Sunday, December 5, 2010

All this for a tree

I read a great story not long ago about a tree.  I seem to have developed an affinity for trees.  When my mother died my sister and I had to select a memorial tree for her in the arboretum near my sister's home.  The understanding was that we were going to distribute Mom's ashes around the tree and then, eventually, Dad's as well. 

Unfortunately Dad had broken his back a month after Mom died and was in no shape to make the selection so my sister and I wandered around the arboretum looking at the various trees.  Eventually selected a Thomas Black Walnut partly because of it's location and primarily because of its description.  It was described as being a 'majestic shade tree' which seemed appropriate for Mom.  Mom loved trees as well.  My sister remembers Mom carrying my nephew around the cottage extolling him to 'look at Nana's trees' when he was a very little boy.  Perhaps I've gained my love of trees from my Mom.

I have a Linden tree in my front yard.  The biggest tree on the block. I seldom cut back any of its hanging branches because I love the privacy they provide and the way they caress the ground offering secret hiding places for my grand kids and the other local children. 

I joke with my husband that we can't ever sell our house because I couldn't bear to leave the tree! 

So when I saw a headline that read 'A tree moves to Markham' I simply had to read the accompanying article.  It appears that a 75 year old Japanese maple was moved from a nursery in Oakville to a home in Markham.  The new owner, who elected to remain anonymous, said that when he first saw the tree at the nursery "it evoked a feeling from inside" and that he simply "felt I had to have it."  Of course the fact that he could manage the $70,000 price tag to have it moved was fortunate.  I certainly won't be moving the Linden tree anytime soon.

Another interesting part of the story was that this is the second move for this particular tree.  The tree had originally grown on the front lawn of a house near Burlington but when the family built a new addition the tree had to go.  Instead of simply cutting it down though the family contacted the nursery to see if it could be removed and replanted.  It could and they did.  And so it was from it's second home that it was seen and bought and moved to what is hopefully it's final forever home. 

I realize that there are different opinions on trees.  Different opinions on moving them to be sure.  Different opinions on spending that kind of money on a tree.  One of those different opinions was expressed by a man who stopped to check out the activity when the tree was being transplanted in Markham.  "All this for a tree?" was the comment. 

Y'up. All this for a tree.

"Here a Linden-tree stood bright'ning
All adown its silver rind;
For, as some trees draw the lightning,
So this tree, unto my mind,
Drew to earth the blessed sunshine,
From the sky where it was shrined."
     ~  Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I posted a status on my Facebook page the other day about people who go from daily contact as a 'friend' to almost no contact.  It stirred a flurry of comments - quite funny actually.  

And it got me thinking about friends.  I don't have very many.  Never have been one who is surrounded by friends.  Often was surrounded by people but not friends.  Plus I'm a total introvert so being surrounded by people (friends or not) exhausts me completely.  However, I digress.  

I used to walk Bailey every day in the neighbourhood because he couldn't bear going anywhere in the car.  So our neighbourhood became our stomping grounds.  I still walk Dillon in the neighbourhood, although not quite as much since he loves the car and we can travel further afield to investigate & explore.  But tonight was a neighbourhood walk.  As we walked I looked at the familiar houses and felt a kind of 'friendship' to the people living in some of them.  Which is odd since I don't know them at all.  Then again many of my Facebook friends are quite unknown to me too so perhaps it isn't as odd in this day & age. 

Take the house with the wonderful floor to ceiling bookshelves.  They seldom draw their blinds and so as I walk by I look at the books and wonder what they like to read.  I also wonder why I never see anyone in that room.  There's the house that has a wonderfully manicured front lawn.  I watched the progress as the young couple bought it and began their remodeling.  They removed most of the grass and replaced it with interlocking stone, some flower beds, lights which shine up at the big maple tree and a flag that changes with the seasons.  There's a new owner there now.  One who drives a Corvette.  I wonder what changes I'll see in the house over the next few months.  

I am blessed to live in a neighbourhood with many large beautiful trees. But sadly there seems to be a bit of a pattern because a few weeks ago I noticed that a tree had simply 'disappeared' within a few days.  Honestly, if you hadn't known that the huge oak tree had been in the backyard of the corner lot you'd never have know it was now gone.  And tonight I walked by two homes where large trees have been cut down in recent days.  Should be a law against that.  Actually, I think there is.  

then, there's the house where the 'dog lady' lives.  I call her that because her van has a company name on it - some kind of doggy day care apparently.  tonight the dog lady's house was ablaze with Christmas lights.  It appears that she's in competition with the Griswold's.  It's a really small house that's been decorated within an inch of its space ---- lights, Santa, reindeer, candy canes - you name it, she's got it.  Merry Christmas to all.  Hate to see her electricity bill!

