To My Furry Girl-friend

When you see my Lady, with the twinkle in her eyes, tell it to her softly and hold her if she cries. Tell her that I love her and I will till the day I die. Tell it to her gently when you tell her that I won’t be coming home again
~ Burton Cummings

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How I shall miss you my best furry girl-friend of the last decade.

Every time I pulled my coat from the cupboard to turn around and you’d be there.  Tail wagging.  Wet nose smelling.  Long tongue lolling.  Eyes asking, me too, Mom?  If I told you not this time, you would turn and lay down.  Disappointed but disciplined. Stoic.

Every time, without fail, the cheese came out of the fridge.  From the far reaches of the house you came a trotting.

Running clothes on, Dad?  Let’s go, your body said.  I’m ready.

lady
Photo by Taylor Marie Brown, good friend of Lady Jane

Danger in our yard?  You would inform us with a chuff or alarm bark, and make us feel safe, especially from the most feared: a cat!  You were ON it! But should a friend come by, there was nary a woof.  Not even if years had passed.

I see your water bowl, food bowl, your leash and collar, your tie-out rope, your bed of old blankets.  All are sad reminders of your doggy-ness.  Your unconditional love of us. Your pack whom you would protect, without question.

This morning I awoke and waited for your bedside greeting.  Every day for ten years your nose was there nudging my hand.  Your tail wagging us into a new day.  Walking to my office where you would take up your spot under my desk.  I would warm my feet under your furry belly.  Time to go home?  Up, shake, let’s go.

But the last months something was wrong.  A growth grew.  An infection.  Blood.  A smell that was full of not good.  Piddly pee.  Howling at the vet’s office – singing the song of your people, the Vet said.  Wagging tail stopped wagging and now clamped under to hold the foreign growth on your haunch.  You would sandwich yourself between my legs and the cupboard when I was chopping.  You would pant and pace.  You were not yourself.  Oh dear.  We would have to face it.  You were not feeling well, dear Lady, searching our faces with those pretty brown eyes.

Those hard days are over.  We have let you go.  We will not forget your sweet furriness and your wonderful doggy-ness.  You were love itself.

Lady Jane, 2 years old
Lady Jane, 2 years old

Reverse Bucket List

When I go there. I go there with you. It’s all I can do. Where the streets have no name…
U2

I just heard this concept on CBC radio.  The Reverse Bucket List is a list of times in your life that you would love to return to or that you are happy about or proud of or that taught a great lesson that you carry forward through your life.  So, looking back on your life for the best, most profound or impactful moments instead of always projecting that those moments need to happen in your future.  It is a method of making yourself happy for the accomplishments of your life thus far.  I realized, while writing my list below, that that is what I am doing in the blog. That is exactly what I’m doing..writing my reverse bucket list, in stories, without even knowing it.

Here’s my list (with links to the stories that correspond).  No particular order except the first two are the top for a reason.

  1. Eloped to marry my best-friend and we are celebrated 26 years this year;
  2. Had a son and stayed home to raise him for his first five years;
  3. Trekked for a month in Nepal in the Himalayas;
  4. Traveled by VW Van all over Canada, including the North West Territories and Yukon and into Alaska, visiting one national park in each province, territory and in Alaska;
  5. Hiked the 3-day Chilkoot Trail from Bennett, B.C. to Skagway, Alaska;
  6. Traveled and worked on a farm in Australia;
  7. Visited the Taj Mahal; and witnessed pilgrims bathing in the Ganges in India at dawn;
  8. Backpacked with our 4-year old throughout Mexico’s West Coast and most of Central America;
  9. Moved to a small Nova Scotian town without jobs and made our lives from scratch with our four-year old because we wanted him to be able to walk to school safely;
  10. Founded and incorporated a small education-services business that is now 13 years old and employs three others besides myself;
  11. Posted a listing on AirBnb and have hosted folks from all over the world;
  12. Started a school garden with a friend and made a blog about it and taught children how to sow, germinate, water, grow, harvest and save seeds from it;
  13. Had an eating disorder in my teens that gives me great compassion for that type of suffering today and a hope and am open to help others get over it;
  14. Lived and worked in Germany for three years and visiting most countries near there;
  15. Lived in Virginia, USA for two years then packed a large U-Haul and drove home to Canada and we were glad to be home (sorry American friends, no offence);
  16. Took a gondola ride in Venice;
  17. Drove from Germany into Czechoslovakia just after the 1989 removal of the Berlin wall and witnessed a country coming alive;
  18. Had three big dogs (not all at once) and a cat who were cherished as part of our family;
  19. Visited the Great Barrier Reef in Australia;
  20. Completed the PADI dive licence which was very difficult for me due to my claustrophobic tendencies.  (I no longer dive but I love to snorkel);
  21. Rappelled down a cliff on basic training in 1986 in Chilliwack, B.C. (9 PLATOON DOGS OF WAR!)Rappelling was terrifying to me due to a fear of height;
  22. Rappelled out of a helicopter on a special training day;
  23. Joined a group seven-day biking trip through France and gained a very sore bottom;
  24. Marched in the International Nijemgen Marches in Holland in 1989.  160 km over four days;
  25. Skied in the Swiss and the Austrian Alps;
  26. Own a house out-right with my husband;
  27. while living in the Arctic hand-built several high-fired, clay pots and still have some of them over 25 years later;
  28. Taught my son to speak American sign-language before he could speak;
  29. Was sporty and a scholar at school, for the most part;
  30. Completed Advanced Yoga Teacher Training at an ashram in the Bahamas;
  31. Taught yoga for several months then gave it up because it just didn’t suit me and it took a lot of courage to admit that;
  32. Joined a book club;
  33. Joined a choir;
  34. Taking horse-archery ground training lessons and loving it;
  35. Mastered a hand-stand with no wall;
  36. Made yogurt from raw farm-fresh milk for years;
  37. Joined the Army and stayed in for 6 years, leaving honourably as a Captain;
  38. Completed Recruit Term at Military College in Sooke, B.C. and it was tough;
  39. Completed Off-Road driver training in the Army;
  40. Shot a fire-arm with fairly good accuracy;
  41. Completed the Officer Challenge twice (only woman): 75 km trek over 24 hours with 18 mini-competitions, in combat gear;
  42. Was awarded the Sword of achievement for Junior Officer of the Year while in the army;
  43. Besides my first language of English, I can communicate somewhat in French, German, Spanish and American Sign-language;
  44. Studied dance for several years as a girl and still love to dance;
  45. Was a gymnast in elementary school and won a silver medal in a competition for the county;
  46. Have traveled by jet, helicopter, ferry, ship, sail boat, canoe, kayak, car, truck and train, including a train across most of Canada for days and into the heart of Australia on the Gahn;
  47. Hitch-hiked successfully in Canada and Australia;
  48. Witnessed flying foxes by the thousands in Australia;
  49. Have driven back and forth across Canada including solo enroute to Logistics training in the Army in 1988;
  50. Have been to all Provinces of Canada and two of the territories;
  51. Have lived and worked north of the 66th parallel, two hours North of the Arctic Circle;
  52. Was ‘Screeched In’ in Newfoundland where my husband is from;
  53. Hiked Gros Morne Mountain in Newfoundland and met curious Elk while on top of its tablelands;
  54. Sewed some clothing and curtains with a sewing machine, self-taught then decided I wouldn’t be doing that again;
  55. Learned how to cut a basic haircut from my sister;
  56. Met a harem of Bison in a National Park in Alberta;
  57. Miscarried my second son, late, which was heart-breaking but which helps me to cherish given life;
  58.  Learned how to read music and play piano and the flute;
  59. Met, hugged and kissed Deepak Chopra before he was very famous; and
  60. Love nature and simple times and love to laugh and be silly

