, are everywhere. There are predators all over the place. And yet, we have to teach our children to live in the world - they should be able to walk to school by a certain age, or walk to the corner store with their friends by a certain age. Exactly what age, obviously, depends on circumstances.

Yesterday, while my friend and I were talking about this, a man came out of the bushes at an elementary school less than three blocks from my house, and directly across the parking lot from the RCMP station. He approached a girl who was on the edges of the field and had wandered from the rest of her class. He grabbed her, tried to take her with him. She fought him off, screaming, and got away.

Police were called, dogs were brought, but it had begun to rain and there was no trace of the man.

Yesterday, while the dogs were trying to pick up a scent, I was having coffee with my friend. We were rolling our eyes, half-laughing, and saying "What a world! I sometimes wish I hadn't even had kids - they've got such a tough job of growing up, that's IF we can get them there alive."

Yesterday we joked nervously about it, while not truly believing it would ever happen.

But yesterday it nearly did.

Today, somewhere in my neighbourhood, a mother still has her daughter.

She nearly didn't.

Tonight, somewhere in this town, a little girl is going to bed in her own room, with the door ajar and the hallway light on. Her parents are staying up in the living room so she can go to sleep to sounds of safety.

How tonight could have been different for her, I don't want to think about.

Today, it's not an abstract anymore. Today, it's a buzz of fearful conversation over fences, new bonds formed between neighbours as we talk about walking each other's children to and from school. Today, it's a pit in my stomach: nauseated horror.

Yesterday we were speculating on what could possibly happen.

Today we know that, among us, someone else has thought of it. Someone decided to do it. Someone nearly succeeded, right here in this small town in broad daylight and within earshot of police.

In one day - in one minute - everything can change. Everything nearly changed for that girl, for her family.

And I know that living in fear is bad for people. It's bad for me, it's bad for my children.

We can tell ourselves it couldn't happen here, that the chances are a million to one against it happening.

I don't care if it hardly ever happens - even once is too many times.

It's not worth the risk.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Repeat as needed.

In the year following Sandy's death (it has been eight months today) I have been re-reading the blog posts from her last year here, on the dates they were first posted. It's a small and significant ritual that brings me enormous comfort. She didn't write very often - once or twice a month - so there are only a handful of posts left. The ritual has taken on extra urgency as I approach the last of these messages from my friend.

Am I dying?

I feel like I'm climbing a ladder. Or maybe, more properly, I feel like I'm crossing a suspension bridge. You know the kind - wooden planks laid across a pair of ropes. There's nothing significant about what lies beneath it, except that it's not some sort of great chasm; I see it as more like a river.

I'm looking across to the other side, which is a place I haven't really been to before (though I've been looking at it for some time), and counting the boards I'll step on before I reach the grassy bank.

There are only six left.

Last May 18th, Sandy wrote this:
I panicked, a little bit. It wasn’t that I might die, but that I hadn’t finished something. I had spent hours and hours organizing my house, and buying things I thought my family would need, and sorting through trash, and endlessly DOING things, that I hadn’t spent any time writing anything down for my children, or my husband, or my friends. I had things to say, and I hadn’t said them.

I think everyone knows, by now, that they shouldn't leave things unsaid. Haven't we all seen the movies where the tough guy eventually breaks down because his dad died while they weren't speaking to each other, or where the crusty old man, twisted with bitter remorse, regrets that his children never knew he loved them?

How do you know when you’re dying? How do you know it’s time? Do you wait until you DO know, or do you just start saying things, and hope that you get to repeat yourself?

Sandy was a woman profoundly divided - an exuberant and explosive person who directed amazing amounts of energy outward, and an introverted, private person who obsessed about minutiae and worried about how the world saw her. She drew anxieties inward, settling them in place within her and turning them over and over in her mind. Part of her brilliance of spirit was her ability to make something out of nothing - to expand the events of life, inflate them, change them from the mundane to the marvellous. It's what made her an amazing teacher, and a brilliant literary analyst...but sometimes it damaged her.

And so, maybe I need to start saying some things.

She carried a huge stockpile of emotion around. Most of it, she didn't even know was there until she got too weak to bear that burden amazing (sickening, wonderful, heartbreaking amazing) part of her last year was this transformation she underwent, shedding layers of old matter, breaking through the carapace she had constructed to keep her vault secure.

We accumulate so much stuff in this life. So much flotsam and jetsam. So many superfluous items, and ideas, and opinions, and feelings. So many resentments and pettinesses. So much stuff. And for so long we think it’s important. We cling to it. We grasp it.

Watching my friend move away, watching as the distance between us grew wider and ever more impassable, was an odd sensation. Partly, it was terrible. Terrible, in the truest linguistic sense: an experience of terror. There was no reclamation possible - as time went on and the space between us, which had started as a crack and was rapidly becoming a gulf, grew wider, the moments of reconnection were fewer and more difficult to achieve.