I don't know any of these people but, walking by and looking at their homes I glimpse briefly into their lives and feel a warm sense of camaraderie with my neighbours. 

That was before, of course, that damn little dog tried to rip Dillon's throat out!! Yikes, watch out for terriers.

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out.  It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.  We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.  ~Albert Schweitzer

Friday, November 12, 2010


Edison Pena, perhaps the most famous of the rescued Chilean miners, travelled to New York to appear on the David Letterman show and to participate in the New York marathon.  He was also treated to a visit to Graceland after it became known that he was a big Elvis fan.  In order to remain healthy while trapped underground he ran 3 - 6 miles every day listening to Elvis on his ipod.

According to the early interviews he found the first days following the mine collapse to be a ‘living hell’ but then he picked himself up and decided to run at least 3 miles every day.

In an interview I heard with him – through his translator, the only English he can speak are the words to Elvis songs! – he said something that I found to be extremely profound.  Something I have thought much about since I heard it.

"I was running to show that I wasn't just waiting around," he said. "I was running to be an active participant in my own salvation. I was running because I was also contributing to the struggle for our rescue.  I also wanted God to see that I really wanted to live."

“….. an active participant in my own salvation.”

A philosophy that would, in my opinion, benefit each of us.  Certainly one that I intend to embrace.  Become an active participant in my own salvation.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

God will not be distracted

I reconnected recently with a friend. It's been about 8 years since we spoke and now she lives in one city and I in an other. It happened 'accidentally' when she selected my name on Facebook instead of someone with a very similar name.

We started trading emails back and forth, reminiscing of days past and people we knew; some who've died, others we've both lost touch with,others who one or the other of us has kept in touch with. We've been updating each other, filling in blanks, sharing memories and news.

As we talked we also shared our favorite poems and quotes and one I mentioned was from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, titled 'Separation from Those we Love'.

I realized, when I searched for it to share with my friend, that I had only ever known part of the writing - the part he called 'first' - but there are three more parts to it of which I wasn't aware. Three parts which contain a powerful message, particularly valuable to me at this point in my life. I'd always thought of this writing as being about death and, in fact, had used it when my dad died. But when you read all four parts it becomes apparent that it can also be about the loss of friendship and that is what I dealt with this past summer.

My friend wrote in one communication "I believe in no accidents in life" and I think perhaps she's right. Perhaps it was not an accident that we reconnected, that I searched for and discovered something that is reassuring and comforting, that I have a rekindled friendship just as one has faded away.

I believe that there are no coincidences - that a coincidence is, in actuality, God's way of trying to get our attention. I think that's what this all is. 

Here's the treatise in its entirety

Separation from Those we Love

First: nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; he doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, he keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.

Secondly: the dearer and richer our memories, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy. The beauties of the past are borne, not as a thorn in the flesh, but as a precious gift in themselves. We must take care not to wallow in our memories or hand ourselves over to them, just as we do not gaze all the time at a valuable present, but only at special times, and apart from these keep it simply as a hidden treasure that is ours for certain. In this way the past gives us lasting joy and strength.

Thirdly: times of separation are not a total loss or unprofitable for our companionship, or at any rate they need not be so. In spite of all the difficulties that they bring, they can be the means of strengthening fellowship quite remarkably.

Fourthly: I’ve learnt here especially that the facts can always be mastered, and that difficulties are magnified out of all proportion simply by fear and anxiety. From the moment we wake until we fall asleep we must commend other people wholly and unreservedly to God and leave them in his hands, and transform our anxiety for them into prayers on their behalf:

With sorrow and with grief…

God will not be distracted.

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Invitation

This summer I performed a wedding for a young couple who had experienced a major life altering incident some months earlier.  The bride-to-be had been close to death in hospital just weeks after the grooms' mother had died.  They asked that the following be the reading at their ceremony.  It was quite lovely.

The Invitation

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living.

I want to know what you ache for,
And if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you

I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love,
For your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon.

I want to know if you have been touched by the center of your own sorrow,
If you have been opened by life's betrayals
Or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own,
Without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with JOY, mine or your own;
If you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of
your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, or
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you're telling is true.

I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself,
if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.
I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore be trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it is not pretty every day,
and if you can source your life from ITS presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine,
and still stand on the edge of a lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, "YES!"

It doesn't interest me who you are, how you came to be here.

I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.

I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments. 

     --- Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Saturday, October 2, 2010

are you still carrying her?