Leave a comment with your top 5 or 10 Reverse Bucket List items…Come On….Go ahead.  I know you want to!!!

 

(picture of view from top of Gros Morne Mountain is from google images…thank you)

Only in The Valley 🐷

One of those moments that I have come to cherish in this big valley we now call home…

Part 1. Reid’s Meats 🔪

I walked into Reid’s Meats one afternoon on a mission to buy some ribs to cook up a feed, a feed we have only a couple of times per year.  Just every now and then I get that craving for fall-off-the-bone ribs.

I was the only soul in the place, other than the two brothers Conor, whom I always think of as the young guy with the dimples, and the older brother Michael, who is a more serious looking guy and all business (although I just called him and did get a chuckle out of him when attempting to get his email address, a long one).

Before I get further into the story, I need to give a description of the location of this meat shop.  It is set in a tiny crossroads called Melanson at the base of the rolling hills of Melanson Mountain with the Gaspereau River flowing past it, about ten minutes outside of Wolfville, Nova Scotia.  This shop is constantly busy cutting wild meats in a separate room all night and domestic meats all day.  When we first moved here, someone told us it was the best place for fresh cuts of meat.  Always on ‘the hunt’ for the best quality food, I found myself patronizing Reid’s Meats.  And, you’re about to read a good example of that.

Anyhoo,

Michael Reid asks me if he can help me.  I tell him I’d like some ribs.  He shoots back, ‘pork or beef?’

K, I didn’t even know beef ribs were an option.  I decided to stick with pork and told him so.

‘How much do you want?’

‘How ’bout six racks about this big,’ as I held up my hands measuring about half a foot between them, thinking of my large roasting pan and how much I could cram in there, knowing the left-overs would be scrumptious the next day.

‘Just a sec’ he says to me and then to Dimples, he says, ‘sharpen my knife.’

Receiving his orders from his older brother, Conor quickly and deftly started on sharpening the knife while Micheal walked into the back fridge.

A few seconds later…

a whole pig carcass, lead by Michael, came whizzing out of the fridge on a huge hook which was attached to a track in the ceiling.  Michael carefully guided the carcass into place.

‘Only in the Valley,’ I’m thinking as I blinked my eyes to ensure this wasn’t a figment of my imagination.  It wasn’t.  Geez, I wish I had the guts to start recording this.  I had been told this was fresh meat.  Got that right.

What happened next is that Michael butchered that pig right in front of me while it hung on the hook.  He had this food-grade chain saw and a couple of different frightfully sharp knives, thanks to little brother, that he used to expertly and efficiently carve that meat, not wasting an ounce.

In a few minutes, while I watched with my jaw hitting the floor, he was smacking those fresh ribs down on the reddish-brown paper positioned on the stainless steel counter in front of me, his eyes meeting mine seeking approval to go ahead and wrap them up. Not on a styrofoam tray with plastic wrap and absorbent pad.  No, in the old-fashioned reddish butcher paper and beige tape that he moistened using a small, wheeled ceramic device with water in its tiny reservoir.

My mind reeled, for a moment, back to the endless summer days at the camp and of ‘Jake’s General Store‘ in Maggie River before the god-awful fire that burnt it to the ground.  Back when we would ride to town in the back of a pickup or walk there, barefoot, with a shiny quarter in sweaty little hands.  The butcher at Jake’s was as impressive and the cuts of meat were beautiful.  The ground beef was ground there in front of you from beef that you chose.  Then, the butcher would reach up and grab the string which was in a creaking pulley system attached to the ancient ceiling.  The package of meat would be wound with this string and his black oil pencil would scratch out the price on it while my large eyes watched in fascination, my fingers gripping the edge of the glass display case, my chin not yet clearing its edge. I could almost taste the burgers that we would have for supper, cooked by Mom outside the office on the grill, perched in the very rocks which formed the foundation of the cabin.  Cooked over charcoal, started with ‘strike anywheres‘ and yes, always with a wee hint of lighter fluid, lending an added ‘je-ne-sais-quois’ to the burger.

More than a few decades later and back to Reid’s Meats…

I just basically nodded profusely at the pile of freshly butchered pork ribs with a big wide smile.  I was feeling so thankful to be a part of such a great community where food is so wonderfully fresh and plentiful and the skill to handle it is still so present and of such a human scale.

