There is no excerpt because this is a protected post.
“The made the weather then they stand in the rain and say, shit! It’s raining!”
~Ruby Thewes, Cold Mountain
When I was a little girl and there was that bad feeling in the house, I could feel this dread and I was scared. I was little and I was afraid. There was thunder down the hall and it was coming. Shaking the house. I would hide behind Mom’s legs. Mom was at the kitchen sink. I would squeeze between her legs and the cupboard. When she would turn to face the raging man that was my dad, I would hold on tight and wish and pray that he would go away. He would roar in a very scary voice. He would growl and yell about some thing that had gone wrong. Sometimes he would be waving a piece of paper marked with angry red ink. It was about spending too much money. My mom spending too much money. She was too soft, too stupid, he would scream.
When my son was little, he would sometimes come to stand beside me when I was doing dishes at the sink. I would be looking out at our yard and watching the birds land on the feeder. Sometimes I would be talking on the phone and he would stand there with his chubby arms around my legs. Sometimes his dimpled hand would stroke the skin behind my knee. His chubby cheek pressed against the side of my leg. My hand would float down to touch ￼his flaxen head.￼ Just calmly leaning on me.￼ It was a precious little gift and I would rejoice that so much had changed in the three decades since the times in the previous paragraph. I would thank the heavens for the happy home and financial security I found myself in. I would be ever so grateful that I had a kind husband and that my little guy didn’t ever see a raging dad. We would love him and support him and show him kindness. With this we would watch him thrive and grow displaying confidence in the world around him.
These two memories came flooding back when my dog’s wet nose sniffed the back of my knee to read the information I had gathered in my outing without him. I nearly crumpled to the floor with the traumatic feelings that washed over me for that little girl from five decades ago￼. So unfair how so many children live with fear and anger and rage and violence.
A wish went up that we fix our world and that we cherish our children and that we have them because they are planned for, wanted and loved.
This lead to another question which comes from the place of hearing my father say he didn’t actually want all of us — should have stopped at three, he would say (I am number 6 of 7). Why don’t men take care to not impregnate￼ women if those men don’t actually want children?
She said she was on the pill.
She was all over me.
She was asking for it.
I was drunk.
Birth control is against my religion.
None of these is a good excuse for the possibility of making a baby. A new tiny helpless human who needs love and care, nurturing and shelter and nutrition.
In the words of Ruby Thewes in the movie Cold Mountain: “They made the weather then they stand in the rain and say, shit – it’s raining!”
Sometimes I find it’s a shame when I get feelin’ better when I’m feelin’ no pain
Gordon Lightfoot’s song was playing while I shuffled around my kitchen trying to simplify my thoughts and push down the anxiety. God Damed Anxiety is back. It puts this tight clamp on my spine where the cortisol moves in and stirs up feelings of hopelessness, lack of confidence, uselessness. All those wonderful wonderful feelings to carry like a monkey through the days.
In 1999, in postpartum after the birth of my one child, I was flung into a psychosis which turned into a straight-jacket and a rubber room experience. Haldol and all. (Locked up in D.C.). I was then, at the age of 33, diagnosed Bipolar. I had never had any symptoms prior to that. But you see, I am Military Martha. My whole family of six siblings call me that. I am the sensible one. The rule-follower. List maker (thank’s Annie). The one who solves problems. I am definitely NOT the one who ends up in a Johnny coat running for my life out the hospital doors at -20 Celsius with my undies on show. (Crazy Train 2011)
But this is mental illness folks. It takes all that you know and turns it upside down. It makes that positive side of me disappear. It makes it nearly impossible to reach out to friends and family (unless it turns into mania and then it is impossible to NOT reach out to friends and family and just about anyone else, and even at 3 in the morning).
Even the simplest of tasks cause me to turn in circles and not know where to begin. I need adult supervision. Thanks Uncle Buck. My husband of 27 years becomes the one person who knows me so well. He takes my hand and leads me along through the cloud. He will encourage me with a simple tasks to focus on and accomplish, telling me all the other stuff can wait. It’s not going to be a problem if it all just waits, he says.
Yesterday I was trying to explain the anxiety to my sister on the phone, three provinces away. It is like I know cerebrally that the task is not important but even knowing that, I feel like I am swimming in goop and am finding it hard to keep my head above it. Couple that with the feeling of a huge alligator clamp on my lower spine and that everything I look at is somehow wrong: not good enough, out of order, messy, needs fixing…AHHH! It becomes just overwhelming.
I was explaining how some things seem to help. Letting things go until a better time, cancel, reschedule, forego, cross it off the list. Listening to up and happy music. Walking in nature. Holding hands with my husband and quietly talking and walking. Simple tasks: peeling potatoes, hanging laundry, watering the garden, weeding, sweeping the floor, scraping the paint on the house with a warm sun on my back…all seem to help, if I can get out of my own way to do them.
By Sheree Fitch, Poet and Author of Nova Scotia, Canada after the tragedy in Portapique, Nova Scotia Apr 2020
Sometimes there is no sense to things my child
Sometimes there is no answer to the questions why
Sometimes things beyond all understanding
Sometimes, people die.
When it hurts like this, my child
When you are scared, suffering, confused
Even if we are not together
Together, let us cry
Yes, there is still so much love
Because we love, we cry.
Sometimes the sadness takes away your breath
Sometimes the pain seems endless, deep
Sometimes you cannot find the sun
Sometimes you wish you were asleep.
When it hurts like this, my child
When you are scared and confused
Even if we are not together,
Together, let us cry
Yes, there is still so much love
Because we love, we cry.
Wish that I had answers, child
Wish all this wasn’t so
There are impossible things, child
I cannot bear for you to know .
When it hurts like this, my child
When you are scared and confused
Even if we are not together,
Together, let us cry
Yes, there is still so much love
Because we love, we cry.
Copyright: Sheree Fitch, April 2020
Sheree Fitch recited her poem, above, on the CBC Special televised vigil on Friday April 24, 2020. I found myself weeping at these words which were so completely apt and heartfelt. Thank you Sheree. Rest in Peace to the fallen.
Si Se Puede ~ Yes We Can!
Staying sane during the COVID-19 lockdown? So, what I have been doing is in the title. Just keepin on keepin on, but, also thinking of how I can help with our bottom line. In so doing, I have found peace in the little tiny things around my house and yard. I have learned to be alone. Dance in my undies. Breathe deeply and easily and BE HAPPY for each deep easy breath.
Last week, for the first time in my 54 years of life, I successfully baked sourdough (bread made from natural, live yeast – active dry yeast from the grocery store being hard to come by due to hoarders) bread. My good friend shared her culture with me (she left it in my garage for me), I ‘fed’ it and using her shared recipe, actually made a delicious loaf on my second attempt. The first wasn’t bad. The second was amazing. Little ole me.
I am also sprouting seeds – many, many seeds. And vegetable ends and stuff. So very cool how much we can grow right on the windowsill, from the veggie ends…
Yesterday, the sun shone so hubby and I were out in the yard (we have a large in-town lot with a park behind us (this is my video about growing a meadow instead of a lawn: https://youtu.be/KjqEJHNQSRs). He pruned the big trees to allow more sun in. (I pointed to the branches to be pruned and avoided the sweat pouring off of his brow). We then made another vegetable bed by stacking materials lasagna style: drenched paper/box board, newspaper, compost from our old pile, leaves from under the hedge, more compost, more leaves and lots of water. This will sit for a few weeks now until it is warm enough plant the seedlings. Sitting will help it all to decompose slightly more and will bring the worms. (Worms are good says Mark Valencia of Self Sufficient Me: https://selfsufficientme.com/)
It was a gloriously warm (plus 9 folks – celsius – so, balmy! lol) and the sun was so pretty so, I hung all of our bedding out on the clothesline and it baked in that week but pretty light.
