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 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! 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... 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Heist that Wasn't

Did I ever tell you about the time I nearly got arrested for attempted bank robbery?

It happened like this.

I grew up in a small town where there really wasn't much for young people to do. There was an arcade (which we all called "The Arcade" to such exclusion that I don't think I ever knew the actual name of it), but since only 1980's punks and losers hung out at it (much scarier than modern punks and losers), we never went there unless we had a spare period and it was broad, bright daylight.

We had a couple of video stores but those, too, were small, badly lit shops, most likely fronts for illegal activities, and choked with gritty pornography and scary horror movies on greasy, well-thumbed VHS. Anyway there are only so many times you can watch Ferris Bueller have a Day Off. Soon, you start looking for something to DO.

We were Christian kids. Christian kids attending a Christian school, which in those days didn't mean "We had to leave the school property to smoke." We really, truly, honestly were upstanding and ethical, with great morals and integrity. Which meant if we wanted something to Do, the answer would never be "drugs" or "each other".

By the time we were in our late teens, we were thoroughly bored.

After graduation, there was an ecstatic summer in which anything was possible. Graduation gave us the first sense of completion most of us had ever known. Those first jobs had given us a tiny taste of money and choice. Come the fall, with formerly-daunting local college classes suddenly feeling like "just more school", we looked around and realized we hadn't moved: we were still in our hometown, only with later curfews.

We were restless, with the shine still on our drivers' licenses, and gas at 59 cents a liter.

One Friday night, within 24 hours of finally doing the road test and earning the right to drive unattended, I borrowed the family car. It was a small-ish Pontiac station wagon, dating from sometime late 80's. It must have been the newest car we had ever had and was a dashing shade of navy blue. I drove to a friend's house in the gathering darkness, the road lit by the orange cast of intermittent streetlights and the warm glow of possibility.

In the basement of James' house, we began our Friday night question-and-answer ritual. The opening dialogue never varied.

Whaddya wanna do?
I dunno, what do YOU wanna do?

After that came a finely-tuned round of suggestions, coupled with vetoes. We ran through them all with the ease of long practice.

Wanna play Pictionary?

Wanna go to the arcade?
Too many punks with concealed knives.
[Insert side conversation about someone's latest encounter with an arcade loser.]

Wanna watch a movie?
No. We've seen them all.

Wanna drive the logging roads?
I'm not allowed to take the car off pavement.
[Insert side story about getting stuck while four-wheel-driving 15 km up the Duncan Bay Main.]

Wanna have a beach fire?
The tide's in. Plus it's October.

By now it's close to 10 PM and the stir-crazy finally drives us out of the house. "Let's just go downtown and hang around." At the worst, on those nights, you could go to one of the two open restaurants -- you had your choice between truck-stop Patty Jo's, the all-night pie place where cigarette smoke made the ceiling more theory than certainty, or Boston Pizza, where we'd spend two hours and ten bucks (all together) on bottomless pop. (Waitresses just loved us.)

But this night, no one was thirsty, and anyway no one had any cash for bottomless pop. By now we were impatient and irritated. Feeling at loose ends, we proceeded in a sullen, hormonal motorcade to a parking lot near the Bingo Palace, just behind a 1960s strip mall with a mundane, rain-pooling, gravel-bearing flat roof.

We couldn't go in the Bingo Palace, of course, being too young. And even if we could, a lot of us were Baptists.

We parked in a little knot of pickups and station wagons, and all sat on the hoods of our cars and looked at each other. Just as we were beginning to wonder whether we should just go home, one of us spotted something interesting.

Facing us across the alley was a row of garbage cans and stairwells leading to basement back doors. But at the far right of the nearest shop, the second business from the end, was a little flat, gravelled roof just a few feet lower than the overhang of an even higher rooftop.

I feel like it might have been me who saw it, and made the suggestion. But it could have been anyone - most likely one of the thrill-seeking boys. Of course, in retrospect, I think of myself as a thrill-seeking boy. In any event, someone put it out there.

Hey -- we could easily climb up there and walk on the fact, we could jump from roof to roof and walk along this whole row of shops!

Instantly we were down off the cars, across the alleyway, and giving each other legs-up onto the flat roof. From there it was an easy climb and we were up! We strode along, grinning from ear to ear, laughing - I was exhilarated for the first time since graduation night. Boys started running, of course, and leaping up or down from shop to shop. These roofs were all connected - this was no death-defying feat. But man, it felt amazing.