Thank you, Reid’s Meats for carrying on a tradition and a family-run business providing this kind of quality for four decades.  This Upper Canadian come-from-away is one satisfied customer.

PIG

Coming soon: Part 2, Dabro Farms honour-system farm market

(Pictures found on google images…thank you.)

Yo! Universe, Thanks Again 🙏🏻

You can’t always get what you want but, if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need*

I was just telling a new friend of mine about how many times it has happened to me, in my life of 52 years, that the Universe has basically provided me exactly what I need…I mean, what I need has just dropped into my lap.  Pretty cool.  This post is about a few of those instances and how they happened and just how cool it is…

The most profound instance of this was the meeting of my husband.  At age 22, I had just driven solo across Canada from Comox, BC to Borden, Ontario to join the Basic Army Logistics Officers’ Course.

Day one, October 1988, I arrive at the school hallway with its long line of hooks under a very long hat shelf to hang up my Army Issue gabardine rain coat and to shelf my beret.  It was a wet and cool day.  I was trepidatious.  I didn’t know a soul on this course.  There were about sixty other young officers from all over Canada.  I am hanging up my coat facing left when a tall, dark and handsome green-eyed young officer hangs his coat beside mine. Catching my eye, he says a simple, “Hi” with a cute grin.  I completely melted and saw stars right then and there.  A feeling enveloped my being.  I knew that this guy, whatever his name was, would be very important to me.  Then he scored a perfect 100 on the opening placement exam and I gulped.  He was intelligent and gorgeous.  When I saw him kick a soccer ball and I realized that he was also athletic, oh my god

A year or so later, even though I did not ask to be posted to Germany (when everyone else did ask), both he and I got posted to Germany, same battalion, same company, working side by side as platoon commanders.  Coincidence?  I think not.  We have been married for 26 years.  Thank you Universe.

But what is amazing about this story is all the shit that had to go down before we actually met on that day at Logistics school, hanging up our coats.  You see, I had been at Waterloo University when my summer job money ran out and no one was able to help me.  I fetched about for a way to attend higher education. I wanted to qualify for a good career.  My mind came to the idea of joining the army and the many and in-depths steps that had to occur to get in and then take, tolerate and pass the brutal training…then the nightmare of military college…then a short posting to Comox…then the drive to Ontario then hanging up my coat beside my life-mate, enduring months of training and then a posting over-seas…together.  Jeezus.

So, many other much less spectacular things have happened too.  Just this week at a friend’s house.  She gives me a random book to read saying I will love it.  The next night at book club, finding out that that very book is the one we shall read next.

Needing a sleeping cot for my visiting family…verbalize this need to my hubby, (the same cute guy from Logistics school) while driving on a country road.  Thirty seconds later, my eye catches something on the side of the road.  It’s a perfectly fine sleeping cot. We pull over and put it in the back of the car.  Thank you Universe.

A competition is announced at Paddy’s Pub where I worked for a couple of years upon moving to Wolfville.  ‘Whomsoever signs up the most folks for a loyalty card shall win an IPOD.’  Those words were said and I knew in my being that I would win that IPOD.  It was the latest technology.  Friends were digitally storing their music and photos on them.  A month later I walked home with that new IPOD, feeling like it was a million bucks.  Thank you Universe.

At a high school basketball game, I paid for a 50 / 50 ticket and again that whole body feeling enveloped me.  An hour later I was called up to collect $90.  I know it was just 90 bucks but, what the hell.  My friend Layla is ALWAYS winning contests.  Me, not so much.  But, it’s that feeling of potential good fortune that I love.

I fell in love with our little bungalow while walking to the first day of school with Leo.  The feeling enveloped me again.  I knew that one day, we would live there.  Eight years later, after the previous owner had raised his family, we did.  It is quite the story, but, we are happy as clams there with its ample open space, closeness to trails and proximity to everything we need.

For over a decade, I practiced yoga by attending group classes, eating up as much mat time among community members as I could get.  Sometimes this got expensive as I was paying over $60 ++ per week on yoga classes.  When my new office was directly above a yoga studio again I felt the Universe providing for me.

I began to toy with the idea of becoming a yoga teacher.  My friend Melanie had gone to the Bahamas to study at the Ashram on Paradise Island.  Over a glass of wine and a hot tub soak after yoga at Daisy’s house, she told us of her experience being immersed in yoga.  Not once did I think I could do something like that. My search for a teacher training continued.  I tried out a lot of scenarios that would fit my family’s lifestyle.  One day, late in the afternoon, Melanie showed up at my office with her bike helmet.  It seems she had forgotten her bicycle after class.  She asked me what I was up to.  I told her I was on the hunt for a good, affordable yoga teacher training.  She said, ‘Why don’t you just go to the same Ashram I went to in the Bahamas?’

There is was again…Melanie forgot her bike after class (who forgets a bike while walking with their helmet tucked under their arm, right?), comes back, recommends this place to me.  The full-body feeling is there…this adventure will happen.  And so it did, twice, in fact!  The story is at this link.  Alas, I didn’t end up maintaining the teaching aspect of my yoga practice.  But, studying yoga in depth was incredible.  I learned that yoga is a lot of things, the least of which is attaining a yoga body and doing poses on a mat.

Said realization led me to the epiphany of the damages of self-loathing due to the pressures on mostly woman to achieve today’s body aesthetic.  That whole body feeling happened when I reached out to find help and it came in the form of a podcast called Life Unrestricted.  Thank you Universe.

Last one for ya…

At a wedding for my niece up in Ontario.  Dean, Leo and I have just driven for two days to Hunstville.  We prepare for an amazing wedding by two foodies where everything is over-the-top wonderful.  We dress and take the bus to the Summit building.  Suddenly I feel my head begin to pound with a headache.  If I don’t get an extra strength something soon, I will have to bow out of the festivities and I really did not want to do that!  You see, I adore dancing and socializing and being with my big fun family.  So, I began to quietly but frantically ask around.  There’s no jumping in a car to get to a drugstore.  Remember, we had bused to a remote area.  No one could help me.  Then my eyes fell on my sister.  I whispered to her that my head was aching and asked if she might have a pill.  She was carrying a tiny little black clutch purse.