Lots of simple but lovely activities that help me to feel productive, proactive, helpful and, ultimately, happy.
What are you up to these days?
‘Been down one time
Been down two times
I’m never going back again’
This is a guest submission by one of my oldest friends, with a pseudonym of Layla. Layla and I met at St Mary’s School in Barrie, Canada when we were tiny and became close because we had so much fun together AND we walked the same way to school every morning. (I’ve heard it said that young friendships have a lot to do with geography). All these decades later, we are still friends. She still cracks me up as much as she did back then. Back when we used to put Mark’s stereo on in the rec room with Fleetwood Mac blaring and do cartwheels and walk-overs in the dark.
Once Layla, with her reddish hair very similar to my brother Jobe, was accepted into our family, she was a regular at our family meals and was around our house most days. I also spent a lot of time playing at her house, often the two of us alone, because her Grandmother would be at work at the hospital where she pulled twelve-hour shifts. I remember watching a ten-year old Layla cooking up a pound of bacon or ground beef to eat for supper without any other foods on the plate. I remember that was really different because Mom would always have us build a balanced meal on our plate: protein, vegetables, starch.
Layla had this really odd baby-sitter, Shirley, who kept her kidney stones in a small jar on her dresser. We would sneak into her room to point and peer at them. ‘Ewwww, gross!’ we would whisper to each other with freckled, scrunched up faces. We were barely tall enough for our eyes to clear the top of the highboy dresser. One time Shirley caught us and tried to smack Layla. We were too fast for her though as we used our guile to get away from Shirley who walked with a cane. (But seriously, why keep them on your dresser?)
There was a group of us at times: Kelly, Paul Aikins (R.I.P.), Layla and I were often together cooking up mischief. One time, we decided to light ‘strike anywhere’ matches in a closet in Layla’s rental flat in an old Victorian on Bayfield Street. When her grandmother found out, she called my parents and I was punished. I got the belt to my behind from my Dad due to the seriousness of the infraction. It never happened again. Another time we were in trouble with Sister Mary Catherine. Layla received ‘the Strap’ for it. I am certain that woman was a witch. She was horribly mean.
When my older sister Amy became a hairstylist after attending the Barrie School of Hairdressing, I can clearly remember the time she gave Layla a ‘pageboy’ haircut. It was the same haircut made famous by Dorothy Hamill the 1976 Olympic skating champion. The haircut took place in our basement bathroom of our Peel Street house. The large bathroom with the bright blue melamine counter-top opposite the sink. Layla perched there on a stool, me watching from the edge of the tub while Amy snipped. Twenty year-old Amy was beautiful with long blond hair and baby-blue eyes. Her slender fingers were entwined in Layla’s extra thick strawberry blond locks as she cooed softly to Layla to help her relax. Layla had a very sensitive scalp. Layla became the talk of the grade 5 class with that hair cut, it suited her so well. It was so very ‘IN’.
When Layla moved away, I missed her badly. We would write letters back and forth and she did come to the camp once. Then there was my trip to the Badlands where we re-connected. Layla has been to my home in Nova Scotia twice and I will see her in Calgary soon. Can’t wait!!!!
Here is her story of strength in finding a New Life. (She says it was God, but, I would argue that it was ALL HER!)
I was born into a Catholic family in North Bay, Ontario, baptized as a baby and attended the Catholic Church and school from birth to sixth grade. My earliest memories are of living with my Grandma and Grandpa. It didn’t occur to me to question it- that was all I knew. But for a loving Grandmother, I would have grown up with strangers.
My next significant memory is of moving to Barrie, Ontario with Grandma Bea – as her marriage of 25 years was ending. She worked hard to support us. At that time everyone in my class lived with their Mom and Dad. The 30 of us moved up through the grades together. We all attended St. Mary’s Church and school.
My Grandma kept an orderly and safe home for us. She kept me in tap, jazz, and baton classes after school. I also did gymnastics at school. Downtime at home was spent playing outside with the other neighbourhood children.
My Mom showed up when I was 7 years old and wanted to reclaim me. I had no idea who my Mom was, and neither Grandma or I were prepared to be apart from one another.
Through a series of events, and several more years past, it was decided that I would go and live with my Mother in British Columbia. This was just before I entered 7th grade.
My safe predictable world came crashing down. My Mother lived very differently, so I soon found myself appalled and alienated. Coming home after school to groups of people drinking and drugging was completely foreign and quite scary to me. The mood swings the adults displayed were also new to me.
I deeply regretted moving to BC I was small and lean at the time, and also got to learn what it was to be the new kid, get bullied, and have to fist fight to get past the gang to get home. I hated my life.
Sometime during that year, Mother’s boyfriend threw us out during the night in a rage. We landed at a shelter and eventually moved to another home with another school- and another gang of bullies to deal with.
I did okay at first in 8th grade. I loved biology and participating in the gymnastics club. At some point though, with more chaos and confusion at home, I couldn’t cope anymore. I switched to another school that was a specialized alternate learning environment. I did okay there for awhile and then we moved again to another city. Same scenario happened all over again…. I was completely done.
I dropped out of school and spiraled downward for many years. My teenage years were an unstable mess. By 15 I was done with life. Attempted suicide… failed. Somehow I carried on- working, going to night school, and partying.
By 19 I had to sober up and find a way to live with a new purpose. I was solidly entrenched in unhealthy living patterns. By this time many friends had died due to the lifestyle- intentionally or otherwise. Through all of this, I was starting to wake up a bit and notice some things that scared me. God was drawing me…
Thankfully I had a good friend who had cleaned up a couple of years ahead of me. She took me under her wing and walked me through the daily beginning steps of sobriety. For awhile, an AA women’s group was a lifeline for me.
At some point in my new sobriety, I began to question the meaning of life. A very clear turning point happened when I was in my downtown, Nelson BC apartment. Looking up and down the street, I began to think about the people coming and going. What was the point of it all? How did it start? Where would it end?
Thus began a new quest to satisfy these queries. Nelson was a New Age hot bed with plenty of options to consider. Initially I returned to visit the local Catholic Church- only to be faced with a sexual advancement from a married man who attended there. I left and continued my quest. I looked into a multitude of things that people seemed satisfied with and engaged in. Gestalt therapy, Wicca, Mormonism, and others. They all seemed interesting, but I was always left with a sense that there had to be more. Something that was IT!
I had a friend at college who was sparkly eyed and always kind and friendly with me. She attended the local Evangelical Free Church. So I asked her if they did any fun stuff. I attended a campfire night by the river with the College and Career group. I found them to be funny, interesting and had good music that I hadn’t heard before. The group also had a bible study at my friend’s house. I went to check this out. At the first one, they spoke of the fruits of the Spirit. I knew I wanted those things. Love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. WOW! I was very interested.
I finished my office administration training. I did my practicum and volunteered in local offices as I was unable to find work. The town was economically shutting down. I had a student loan and the collectors were calling. So I moved to Calgary in 1990 to get some work and pay off my student loan so that I could go home again to Nelson, BC.
My Grandma had already moved to Calgary, so I stayed with her while I worked and saved. We loved being reunited and savoured our time together.
I am now celebrating 30 years of living in Alberta. We make our plans, but God orders our steps. This was not my plan.
I got work right away. Not long after moving to Calgary, I was invited to Grace Baptist College and Career. Through this group I was introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and was told that I needed to be born again. I really didn’t know what to make of this.