Years ago I heard the following story at a motivational business seminar. It stuck with me and I've used it many times.  It's called 'Muddy Road'

"Tanzan and Ekido were once travelling together down a muddy road.  A heavy rain was falling.  Coming around a bend they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.  'Come on girl' said Tanzan at once.  Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.  Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple.  Then he could no longer restrain himself.  'We monks don't go near females' he said to Tanzan, 'especially not young and lovely ones.  It is dangerous.  Why did you did that?'

"I left the girl there," said Tanzan. "Are you still carrying her?"

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Summer of 2010

Even though I haven't had school age children for many years I still tend to think of the day after Labour Day as the start of a new year.  Far more than January 1st, September is the beginning for me.

And thank God for that because I'm so thankful that this summer is finally over and a new year is about to begin.

I started the new calendar year - December 31st actually - by getting a puppy.  Bailey was a 3 month old Golden Retriever when I first met him and I fell in love the moment I first hugged him.

Bailey was my first puppy.  Our previous dogs were adults we got from the pound.  But awe thought that a puppy would be easier to assimilate him into a family of cats which is how Bailey came to join our family.  So how'd that go???  Not so well, but it didn't really matter - Bailey ruled the roost - over the four cats and my son's Lab.  

I learned a lot about bringing up a puppy.  I learned that puppies pee an enormous amount!  I learned that they have very sharp teeth and that they like to chew.  I also learned that Golden Retrievers like to eat things and so "leave it" was a phrase I used a lot with Bailey.  We got pretty good at putting things away and keeping them out of his reach. 

Unfortunately, we didn't realize that he was tearing pieces off his blanket and eating them.   Nor that he had gotten one of those rope toys totally unravelled and partially swallowed.  One of those pieces - blanket or rope, the docs never figured it out - blocked his small intestine.  After three unsuccessful surgeries we had to let him go. 

We had taken him to the OVC in Guelph for the final two surgeries.  They, everyone at OVC but particularly Dr. Michelle Oblak, were amazing.  They tried their best to save Bailey, but when they couldn't they helped us to give him a good death.  Dr. Oblak - Michelle as she came to be known to me - had settled Bailey on top of a large, white, lambswool blanket and then covered him with another blanket before we came into the exam room.  He tried his best to stand up when we came into the room but it was beyond him.  He lay back down on the mat and I sat beside him.  After I said my goodbyes Michelle gave him the final injection; I held him in my arms - all 75 pounds of him - as his Bailey-ness left his body.  My beautiful boy.

Bailey had his first surgery on August 3rd and we said goodbye on August 11th.  During those 9 days I also found myself struggling with the realization that a friendship I had valued for about 15 years was over.  Not only that, I felt that the entire 15 years had been based on deception and duplicity. That loss - both of the real friendship and what I had believed to be the friendship - felt like a death.  And then to lose Bailey a few days later was almost too much. Two deaths - one literal, one figurative.  I was desperately sad. 

After Bailey's death at only 11 months old, I honestly didn't think that I would ever get another dog.  I seemed to be facing too much loss and I simply didn't think that I could risk loving and possibly losing yet again. I was so, so sad. 

I missed my beautiful boy so much and, although I didn't think of replacing him, I realized that I needed another dog.

So I got Dillon.  A 7 week old Irishdoodle.  I couldn't see myself getting another Golden Retriever - it would seem almost 'insulting' to Bailey.  As if I was replacing him.  I know he was "just a dog" but he was MY dog and I wanted to honour his memory.  So another Golden Retriever wasn't an option.  But I came across a litter of Irishdoodle's on kijiji and .... the rest is history.

Dillon means 'faithful companion' (Bailey got his name because he ran towards a Bailey's Irish Cream bottle instead of a bell - otherwise he would have been named Belvedere!!!).  I still miss my beautiful boy but I do love Dillon.

So, a new year begins tomorrow and while Bailey's memory lives within me (and I still call Dillon 'Bailey' lots of times) I'm not quite so sad as I was a month ago.  


Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Parable of the two wolves ....

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves that dwell inside each and everyone of us.

“One is Evil.

It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.

The other is Good.

It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute, and then asked his grandfather:

“Which wolf will win ?”

The old Cherokee simply replied:

“The one you feed.”

Thursday, July 8, 2010

July 8th

Today is July 8th, 2010.

6 years ago today my mother died.

2 years ago today my father died.

Exactly 4 years apart.

Mom was 83 when she died. Dad, 95. We had them a good long time. But not long enough. Never long enough.

You'd think that - since they died 'old' - the pain of missing them might be somewhat lessened. Of course I don't know what the pain is like when you lose a parent earlier but I can tell you that the lose of a parent at any age is heart-breaking.