We walked up to the edge of the roof, overlooking the main shopping street below. We could see over Shoppers' Row, past the Discovery Inn, across the Foreshore to the dark void of ocean - and beyond, to the Quadra Island lighthouse. The traffic at the intersection below, only a few meters lower than we were, looked small, powerless, and totally different than it did at street level in daylight. A few cars honked their horns at us, six teenagers silhouetted along a strip mall rooftop in the darkness and the pattering, invisible rain of a mid-October sky.

Spread out along the entire block, some running, some leaping, some just standing...we were all staring down - not across - at the streets of our childhood: we had gained a new perspective and it was a rush.

Of course, if we HAD been at street level, and not in the back alley, we might have read the signs on the building and remembered what we already knew: that the business at the end of the mall was, in fact, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

Would it have stopped us? Well, it wouldn't have stopped the boys. But the girls might have sat this one out.

As fate would have it, none of us had the logic or foresight to put "Bank Roof" together with "Honking Horns". We were without guile. And being without guile, when the rooftop euphoria began to pall, we simply climbed down and resumed our car-hood seats in the alleyway.

There was a short silence.

"So.......whaddya wanna do now?"

A siren began, far off.

"I dunno. What do YOU want to do?"

The siren got a bit louder.

"I dunno. I might go home."

The siren stopped and a quiet, powerful engine approached slowly.

As one, we turned our heads to look at the entrance to the alley, as a police cruiser came around the corner. It stopped within ten feet or so of the nearest car.

A second car came around the other side of the alley. This one had a floodlight that immediately revealed us all, squinting, in a wash of glaring day.

"Huh," I thought, "They must be looking for someone."

You bet they were.

"Hey, guys," said the officer who emerged from the driver's seat bearing a MagLight that seemed to lay bare all my deepest thoughts, "Have you seen anyone around here climbing on the bank roof?"

Looking back, it must have been priceless to see our faces as his words sank in. You could see us all, frozen in merciless headlights, with the words "THE BANK" dawning in all of our teenaged minds at the exact same instant.

We were good, Christian kids. There was only one option.

"Yeah," I announced into the awful silence, "That was us."

The lights closed in as they moved forward. I wish I could relate word for word what followed in the next minute or two, but it's all a blur of dark-clad authority figures, questions, the digging out of shiny new IDs and the cool crackle of a woman's voice from their radios.

I do remember that they started by asking us if we had any alcohol or drugs. We laughed out loud, but they still checked our pupil dilation and our cars. At least we had the comfort of knowing they wouldn't find so much as a cigarette butt.

As they collected all our drivers' licenses and wrote down everything about us, including whether we still had our childhood teddy bears and how tall our dads were, they asked us the most inane question of all. And anger, at the sheer stupidity of it, brought me out of my fear.

The question was, "Why? Why did you do it?"

All the inaction, the flatness of life, the endless round of familiar streets and bus loop and the arcade and the classroom, the worn VHS, the all suddenly boiled over. "We were bored," I said loudly, an edge of defiance creeping into my voice. "We were really bored and we thought it would be fun."

And it WAS fun, I wanted to add. It was fantastic.

"Fun??" the officer repeated, as if I had said "It's fun to run red-hot wires into my eyeballs."
"Fun?? Surely there are other things you can do for fun."

"What are you, new in town?" I wanted to say, but instead I said "We've done everything."

"Well," he said as he took my license from me (my brand-new interim license, no photo), "What about renting a movie?"

I seriously wanted to punch him.

I settled for saying "We've seen everything."

"Everything?? Have you seen 'Glory'?"

I wanted to punch him again. He had managed to name the only damn movie I hadn't seen.

"No, I haven't seen 'Glory'," I said through clenched teeth.

"You should see it, it's good."

I had had enough of this big, tall, gun-toting police officer (I was still too young to feel the pull of police-officer attraction). I burst out in a frustrated cry, "You can only watch so many movies, y'know! This town has nothing interesting!!"

He didn't say anything for a moment. Then, "I know. There's not much for young people around here." I was completely taken off-guard. Obviously, he wasn't from around here. His was an outsider's perspective.