And partly, it was exhilarating. Exhilarating, again in the linguistic sense: to bring out gladness. I felt like I was watching someone run to victory; like I had seen my friend suffer through a marathon and now she was on the home stretch, the last hundred meters.

...there is really no planning for this journey. No packing. In fact, I said to someone the other day that I feel the need to unpack for this journey.

The someone was me. We were talking about how weird it is to be together - with my mind on my approaching loss and the ways I might be able to help her, and her mind on her approaching gain. How weird it was for me to watch her go on, and for her to see me recede. She had trouble concentrating on the earthly realm, sometimes. As time went on, I stopped telling her about little things that used to distract and amuse her...she just wasn't interested. Not because she didn't care about me, but because she had started to see this world through a veil. The urgency of it was gone, for her: she knew that all things pass away.

I still saw - I still see - through a glass darkly.

Standing on the sixth board from the end, remembering what it was like a year ago, what I feel is a profound gratitude. A thankfulness that we knew she was leaving, that we got to smile lovingly at one another and say goodbye.

That she got to say things, and repeat them.

That she kept writing a blog - a silly word for an amazing thing.

That every two weeks or so, I'll hear her voice again.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Score one for marketing.

Em, who can't read, just picked up a box of cereal and said hopefully to her sister, "Is this a specially-marked package?"


"Aw, darn it."

I miss the days when they watched Treehouse, which has no commercials. They've graduated to Teletoon Retro, which is commercials interspersed with the Pink Panther.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Innocence Lost

Want to know a few ugly facts about your backyard?

  1. Each year in America, an estimated 100,000 children are sexually exploited.*
  2. Human trafficking is currently the second largest criminal industry in the world, netting over $43 billion each year.
  3. The average age of entry into prostitution in the US is 12-13 years.

Are you feeling skeptical? Of course you are, because you'd probably rather not believe it. I feel the same way.

A few days ago I was contacted by Child Rescue, an organisation committed to ending the exploitation of children by predators. I spoke on the phone with Lindsay Hadley, the Executive Director of Child Rescue, and she asked me whether I would be willing to post about an upcoming event that the organisation has coordinated. It's a training event for law enforcement officers, to equip them to recognise child exploitation or human trafficking situations in the field, and to manage victims and prosecute cases effectively.

This workshop is coming up soon - June 1, 2011, 14 days from now. The administration costs and the event fees are all covered by corporate sponsors, but individual officers who wish to attend (some from Canada) will have travel expenses not covered by their policing organisations.

It's strange that such a horrifying activity, which we'd like to think of as a "Them" problem - affecting people in other places, other countries - gets next to no press in North America. It seems there is an overwhelming apathy when it comes to protecting our children - strange in a culture where parents are increasingly hovering and paranoid. It's a weird dichotomy.

I'm asking you to click over to Child Rescue, read about their organisation and their mission and, if you are able, to consider donating, or sponsoring a police officer to attend the training. It's not likely that you or I will ever be in a position to offer first-hand help to the victims of child sexual exploitation, but these officers could potentially encounter these children every week while on the job. I think the least we can do is help prepare them for what they'll need to do....for where they'll have to go, and what they'll have to see.

Child Rescue main page. (Click on "Make a Donation" or "Donate $3 a week", upper right.)

Law Enforcement Sponsoring page.

If you have a blog, you can get a button from the Child Rescue blog (see my sidebar) to send people their way, and raise awareness.

* Statistics from

Friday, May 13, 2011


WOW, it has been cold. Around here, May is usually a beautiful month, with June being the rainier of the two. This year we've only had one or two partly sunny days interspersed among the otherwise constant rain and cloud.

I've been out in the garden a lot, though. We're planning a family reunion here this summer, so I want to make things look nice for when everybody gets here.

A few years ago my friend introduced me to the idea of the 'mowing path', and I cottoned right on to it. It took me a while to get it done, mainly because of the expense...I prefer the look of a wider paved strip, and that multiplies your cost by a lot.

I put this raised bed in several years ago, and - partly because of the shape - it has always been a pain to keep the lawn tidy around it. I don't mind things growing where they're not supposed to, but I'm not so keen on losing my carefully-stacked rockery in a wild, leggy frontier of grass.

I had some pavers left over from a different project last year, and by miraculous happenstance there were exactly the right number to go round the front of the raised bed.

So, it was time for a little clever spade work (supervised by Piper). 

I levelled the soil (difficult - old roots everywhere) and put down a double layer of weed barrier. I laid the pavers, and transplanted a bunch of 2" chunks of creeping thyme from the front yard to fill the larger cracks.

I poured on a bag of jointing sand and swept it into the cracks...this process took the better part of a day and I'm still not sure I'm long as the sand keeps settling, I'll need to keep adding more.

But for now I'm satisfied, and I must say, I think the effect is pretty sharp.

That green thing on the right side is rosemary. It's doing a little too well...the left side of the bed is decidedly disadvantaged, being planted up with a failing hydrangea and a leggy, wildly self-propagating chrysanthemum.

And now, with that done, my new wellies and I are taking a few days off.