I walk Bailey every evening past a house where an elderly couple sit on the porch and greet every passerby. They look nothing like my parents (although I have the suspicion that the Mrs. might be suffering from Parkinson's as did my mother) and yet each time we speak my heart aches a bit more than normal. Because they're old? Maybe. Because they're together and I sense they are always together? Perhaps. But I know and see a lot of elderly people every day who don't make my heart ache and magnify my loss. What is it about these two I wonder. Maybe it's just the passing of time.

Not long before Dad died we had a very funny interaction related to a book I'd loaned him. He was really put out about the ending. When I arrived one Sunday afternoon Dale, my sister, met me at the door and said "HE wants a word with you". She refused to tell me what was going on but she had a sly smile so I knew it was going to be a good one. Like the time he harranged me over and over about the headband I was wearing. My headband he hated, Dale's eyebrow peircing got ignored!

But I digress. That particular day he made me read the last few pages of the book out loud and then give him my interpretation (which was the polar opposite of his own). He never did agree with how I had interpreted it and he never quite forgave me for an ending he really didn't like. I didn't WRITE the book, I told him - I simply loaned it to you! Didn't matter. I was the conduit and he was pissed.

Because he was 95 you're thinking? No, because he was - had always been - wonderfully eccentric. And this exchange came to mind recently when I finished reading the next book by that same author. OMG, I thought to myself, thank god he's dead because he would have HATED me over this ending!!!

They've been together again now for 2 years - married for 63, together in eternity. Those 4 years without her were hell for him - although my sister and brother-in-law filled every one of those days with love and laughter it just wasn't the same without her.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. Miss you always. Love you forever.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

That's right ..... we bad.

Many (many) years ago I worked with a girl named Vera. Her ancestry was Russian and Vera in Russian it looked like (using the alphabet I was familiar with) B-E-P-A. And so her nickname was Bepa. Mine was Neecy. A spin on my real name. So there we were - Bepa and Neecy. And what an unlikely duo we were.

I was about 27, she a bit younger. She was single and care free. I'd been married since I was 20 and would, over the course of your friendship, become pregnant with twins. Said twins now the same age I was when I met Bepa. So this is a tale of long ago.

She was the free spirt I wasn't. The free spirit I probably wanted to be. I'd left my parent's home to move into my marriage home. She'd left her parents home as a very young teenager and managed on her own for years without their - or anyone's - help. She drove a beat up old VW beetle. I can still remember looking down and seeing the road rush by beneath my feet through the rust that was holding the car together. I was the law abiding worrywart always concerned about the possibility of a parking ticket when she parked that thing wherever she could squeeze it in. 'No Parking' sign? Who cares. Curb? No worries. And oddly enough I don't ever recall getting a ticket.

She introduced me to Sangria and salsa. Hot hot hot. OMG I remember the first time we went to her favorite Mexican restaurant. There on the table was a bowl of salsa and some tortilla chips. 'It's pretty hot' she said. 'Oh, I like spicy food' I replied and took some. 'Pretty hot' was her euphemism for excruciating pain I think. She laughed like hell as I gasped and tried to drown it with water - a useless attempt I came to realize.

God, she could laugh. We laughed together all the time. That's what I remember most about our friendship. The laughter. And the acceptance. Because there wasn't anyone quite so opposite as me from Vera. And yet she accepted me just as I was. True friendship.

You couldn't tie her down and so after a while she left the hospital where we both worked and spent a year in Australia. I sent her 'care packages' of things she loved and couldn't find there. Peanut butter was a key item as I recall. Vegemite just didn't cut it for her!

And then she spent some time in Hollywood. I don't remember her wanting to be 'a star' but she was in Hollywood and when she was there she met Richard Pryor.

One of our favorite movies was Stir Crazy, with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. We loved that movie and were forever quoting lines from it (remember, we WERE in our 20's!). Our favorite line was from the scene where Richard & Gene were going to jail. 'What are you doing?" Gene asks Richard as they're on their way to the holding pen. "I'm gettin' bad' replies Richard. And so they both 'get bad'. And their bad was hysterically funny. 'That's right' says's Gene to the group in the cell 'we bad'.

And 'that's right, we bad' became our slogan, Vera and I.

And so, when she had a chance to meet Richard Pryor Vera asked him to do a 'we bad' for her friend Neecy in Toronto. And he did. I have a 'we bad' vicariously through Vera Maiden.

We lost touch some time after that. Vera returned from her travels and I was pregnant with my boys. The gap between us seemed too large and we drifted apart. But wherever she is today I hope that she has fond memories of our time together as I do
Here's to a wonderful - and far too brief -friendship.

That's right. We bad.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Have you read the one about .....

I just finished reading a great book. It was filled with humour and history and I thought that a friend of mine would enjoy it as well.

