Monthly Archiv: November, 2013

Great and small

We live on County road 21 for the joy of it, and in an attempt to stay grounded. Misty, the pony is giving us an education. The kids are surprised at how much fun taking care of a horse is not. At the same time, getting to know her has a kind of richness that we haven’t known before.

Anabelle, the cow, is turning into one very big momma. We had her bred with a Black Angus. He was the kind of husband that comes in a tube from a truck, so fairly low on the romance scale, but supposedly a great match for producing a nice calf with small shoulders. (Small shouldered offspring = every mother’s dream, I know.) Anabelle has done a nice job befriending Misty. They sleep together now. We put the sheep in at night on one side of the barn, which keeps them from becoming coyote food. We leave the stall on the other side open. Misty and Anabelle graze until dark, then put themselves to bed inside the barn.

The last round of chicks before spring finished their earthly sojourn this week. We wanted to give up on chickens after the last batch. This time, out of 33 chicks, we still had 30 when it was time to transition to the freezer. For the first few weeks, the chicks get a lot of care, and even more checking to make sure they have what they need. When it is time to get them out to the main coop, I always feel like I’m dropping off my kids at daycare. I’m fretful and unsettled. Back in the house I startle again and again worried I’ve forgotten something. But, it’s easier as time goes by.

Strangely, regardless of size and stage, we always call them the chicks. “Tomorrow’s the last day for the chicks, right?” we say solemnly about their five or six pound selves. It isn’t until they are in bags getting loaded into the freezer that we finally say, “good batch of chickens this time around, don’t you think?”

We are wondering if we want to get bees in the spring. We don’t know. We know that all this life – new, old, pregnant, happy, lonely but adjusting, hungry, content, human, bovine, equine, ovine, avian – even the homemade yogurt life. It keeps us learning. Keeps us wondering. It’s good for what ails us.

Night sky

I like the idea of reaching for something beautiful like the stars, but it takes work to keep my eye on something so far away. When not overcome with passionate optimism, I am a person given to weary sadness. Sometimes it translates as hopelessness, sometimes as an inability to forgive the inordinate number of trespasses from those who surround me, and sometimes as  kind of general malaise. During the impassioned phase, it is not difficult to look up.

I am not in that phase at the moment. I am in the phase where my Pollyanna self would be shot on sight. It is called highly critical, general malaise mode. Inside that place, it is very difficult to look up. Ironically, when I could most use a steady gaze on something higher, my neck prefers to stretch sideways to inspect the shortcomings of my fellow travellers.

In nature, my children, unexpected things, I am sometimes given the needed adjustment for my view finder. When those fail, I flounder. More often than you would think, Mrs. Auchter comes to mind. When I knew her, she was in her eighties, blind and living alone. She had three people in her weekly life, Alice, who did her hair, Marion Fisher who got her groceries, and me.

I thought she had good reasons to be depressed, bitter, and resentful. But if she was these things, I couldn’t see them through her delight at seeing me every Sunday afternoon. She saved up all kinds of things to tell and show my high school self. A piece from Mozart played properly. Warnings from the radio about drugs. The state of her toenails. The good work of prunes. I picture her curly white head with marks from where she slept, her hunched up shoulders, the thick glasses she couldn’t see out of, covered in finger prints.

Recently I read about Josephine Bakhita. She was a very poorly treated slave for many years. Her enslavement was eventually pronounced illegal by the French courts of the day. No longer a slave, Josephine chose to live at a convent. She was assigned as doorkeeper and subsequently was familiar with the local people. She became beloved and very well known for her kindness and generosity of spirit. Literally thousands came to her funeral.

I need to know how this woman was dealt such an ugly hand and ended up a dealer in tender humanity. I have never been a slave, and I think what I do is at least as pleasant an occupation as doorkeeper. I notice the cupboard doors left open, the shoes kicked across the floor, and the dirty Tupperware from the lunches not returned and I am not a happy camper. Josephine Bakhita puts a serious wrench in my ideas about payback for such indignities.