And a second later I realized that an awful lot of his job must involve this - giving warnings to groups of bored teenagers searching for purpose and settling for distraction. Scaring them away from the dangerous edge of a flat and featureless roof.

With one last glance at my interim driver's license, he handed it back to me. "Oh, by the way," he added, "Have a good birthday, tomorrow."

"Thank you." I took my license and folded it up. Just before they all got back in their cars, he turned back and called "Go find something else to do, guys."

And that's just what we did. Within six months I was dating my first boyfriend, and was packing to move to Victoria, university, and a new job. Two of my partners in near-crime had begun a relationship, that became a beautiful marriage, that is now in its 21st year and fifth child. Another travelled to Africa soon afterwards to live with and help a missionary family.

Next year will be our 25th high school reunion. Almost all of us are still in touch, and we like getting together to talk about old times. The Bank Roof story will be retold next year, and so will the one about the Stuck Truck. (Stuck Truck happened a lot.) And Window Jumping, and the one about Laura's Cat, and the one with the Substitute Teacher's Upside-Down Desk. And the Princess Bride Reenactment Era, the Double-Dutch Skipping Craze, and the one where my sister, finally fed up, Threw a 7-Year Old Bully down an entire 15-foot flight of stairs.

None of us knew how close we were to the end of that time. We were so busy staring down the road forward. We didn't know, didn't care, that in the getting there, everything we knew so intimately would retreat in our rearview mirrors.

Looking back now, I think our stories are all we've got to pass down, in the end - a way towards comradeship and common ground with the next generation. They make it possible to show someone the way things once were - they're photographs of a forest that used to be right where that hospital is now.

You wouldn't remember, we say, smiling. That was before you were born. There weren't as many streets then...all this was wilderness.

And the stories make me smile.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Aqua Perfection

Anna's Confirmation Pont Neuf

Pattern: Pont Neuf, from Twist Collective Spring-Summer 2013
Yarn: Zen Yarn Garden Serenity DK in Frosted Teal (4.25 skeins)
Needles: 2.5 and 3mm Addi Turbo
Gauge: (blocked) 23 sts 36 rows over 4"
Buttons: 1/2" lucite with rhinestone, from Button Button in Vancouver
Modifications: Had to add rows to the yoke area to make up for my row gauge. (Pattern calls for 32 rows over 4", and I was getting 36.) The extra rows also affected my lace panel pick-up - I had to pick up 103 instead of the prescribed 93.

I had to knit 2 all-nighters to finish this in time. Confirmation was pushed forward by a whole week, leaving me scrambling to finish it. 

I finished it on the Friday at 10 PM. I soaked it, spun it in the washer, squeezed it in a few towels, and pinned it out at midnight. 

I left it to dry most of Saturday, and on Saturday evening took the pins off and tried it on my daughter -- a little too tight. I had been using the measurements from a beloved garment of hers, but that particular sweatshirt is quite thin and that made a difference in size.

So, I sewed all the buttons on, laid it back on the carpet, and pinned it out with extra width - I really stretched the lace panel in particular. I took the steam iron and shot about 300 ml worth of water, in steam form, through the whole front panel. I cranked the ceiling fan on as high as it would go, and went to bed.

By morning, it was both dry and the perfect size. Relief! I unpinned it at about 9:40 and we had to be at church at 9:45.

Luckily, church is only 2 minutes away, so we were early and looked very composed.

The yarn -- wow. Zen Yarn Garden Serenity DK, 90% merino and 10% cashmere. I got it from Webs on sale in early May. I wish I could afford to knit a me-sized sweater in this yarn, but I'd need about 6 skeins and, at $33 per skein, regular-price, it must remain a dream. 

I can't say enough good things about it. It's soft, squishy, pearly, gentle on the hands, amazing yardage, blocks like a dream, glows in the light, has wondrous stitch definition, and is basically the yarn that all the angels have in their online carts, waiting for the day they get a pay raise.

The buttons were a last-moment find from the marvellous Button Button. So pretty, and just perfect for a girl of her age. There are 11 - 1/2" lucite shank buttons with a little rhinestone on the top of each one. This photo makes them look too blue - in fact they were greener in tone: a lovely pale robin's egg.

I loved this project. The pattern is utterly beautiful - I think it even beats Ruby's Fern for the title of nicest thing I've ever knit. Avery wants one - "In rosy pink," she specified firmly. 