I often hesitate to recommend books to this person; I remember once suggesting that A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry was an incredible book. They got it, took it with them on vacation and blamed me later for recommending such a "depressingly god-awful book". I loved that book. And so, as you can imagine, I've been cautious about my suggestions. But this newest one just seemed to fit. The topic was in their particular area of interest, it wasn't fiction and it was well written. So I took the book - my copy with my notes because I often write in margins - and said "I thought you might find this really interesting."

The reply? After perusing the inside jacket for about 5 seconds the disdainful response was, "You want me to read a book by an author who's previous subject matter included a book about Moosejaw???"

It's quite funny you know. Those of you love to read as much as I do may understand what I mean when I say that the recommendation of a book is quite personal. The books that you really love say something about you. For me, the out of hand dismissal of a recommended book is akin to dismissing the person who recommended it. Then again, maybe I'm the only one who feels that way. Wouldn't be the first time that's happened for sure.

One thing though to be sure, I'll never recommend another book to that 'friend'.

Thursday, April 29, 2010 I make the rules.....ya think???

One of my sons is a fan of novelty T-shirts and so I'm always on the lookout for unique and quirky examples. A few years ago I came across one that had what appeared to be one of those 'Hello my name is' tags you get when you go to a cheesy conference. The 'name' on the 'name tag' was 'Inigo Montoya' with another 'name tag' underneath that said 'you killed my father' and a final one saying 'prepare to die'. I guess two things matter for you to appreciate it - first is that you need to be a fan of the movie Princess Bride. Second is you really need to see it to get it. However, I digress.

Tonight I came across a man wearing a T-short that caught my attention. Not because it was quirky nor unique but because it was worn by a purported adult (maybe 35 or so) and was particularly offensive. I expect some people - the wearer at a minimum - found it quite funny but it didn't make me laugh. All I could think of was, you may have that but I'd bet anything that you don't have a date for tonight (or for any night). And you probably wonder to your sad lonely self why you don't have a date, why you can't get a 'good' woman and why you're stuck in a dead end job with little opportunity for career advancement. Can't possibly have anything to do with the decisions you make with respect to your wardrobe can it???

The saying? "I've got the dick so I make the rules."

gimme a break.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Obedience School

Tonight was the last of six sessions of obedience classes for Bailey. He's a smart puppy and so things have been pretty good - even though I don't work with him half as much as I should - but tonight was "the" night. Tonight was the exam.

As we went through out paces - and honestly is obedience class for the dog or the human??? - it was such an odd feeling knowing that someone was judging 'our' behaviour. Did he break during the sit/stay? Did he get distracted when the trainer walked by with the squeaky toy (his absolute favorite by the way)??? Will he 'measure up'? Will I measure up?

It's a very bizarre process. I know that this judging and evaluating is pretty much bogus. After all, the goal of the classes - ultimately - is to sell us on more classes (next step advanced obedience). Of course we need to learn and improve, otherwise the word of mouth advertising - the best after all - would fail miserably. And so there have been improvements. Some amazing improvements too.

Take Rocky. The chihuahua who arrived at the first class snarling, growling and barking at everything on two and four legs. At 'graduation' Rocky was able to sit (albeit off to one side) for the photo shoot along with all the other dogs. {ps... don't you just LOVE that the littlest dog in the group was named 'Rocky'... I LOVE it}.

So comes the graduation. Each of us comes forward, receives our diploma along with a scorecard indicating where we need to pay some specific attention to training, etc. And you can feel the .... tension .... in the room.

Winston. Dusty. Max. Henry. Then Bailey.

I take Bailey up to get his diploma and they tell me that he's done an amazing job (odd considering that he absolutely HATES to heel in class - does pretty good on our walks but when it comes to class ... nah, not so much .... so I spend a fair bit of time dragging him around). I shake hands with the trainers - SO formal - and they hand me his 'diploma' and scorecard and we return to our seat. 18 is the best you can do (6 questions with a max of 3 per question) and it's with an odd sense of judgement that I turn the page over to see his score.

I know he's improved from 6 weeks ago even though we absolutely haven't practiced as much as we should. Plus there are all kinds of conflicting messages since I'm the only one taking the training but not the only one spending time with him at home. But he does sit patiently in front of his food until I give him the OK to eat. He's a great dog and I've learned alot of tips/tricks in these classes that I need only to apply. So why the need for approval from those I pay to teach me? It's quite odd. And I know it doesn't matter.

oh yeah ..... he got 17 out of 18.

that's my boy !

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fire pits and anonymous notes

In Celtic spirituality there is a concept of a 'thin place' - a place where the veil between the sacred and the secular is so thin that one can have a glimpse of the glory of God.