She opened the purse.

There was nothing in there. Nada.

Except one little red pill.

An extra-strength pain-killer.  She plucked it out of her clutch purse and happily handed it to me with as much surprise on her expressive face as was on mine.  What possessed her to put one pill in a purse and carry it to the wedding?

There was that feeling again.  Thank you Universe.

universe

(Pictures found in google images…thank you!)

 

Remember to take a moment and leave a comment.  Comments are awesome!

 

*Songwriters: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger
You Can’t Always Get What You Want lyrics © Abkco Music, Inc

Connecting Moments

As I drove up the mountain to my friend’s house, to edit the final chapter, the CBC reporter on the radio announced, “Grief councillors are recommending people reach out to talk to each other for support.”

This post is a guest submission from my friend Sarah who is an incredible young mom of two beautiful children and wife of a lovely man.  At one time she was headed to be an astronaut!  Life took a turn, as it is known to do, and now she helps students as a Councillor at Acadia University.  Sarah is also an incredibly gifted yoga teacher who has studied under a Guru in India.  She is one of those friends who is so good, you hope it will rub off on you.  As you can tell, I cherish her.  Once I was speaking to her Dad who was in yoga class and I pointed out that he was visiting again from Ottawa, how nice.  He told me he needed to get his fix of his Sarah.  He missed her so much.  I think a tear rolled down my cheek when I returned to my mat, I was so touched by that.  A good Dad.

A couple of years ago, Sarah took up a pen and began to write.  Here is a submission which includes, in part, a tragedy that has just rocked this sea bound coastal province of Nova Scotia.

Almost a decade ago, when I had a horrible set-back with psychosis, after yoga class one evening I asked Sarah, whom I barely knew then, if she would come to my house and sit with me because I was feeling very badly.  She came and sat quietly by me while I tried desperately to quiet my mind.  I remember thinking that she was an angel.

Here is Sarah’s story:

            I actually just tasted my coffee. Like, tasted the taste of it. Since beginning my new job counselling in September, I have been drinking coffee routinely as I start my work day; I’m not sure I’ve even been tasting it. Now, its delicious: hot, smooth, with a slightly heavy and bitter finish. Can I really taste the rose that’s described on the tasting notes on the bag under the fist being pumped into the air: Viva La Resistencia! coffeebag.pngMy partner visits these grower co-ops and walks the steep mountain sides to pick the berries after being awoken at 4 a.m. when the women rise to begin making the tortillas to fuel the next day’s harvest. How does that raised fist live in them? Do they ever taste their coffee?

And no, I can’t taste the rose…but I can taste berries.

Plus, I got the amount of milk perfect: it’s the exact shade of my mother’s and grandmother’s tea.

“Shall we put the kettle on?” was always their way of coming together, of making time, of soothing the fatigue of so much caring; a moment to offer something back to themselves, together. I wonder how often they tasted it?

             Before making my coffee, I was meditating on my purple kidney-shaped cushion, my grey tea-cosy-shaped toque on my head, my grandmother’s light blue knit afghan on my lap.  The fire crackled. I felt my breath—short, ragged—and I couldn’t get my head into the right position. Translate: I felt a lot of unpleasant sensations in my neck and where the back of my skull meets my spine. I experimented with small adjustments: it didn’t really change. I lifted the eyebrows above my eye and ears (if there were ones there too), and the muscles on the top of my head lifted off like a helmet: relief! Then they immediately returned, as though they needed to protect my head, in case I randomly tripped and fell.

            And yet, it felt so good to be sitting, early in the day, quiet. And it felt good because of what preceded it: three snow days in a row, a busy weekend, my partner leaving for a conference, and my parents-in-law taking my son, so that I woke up in bed with my daughter curled up tightly behind me, almost pushing me off of the bed this morning, got her on her bus, and then on a Monday, I find myself alone at home with a day to myself.

teacup

            With my perfect cup of coffee beside me, I sit down to write, and a bird lands outside my window, just out of sight, and when it ruffles its feathers one of its wings appears in the window. I stand up and lean over my desk to press the side of my face to the window trying to see it. It’s gone. When I look down, I see a little dead army of lady-bug-look-a-likes that appear on the window sills in the top floor of our house this time of year– smaller, more spots than their famous counterparts — some of which have curled up in a ball, some rolled over, some with their wings spread as they colonize the sill.  Why are there so many dead insects in my writing space? Because writing time is too precious to spending vacuuming them up.

            I sit back down. Outside, a chickadee hops, flutters, from frozen broccoli plant to frozen broccoli plant, then onto the bare kale stalks in the next bed that look like mini palm trees, but in the snow. I ate one of the frozen baby heads of broccoli that were still left on the plant yesterday: soft and sweet. Beside the broccoli are three frozen heads of cauliflower, bowing down towards the snow with their frozen weight. How could I have missed them?! Not to mention the garlic, which is still sitting in a silver bowl in our back hall, waiting, waiting, more patiently than I, as I raked the snow off of the bed yesterday hoping it might melt more quickly. I may have to use precious greenhouse space if it doesn’t melt.      

            I have just finished co-writing a chapter of a about succulent sustainability: how does making use of precious greenhouse space for garlic make any sense? As I drove up the mountain to my friend’s house, to edit the final chapter, the CBC reporter on the radio announced, “Grief councillors are recommending people reach out to talk to each other for support.”

            “Mom, can you turn the radio off?” my nearly-seven year old daughter asked from the back seat.

            “Of course,” I said, looking back in my rearview mirror to see her serious face beneath a grey slouchy toque that’s standing straight up. I suddenly remembered that she also absorbs the news, only the holes in her sieve are bigger.

            “It’s just so sad all the time,” she says.

            “I know,” I say, looking back at her again. Our eyes meet.

            “Did you hear the part about the little girl?” I asked.

            She nods, “What happened?”