Yay for finishing in time! And yay for that moment of harmony when gorgeous pattern meets celestial yarn.

Friday, May 30, 2014


Knitting crazily fast, listening to episode after episode of Cast On, trying to get Pont Neuf done for my daughter's Lutheran confirmation on Sunday.

Yes, Sunday June 1.

I am nearly finished the bottom border, then I will do the button bands, block and done.

I really do NOT KNOW if I can get it finished in time.

My hands are killing me.

I have to go now.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Our beautiful hummingbird time is over. While we were out for an hour this morning, something brought the nest down and took the babies. Mummy came back shortly after we did, hovered for a few moments, then flew away.

We are all grieving terribly - shocked to find how much we loved our little friends, who didn't even know we were there.

Goodbye, little sweeties.

It was passed from one bird to another,
the whole gift of the day.
The day went from flute to flute,
went dressed in vegetation,
in flights which opened a tunnel
through the wind would pass
to where birds were breaking open
the dense blue air -
and there, night came in.
-Pablo Neruda

Monday, May 19, 2014

Babies on Board

Anna's Hummingbirds' incubation period is 13-24 days, and our bird's eggs were laid April 30 and May 1. Looking at the calendar I was a bit disappointed because we were heading to Vancouver right on day 13, and staying three nights. 

Not that we would have seen anything - the nest is too high up for us to look down into. But I thought we might miss something good.

In the event, the morning after we got home I snuck up while she was away, and took some quick photos. I couldn't see what I was looking at, but the camera did a fine job anyhow.

Funny-looking things!

So far, their eyes are still closed and they aren't making any sounds - a safety issue I'm sure. And, so far, they are small enough to be fed by one parent, so the dad is nowhere to be seen. According to what I've read, he'll come back when one beak is not enough for adequate catering. When that happens, I suspect it will become much harder to get family photos.

But for now, here's a little scrap of video for you. Every time a breeze shook the branch, the babies thought mummy had arrived with dinner. So cute!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

The Green Giant Was Right All Along.

Here's a tip for you:

If your entire family loves frozen corn, and yet you lie awake at night agonizing over what fresh, delicious, and expensive vegetable recipes to make in order to satisfy your need to do 'enough', you are you own worst enemy.

"Loving Dinner" sometimes means frozen corn and take-out potato salad.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I guess where I'm going, is On.

If you've been reading for a while, you'll know how I am with anniversaries. I'm a big believer in observing days of importance, but not as something artificial or obligated. Actually it's better to say I believe that days of importance ARE observed, whether that's intended or not -- on a deeper level, sometimes unconscious, something in us remembers what happened a year ago, or five or ten years ago, and marks the day.

Avery was diagnosed on April 29 last year. Yesterday was a bit tough for us. Fittingly, I was up at 2 AM doing a cartridge change to try to bring her blood sugar down with fresh insulin. She had been crabby for days, sick with a virus, reacting to a booster shot, with her blood glucose perpetually over 12.5. It was wearing on her, and wearing on me...the constant weighing of variables, the hourly troubleshooting, the second-guessing. Is it a bad site? Is it that extra 6-carb Cadbury Mini Egg she had that we didn't bolus? Is it the lack of exercise from being sick? Is it just the virus coming back? Could that insulin be bad?

So D-Day carried a lot of feelings with it. Avery was a little down. She made two remarks about it: [grouchily] "I don't feel like going for a bike ride, I'm too high," and [gloomily] "I wish I didn't have to squeeze blood out of my finger and take insulin every single time I eat anything."

For my part, I spent the day moping around the house, crying at odd moments, for not much immediate reason. On most anniversaries, even of something bad, one is marking an event that ended -- time has passed since the occurrence, and one is in the process of moving on.

In this case, what we were marking was an event that started a new way of life: one that is different than before, and in a handful of ways better (improved diet, more activity) but for now, overall it's worse. Say what you want, be as positive as you like, but it would be better if we didn't have this disease.

Let me repeat that.


And she's going to have it forever, unless some genius cures it, and within her lifetime the cure can be administered.

Otherwise, this is the way it is forever.

So we were sad, and we were tired, and we just didn't feel good.

The story of life is that in order to survive all the shit that comes your way, you have to find happiness, hope, humour or joy in the small things. They don't actually outweigh the bigger, bad things, but at least you can have a laugh, or feel the tiny thrill of a tiny victory.