In my life I've had a few thin places. As a child it was the beach in front of my family cottage. As an adult it was in front of the Icon at St. Agnes or in front of the fire in my backyard. Several years ago - during a particularly dark time - I spent hours and hours, night after night, in front of the fire. It saved me. Being able to sit quietly in the backyard late at night in front of the fire has been a God-send. It is my thin place.

Sadly, today when I got home from work I found an envelope that had been mailed by, obviously, a neighbour. It was addressed to our residence and inside was a printout of the Toronto Fire Department website indicating that the open air fire pit I have in my backyard (chiminea) are illegal in the city. Sad because I can no longer sit in front of my fire and glimpse the glory of God. And sad because a neighbour felt that they couldn't simply come and tell me their issues with the fire but felt the need to send an anonymous message.


But I truly believe that as one door closes, another opens - surely God will lead me to a new thin place. Let's pray it's soon.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


After 5 1/2 years of being without a dog I got a puppy at New Years.

We had Raggs for about 10 years and I loved her. She died - or as someone recently said to me, I had to let her go - four days after my mother died and we immediately "replaced" her with 2 cats thinking that getting another dog right away would be too difficult. Over time our family was joined by two other cats, who used to belong to my sons, and so we became a 4 cat home! I was one cat away from being the crazy cat woman of Etobicoke.

But I always missed having a dog in my life. The cats were great - are great. But they aren't dogs. Obviously. So this past Christmas I thought a lot about getting a dog and decided that a puppy would be the best way to introduce a dog to a house with 4 cats. I've always wanted a Golden Retriever and so found a breeder not too far away and we went to visit. As I walked towards the door it opened and a gorgeous puppy romped across the snow covered grass. It was love at first sight.

That was 3 months ago and at this point I can't imagine my life without him.

What I am now learning about though is dog owner etiquette. I walk him a lot and since I'm not a particularly social person my tendency, at least initially, was to share a brief 'hello, how are you' and move on. But doggie owners are a special breed (if you'll pardon the pun) and they like to talk. Bailey is an extremely social puppy - he loves to play with any dog he meets along the way - and so I end up spending time in a doggie coffee cliche (usually sans coffee!) trying to make small talk with people who appear to know an awful lot more than I about how to raise and train a puppy.

Because Bailey is my first puppy - all the other dogs I've had have been were adults from the pound - I really don't contribute much to those conversations. I mainly try to listen and learn although there are an awful lot of conflicting ideas & viewpoints. And an awful lot of holier than thou opinions.

As I write this he's sleeping quietly in front of me after having spent the morning playing in the park and the afternoon playing with my son's dog (yes, I have both his dog and his cat AND him in my house now).

The sun is shining. The dog is happy and healthy. What could be better.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Weep with those who weep

Two years ago in January I got an email from a friend saying "can you call me please." That email was in response to a message I had sent simply saying "???????????????????"

A month or so earlier she had gone for her annual mammogram and had been called back because of some anomalies in the scan. They told her 'don't worry, it's very common' and yet we had worried. And so, on the scheduled day I waited and wondered and I sent the '???' email asking for the update. Of course, what I wanted to hear - what we had both convinced ourselves we would hear - was 'everything is fine; it was a false alarm; no worries' but what I got was 'can you call me please'. I knew then, of course, that it wasn't good news. You don't give bad news over email. You share bad news in person - or at least 'in voice'. And so I called. And we talked. And talked. And talked.

That was two years ago January. This January she was given a very positive report - following the surgery and treatment that she'd endured back in 2007 - and told 'see you next year'. The best words possible.

My friend is - apart from me maybe - the most private person I know. She told 7 people that she had breast cancer. Her partner (who was overseas for most of that year), me and 3 other friends, her sister, and her boss. That was it. She went for her appointments - grudgingly agreeing to have one of her friends accompany her to the first one - had her surgery and her treatments and continued her day to day work. Amazing. She never told her staff, her co-workers, her peers - no one outside of those 7 people. For weeks she went to Princess Margaret in the morning and then arrived late at work. She's sure her staff wondered about her absences; gossiped; made up stuff; whatever. And yet she was adamant that no one know. She didn't want anyone to feel sorry for her, to cut her any slack because she was 'sick', to know her personal life. She faced her dark night of the soul almost entirely alone. Doing housework to keep her mind occupied; talking, albeit briefly, to her four closest friends; working extra hours.

I often wondered - considering now pathologically private I am as well - how I might react in a similar circumstance. I expect that I would do this same thing. I expect that I would be even more private. In fact, I know that I would.

I so admire people who have a network they can reach out to. Friends they can commiserate with. In the words of St. Paul 'rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep'

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The common cup

At tonight's Ash Wednesday service I was reminded of something that happened to me many, many years ago at another parish.