But maybe she is giving me something better to aim for. Something to keep my head up looking at the stars.



Trying to Remember

When my daughter told me to write about Ivan, my son added without looking up, “Write about Remembrance Day.”

Remembrance Day brings out my split personality. It’s the day I came to Canada. It’s boy two’s birthday. Maybe if I lived in the States and called it Veterans Day I would always remember that it isn’t about me. Coming to Canada was a big deal for my then twenty year old self. I remember it like an Israelite remembers leaving Egypt. Scary at first like you wouldn’t believe in the desert. Wanting to go back. Then wandering in circles for a few years while the promised land waited patiently for lights to dawn on marble head.

Mid gratitude reflecting on what the day has meant for me, I inevitably pass a veteran and am filled with shame. NOTE TO SELF: This day is about THEM! My brain believes in gratitude and remembrance but knowing what to do about that seems hard, so I let it get lost in the details.  Besides, it’s boy two’s birthday. There’s celebrating to be done.

Boy two does not mind sharing his birthday. He thinks it’s special to be born on Remembrance Day, the same way he thinks it’s special to be short and bow legged. (He claims this puts his legs at a better angle for tree climbing.) He was not impressed that I did not take him out of school to go to a Remembrance Day service.

Writing a letter two days after the day doesn’t fix it. Mine is an imperfect attempt to do what I tell my kids: you can’t undo the wrong thing, but you try to make it right.

Dear Veterans,

I am not wearing a poppy because they always fall off and poke me. Seeing you overwhelms me with the size of what you did. I have read many more books on events during WWII than I am years old. For some reason I just listened to six hours of an American History Channel WWII series while driving. I don’t see an old man, or whatever age you are, when I walk by you, I see some mother’s son risking his life for other people. I imagine shaking your hand, looking you in the eye, saying thank you. Instead, I fumble in my purse for change and send the kids to buy a poppy sticker for themselves. I nod at you. Say something inane to the kids about staying with me in the parking lot and move on.

I don’t like the way I do it either. I have no idea how to properly say thank you for the United States that I grew up in or for the Canada where I found home. I promise to let the kids skip school next year to stand in front of the flag with you even if it is cold and raining. Everything I get to remember on November 11, says thanks to you.

Sincere admiration and thanks,

From a woman who ought to have said something sooner


Questions from a gorilla

I’m not sure what I’m going to write about,” I tell my husband. “Usually, I know.”

“Do mean your blog?” asks eight year old girl with authority from the other room. “Write about the book I’m reading.”

Funny, because I had wondered about it and then forgot. My brain is in a mushy phase these days. I forgot to go to the choir practice last week despite having specifically asked to have it moved to Wednesday. I would list the other things I have forgotten except I can’t anymore. The guilty moments are kind of blobbed in together. I know they happened but they’re mercifully hazy.

My daughter is right. The first non-Geronimo Stilton/non-Magic Tree House-ish tome (aka real book) that she is reading on her own, deserves a post.

“The One and Only Ivan,” is a novel by Katherine Applegate, and a recent Newberry winner. It took me more than a month to actually open it because the picture on the front kept telling me that I would not like it. The picture lied. Once first page was peered upon, the book only shut briefly for small emergencies, and to assure the children that I still loved them. I completed it all of a Sunday afternoon and evening, as the children need fewer reminders of my affection (really only food) when I am not checking on the banging, crashing, and eerie silences coming from wherever they are.

“It’s never too late to become who you might have been,” says the George Eliot quote at the beginning of the book.  (Consider rereading quote despite the dangers of doing so.)

For twenty-seven years, Ivan the gorilla has lived a resigned life as a mini circus attraction at a mall. He allows himself small joys but feels it impossible that he could ever truly be himself. In a particular moment, love pushes him to become an actor, rather than a spectator, in his own life.