The insulin WAS bad. After the 2 AM cartridge change (which she didn't wake up for -- victory), she woke in the morning at a nice, calm, reasonable 7.5. Victory. Two hours after breakfast, she was 11, and then before lunch she was 8.2 with a little insulin still on board. Victory. She threw a fit about going to Pony Club last night, but once she was at the barn she had a great time running around finding chickens and checking on all her cucumber seeds. 45 minutes of exercise -- victory. Before bed, she was 9.0. So it worked. Relief.

Today I read a bit of chatter on Facebook about first-world problems; how funny we all are, debating our lipstick colours while children are starving on the other side of the world. Sometimes I feel inconsequent for lying in bed at night, thinking about whether or not to continue dyeing my hair -- grey is the current reality, after all. And how annoying it is that I have to buy 50 paper cups for giving my homemade ice cream to my friends, when I really only need 10.

Am I lucky? Sure. Am I blessed to be here in safe old Canada with an earning husband, a dental plan, more yarn than I can use and a pharmacy stuffed with insulin? Of course.

But we live the life that's in front of us: not the one that could be if only we were poorer. It's impossible and unrealistic for me to live in a constant state of weak-kneed gratitude that I have food in the fridge. I can be grateful -- and I am -- but I won't be racked with anguished guilt.

Because the fact is that, full of technology as it is, full of privilege and wealth, safety and comfort as it is, life is hard. Life is also sad. Full of loss. Full of disappointment. It's grueling. It's one foot in front of the other. It's wake-up-tired, make-do-all-day, never-make-progress, go-to-bed-too-late, lie-awake-worrying hard.

I'm not sure how to end this post. The writer in me wants to wrap it up with an inspiring paragraph about beauty in small moments. Stirring my tea. Watching the hummingbird tending her nest.  Or I could close with a list of little, quaint domestic actions that make me feel better. Hanging laundry out to dry. Braiding my daughter's hair. Either would be fitting, slightly positive (the break-in-the-clouds effect) and allow the reader to leave with a sigh of completion. It might inspire you to put a comment about how well we're handling the whole thing.

Instead, I'll carry on the way I started. She was 9.1 at 1 AM, but she woke up at 15 today -- last night's slice of pizza came on board in the early morning. She's gone to play with a friend, who always feeds her crackers no matter how many times I protest. She'll come home high and hungry. I'm tired, and as usual I'm way behind. Still haven't unloaded the dishwasher. I need to buy more test strips. Anna is due at the barn in two hours. The kitchen floor is desperate, and, bizarrely, I can't find the broom.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Garden Flat, Tenanted

Two years ago we had the pleasure of watching a chickadee family raise their young in a hanging basket just outside our sliding glass door.

It seemed like a miracle. We kept thinking they'd get a fright from the dog barking, or the sliding glass door opening too much, and move out; but they stayed around until the babies had grown and flown away.

A few weeks ago, a windstorm brought this branch down into the corner of our roof:

That's the kitchen window. For days, whenever I was washing dishes, I'd look at that branch and think "I must remember to take that down - it's going to drive me crazy."

My procrastination was rewarded last week when this happened.

She finished the nest the day before yesterday (always seems to be something to tinker with, though) and left it for a few hours, giving me a chance to get closer.

And today I think she must have laid some eggs, because she has been in position most of the morning.

She looks quite reddish in this picture...just a lighting change.

It's a joyful process to watch. We feel quite honoured that these little creatures have decided to trust us, in a way...we come and go out the back door, mow the lawn, putter in the garden, and the birds move in anyway, just a few feet from us. For a couple of delightful weeks, they watch us, and we watch them.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


We live on the very edge of a small wood owned by the city. In the middle of it is a water reservoir, so thankfully it remains undeveloped. It's only a few acres in size, but it provides a lot of habitat for birds. I'm happy to have them - robins, in particular, hang around almost the entire year.

BUT. Every spring, my house becomes the epicentre of frenzied mating and nesting activity. The birds go ape, basically, flying around the place in a wild-eyed riot of screeching and flapping.

Most of them, I don't mind. I can put up with that slightly sinister pair of crows who cleverly rearrange the dried grass and bits of scrap wool I leave outside for them, before carrying it off to line their nest. I like the two hummingbirds who square off for honeysuckle rights every year: they're a lot of fun to watch. Two years ago we had a little chickadee family living in a planter directly outside the back door, where we could look right down into their living room and watch their babies grow.