As I considered the information, I felt like no matter where I went, I was being shown very clearly that there was good and evil. I needed to make a choice. The fence sitting was not going to be permitted much longer. At a crossroads, I called out to God. However, I was still unconvinced if He was real or not. Was I going to dive in- or walk away? I earnestly asked God, if He was there, to show me clearly. I opened my bible at a random place and my eyes landed on Proverbs 23:18. “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” I prayed then and trusted the blood of Christ to wash away all my sin and to make me new in Christ. Thus began my journey as a Christian…
Not long after this, a lovely senior lady from church came over to my Grandmother’s place to teach me the scriptural basics and disciple me.
As the years went on, trials and growth opportunities were abundant. I journeyed through legalism, deep marital pain, divorce, isolating from believers, failure….but God.
I began to learn, at a heart level, verses like Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You. Because he trusts in You.” Also, Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything but in every situation, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And Philippians 4:19 “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Despite all the pain, the unfaithfulness, the confusion- God has continued to win my heart. With so many distractions in this world, singing praises has always guarded my heart and has become an essential way for me to set my mind on Him. Being in fellowship with like-minded Believers, who lovingly point each other back to truth, has also been a huge blessing and lifeline for me.
By the grace of God I can now say- I belong to Jesus- heart, soul, mind and strength. Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ [in Him I have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ (the Messiah) lives in me; and the life I now live in the body I live by faith in (by adherence to and reliance on and complete trust in) the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
I do not try to disappoint
Or mean to disobey
There is no reason you’d suspect
I’d go another way
For we are born to what we are
With choices we must make
I see no point in taking sides
I see no sides to take
~John McCutcheon’s Bird Dog
‘Could I possibly meet Jack,’ I said. ‘We could come on Sunday, ‘ I said.
…Jack has been with us ever since that day. He was impossible not to love.
You see, our senior girl, Lady-Jane passed away about ten months ago and her passing was heart-breaking as she became quite ill with an awful infected lump on her haunch – after never being sick a day in her life….
Well, we now have a new pup and heading, head first into another decade and a half of fur-face lovin’. This guy’s name is ‘Jack’. He is hilarious and goofy and very loving and, yes, even chill, at times.
Jack was listed on Kijiji, the same way we adopted Lady-Jane, actually. Unbeknownst to my friends, I had been perusing the Kijiji re-homing ads for several months. This time I wanted a goof-ball dog. No more of this big pointy ears and pointy wolfish snout. Lady was a fabulous girl, (as were Delta and Grizzly before her) but, almost daily she scared the bejeezus out of people and other dogs. She was just so ‘ON’ it protection wise.
Jack, on the other hand, has had Acadia U. students at my door to just pet him for a minute. Folks have said things like, ‘Thanks, I needed that!’ after running their hands through his puppy fur and, burying their face in his fur and smelling his puppy smell. Other friends have received the exuberance of a four foot high jump, so excited was Jack to meet them!
Jack is a black standard golden-doodle who was being trained to be a PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) service dog. Unfortunately for the PTSD folks, he failed his trials. ‘Too bouncy’ was the verdict. So after being with the breeder in Montreal for four months, he then went to the trainer for two months in Halifax. Now he is with us in Wolfville.
We have loved him since the moment we met him. He comes to my office with me and is settling in very nicely. Here’s a picture of him on the couch (no other dogs have been allowed on the couch), splayed out in the reverse flying frog posture – letting it all hang out – throwing caution to the wind. Just so chill. I felt very pleased to see this. He is AT HOME and he knows it. He is with us for his fur-ever.
It is wonderful to have a fur-head again. He has brought much joy. One young student, while petting Jack at my office door said, ‘Dog’s are here to love us, you know’. Wow. Isn’t that the truth.
He has gone for the snip. He thought he was going to the ‘tutor’. Turns out, he was going for the ‘neuter’! He was very very tired afterward and then it was ‘the cone of shame’ for a few days. All went well and now he is back to being his goofy self, lying beside my chair awaiting his next soft hand, or treat or walk.
By the way, Jack has his own Instagram account. He’s pretty funny: @jackthewolfvilledoodle check him out!
(All photos are mine).
Nothing haunts us like the things we don’t say
When my eldest sister Eva was three years old, my Dad told her to sit behind the Conductor when he put her on a 9-hour train north to Smooth Rock Falls, alone. It routed through Union Station in downtown Toronto.
‘Sit behind the Conductor,’ he said. ‘You will be fine,’ he said. Little Eva screamed, ‘No Daddy, No Daddy!’ reaching with her little chubby arms for the person who was supposed to protect her.
She was three and she had just been torn from the tight grasp of her baby sister Amy, just 10 months her junior, who was holding onto her for dear life. Both baby girls, one blond, one brunette, were crying with red cheeks. All I can think now… is that it must’ve been a completely different world back then. With so many very large families of seven children plus, perhaps this was how parents coped?
She was being sent to stay with Gramma and Grampa because baby brother had come along and with baby Amy too, one just needed to go. Gramma and Grampa didn’t drive. They never even owned a car. So, on the train went Little Eva.
In wintry Smooth Rock Falls, Eva remembers days of nothing happening. No toys. No interaction with other children or adults and an unfamiliar scent (which she can now identify as mothballs) in their home coupled with the smell from The Mill. It all made her feel terribly homesick. She was left completely to her own devices. The house was chilly, smelly and dark. Gramma was quiet and busy. Grampa was at work most of the time. The Grandfather clock ticked incessantly.
The lunch whistle would blow at the Mill and a quiet Grampa would walk home to sit at the Arbourite and chrome table where his lunch awaited him. A steaming bowl of home-made soup and a large sandwich on fresh-baked bread. It was eaten without a word of thanks while Gramma watched, hands wringing in her cotton apron beneath her large, matronly bosom. The next whistle would bring him home for supper with a nearly perfect replay of lunch time. Quiet. Expected. Ungrateful. Gramma had her job: keeping house. Grampa had his – The Mill Wright – keeping Mill.
When Eva related this troubling story to me recently, my mind wheeled back a dozen years. My son Leo and I had gone to a neighbourhood wedding for Leo’s babysitter’s Mom and step-father who were getting married. As we approached the large house on a beautiful sunny and warm afternoon, I was feeling a wee bit worried that there would be no one there to talk to and that I would stick out like a sore thumb. Leo ran over to the candy bar in glee. I lifted the full skirt of my simple grey silk dress as I descended to the deck of the pool in my pumps. Being extra careful so as to NOT make a splash of an entrance! All of the guests stood in small groups, mingling. An older man approached and welcomed me, shaking my hand gently.
‘Welcome to the wedding of Mack and Mary,’ he said, extending a large hand and a big smile. ‘I am Mack’s father, Paul Bouvier. How do you know them?’ he asked.
I responded and then asked where he had come from for the wedding. ‘Arnprior, Ontario,’ was his reply.
‘Oh,’ I said with a smile enjoying that I had something in common with this friendly stranger. ‘My Grandfather was from Arnprior.’ Grampa used to tell me of his boyhood in Arnprior. He had a crab-apple tree outside his upstairs bedroom window and he would eat them from the tree when they were ripe (bleck!!). He would go downtown to the grocers and he and his pals would press their noses to the glass looking at the bananas. The grocer would shoo them away saying, ‘Sonny-boy, sonny-boy, get away from the glass and let the sun shine on the bananes!’ Grampa was raised in the depression era when certain luxury foods were scarce.
Anyway, Mr. Bouvier asked me who my grandfather was. I told him.
His smile widened and his eyes danced as he exclaimed, ‘I worked for your Grandfather at the Mill. He was a Mill Wright. And your Dad! Your Dad was a great hockey player!’
We just looked at each other smiling and nodding. Small world. Why did the stars align allowing this conversation to take place decades later, provinces away, in my new neighbourhood￼…?