            “Well, she was at the Santa Claus parade and she was running beside one of the floats, and she must have slipped and fell and got hit.” I paused. “Like hit by a car, and she died.”

            She nodded very seriously.

            “What also feels really sad to me,” I said, “Is that there were so many people who saw it. They were right there, but it happened so fast that no one could do anything about it.”

            The weight of the non-reversal of time, of finality, hovered between us. In a little over 24 hours later, when she found herself stuck in the washing machine, while I pulled on one of her legs, trying to birth her from it, she might feel it again.

            “Who was it?” she asks.

            “I don’t know yet. They often don’t release the name until the family has been able to tell others on their own time. Once we know, do you think we should send the family something?” I asked.

            “Do you know them?” she asked.

            “No, but it would be nice to send them a card just the same.”

             Two weeks ago, I sat down with five students in our weekly mindfulness group at Acadia in the basement of the chapel.  We are facing each other in a circle, sitting on bolsters, cushions. I am sitting on a block, hard under my sitting bones. We have sat for 20 minutes, walked for 5, and sat again. My instructions are body-focused: how do we come into direct contact with the body? Can we feel particular sensations without constructing a narrative; can we feel directly rather than through an image?

            My students have asked me to speak about positive body image in relation to what we’ve been practicing.

            I’m not sure I’m the one to do this. The person I think of as being qualified stands in the mirror, praising themselves with how they look, satisfied, content, untouchable by self-doubt, self-consciousness, social pressures. I laugh. I did feel like that once, but that version of myself was perhaps the most confused, and could never speak to this or imagine the place that I am at now.

            This has been a major area of practice for me. And, for the first time, it feels like an invitation I can meet. The night before I had an initiation dream: metal pikes pierced through my toes.

            Fifteen year before, I rolled out my orange yoga mat on the tatami floor of our Shikoku apartment, four patches of my mat worn thin where my hands and feet landed in downward dog. Part of my practice was driven towards maintaining my body at a particular size (in a determination, I see now, to avoid painful feelings of shame, which I also now appreciate as a measure of how deeply we care), and simultaneously I was seeing, really seeing, painfully seeing, and experimenting to figure out how to work with the way controlling my body in this way was impacting me. The practice was simultaneously co-opted by my patterns, while also letting me see them….actually, I think that’s exactly how it’s supposed to work: entangled and healing, at the same time. This practice was it for me: learning to see what was happening, feeling it directly, so that I could attend to what was happening.

            Sitting with the group, my chest is fluttering, and my mind is trying to take the reins, but I keep coming back to my breath, to the firmness of the block..

            In these moments, my own struggles are a gift. The same way that my perfect cup of coffee came together this morning, so did these struggles. All of these conditions make it impossible to control, and hard to find somewhere to place blame; all of these conditions are so helpful because there are so many entry points to healing.

            Two weeks ago a dear friend wrote on her facebook post, on her 22nd birthday, about her struggles with eating as a teen. When I wrote her a message about how I deeply admired her courage, she wrote back thanking me for being a support towards healing. At that time, it took the form of coming over to snuggle with a baby and drink chamomile tea while wrestling through pre-calculus problems at our kitchen table.

            Now, it’s a group waiting for me to begin.

            “So,” I began, “I was asked to talk about positive body image and how it relates to what we’ve been practicing. And, what I might suggest, what if we’re to leave the image altogether? What if, instead,we use this practice to help us cultivate a relationship that’s curious, caring, mutual, attuned? What if we notice and make space for pleasure?”    

             Thomas Merton said, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them”.

                As I sat this morning, a faint squeaking of metal and scuttle of little feet arose. There was a mouse inside the bottom of the stove, shitting and storing food in the metal runners of the bottom drawer. I opened my eyes and banged on the floor three times: “I’m here!” my banging proclaimed, asserting my presence.

            It was silent for a few minutes. I realized how loud and terrifying the sound must have been to the mouse. I settled back on my breath feeling annoyed about the mess under the stove and ashamed for my reaction. A few minutes later, I heard it again, but without the metal clinking. I opened my eyes and saw its tail hanging out of a little crack beside the dishwasher. The tail bobbed up and down once, and then disappeared. I smiled. I closed my eyes, settled again. When I got up a few minutes later and put on the kettle for coffee, I got down on my hands and knees to look for the hole. It’s only about 3 or 4 mm wide. How did it do that? I looked around at the floor under the overhang of the cupboards. Ugh. I’d have to clean the floors, but for now, I stuck with making my coffee.       

By Sarah Smolkin

penny beach (2)

 

 

(Photos by moi, except for the fist on the coffee bag which is from JustUs Coffee Roasters in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia and the coffee cup is from google images. Thank you!)

 

It is a very special thing to receive your comments…go ahead.  Leave a comment~

The Best Job in The World – Mom 🧸

Our son, Leo, came into this world in a bit of a nightmare situation back in 1999 but, regardless, he was one of the easiest children ever to raise and to love.  He challenged us a bit with court-room type drama once in a while but, it seemed it was mostly for good reasons.  He ended up being our only child, even though we hadn’t planned it that way, and funny, since both Dean and I come from large families.

Baby Leo (2)

He never once got into anything or made huge messes.  Never opened the cupboard under the sink or dismantled the chandelier like his Uncle Jobe. He would ask me daily for his nap time saying, ‘Nap now, Mum’ as he put his chubby hands together by his right ear and tilted his head as if it was his pillow (the American Sign Language sign for bedtime).  He would then sleep for about three hours.

So, this one crisp autumn day, we were running around on a country soccer pitch with our two big Northern dogs, Delta and Grizzly.  Leo was wearing his blue hooded, hand-knitted sweater from Nanny in Newfoundland.  We had this old soccer ball that Dean was eager for Leo to fall in love with, soccer being Dean’s passion.

The dogs were racing around.  Leo was racing around.  I was watching Leo’s every move (as was my normal then).