The ones I really, really don't like are the Northern Flickers. These pesky things have become more and more of a nuisance over the past few years. They hang around in the trees, beginning in late February or early March, doing their irritatingly monotonous call that makes the entire neighbourhood sound like the Amazon rainforest. To make matters worse, they love nothing better than sitting up on my chimney, getting a bill-full of metal flashing in the hopes of attracting girls. It's to the point where I spend all my early mornings (my best sleeping-time), eyes half-closed, stumbling around in the backyard looking for pine cones to chuck at them. Here's what they are doing:


You can't get the full effect from this video. But take it from me: if you're lying in bed at 7 AM and these idiots start up, you will think there are crazed gangsters with tommy-guns having a shootout on your roof.

Stupid nature.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Avery had a Frozen party yesterday for her big 10th birthday! She wanted to be Ice-Queen Elsa, so I made her a costume.
Elsa's outfit is a little slinky for children, but I kept the skirt-slit decent, and gave the sleeves a little more coverage than Disney artists did, so I think overall it works. These cheap shiny poly fabrics are murder to sew, though.

I didn't have a pattern, just free-handed it. I traced part of a dance bodysuit to get the original size and shape for the dress bodice, but the rest was done with a piece of chalk and a dream, so to speak.

Speaking of free-handing, I took hold of my fear of drawing, and made Avery a poster of "Olaf", the snowman sidekick, using an image I printed out from a website. I sure wished I had a projector, but in the end it turned out just fine. With this project, as with so many of my university term papers, the key to success seems to be extreme time pressure - no time to fiddle around, just do it!

Birthday 'cake' was a batch of caramel fudge squares - blondies - with some icing sugar 'snow'.

Happy to share the day with friends!

Monday, March 03, 2014

For what ails ye.

My husband pointed out to me not long ago, that I always get sick in March. I thought about it and realized Heck, he is right.

So, in keeping with my annual lemon and honey ritual, I got sick last Tuesday. Just a head cold, nothing major, but it does knock the stuffing out of one. I hate that glue-mouth I have on waking.

I have a magic potion which I invented to treat my annual cold, and I'm sharing it with you now.

1 organic orange
2 organic lemons
2-4 T honey
2" organic ginger root

Scrub the citrus well with a brush. Dry on a towel, then zest finely over a small saucepan. Halve and juice the citrus into the pan, without straining. (You want all those crazy bits of solids...that's the magic part.) Peel the ginger (scrape with a spoon works well, or use a little extra ginger and just slice off with a knife. You'll lose more but it's faster.) and grate it into the pot. Throw that honey in there, and heat it to a low simmer. (Don't boil it - too much heat kills Vitamin C.) Test it for sweetness -- this is a super powerful mixture and it can be pretty potent. You might need more honey!

Drink it while hot, stirring occasionally so you don't end up with a quarter cup of pulp and zest to eat at the end. Then, have a nap and wake up feeling a little better! Repeat at least twice a day, though 3-4 is better. (The nap, too - repeat the nap.) It's surprising how many people have said to me, "Oh, you have a cold?! Take some Tylenol and then at least you can get on with your life!" I recoil visibly - when I am sick, I don't want to get on with my life. That's the point of being sick - a virus takes you down because you won't go down voluntarily, and your body has had enough of getting on with things, and wishes to be laid down on the sofa for a few days with a heavy blanket, the ringer off, and a cup of magic potion.

You can put more citrus in there if you like: I use whatever I have and often end up with a grapefruit or two as well, though for no good reason I don't use the peel from those. You can also throw some stick cinnamon in, if you like - cinnamon is wonderful for respiration.


(Probably not too good if you have diabetes, though.)

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Forever Girl, with one big huge spoiler.

Erudite Mondays at Half Soled Boots
Volume 13 Number 2

by Alexander McCall Smith

I really wanted to love this book.

In the end, I'm not even sure I like it.

This is the first Alexander McCall Smith book I have read (he of the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency") so I don't know how it compares, but I was favourably impressed by his style. It has a certain distance from the reader...I didn't feel as if I was walking in their shoes, or sitting in their living rooms: I felt I was hovering over their houses, detached from the characters, their situations, and even from the passage of time. Sometimes you want to be right in the thick of the narrative, feeling what the characters feel, and sometimes you want to experience the story with a little more elegance.