One of the couple's in the church were getting married and, because the bride was Spanish speaking, had requested that Fr. Hernan Astudillo from the parish of San Lorenzo co-officiate at their wedding.

The first time I saw Fr. Hernan was at the altar rail when he came to church to meet with the couple. I was administering the chalice and when I offered it to Fr. Hernan - although at the time I had NO idea who he was - he placed both of his hands over mine and took the cup to his mouth. It was as if his hands enveloped mine and we shared the cup in a personal and somewhat intimate manner. It connected us and yet we had never met. I found myself captivated ......I never forgot.

I've always appreciated when a hand is placed over mine when I receive the host because I think it matters. It's a personal connection that establishes a bond. A tender, gentle, fleeting - yet at the same time lasting - bond.

I thought of Fr. Hernan tonight; I think I'll put into practice what so charmed me those many years ago.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Stuff, stuff, stuff ................


My son is moving back to Toronto after having lived in Saskatoon for two years. My son and Buddy, his 2 1/2 year old Labrador, that is.

And so, in order to get ready to have him with us until they get settled, get a job and an apartment of his own (one that will take him AND Buddy) we began to move things around. And discovered – as if we didn’t already know it – that we have WAY TOO MUCH STUFF.

It’s not as if the stuff we have is of great value. The massive newel posts that my husband always thought would make a great four poster bed (yeah, sure if you live in a castle!); dresser drawers that neither son wanted to take when they left home and so we kept – and filled the drawers with, you got it, more stuff; pieces of marble that the boys were given in lieu of payment for a construction job they did several years ago; a chess table that my husband made for me before we were married - and when I say ‘table’ I mean TABLE. It’s a coffee table sized chess board. The chess men are gone (actually only went into the recycle last year when he accepted how badly deteriorated they had become) but the table remains. Sentimental? Sure – but take a picture for heavens sake and let’s move on. But I digress. He has enough tools to put Ty Pennington and ‘This Old House’ to shame and enough DVD’s to open his own Blockbuster. But to be fair it’s not all his stuff. I have more books than many small town libraries; had to pack some of them into 4 large bins to make space in my son’s room. We still have my mother-in-laws old kitchen dishes – she died in 1987. We have at least a half dozen coolers and we hate picnics. We have enough wine glasses to cater a formal wedding and we seldom entertain. I’m sure you get my drift.

We have WAY too much stuff. My view is to get rid of much of it. The coolers, the wine glasses, the chess table – things we haven’t seen or thought of for 10 years. The space saved from getting rid of that stuff will mean that the things we’re keeping won’t seem so overwhelming. At least they’ll have a place to be kept. It’s really hard for my husband to give up things – to get rid of anything. After all, he may just make that four poster bed some day. It’s a challenge and more stuff comes in every day. He has trouble resisting a bargain – came home last week with a gravy separator, a scale and new kitchen silverware (which came in a large wooden box) and so the stuff continues to grow. And then you get stuff in the mail. Today I got an ‘appreciation’ gift from a company that I found myself thinking ‘hmmm, this may come in handy some day’…..arghhh ….. throw it away!


Gonna starting culling.

Will keep you posted.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ministry of Presence

In The Anglican a few months back I read an article by Fr. Matthew Johnson from St. James Anglican Church in Vancouver. He spoke of the 'ministry of presence' with respect to the large homeless community in the neighbourhood of St. James.

Rev Matthew wrote that some of the church members wondered why he bothered with these people because this is the life that they chose. However, Matthew wrote, few people ended up on the streets by any real choice of their own. Almost all of them, he said, have experienced extreme adversity in their lives which led to their current situation. Often that trauma had been experienced in their childhood and included abandonment, violence, sexual abuse, extreme poverty. Some had spent their childhood in an endless succession of group or foster homes - sometimes facing abuse there as well. Many never recover and find themselves on the street. Some find that drugs help to dull the pain for a bit. Thankfully some do recover and Fr. Matthew rejoices in their success.

It was the phrase 'ministry of presence' that particularly captivated me. For many years I was very involved in the food bank at my local church. As much as it broke my heart that there was such an overwhelming need for the food bank I loved working it. I enjoyed meeting and connecting with the people who came. We never preached to them. Apart from the fact that the food bank was inside an Anglican Church there was no proselytizing - we simply practiced the ministry of presence. We were present to the guests who found themselves in need of our help. We greeted them, befriended them, welcomed them and were just there for them. I made some amazing connections from among the people who came - developed relationships and memories that I will cherish always.

So often people who find themselves struggling, down & out, and become invisible to the larger community out there. People avoid looking the homeless in the eye; cross the street so that they don't get asked for a handout; make judgements based on clothes or demeanour. Generally do not make themselves present.