As with any decent children’s book, it is as least as much a book for adults as it is for children. Along the way to a plain good story, the book comments on friendship, art and humour. But the part about it not being too late for becoming is the part that knocked me over. (I am currently sitting as a result.)

I’m wondering about the roads that I quietly hope for but assume will disappoint me. Maybe they’re not dead end roads but merely unknown roads, cresting over the knoll, around the bend, carrying on into the open country and beyond. You. Me. Who might we still become?

tiny treasures

It is hunting season around here. My neighbour always kindly reminds me, or I might forget. Forgetting wasn’t a possibility the other day. It was so loud that I looked out the kitchen window to see if there was a confused hunter out shooting our sheep. Whether it was target practice or boredom, the dog and I stuck to the roads for our walk.

The kids and I call the woods that I usually walk through, “The Magic Forest.” It’s pure Narnia. Especially in winter. Kids who are ambivalent about walks in general, almost always accept invitations to the Magic Forest. Hunting season is short, but I miss my magic trees. Gravel, pavement, telephone poles, and plastic food wrappers (reminding me that living in the country does make the one immune to self-indulgent stupidity) are just not the same, even without the cars.

The only magic on the roads is when I happen on some of the creatures passing by. Skunks, deer, racoons, rabbits, a family of foxes, wild turkey. I always slow down to look. One night a porcupine stopped to look back so we had a conversation in the dark until he finally ambled off.

I think my favourites are the turtles. Every year in May or June, there is a week when the turtles line the gravel on the sides of the road like vacation destinations. A road just around the corner from us seems to be prime real estate. At dusk, huge snapping turtles dig nests in the gravel and lay their eggs. I always want to explain that the benefits of warm blacktop can’t possibly outweigh the danger of cars. I never see the babies, only mothers in the spring. But despite the fatalities, they keep showing up to lay eggs, so something must be working.

On my unmagic walk, I tried to convince the dog that removing the burr from her tail would make her more attractive. We have been having this discussion for about three weeks now. Turns out she doesn’t care what she looks like. Every time she paused to sniff something, I would give a futile attempt to grab at that burr with my fingers. Bent over trying to grab the burr in motion, my eyes caught sight of a hole. For a second I thought some moron had buried their white plastic garbage in the gravel, but logic prevailed and I took a closer look.

On the side of a most un-enchanted and ordinary road, magic. Turtle eggs.  Already hatched. No baby turtles, but I dug out five or six dusty white broken shells and took them home to show the kids. In the dance down here between miracles and madness, mark one for the miracles.

All’s right with the world . . .

After failed attempts to get my children to even look at pork heart or liver, I fed last year’s supply to the dog. Cleaning out the freezer this week, I found a beef heart. Please note, I grew up with a man who threw whole squirrels on our plates fresh from the frying pan. “That there’s some fine eatin,” he would say. I realize it is a small number of persons who can share my memories of plates around a table each containing a headless, but mostly intact squirrel carcass. Use your imagination and understand that I just couldn’t throw away that beef heart.

Some cultures would count it wisdom, eating the heart of fearless, Charger, the Holstein steer. Charger was named after a football team, but the name fit quite well. He went to the butcher ahead of schedule due to his proclivities for charging after whoever came into the field as well as refusing me exit from the barn one too many times.

In the back of my mind are the stories about all the research going on to get us to eat bugs someday. I question the number of us who would rather eat beetles than starve to death, but it makes the brave heart of Charger seem more appetizing. Not enough to get kids licking their lips though.

Subterfuge was obviously in order. After consideration, I selected chili. Big bowls of hearty beef chili with cornbread. Oldest son would throw fits if he knew. Instead, he had seconds. I imagined feeling a sense of satisfaction about frugal use of resources once I finally started preparing that heart. But that was nothing compared to the actual meal.