It started out so well. The author announces, right on the first page, that the novel is about unrequited love. He claims to be exploring this idea that there is no "one person" to whom we are bound, and with whom, if we can only find them, we will have a complete life - will be a whole person.

90% of the novel works to support this premise. The characters circle each other in a decades-long dance of attraction and repulsion, while we await further developments. Time flies in this book: one turns a page, and find that years have passed. Over the course of the novel, the reader comes to believe that He does not love Her - this has the undeniable ring of truth and the undeniable proof of events, dialogue, even body language. All the choices the male character makes are away from the girl who loves him.

Just as one is thinking "well, that's the meaning of 'unrequited'", a curve ball arrives. Suddenly, literally on the last two or three pages of the book, the author does a complete 180, and has his annoying leading man (up until now the wishy-washiest of noncommittal losers) suddenly declare undying and forever love for the woman who has waited all this time for him to realize her existence.

What the heck?

In one fell swoop (or "foul sweep", as I see on the internet constantly), all the credibility disappears. The author's whole point, everything he has been working towards, the evidence of the reader's own experience, is chucked out in order to provide a pat happy ending.

The events of the story, the characters themselves, just don't support this conclusion. I'm left wondering whether the author had originally intended a very different ending than the one he actually wrote. Nine times out of ten, life just doesn't turn out like that: the letter doesn't get delivered in time, the prince finds someone else who fits the glass slipper, and young starry-eyed women, formerly models of constancy, get tired of waiting on balconies for their clueless, idealized lovers, and marry the grocer just so they can get on with it.

I expect this novel will do well on the shelves of local drugstores, so people can pick up a copy while they are getting sunscreen and flip flops on their way to the beach. It's just the kind of thing people like to read to distract themselves momentarily while working on their base tan, or waiting in the middle school parking lot. I know this kind of book sells well, but in my opinion the ending undermined both the novel's premise, and the reader's investment in the characters. With the Disneyfied conclusion, the whole thing became forgettable.

Reread? No.
Recommend to Others? No.
Bookplate? No.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Love is a Decision - Part 2

A few weeks ago, I was waiting for my daughter at the barn. She had been there all day in the pouring rain and freezing cold. Three minutes of it was enough for me, then I picked up a broom to sweep the aisleways, simply as a way to keep warm.

Sweeping, vacuuming, and ironing - these three household tasks seem harmless in themselves, but surprisingly often I find they lead to sudden revelations and deep thoughts.

So there I was, vigorously sweeping up dried manure, bits of straw, and plenty of dirt, when my mind went, as it so often does, to the next item on my to-do list for the day.

"Dinner," I thought grimly.

From there I launched into a lightning-fast spiral of grouchiness and resentment, which looked a little something like this.

I fecking hate dinner.
It comes around every day.
Why do I have to do it every day?
Why can't somebody else cook?
It's not as if they appreciate all the work I do.
Why aren't they happy with sandwiches?
I'd be happy with sandwiches.
I fecking hate dinner.
If it was payday, I'd order out.
I haven't even taken anything out of the freezer.
Do I even have anything IN the freezer?
I HATE dinner.
It comes around EVERY DAMNED DAY.
So WHY am I always unprepared for it?!

Nothing new, but this time, since I was sweeping the barn, it all became perfectly clear.

I'm always unprepared because I hate dinner, because I am always unprepared, because I HATE DINNER.

But...that can't be right -- I LOVE, I love, oh I love dinner. I love eating and I'm a good cook.

Wherein lies this paradox? What isn't lining up?

The love.

It's all about the love, folks.

I've got to expand the eating-love backwards to encompass the cooking, prepping and planning, and forwards to encompass the kitchen-cleaning.

By the end of the year, this negative and repetitive part of my thinking will all be in the past. From now on, my goal is to love dinner. And how am I going to get there? By loving dinner.

I love dinner!

I love planning it, making it, eating it and yes, I even love cleaning up after it.

Think of this: cooking is the one area in my home life where I am expected and encouraged to be creative every single day, and where I don't have to feel guilty for spending lots of money on the materials!