Suddenly, from about 50 feet away, Dean passes that soccer ball to Leo.  Let me rephrase that.  Dean hauled off and belted that soccer ball toward Leo.  There was 2-year old toddler Leo.  Watching that ball sail toward him.  It became slo-mo for a sec, and then WHAP!   Leo caught it right on the middle of his smooth, baby,  forehead.  His blond head snapped back slightly and then forward again.

I screamed, ‘YOU ASSHOLE’!  At Dean for doing this to my baby.  We raced to him.  I picked up Leo expecting major tears.

He didn’t even cry.

Dean was mortified.  He hadn’t expected the ball to fly at Leo’s forehead.

***

After our move to the Annapolis Valley, our Leo being about four years old then, we started off in a duplex up on Pleasant St as was told in this story: A Simple East Coast Life.  So, at the time, Leo was usually getting up in the middle of the night to get a drink and to pee.  He would routinely wake me up to let me know what was going on with him.  This one day, I kindly explained to Leo that it would be perfectly fine if he were to get up and do his thing without disturbing me and also without tripping over the dogs where they would inevitably lay in the doorway of our bedroom (the bathroom being across the hall).  The power of plain language is going to be highlighted here.

That night, middle of the night, Leo gets up and taps me on the shoulder, ‘Mommy, I don’t want to disturb you but, I am going to get a drink and go pee’.  I claw myself out of a deep sleep to acknowledge my mistake (he didn’t know what ‘disturb’ meant!)  While I’m at it, I remind him not to trip over the dogs.

Well, he stepped successfully over the fur-heads enroute to the bathroom.  I hear him do his pee.  I hear him fill the water cup, sip, then, step, step, step…

OOOOOPH…

splash!!

Scurry of large dogs away from the wet spill.

‘Sorry Mommy.  I tripped and spilled my water.’

All this time, Dean is still snoring.  Men.

***

First year of University, in our same town.  Leo is eighteen now and in residence.  One day, early on, I get a text:

‘Mom, I’m gonna need another towel asap.’

Leo was always a pretty confident guy.  Always pretty sure that every need and necessity would be met.  Living on his own was going to be a bit of a curve.

***

Leo to his dad by text, ‘hope I’m not pushing my luck with this one but could you get mom to give me some new linens for me to put on my bed?’ (Keep in mind that I have asked him to bring his linens home to wash each week.  He did it once in six months.)

***

This year, in a house with five guy roommates:

‘mom, can I cook this frozen pizza in a microwave?’

Me: ‘no honey.  In the Oven.’

Leo: ‘I don’t think there is  an oven.’

Me thinking, how does one not notice an oven?

***

‘ok so keven and I left a bunch of dishes in the dishwasher for way too long and now they’re all moldy, what should we do?’

***

‘the lightbulb in my bathroom stopped working, any tips on the fix’

***

He had this way of hearing and observing me and drawing conclusions.  Like this one day when he was four, we went to a friend’s house who had just been brushing his teeth, with the residual paste on his lips.  I asked, ‘did we catch you at a bad time?’

A few days later, a canvasser comes to our front door.  Leo and I go to the door together, as was our way then.  We open the door to find a man with a tie and clip board but, he also had a bit of white toothpaste on the side of his mouth.  Leo asks me: ‘Mommy, did we catch him at a bad time?’  It was weird, but I knew instantly why my little guy would ask that.

***

One final one for ya… this one day, Leo was very disappointed because he wasn’t allowed to go for a play with a friend because something else was going on.  He began to cry pretty hard in disappointment.  His face red.  I said, ‘Buddy? Are you going to be okay?’  Leo looks at me straight on and says: ‘I’m having a hard time’.  He had overheard me say this to a friend who was sad.

Make no mistake about it.  Being a mom is the best thing I have ever done.  The best gift I have ever received was a precious little guy to raise and love and form a family with.

(Photos taken by me)

Remembering Matt

Wilson L. Matthew Jan 14, 1966 – Dec 1, 2003
brother, uncle, teacher and friend
Nothing loved is ever lost and he was loved so much

After reading the previous post by Al Kinsella about the loss of his father, Eric commented about the power of the poem Al had written.  I took the opportunity to then ask Eric if he had a story for my blog and here is what he offered.  It is a story about a mutual friend who lost his life suddenly and way too early.
A guest submission by Eric van Wesenbeeck:
Writing this was a way of dealing with the grief of a lost friend, who left us way too early in life…

 

A while ago, I was invited to a surprise birthday party for Jim’s mother. Jim O is an old high school friend whom I still keep in touch with. In fact, we were neighbours for a few years when our kids where just young and even now we live in the same town. A mutual friend of ours, Matt, planned to come up to Barrie for the weekend to join the Saturday evening festivities. Matt lived in Bradford where he worked at his dream job as a high school English/Drama teacher. We saw Matt a few times a year when he would come to Barrie to visit friends and I looked forward to seeing him again, soon.

He first came to our house for dinner with me, my wife, Chris and our three kids. As always, Matt brought his old guitar with him and entertained the kids (okay, all of us) with a few of the hundreds of songs he had filed away in that jukebox brain of his. Afterwards, we headed off, guitar in hand, to Jim’s parents’ house for the party. On the way, Matt and I chewed the fat, toasting our common interest in music and pop culture, savouring the latest gossip of our many mutual old high school friends and digesting hearty servings of what life had recently dished up for the two of us. Matt had just broken up with his latest girlfriend and, although he hid it well, I could tell he was heartbroken. Matt had had a few serious relationships but unfortunately for him, none had worked out in the long term. I figured the evening’s party may be a convenient distraction for Matt on what may have otherwise been a cold, lonely November Saturday night.

We had great time at this Irish birthday party and a happy surprise it was for Jim’s mother! Her friends and relatives from Ireland, New York City and next door joined in to celebrate. The Irish beer and whiskey flowed and it wasn’t long before the atmosphere in the rec-room had transformed to that of an Irish pub with card games, darts, billiards, laughter and song. Ah yes, song. One of Jim’s aunts sang a few haunting Irish folk songs that mesmerized the gathering. Of course, Matt had brought in his guitar and it wasn’t long before he had many of us singing along as he pounded out the chords on his trusty Gibson six-string. As he wound down his “set”, Matt called me over to help him sing the next song, “I’m One” by the Who. Going back over twenty years to grade eleven, the love of music was something that closely bonded Matt and me. The only difference was that he could play and sing it – I could most definitely NOT. Consequently, I awkwardly stumbled through the verses and then enthusiastically helped Matt belt out the chorus in my tone-deaf voice. We had a great time.