When Eva was seventeen, she began to have extreme anxiety attacks and had no ability to concentrate on her school work. She had been the top student at her Junior High School, on many teams, in many clubs, leader of the folk choir at Saint Mary’s Church￼, known and loved by all.
My eldest sister Eva, with her amazing soprano voice, her leadership and enthusiasm for music, would lead the whole congregation through folk songs like: Here We Are, and Kumbaya and Jesus is a Soul Man. She would be right up front of the pews. Her long, straight hair flicking from side to side as she would stride around motioning to the congregation to sing louder and stronger, tapping her tambourine on her leg. The guitars strumming wildly. Pride would be welling up through my little body as I sat in awe of my teenage sister. Those folk masses were powerfully spiritual and I will never forget them. Sadly, almost half a century later, my beloved sister Eva, for some unknown neurological reason, completely lost her hearing and consequently a god given talent – her ability to sing soprano. It was a bitter pill to swallow for all of us who love her but, My God, especially for her. Thankfully, a few years later, Eva was fitted with a Cochlear Implant but, she will tell you, it is not the same as hearing with your own ears and her ability to sing has been diminished almost completely. Eva has told me that her voice no longer sounds like her own. Tragic!
But, getting back to when she was seventeen… when she walked in through the front door of her new, very large high school, her vision would tunnel and it was impossible to function. She told Mom about her troubles, which were obvious because she was crying a lot. Mom took her to the hospital where she was treated cruelly and isolated from all family members. Eva escaped from the hospital and when she told Mom of the cruel methods at the hospital, Mom was furious and went there to complain and to tell them off.
Next, Eva was sent to Florida to be with Memere and Pepere, the idea being that the sunshine would be good for her. But, similar to Smooth Rock, the lack of interaction with friends and the anxiety had her feeling very badly. She went home to Barrie and was then taken to the Psych Hospital in Penetanguishene. By hook or by crook, she managed to get well enough to leave that place and then a couple years later to marry and then raise three incredible young men who had her full time and were cherished and loved dearly. Today they have children of their own who are cherished and loved and trust me, would never dream of putting a toddler on a train, alone.
Dear Reader, what do you think of this story…can you believe it is true?
(The photo was taken by Eva in Wolfville, NS in 2017)
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, 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 frame and mattress. 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 and a bit of nausea. 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 taken a bus 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.
(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
A story about a pain-in-the-neck visitor and how a miracle worker helped me through it
I awoke with an awful and mysterious pain in my neck. It was bad. About an 8.5 on the scale and it felt stiff and sore as hell. I was nauseous too.
It was 1997. Scar-beria in the North, North Beaches at Birchmount and the Danforth where Dean and I were renting a fabulous red-brick two and a half story house. It had a shot-gun back yard that Delta and Grizzly loved and would fly off the back deck to chase down squirrels to the perimeter, tales wagging and barking all the way. We had just exited the Arctic and on to a new adventure starting in the GTA. (We have moved six times since then.)
I had received a call from my Dad who was in Niagara Falls then. He wanted me to come visit regularly. He wanted to form some sort of better relationship with me now that we were relatively close by. The following words came out of my mouth, as if with a mind of their own,
‘Why not come visit me, Dad? You could see our new place and we could have a walk on the Bluffs and see all the gorgeous estates and pretty fall colours.’
Okay I will, he said. Give me some directions and I’ll come next week on Tuesday.
Tuesday has no feel, I thought, an automatic comedic reply, in my head, from a favourite TV show: Seinfeld. I’ll make you lunch, Dad.
Okay…so now what? My stomach roiled. My forehead beaded with sweat. My heart pounded. I was having a stress response and his visit was a week away. Yikes.
The following morning, I awoke with the stiff, sore neck. I searched the Beaches huge paper phone book (what’s that?) for a massage therapist who could help me. I made a bunch of calls but the only guy who was available asap was the guy mentioned in the title of this post. I went for it. Immediately. That’s how afraid I was of this pain.
I drove down there and parallel parked in front of his address. I literally was saying ouch, ouch, ouch, ahhh as I struggled to turn my head to maneuver into the spot.
I had never had a shiatsu massage so, I was really unsure of what to expect. Having spoken to the guy on the phone, he sounded so nice and sincere, I was feeling hopeful. Something had to help this pain in my neck.
When I walked into his therapy room, I saw a futon mattress on the floor covered with a perfectly white sheet. He was dressed in white also and he had this curly head of blond hair and this angelic face that he turned toward me. He had a dozen or so years on me and he remained kneeling on the futon in hero pose as he gestured for me to have a seat so we could have a chat before treatment. He positioned himself so that I didn’t have to turn or cock my head in order to look at him. The tears were already spilling down my cheeks.
Oh dear, he said. Martha, why not tell me what’s going on? When did the pain start and what’s happening in your life right now?
I told him the pain arrived out of nowhere. Woke up with it. Told him I was feeling very anxious about my Dad coming to visit and that we had a tough relationship. Then I said…
He’s a real pain in the neck.
Ahhh, he said gently. That sounds like it could be the problem. Parents can be the source of a lot of stress.
I was making ahuh sounds wanting to nod but unable to at this point. (K, while I am writing this, there is this pain creeping into my neck…sympathy pain for that younger version of myself, perhaps).
He asked me the exact plans for the visit. This guy was into concrete details, not airy-fairy. I was liking him more and more as I am a very concrete-type person. I told him that I was going to show my dad around and make lunch for him and then take him for a walk down to the Bluffs.
He asked, what sort of food does your Dad like?
I said, he likes steak and blue cheese and almost everything besides that. He likes black coffee and desserts too. He’s a good eater, I said.
Well, then how about a steak salad with blue cheese crumbled on top, said Mr Angelic Shiatsu Massage Guy.
Was this guy for real? He was truly helping me.
He said when a stressful visitor is coming, it’s a good idea to have a set plan for the visit, with an end point (have something to do on the other end that brings it to a close, in this case it would be the 2:30 rush hour GTA traffic to be avoided at all costs). Have a menu and be organized. Next, realize that you are in control of this visit and that it is on your turf and that ninety-nine percent of things we fret and worry about never actually happen. Have low expectations of your visitor so he doesn’t disappoint you again. Realize that he is him and you are you. You are an adult now, Martha. No need to let him infect you any longer.
The pain was subsiding while he gently and sincerely spoke these words to me.
He then had me lie down on my belly on the pristine white sheet and he worked on my neck, shoulders and back. He worked my arms and fingers too and moved to my feet. By the end of it I was a jellyfish on the sand. All pain was gone.
I will never forget this miracle worker who helped me through this stressful event. It was the best sixty bucks I ever spent.
So, Dad showed up on Tuesday at 11 am. (My husband Dean was downtown Toronto at iti, as he was on an intensive 9 month course). Dad was on his best behaviour. He was charming and funny and polite. He loved our house and lunch made him speechless. The steak salad with crumbled blue cheese turned out to be fabulous with garlic toast and butter tarts for dessert with black coffee. He was eating out of my hand by the end of it. (Figuratively speaking).
We waddled down the hill to the Scarborough Bluffs and walked in the park there with the dogs also on their best behaviour, for once. The whole visit was incredible. Then Dad looked at his watch and said he should hit the road back to Niagara Falls. He gave me a peck on the cheek and off he went, with a butter tart and a black coffee for the road.
One thing for sure, that pain in the neck got my attention. It made me seek help and because I really needed it, I was open to receive the help. It equipped me for future pain-in-the-neck challenges and helped me to realize that most of the things we worry about never even happen.
Most of them.