Dinner is the only central meal the entire family eats together. Mr HSB is at work long before the girls and I are even awake. Lunch is a scrambled hodgepodge of eat-what-you-can-find-whenever-you-get-hungry. But dinner?

Dinner is the daily main event - the only event - where we are all together and focussed on the same thing.

Here's what I'm NOT doing. I'm not becoming an obsessive meal planner. I'm not resolving to stick to a budget. I'm not vowing never to give my family sandwiches.

Here's what I AM doing.

I'm smiling - physically smiling - whenever I think of the evening meal. "Maybe I'll make that soup again," I think to myself, and then I smile. What makes me smile?

I make me smile.

I just lift my eyebrows and push the corners of my mouth back and smile. And it lifts my mood, and makes me happy, and it won't take long for my whole outlook to change. I'm preparing an answer in my head for when my family asks me "What's for supper?", which is a question that used to make me absolutely furious. And I'm giving myself a break and accepting that frozen corn is a perfectly relevant vegetable that can make my life way easier, rather than being a source of guilt and self-reproach.

And unexpectedly, my life has been flooded with good and yummy things.

Like homemade baguette!

Who needs butter when the winter sun is shining through the kitchen window?

That sounds like a metaphor. Or at least a proverb.

Go! Love your dinner!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Red Rising

by Pierce Brown

Whew! This is a gritty one, as YA novels go.

The premise will be a little familiar, especially if you've read The Hunger Games, Divergent, or even the classic Ender series. It's a terrible time for mankind, some unnamed distance into the future. We've burned the planet out and have had to colonise other places in the solar system. Following the obligatory civil war, which the reader takes to be not far distant from this present moment in time, humans stratified themselves to make survival possible (based on colours - so "Red" at the bottom, the menial worker class, "Gold" at the top). The strata system proving useful to those in overlordship, it was kept long after its necessity had passed.

The Reds grind their lives away underground on Mars, mining helium to enable the terraforming of the planet before it can accept colonists from Earth. The Golds drop by every now and then to remind their labour force, primarily through bloodshed, horror, and the ruthless weight of their domination, of just Who is Boss...there's a strong whiff of President Snow and Panem, here; only without the roses and the pretences at urbanity.

So. Now we have the oppressed, the oppressors, and the middle classes who facilitate the oppression. The Reds are getting a little tired of endless backbreaking labour, the lash of their masters' whips, and the general hopelessness of their people's condition...the time is ripe for a revolt.


It might sound as if I'm criticising this novel, in my comparisons to The Hunger Games, specifically, and Sci Fi Young Adult genre as a whole (Ender's Game is a classic example). In fact, I absolutely loved this book. It DOES compare to the Hunger Games, inevitably, not least because there is actually a war game in which the young people - in the form of recruits to an elite academy for the ruling classes - are placed into an engineered landscape and observed as they kill each other. The novel is written in the same tense, too - the "historical present", that cliff-hanging, fast-paced, unflinching form that keeps you reading long after your contacts dry out.

Despite similarities, the subject matter is handled with much more bloodshed than in THG. I found that Suzanne Collins stopped short of the full scope of violence and mayhem that she could have unleashed, often taking a kinder, less brutal narrative path. Pierce Brown does not pull these punches. The killing starts almost at once, and continues right to the last few pages of the book. Hard decisions are made - not hard decisions like "I think I love Gale but I have to kiss Peeta to stay alive".

A few quick warnings - "Young Adult" it technically may be, but I would not have wanted to accidentally pick this up at the age of 14. It is very bloody. The violence is pretty relentless. There is (off-stage) rape, (on-stage) prostitution and sex slavery, and lots of swearing (some of it book-specific: I got very tired of that one catchword, "bloodydamn").

I got to read The Hunger Games Trilogy in one straight shot, over a single weekend. Unfortunately, now that I've devoured "Red Rising" in one sitting, I've probably got a terribly long time to wait until the next book comes out. I'll pick it up as soon as it is released - I can't wait to have more of this series.

Reread? YES
Give to Others? Yes
Bookplate? Yes

Friday, January 17, 2014

January Magic

We are spending most days at the barn. There are ponies to train, paddocks to clean, potholes to fill, and friends to visit.

Down time is taken in little bites wherever we can find it.

...or in little sips.

It seems there is always space for contemplation if you need to be alone...

...but companionship and comfort are never far away.

May all your winter ways be peaceful.