Later that evening, as the revelry wound down, Matt drove me back home. Before leaving to crash for the night at Jim’s house, Matt stood in my driveway with me and we chatted for a long time. Matt was usually up-beat and lighthearted and rarely exposed his darker corners but that night he was particularly reflective and nostalgic and it seemed, just a little melancholy. Chronic health problems had caused him several setbacks in life, back as far as I could remember. He divulged to me a drug habit that he had only recently wrestled into control. He lamented that yet another relationship had failed. He felt that he was missing out on a certain part of life as he watched his friends get married and raise families of their own. Matt loved kids and I think he longed to be a father. I felt bad for Matt and tried to comfort him with my words. I reminded him of all the kids at school who loved him – he was an extremely popular teacher because of his gift for connecting with the students with whom he was so involved. I reminded him of all his siblings and the many nieces and nephews who looked up to “Uncle Matt”. I (regretfully) suppressed an urge to reach out and give him a hug. It was getting late, so Matt, feeling a little comforted, hopped in the car and drove across town to Jim’s house.

As Matt drove away and I made my way to bed, the tune “I’m One” kept playing in my head. I hadn’t listened to that album in years and Matt’s rendition of it had rekindled the flame I carried for this old “favorite band”. The next day, I pulled my “Quadrophenia” CD out of the dusty archives and threw it in my car for future listening.

Two weeks later, on a Monday morning while at work, I got a call from Jim. Jim somberly announced to me that our friend Matt had passed away. I sat in silence, stunned. Jim explained that Matt had gone to the hospital by himself on the weekend, not feeling well. He must have been feeling awful because with all his past health problems Matt had spend too much time in hospitals and now hated going there. He wouldn’t go unless he really wasn’t well. He passed away two nights later with congestive heart failure. Just like that, Matt was gone. I was shaken and had to leave work to clear my head. I got in the car and drove to the lakeshore and stared silently out onto the foreboding gray waters. I thought about Matt. About the conversation we had only two weeks ago. About the years we had spent together in school. About the music, friends, parties, camaraderie and life we had shared. I remembered him singing recently at the party. I loaded the CD I had left in the car and listened to “I’m One”. I listened to the track again and again. Suddenly, the lyrics spoke to me with such clarity. Matt had sung them so passionately and now I knew why. This angst ridden song of a misfit trying so hard to fit in somewhere and be “someone”, reflected perfectly what Matt was feeling. Matt felt he was only “one” and he wanted so badly to be more than that…

matt grave

It’s seems to me, that Matt never realized that he had, in fact, become more than that. There were over 400 people at his visitation, funeral and interment. Standing room only. Many were students, who felt like they had lost a big brother. Through his classroom enthusiasm and antics, his passionate dramatic creations and his rousing participation in floor hockey, Matt had so closely touched so many students. Matt was awarded, posthumously, an award for teaching excellence. A student achievement award was created and named in his honour.

I won’t easily forget Matt. I visit his grave occasionally and take a few moments to recognize all the good things in my life, even if, at that moment, things may seem kind of bleak. I remind myself to enjoy each day to the fullest because each one is precious and a chance to leave a positive impression on those I meet. In the end, we are all just “one” and that’s really not so bad, is it?

~Submission and photo by Eric van Wesenbeeck…thank you)

__________________________________

For me, Matt was one of those school friends that I met in kindergarten in 1971 and besides grade 10, we spent our all of our school days together right up until grade 13.  Matt and I served on the student’s council at St Mary’s together, we hung out in groups on weekends and we played ball on the paved (yes, paved) yard at recess, after school and sometimes on weekends.  Matt loved ball.  He knew all the calls the hand signs the lingo.  He could be very dramatic and it was contagious.  We lived a couple of streets away from each other and attended the same masses at St Mary’s church.  Losing Matt felt like a blow to my stomach and a dark inner pain that just wouldn’t stop.  Dean, Leo and I were in Honduras on Roatan when I received the email from Flo that Matt had died. ‘WHAT??’ I exclaimed and my fist flew to my mouth with the shock of the news.  When you are school friends for so many years, back when people just did not move away, you really got to know someone and it is profound how much they feel like a part of you.  How well they knew and understood you.  They would just have to.  Matt used to call me ‘Marth’ and he was the only one who would.  I’ll never forget him.  He was a good friend and will always be missed.  Go well Matt.  Rest in Peace.

 

I’m One
Every year is the same
And I feel it again
I’m a loser, no chance to win
Leaves start fallin’
Come down is callin’
Loneliness starts sinking in
But I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
Where do you get
Those blue, blue jeans
Faded, patched secret so tight?
Where do you get
That walk oh so lean?
Your shoes and your shirt’s all just right
I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
I got a Gibson
Without a case
But I can’t get that even tanned look on my face
Ill fitting clothes
And I blend in the crowd
Fingers so clumsy
Voice too loud
But I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
I’m the one
I’m the one
Songwriters: Peter Den

 

While Sitting At Your Grave

Though things we knew not how
When it was clear and loud
I hope you’re watching now
I hope we do you proud….
~Allen Kinsella

Guest writer Al Kinsella…

Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago on a Nov 6th. Today would have been my father’s birthday. It would always require a visit to the cemetery where I do a ton of thinking. Well it’s that day again today – he has been gone for 6 years now and here is a poem I wrote in 2015 while sitting at his grave.

 

I thought of you today

I know you’re no longer here

Had so much left to say

I say in thoughts and tears

 

The more I think things different

The more they just don’t change

I find I’m more and more like you

is it funny or is it strange?