A survival trip in the 80s has me realizing my nature and that I am at home in it
In Grade 12, there was this out trip that we all participated in. It was a several day canoe and portage adventure trip up in Killarney National Park and it was meant to be a fun, team-building, learning experience. It was also somewhat of a survival experience and, for me, a challenge to remain positive and friendly no matter what the weather was doing.
The preparatory meetings began. ‘All grade 12s going on the Out Trip with Mrs Ducky, report to classroom 105 for a planning meeting’. All of us gathered from the four corners of the school. We found a seat and glanced around. The atmosphere in the room was palpable with hormones, comparisons and expectation of fun to come. Mrs Ducky ensured that each of the forty or so of us made contributions to the planning. What needs to be packed. How to pack it (in plastic bags just in case it rains). What to expect (an arduous journey) and the timings and itinerary for the trip, including car pooling and who would be in each canoe.
When we finally got up to Killarney National Park, we were ready for the adventure ahead. We piled into our crafts and were told to stick together, lest we get lost. Mrs Ducky and Mr Watson should remain within site, they told us. It was huge water surrounded by vast wilderness and craggy rocks and with many inexperienced canoeists, anything could happen.
Poor Sue (the same guy from ‘Fun and Foibles At The Camp‘ went in the drink just off shore.) He was with a couple of classmates who didn’t know how to balance the canoe while trying to switch places. Over they went. Sue’s sleeping bag remained wet for the whole trip. Gotta ask yourself, ‘What happened to the plastic bag for it, Sue?’ Years later Sue joined the Army. He learned a ton about survival and staying dry then.
Anyway, the trip was magical. We canoed, we raced, we sang, we splashed and we teased each other. Sue even demonstrated gunnel-bobbing just off shore of one of our sites. At times it rained horribly and at times the sun peaked out to shine on the motley, rag tag crew that we were. We had several portages that we would tell each other was, ‘only five football fields long’ – helping mentally to push through it and get ‘er done.
One day, while making lunch for the group, Mrs Ducky squealed at Mike to stop eating the bread rolls. He looked up with cheeks stuffed full like a chipmunk and pointing a sausage-shaped finger at his chest tried to say, “Who me?” Those in ear-shot giggled at this even though it would mean we would be short for supper. The food was strictly rationed and Mike was this lumbering, big guy with fuzzy black hair and so funny.
At another site that lent itself to bathing, a few of us actually went for a swim and washed our hair. I was one of them, being so used to this kind of thing at the camp all my life. The water was so pure and clean and felt like silk as I dove in. The water in the lakes up there in Northern Ontario parks was so pure in those days (1985) that for drinking water, we were all instructed to bring a melmac or metal mug on a carabiner that should be hooked to our waistband. With it, we would simply scoop water out of the lake and drink it down as we paddled, or at any time on the trip. No bottled water. No tanks of water. No filter, pump or drops. Just lake water. No one got sick.
A few of my classmates were quite miserable on this trip and I felt badly for them. They didn’t have the experience in nature that I had been so fortunate to have. They didn’t want to squat in the woods or to walk barefoot into the water or sleep with camp-fire smoked hair. It was a foreign place, nature. They were home-sick.
On the other hand, It was bizarre how much I enjoyed the whole experience and again reveled in the physical outdoor challenge: loving the sights especially the starry sky or a glassy-calm lake; the sounds like the lonesome, haunting call of the loon and smells of nature like of fallen pine needles under foot on a forest trail. I ate it all up and reveled in the wisdom of the team effort and of observing my classmates who may or may not be in their element. Did it bring out the best or the worst in them? Interesting to see and had me recalling that game about picking who you would want in your lifeboat.
Loving this stuff would serve well in my future. Of course I didn’t have any idea that in 22 months I would be at basic training in Chilliwack, British Columbia on Canada’s West Coast and that I would be struggling beyond belief…
(Pictures credit to google images and whomever took them – thanks folks!)
Highlights: the food! Oh my, such wonderful food. The hikes! Oh my, such gorgeous seaside scenery. The colour! Oh my, such bright and vivid colours every which way we turned. The accented lovely way of speaking! Oh my, so sweet: how ya be, me ducky?
We were on the escalator heading down to street level at the St John’s airport in early June. Excited to start our eight days in Newfoundland’s east. We had butterflies of excitement and I think we may have been holding hands, my love and I. Dean, hailing from there, was all smiles to be ‘down home’ again to the salt air and the fog, the twang and the good-naturedness of Newfoundlanders. (Pronouced: newfundLANDers)
I was casually scanning the crowd on street level. My glance fell on a dark-haired man sitting in profile to us on a bench against the wall. He was smiling, looking around wide-eyed and boyishly swinging his legs back and forth. Could it be? I was almost sure it was him but what luck would that be?! Michael Crummey, I said quietly. I nudged Dean beside me. Michael Crummey, I indicated with my chin. We both said aloud for him then: Michael Crummey! And he looked at us and smiled with recognition as we arrived at his level. He and Dean had attended Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) back in the eighties and played a bit of soccer together. We had attended Michael’s readings on his books and listened, rapt, while he read from his latest book the last time: Sweetland when he visited Wolfville’s Acadia University in the recent past. We had pints and shared stories and jokes at Paddy’s Pub. We were nearly best buds, the three of us. Well, not really, but it was certainly wonderful to see his smiling face. He was awaiting his mother and then she joined us and we were introduced. A moment later we were offered a ride to our hotel and off we went in his car while Michael told us of places not to be missed and I jotted notes on a scrap of paper in the back seat…this was sure to be a great trip and it was that for sure.
Highlights: the food! Oh my, such wonderful food. The hikes! Oh my, such gorgeous seaside scenery. The colour! Oh my, such bright and vivid colours every which way we turned. The accented lovely way of speaking! Oh my, so sweet: how ya be, me ducky?
We checked into Hotel Newfoundland and were offered all manner of treats from the lady going by with a cart from the exec lounge. Don’t want to throw it all away, she said. We loaded up, then stepped out to look at Signal Hill via the crooked little neighbourhood of Quidi Vidi. Boardwalk clutching shear cliffs and spray of salt water with a backdrop of the huge deep St John’s harbour and small icebergs off in the big blue.
Colourful ancient houses clung impossibly on the hillside of rock and steps galore! as we made our way for the next two hours. Exclaiming at the beauty all the while and sweating while climbing the flights of stairs up the rock face. I would not have wanted to be the builders of that staircase. Newfoundlander builders wouldn’t have thought twice about it, likely. I recalled my barrel-chested, cheerful brother-in-law in his good black leather jacket, hat less, stepping out into the driving, sideways freak icy rain one Christmas in Corner Brook. It’s not FIT! he turned, smiled and shrugged at us watching from the damp doorway or Dean’s eldest brother.
Next, a meal which had us enjoying the lightest, sweetest fish and chips ever and a pint of the local brew at The Duke. Simply awesome.
Day two, we walked all over the pretty and old, twisty knotted downtown and then up around the University Campus after an incredible brunch at The Rooms Museum Cafe overlooking the harbour.
We met Bill, Dean’s friend from University, at his house and then dropped everything to go take a look at Petty Harbour. The sun just happened to come out while we were there. Afterwards, we ate a wonderful steak supper with Bill, then walked back to the hotel still in the day light. Gotta love the long days of summer. We then fit in a pint with Michael Crummey and told the tales of our lives, three glasses clinked, then three heads together as we caught up on all the news at the Ship Pub. We laughed at the memories of Codco who used to hang out at The Ship Inn which was sold and so imaginatively renamed.