And one of the main goals of The Community of Caring Foodbank was, along with providing food, to be present to each and every person who entered the doors.

The ministry of presence. Fr. Matthew is bang on.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Honoured to have been selected

On December 29th I performed a wedding. The couple had selected me from my profile on the website and then, when they confirmed and I was given the details, I discovered that the wedding was to be held in their home - and their home was just 6 houses away from my own!

A week before the wedding the couple discovered that, due to the complexity of paperwork, it wasn't likely that they would have the marriage license in time for the ceremony. What to do? They had family travelling in for the wedding - it was Christmas time after all. So, we decided to do 'wedding theatre'. I "married" them in front of their family and friends with the understanding that I would return to make it legal once they received the paperwork.

We finalized the marriage today. I walked up the street at noon and was home before the half hour was up. The bride's two adult children were the witnesses and the groom held a bag of ice chips to his head because he'd smashed his head into the chandelier over the dining room table. 'I've felt worse' was all he said as he applied the ice his step-son got for him. And that's an understatement. He's being treated for a recurrence of leukemia and they were pleased to be able to make the marriage official before he had to return to hospital. He'd had a very difficult week but thankfully was feeling better today and their wedding was beautiful. Short and sweet but beautiful. The ceremony on the 29th was heartfelt and emotional; I could feel the love in the room that was filled with friends and family. Today, with only 6 of us gathered around the dining room table (the reason for the chandelier incident!), that feeling of love was there as well.

I was honoured to have been selected to be the official at this wedding. Honoured to have participated in a monumental moment in this couples lives.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

'Absolute unmixed attention is prayer'

These words are from Simone Weil, French philosopher, Christian mystic and social activist.

Born to an agnostic Jewish family in 1909 it wasn't until Simone experienced a religious ecstasy early in 1937 - while in Assisi at the same church in which St. Francis prayed - that she said her first prayer. The following year she had an even more powerful revelation after which her writing became increasinly spiritual.

In 1943, at the age of 34, Weil was diagnosed with tuberculosis and told to rest and eat well in order to take care of herself. However, she continued to limit her food to equal that available to the German occupied French nationals. As a result, Weil died later that year and was said to have killed herself by her own actions.

'Absolute unmixed attention is prayer.' When you think about that sentiment it makes a lot of sense. Paying attention - really, really paying attention - to another person makes them feel loved, wanted, valued, special and important. Just as we feel when, in the words of Jean Vanier, we sit in the quiet, gentle presence of God. We feel loved, wanted, valued, special and important.

Absolute unmixed attention is prayer. Remember that the next time you are with someone. Really be with them. Not superficially present; not looking over their shoulder or thinking about something other than the present. I believe that Simone was right on. Give absolute unmixed attention. The best gift ever.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Why does my puppy eat rocks?

Now that's a question I don't think I would have imagined having to ask a few months ago. But since getting a 3 1/2 month old Golden Labrador on New Years Eve, my Internet searches involve Cesar Milan, where to buy gates with small pet doors, obedience classes and, yes, why does my puppy eat rocks.

He's a beautiful boy is my Bailey. Full of fun and playfulness but easily calmed. Well, relatively easily! He's integrating well into the home which already had four cats when he arrived. Two of the four - the biggest ones - have pretty much established their place in the hierarchy. The third is slowly coming around and the littlest guy - the only one with claws - is expressing more interest than fear. Baby steps.

We've had 8 days with only one "puppy accident" - which probably means that I'm the one who's trained rather than Bailey but I'm good with that anyway.

It's been about 5 1/2 years since my last dog died. Raggs died just 6 days after my mom and the idea of getting another dog right away was too much for me. So we got cats. Two HUGE 10 year old cats. We also ended up with two more cats who originally belonged to my sons but who are now part of my menagerie.

Since Bailey arrived I realized just how much I missed having a dog in my life. I wonder why I waited so long. Oh well, the wait is over and I'm thrilled with my boy.

"It's not the fatigue. It's the emotional load."

I read this quote in the paper today. "It's not the fatique. It's the emotional load." Spoken by Dr. Mike Howatt, a surgeon with the GlobalMedic team in Haiti, as he reflected on what he had been facing since arriving. Amputations by flashlight, many without anaesthesia. We complain when we have to wait to see our doctors. We complain when we're faced with delay at our local emergency department - a place we often go even when we really don't need the services of an emergency physician. We complain when we have to wait to get our pain medication after recovering from surgery. We complain. But why? Because humans certainly have the capacity to do otherwise. The paper talked about a ten year old girl who sang hymns while the doctors cut off her infected hand - with no anaesthesia. Doesn't sound like she complained does it? Nope, she sang hymns. Amazing. My hero.

We can learn a lot from her. Give generously to help Haiti.