 

Though things we knew not how

When it was clear and loud

I hope you’re watching now

I hope we do you proud

 

Not a day goes by I don’t realize

You would never not bother

I think of you daily to my surprise

Happy Birthday Dad my Father

 

Although on this special day

when you are not here to celebrate

Watch over us and pray

And make our worlds illuminate!

 

 

 

*****

Photo by me (not Al)

Fire on the Rifle Range 🔥

Again I realized that there are some of us who need to lead but, there are more of us who just want to follow

In my early twenties, I was posted to Lahr, Germany.  Initially I was a transportation platoon commander in Supply and Transport Company in 4 Service Battalion in the Canadian Army.  To put it simply, I had a platoon of 30 soldiers who drove MAN 10-ton trucks (these bad boys, as seen below)

10 ton Man

which would carry supplies: ammunition, water, rations, various needed items, and spare parts for forward fighting troops and other support units within the Brigade. During peace time, we conducted training operations such as weapons use, field exercises and fitness competitions to improve morale, esprit-de-corps and to prepare for future deployments. As the Platoon Commander, I routinely conducted all manner of administrative duties, personnel evaluations and reports, test and inspection readiness, subordinate training, orders groups, equipment maintenance checks, and many other duties in accordance with my rank and position.

For the weapons aspect, a couple of times per year, we would all dispatch by military road move (huge convoys of jeeps, light and heavy trucks, trailers, kitchen trucks and the like) to a Gun Camp in Valdahon, France for two weeks of training on the shooting ranges.

While there, we were assigned to a room and a cot in one part of the camp.  The other two-thirds of the place was inhabited by French and German units.  We shared the mess hall with them and as such, had opportunities to observe them.  Our uniforms kept us together as a unit but apart from them. It was interesting to consistently see and remember this all this time later, that the Germans were the physically largest of us all.  The French were the smallest and we, the Canadians, were right in the middle. The female soldiers were almost always the smallest of all and there were only a few dozen women there in total, myself included.

As an illustration of one aspect of being a female officer, while there, one of my colleagues, a fellow officer no less, decided he would make a move on me.  I hadn’t yet started to date Dean (the guy I was completely in love with but hadn’t been able to solidify a relationship with…yet) so this guy figured he could go for it.  He cornered me in my barrack room and started to physically block me from leaving.  He had this creepy look on his face.  It dawned on me that I was alone in this huge old building with him.  I was going to have to get defensive if he tried anything.  So, with two hands on his chest, I pushed him back and told him I wasn’t interested.  He seemed surprised.  He didn’t bother me again, but, can you image thinking that that tactic would work?

So back to the story at hand…

this one day, I was on the rifle range with a couple dozen soldiers.  I used to really enjoy shooting on the range.  The controlled breathing.  The focus.  The single-mindedness of it.  There was nothing but the trigger and the target.  Nothing.  I would take position.  Take preliminary aim.  Exhale slowly.  Hold it.  Confirm aim.  Squeeze the trigger.  Check.  Repeat.  Writing this in my fifties, I am there again.

There was a sergeant who was in command of this particular range, of which there were many in this training area.  Technically I outranked him but on shooting ranges, the ranking soldier is the one in command of the range and wore an arm band indicating this.  He had done a specialized course to be qualified to command the range.  This guy was a know-it-all, loud mouth with an attitude from Cape Breton, as was apparent by his accent.  I have always found the Cape Breton lilt to be endearing.  Not on this guy.

prone shooting
These are US troops shooting on a small arms range in prone position, just to give an idea of what it looks like. (I didn’t have a camera back in 1990, sorry)

Anyways, we were there shooting our C7 semi-automatic assault rifles and I, my Browning 9 mm pistol as well, and enjoying a hot, very dry day.  It was so bright that it was actually hard to see our targets and the holes we made in them, from where we lay in a line in prone position.  Then Sergeant Attitude says he’s going to get out the tracer rounds in order to be able to see our target shooting better.

It’s too dry for tracer! I thought, with alarm.

Tracer is a training round that has a small, burning, highly visible pyrotechnic flame coming out of its back end.  It is like shooting lit matches down the range.  The kind of matches that don’t extinguish easily.

Alas, I didn’t say anything to dispute the idea and then someone shot tracer and started a field fire almost instantly.

Next thing we know the whole Battalion is out chaotically fighting fires in acres and acres of dry-as-tinder hay.  We worked for hours, burning and blackening ourselves, ruining uniforms and boots and breathing a lot of smoke.  Water trucks eventually showed up but the village was ill equipped for such a huge fire.  I recall a water tank truck with a little garden hose type attachment spitting out drops of water.  Grampa Dalton would have said, ‘Don’t send a boy to do a man’s job‘.  He was usually referring to a trick in the nightly card games of Euchre but, that’s what I thought when I saw that water truck. Finally, proper fire trucks arrived from a city and we were stood-down.  We ate, drank a few beers, showered and hit the rack (army-speak for bed).

I pondered the hours of fighting the field fire and the exact moment I found my command voice.  When I would see a soldier not knowing what to do, or not moving fast enough to help, I would loudly encourage him or her to

‘MOVE IT’!

‘COME OVER HERE’!

‘TAKE THIS RUG TO THAT PATCH OF FIRE, SOLDIER’!

And… they responded to me.  Little ole new-to-the-Battalion me.  It was invigorating and felt right, like I was falling into step.  Again I realized that there are some of us who need to lead but, there are more of us who just want to follow.

As far as I know, nothing was ever investigated about the use of tracer rounds on a hot and dry day in Valdahon, France in the ’90s.

I often wondered though if the fire would have happened had I just opened my mouth.

(Pictures found on google images.  Thank you.)

Ode To The Joy Of A Parents’ Love ♥️

A poem by my eldest sister about the simple recipe of loving, guiding and nurturing a child…

parents with child on beach

Cradled warm

Soothing care

Guiding hand

Nudging gently

Show me a child adored

And I’ll show you

Peace in the world

Happiness in our homes

A positive definition of self

Everyone will want some

Yes, it’s a simple recipe!

~by Eva Player

(Images found on google images.  Thank you.)