Day three, we picked up our rental car after a scrumptious meal at Chinched and off we went to tour the Irish Loop with a stop to hike La Manche trail, part of the East Coast Trail system and see the suspension bridge out in the ghost-town wilderness. Later that evening, we found a nice B&B and just got in the door when the rain began to pour down. The owner was a small lively man with a few good stories for us. Then we enjoyed some rest.
Day four, we ventured into Tickle Cove and did the little trail around the pond then had a dessert and tea at Maudie’s Cafe, which was sweet. Later, we found a small hotel room on Bay Roberts and walked for a ways to see the old churches, enjoying a pint overlooking the bay on the route back.
The next morning we were nearly ordered by the hotel manager to do the Shoreline Walk, which we are so glad to have done. Simply beautiful, with its old stacked rock
foundations and stone cellars from before the town was moved further into the crook of the bay. At the end of the two hour hike, we came across a diner and enjoyed touton (pronounced TOUT-on) BLTs and fish cakes, the server so talkative she forgot to take our order for several minutes. It was scrumptious. There, we overheard an exchange that we are still chuckling about. The server asked a guest how he wanted his eggs. The Newfoundlander answered: I don’t want to be any trouble but, I’ll have one scrambled and one poached. but I don’t want to be any trouble. Pause. The server stood with a look on her face, searching his for a glimmer of fun, then all erupted in laughter.
Day five, we pulled into Trinity and booked a room for two nights in a large house with many rooms all with ensuite bathrooms. It was like a hostel for adults, said Dean. We enjoyed swapping stories with some of our house mates and then had food and drink and a stroll around town, marveling again at the use of colour. Why so much colour we wondered? It was so that the seafarers could find their way home in the fog, b’y.
Day six, we did the Skerwink Hike with its sea stacks and rugged coast, ending the trail beside a pond with a resident otter who made himself known. This is my pond, he indicated with his snout held high and in our general direction. Later that evening, we found our way out to the CBC TV Miniseries site of Random Passage and were tickled to be the only folks there. I had read these books and LOVED them, a quarter of a century ago living in Corner Brook and being new to the culture. They shed a ton of light for me.
Day seven, we were back to St John’s were we met up with one of Dean’s nieces and had tea while catching up on all her news. We had walked around Quidi Vidi pond to get to her at a little cafe, but first we had met Dean’s friend Bill at The Mallard Cottage for a pint and an incredibly delicious lunch.
Day eight, we were packing up to catch our plane back to Nova Scotia. Our little tour of Newfoundand’s East coast had been amazing. Colourful, sweet, homey, rugged and beautiful. We shall return.
All photos by Martha Valiquette
‘I’m so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song. Seems we just get started and before you know it, comes the time we have to say, So Long’
Just to have a laugh or sing a song…. the poignant words of the ditty by the eighty-something Carol Burnett whom Paul adored. He said they both had a slight palsy in the side of their faces making their smiles a little crooked. He connected with her and so, once a week, we would sprawl on the Aikins’ wall-to-wall cream-coloured broadloom in front of their floor-model, mahogany encased TV in their living-room (the Aikins had cable!) enraptured by Carol Burnett And Friends. Jinx, their moody Siamese cat would sleep on top of the TV for its warmth, tail flicking even in her sleep.
Well folks, something horrible has happened. We have lost this amazing person. He is gone. Never to return except to live on in our memories.
Paul was five years old when we met, and I, four. We moved into the red brick bungalow next door. They lived in the brick mansion next to us. There were eleven kids in the Aikins family. We were seven kids. The sheer numbers of kids (and the lack of hand held devices and video games, ie: none) made for hilarious adventures and play times between the two homes.
We each had at least one member of the Aikins family to play with who was our age. We walked to school together. We played outdoors and in for hours together. It’s hard to believe that none of us ended up married to each other. I always believed Paul and I would be wed. Not to be.
Paul was one of those friends who was just simply THERE for me. I cannot recall a single argument with him. We discussed all manner of topics. I confided in him regarding my tough relationship with my dad. Consequently Paul would never address dad as Mister the way dad would have liked him to. This would irk dad every time. We would snicker about it later.
We competed in Miss Cuthbert’s typing class together at St Joe’s, typing as fast as we could in rhythm to Martha and the Muffins’ Echo Beach. Paul won. We did gymnastics
and music recitals together. Projects and fund-raisers. We decorated for dances and chaired meetings. I’ll never forget the amazingly fun times we managed to have with very little money but very large imaginations and unstop-ability. We would lip-synch to our fave tunes, throwing ourselves whole-heartedly into it and making each other double in two with laughter. Little did we know then that Paul would become this incredibly beloved teacher at Etobicoke School for the Arts.
For several years of our friendship, Paul would come by greyhound bus up to the camp on Lake Cecebe to hang with me there for a week or two. We would canoe, trampoline, clean cottages, paint docks and picnic tables together. It didn’t really matter what we were doing, we would just make it fun. My little brother emailed lately to remind me of this time that Paul and I were playing piano together in the office and he was imitating someone. Ricky rolled on the floor over that one, he recalls. Ricky also reminded me that Paul could imitate dad perfectly, especially the corny face Dad would put on when he was ushering mass at St Mary’s.
I remember the first time I felt that I had lost Paul. It was when they moved from next door to a few streets away on Eugenia Street. The second time I lost Paul was when I moved away for a year when my parents were in the midst of a horrible divorce. I missed him so badly that year. My buddy was too far away for my liking. It was a tough year because of this. He came to London by bus to visit once and we had a blast.
I remember one time he was hired to feed the cats at the convent on the corner of Berczy and Eugenia St in Barrie and I went with him to the massive, empty, dark gothic-style mysterious house with crucifixes affixed on nearly every wall. Well, of course we proceeded to hide behind doors and jump out at each other and to scare each other with a well placed ‘boo!’ several times so that we were frazzled nerves by the time we finished the chore.
Paul was a ball of positive and artistic fun and a fantastic old friend of mine. I will miss him dearly and am so sorry for the loss of this incredible person. I am sorry for his Mother and five brothers and four sisters and his adoring nieces and nephews. I am sorry for Fred, his partner of twenty plus years and how he must be reeling at the sudden and unexpected loss of Paul. I am sorry for his students and for all those whom he will not get the chance to teach. There are simply no words. I know though, that his inspiration will live on in the memories of all those who loved him.
Paul Aikins was an incredible light that shone for 54 years. I will miss him dearly. Rest in Peace dear Paul. Your work is done here but your legacy will live on powerfully and forever, for you have made a difference.
Today, we were in double digits with blue skies and ebbing tides….off to one of our many beaches to enjoy it. Not knowing a) that this beach belonged to a pair of nesting Peregrines and b) that this would be a truly remarkable day…
We were scurrying quickly away from the possible dive-bombing Peregrine Falcons and their surely sharp talons on a local beach near Avonport, Nova Scotia. (Peregrines are not to be trifled with, being the fastest creature on planet Earth, who can reach 320 km / hr with sharp talons and beak). My hubby of 26 years, Dean and I had been strolling on the pebbly, blue-tinged shale beach marveling at the warm day in late May and kicking around ideas for future world travel, a topic we come back to again and again it seems.
Yes, the warm day…we have had an awfully cold spring which would have me donning a toque up until, oh, yesterday. But today, we were in double digits with blue skies and ebbing tides….off to one of our many beaches to enjoy it. Not knowing a) that this beach belonged to a pair of nesting Peregrines and b) that this would be a truly remarkable day.
About thirty minutes down the beach, the shreeeeeeeeek of the Peregrine. (I have known this shreek and had heard it recently and curiously near our house in Wolfville. That mystery was about to be clarified.) It seems we were a little too close to their nest which was lodged up on a ledge in the sand-stone cliffs which towered over the beach.
A senior couple was coming down the beach in hats and rubber boots. Large camera had she, binoculars had he. Pauline and her special friend Bernard Forsythe and was it truly our fortune to meet them! Firstly warning them about the mad! mad! mad! falcons but they didn’t seem to want to turn around. They nodded knowingly about the speedy upset pair and so, with one eye-ball peeled, we stood and talked on the pretty beach for the better part of an hour.
Turns out, Bernard has been a serious naturalist and birder since the 70s featured here on CBC Television. Both he and Pauline had lost their respective mates in the last few years and had found friendship in each other through the Blomidon Naturalists Society. Bernard told us that he is 77 and still climbing trees. He has tagged more than 800 barred owls and routinely mounts owl boxes all over, to aid the owls in the nesting needs, now that old growth forests are not as prevalent as they once were. Bernard kept us highly interested in the various and many conservation activities he takes part in, mainly he says, for fun! He told us that Peregrines would have been in Wolfville due to it being on their flight path returning from the south. That’s why I would hear them sometimes. Mystery solved. I made a mental note to let my friend Daisy know this. She had wondered the same thing.
We asked Bernard if he happened to know our niece who had attended Acadia University and is now completing her masters in ornithology at York, Taylor Brown. He said…. Yes, we met one day by chance at the eye doctor. We were both bored and got to talking and then realized how much we have in common with regard to birding.
Dean and I were afraid to go back down the beach toward the nesting site but Pauline and Bernard assured us that we would be fine. If we formed a group, they said, the falcons were unlikely to attack us. I picked up a flat rock and used it as a helmet, to be extra sure. Once near to but far beneath the nest, we were able to clearly see a proud, puffed-up Momma on the nest and a serene protective Dadda on a tree just a bit further on, standing guard. Stoic. Soon, Pauline exclaimed that she could see a fuzzy chick’s head moving just above the rim of the nest. Time to leave them be, said Bernard. They need to hunt and take care of necessary falcon parenting business and shouldn’t be interrupted too much.
On our way back up the beach, we were fully captivated by the many fascinating stories that Bernie told us about his adventures in ornithology, owl banding and nesting box mounting. He would be called upon by Acadia University to take various students ‘under his wing’. One such student was studying the murder of crows who would roost on Boot Island. They would go to the island to study them together and so that Bernie could instruct the student in banding and other bird ways.
Bernard is also a wild-orchid enthusiast and counter. We would have been at the Orchid Show at the Acadia University KC Irving centre in February when my sisters were visiting. He pointed out that he studies and counts the wild ones though which he said involves a lot of hiking through the woods of Nova Scotia.
He then found us a highly interesting fossil of a fern and was bent over pointing at it as if he was in a teenager’s body. This incredibly youthful senior man has done and still does many hikes and out-trips on his various conservation missions. Now though most times with his friend Pauline by his side except when he is climbing trees. At those times, she waits on the ground. Both of them have a quick smile and a glint in their eye. They are wise, vital, active, witty and incredibly interesting. At one point, Pauline told me she wasn’t worried about the falcons dive-bombing because she was wearing blue and they don’t like blue. Aren’t you lucky I said. Why don’t they like blue? I asked. Only kidding she said. She had me going and it was funny, we belted out a good laugh about that one!
Only in The Valley.
(Peregrine picture was found on google images ~ thank you~ The other two are mine.)
Here’s another view of the area at low tide:
We are big fans of really good, local, fresh food. We aren’t fanatics about it, we just really appreciate it when it is offered and when we can get our hands on it fairly easily at a decent price.
Similar to the story about Reid’s Meats, Dabro Farm is just west a bit and is a family run farm, over the hill from our home with an honour-system market in a small barn. It is surrounded by grazing cattle, sheep, chickens, the odd goat, geese and a couple of horses and donkeys, and the ever present Gaspereau River flowing lazily on by just across the paddock.
This one day, a few months ago, needing eggs, I rolled on over to the hill to Dabro after a sweet stroll in the sun along the canal with my then old furry girl-friend Lady Jane.
Arriving at the barn, set beside the country road, I parked and walked in. The egg fridge was usually my first order of business as one grown son of mine is a true egg fan, eating two or three when he is over for breakfast.
Opening the fridge, I was shocked to find nary an egg when normally there were several dozen awaiting purchase. Now, I didn’t let it bother me too much as I had the proprietor in my contacts on my cell. We had taught his two sons how to drive years ago. My trusty cell still held his phone number. I quickly texted Shawn Davidson letting him know my predicament. Somehow I knew that Shawn would be able to help.
I’ll be right there, he texted back lickety split.
Arriving in his pick-up truck from the other barn down the road, he dismounted and said, give me a sec.
He walked into the hen house and came out about two minutes later with a warm dozen of large brown eggs in a carton held open for me to inspect. He had left his work at the other end of his farm and come to my aid instantaneously, to hand-pick just laid eggs out from under the feathered ladies in the hen house. In my mind I was shaking my noggin gently thinking only in the valley. Shawn began to apologize for not washing the eggs. I told him to stop it as I gently pulled a warm brown egg into my palm. It filled my palm completely. A double-yoker for sure. At breakfast it was confirmed. Twin yokes.
Small farms are wonderful sustainable systems which employ families and provide good food to local folks with the circle of life working in a balancing act together. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. The manure from the livestock fertilizing the crops. It reminds me of that scene in the Disney film Lion King when Mufasta explains to his son, Simba, that when he dies, his body becomes the grass. The antelope eat the grass and later, become food for the lions. Circle of life. A delicate balance. Done with respect.
So, to describe it further: this particular farm market down in Gaspereau, has a few large fridges and freezers with various butcher-paper wrapped meats, poultry and pork, steaks, chops, bacon, ham and sausage as well as eggs.
There are also various other scrumptious offerings like home-made jams, jellies, relishes and pickles. Not to mention baked goods, coffee by the cup, knitted socks, toques, mitts, candles, honey, garlic, ice-cream sandwiches which really hit the spot in the warm summer months, and a little library of novels. All of these items are sold by honour-system. There are no staff monitoring the market so, choose the goods, write them down in the little book. Insert cash into the cash box or send an etransfer. Walk out the door and be careful of the roaming, foraging happy-go-lucky chickens.
Time for breakfast!
Thank you Shawn Davidson and family of Dabro Farms. You will have noted a large contented smile on my face each time I have been in your market. Only in the Valley.
(all pictures found on google images of Dabro Farms)
Amy waited all day in Gas Town for the money transfer to come through, seeing sights that made her head spin. Men dressed as women. Gay lovers. Protests of every sort. The needle and the damage done.
When my sister Amy was almost 19, her friend convinced her to secretly hitch-hike out to Vancouver from southern Ontario, a trip of over 4000 kms one way.
The young ladies stitched ‘VAN’ patches to their back packs and with straightened hair and bell bottoms, off they went: flower children off to find themselves. (The prior year, my brother Matt had gone west with a buddy, hopping on and off rail cars. It was a trendy thing to do then, to head West and to always ‘hit the ground running!’)
They were lucky to get rides in transport trucks with very attentive and caring knights of the highway who fed them and took them the extra mile to their destination. They also took them on little side trips to Banff Springs Hotel and to the Okanagan Valley. The gentlemen put the girls up in a hotel room of their own for two nights…sheer luxury and after four days they were dropped off in Vancouver at a hostel which the men paid for, for a night. So generous!
The next day, the young women went to see Donna’s uncle in Port Alberni. He gave them money to stay in a hostel for a further week so they could visit Wreck beach, Gas town and Stanley Park.
The friends walked all over the city seeing various vendors, musicians with tambourines and hippies everywhere as well as trans folks. Amy and Donna didn’t have a clue as to what they were seeing sometimes.
At Stanley Park in Vancouver, the sight there was not the best. The park was strewn with tons of garbage and many youth were strung out and laying around on the grass. Some folks were meditating or in some sort of drug-induced trance. Everyone was friendly but, it wasn’t anything like what Amy and Donna expected.
At the hostel which was nice and clean and more wholesome, there was a kitchen with folks baking bread. The meals there were mostly stews and bread. Sitting in a circle at the hostel, everyone would share stories about where they came from. There were many minstrel musicians and artists there with a general attitude of living on love, not working and being cool.
Walking through Vancouver one morning, seventeen-year old Donna saw a dance studio with a dancer in the window. This dancer became her husband and they are still together today, going on to open a water-bed franchise and doing well on the water-bed trend of the eighties. Remember that? (Amy reminded me that she had two water beds in her apartment in the eighties where I lived while waiting to get into the army. My husband Dean installed a waterbed in his residence room at university!)
In Gas town there were many people sitting on the sidewalk and shooting up and doing all manner of weirdness, almost like a mini Woodstock. They seemed to be doing anything they wanted without a thought for the law. Long hair, headbands, bare-chest, jeans, cut-off shorts, macrame belts with beaded tail a hanging down the thigh.
‘Georgie‘ girls would walk by in peasant blouses, long, flowing skirts and hair, floppy hat, beads, bracelets and anklets and Jesus sandals, patched and needle-pointed bell-bottom jeans and no makeup. No bra. Some wore moccasins and everyone had a backpack which identified them with sewn-on patches of their home town and of different places they had been. No cell phones. No email. No video games. No social media and no effing selfies. Just patches, music and spoken word. Imagine.
At the white-sand, nude Wreck Beach Amy recognized John from home who was sunbathing nude, stretched out on the fine, warm sand. Amy told him to throw a towel on if he wanted them to speak to him.
Soon the money ran out and Amy needed to get home. From the ‘free’ phone at the Trans Union office, she called Mom and Dad and begged for airfare, mentioning that she didn’t even have money for food. Back then, a student could fly across country for under a hundred dollars.
‘Our blond daughter is coming back from finding herself! Wailed Dad to Mom.
Amy waited all day in Gas Town for the money transfer to come through, seeing sights that made her head spin. Men dressed as women. Gay lovers. Protests of every sort. The needle and the damage done.
Back home to reality and work at A&W. Dad and Mom had let Amy, Matt and Mark have the house that summer while they were at the lake for the summer. Bad move as there were parties galore and the house was getting more and more weathered due to them. In the seventies when the baby boomers were teens, there were just so many of them about that they took over every aspect of life. They walked around in packs. It’s hard to believe now in 2019, that they were ever that young. The baby boomers are now aging and their vast numbers are taking over the assisted-living homes, seniors resorts and most of Florida. Stores are stocking more and more seniors’ needs: reading glasses, purple shampoo, compression hose, knee-braces, Epsom salts, sore muscle balm, soup and the like.
Anyhoo, at home, Amy kept an eye-ball peeled for Donna’s dad who was the police chief. She thought she would be killed if he saw her as he was sure to blame Amy for the loss of his daughter to Vancouver…man.
(Eva Player – daisy pic – and Google images..thanks again )
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
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.
Danger in our yard? You would inform us with an important 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.
(First and last photos by Martha Valiquette)
We’re here for a good time
Not a long time
So have a good time
The sun can’t shine every day…
This is a concept I just heard 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 mostly what I am doing by writing this blog. I’m writing my reverse bucket list!
Here’s my list (with links to the stories that correspond). No particular order except the first two are the top for a reason.
- Eloped to marry my best-friend and we are celebrating 28 years this year (2020);
- Had a son and stayed home to raise him for his first five years;
- Trekked for a month in Nepal in the Himalayas;
- 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;
- Hiked the 3-day Chilkoot Trail from Bennett, B.C. to Skagway, Alaska;
- Traveled and worked on a farm in Australia;
- Visited the Taj Mahal; and witnessed pilgrims bathing in the Ganges in India at dawn;
- Backpacked with our 4-year old throughout Mexico’s West Coast and most of Central America;
- 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;
- Founded and incorporated a small education-services business that is now 15 years old and employs three others besides myself;
- Posted a listing on AirBnb and have hosted folks from all over the world;
- 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;
- 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;
- Lived and worked in Germany for three years and visiting most countries near there;
- 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);
- Took a gondola ride in Venice and then got somewhat lost in its ancient twisty turny laneways;
- Drove from Germany into Czechoslovakia just after the 1989 removal of the Berlin wall and witnessed a country coming alive;
- Had three big dogs (not all at once) and a cat who were cherished as part of our family, And currently have a doodle who is just too darn cute and funny!
- Snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef in Australia;
- 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);
- 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;
- Rappelled out of a helicopter on a special training day;
- Joined a group seven-day biking trip through France and gained a very sore bottom;
- Marched in the International Nijemgen Marches in Holland in 1989. 160 km over four days;
- Skied in the Swiss and the Austrian Alps;
- Own a house out-right with my husband;
- While living in the Arctic hand-built several high-fired, clay pots and still have some of them over 25 years later;
- Taught my son to sign American sign-language before he could speak;
- Was sporty and a scholar at school, for the most part;
- Completed Advanced Yoga Teacher Training at an ashram in the Bahamas;
- 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;
- Joined a book club and read daily;
- Took several horse-archery ground training lessons and loved it;
- Mastered a hand-stand with no wall;
- Made yogurt from raw farm-fresh milk for years;
- Joined the Army and stayed in for 6 years, leaving honourably as a Captain;
- Completed Recruit Term at Military College in Sooke, B.C. and it was tough;
- Completed Off-Road driver training in the Army;
- Shot a fire-arm with fairly good accuracy, and cleaned it, stripped it and reassembled it blindfolded;
- Completed the Officer Challenge twice (only woman): 75 km trek over 24 hours with 18 mini-competitions, in combat gear, in France￼;
- Was awarded the Sword of achievement for Junior Officer of the Year while in the army;
- Besides my first language of English, I can communicate somewhat in French, German, Spanish and American Sign-language;
- Studied dance for several years as a girl and still love to dance;
- Was a gymnast in elementary school and won a silver medal in a competition for the county;
- 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;
- Hitch-hiked successfully in Canada and Australia;
- Witnessed flying foxes by the thousands in Australia;
- Have driven back and forth across Canada (several times) including solo enroute to Logistics training in the Army in 1988;
- Have been to all Provinces of Canada and two of the territories;
- Have lived and worked north of the 66th parallel, two hours North of the Arctic Circle;
- Was ‘Screeched In’ in Newfoundland where my husband is from;
- Hiked Gros Morne Mountain in Newfoundland and met curious Elk while on top of its tablelands;
- Sewed some clothing and curtains with a sewing machine, self-taught then decided I wouldn’t be doing that again;
- Learned how to cut a basic haircut from my sister;
- Met a harem of Bison in a National Park in Alberta;
- Miscarried my second son, late, which was heart-breaking but which helps me to cherish given life;
- Learned how to read music and play piano and the flute;
- Met, hugged and kissed Deepak Chopra before he was very famous; and
- Love nature and simple times and love to laugh and be silly;
- Have read a friend’s manuscript and helped with some edits;￼
- Am currently living in the 2020 COVID-19 world pandemic and I am social distancing to help flatten the curve and reduce stress on our healthcare system￼￼￼.
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)
One of those moments that I have come to cherish in this big valley we now call home…
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.
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.
Coming soon: Part 2, Dabro Farms honour-system farm market
(Pictures found on google images…thank you.)
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! My 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.
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
(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~