I work hard at my cooking. I care about variety, nutrition, presentation. Everything is as much homemade as I can get it. While some meals are met with gratitude, the response to others is somewhere between tepid and disdain. Perfectly good meals full of ingredients they all like are randomly met with staring and stirring. Bathroom trips are requested to unload pockets of food into the toilet. The dog is given innumerable numbers of carrots and small vegetables.

It takes it out of me to put so much effort into a meal, only to hear that the short people don’t think they’re in the mood for it. I don’t provide alternate meals. They eat what’s there or feel hungry. But them feeling hungry is really of no use to me. I can’t even see it.

So back to that heart. Chopped up in little pieces in that chili they were all swallowing. My goodness, I simply had not realized how deeply satisfying it would feel to watch them eat it. Knowing they would spit it across the room if they knew. Smiling, making pleasant conversation while they chewed. Even the next day, I find myself smiling. Knowing young Charger’s tongue sits waiting in my freezer for the next time I need a little pick me up on the justice front.

further to growing up

Found the time to explain the comic to my older son. About how the boy has just lost his leg and everything the boy is feeling (worthless, like people will only ever feel sorry for him) is what he says to the dog. The dog, having long forgotten about his missing leg, is just happy with the joy of life. It wins him over. Gives him hope for himself.

Stunned silence from son.

I don’t bother adding how we are all broken and wounded and afraid to believe that joy and love are for us. If I add this idea, he will never speak again.

“Wow,” he said finally. “So there’s like a whole other level going on there that I didn’t even get.”  More silence.

“Wowsers,” he said and walked away.

Growing up

The following is either evidence of parental incompetence (failure to raise empathetic offspring) or a serious indication that brain development is a significant reality for at least one thirteen year old male.  By way of explanation, I found the following cartoon and sent it to my son.  (Found on Kathy Schiffer’s blog   but as she notes, it is from Brazilian webcomic Mentirinhas)

Read the cartoon for yourself and then I’ll go from there.


As I said, I sent this to my son. I liked the cartoon. It made me feel human. I’m not sure what I expected from him, but I didn’t expect this:

Mom – thanks for sending this. It was really funny.

I read it twice, then hit delete. I did not want to read it again. Funny? Not, Moving? Thought provoking? Inspiring?  Really? Funny?

A few weeks ago, I read my first ever blog post to this same son. (The post covered my mad attempts to thwart the mating intentions of equines.) “I love it,” he said.  “Good,” I said. “I hope people at least find it interesting and a little bit funny.” His eyebrows furrowed confused. “Must be an adult thing. It’s good, but I don’t see anything funny.”

I guarantee that if I sit down with him (this part is definitely on the do list) and point out the emotions the boy in the cartoon was feeling and expressing, and then draw attention to his transformation from bitterness to hope, my son will find it meaningful. In fact, he will like the cartoon a lot more. But at this point without a nudge in that direction, emotion, nuance . . . they’re really not that obvious or even accessible to him. Or maybe they are, but laughing is just so much easier than hurting?

I don’t have all the answers, I just find kids interesting. There’s so much to learn looking under those rocks in their brains. About brains. About them. About us.

I’ll ease him into being comfortable with a little empathy and then just standing there being him, he’ll ease me into laughing at both of us and not taking this sacred trust of mothering thing quite so seriously.

Here’s to the Music – Play it Again, Sam

Doing dishes the other night, the sounds of my son’s trombone warmed me at least as much as the wood stove. In one small run of eighth notes, I went from dreading the obligations of Christmas to realizing that, “almost December,” meant the Christmas Concert at his school. A sentimentalist I am not. Many a concert or school function I have attended as a grudging token of decency to the children I helped bring into this world. But this is not that. His school music program is exceptional and the concerts are a true pleasure. The Go-to-bed-on-time-Nazi  (me) lets the younger kids go and be grumpy for two days afterwards because the way their eyes brighten and their toes tap is worth it.

For anyone within driving distance of St. Michael’s in Kemptville, I cannot recommend the Christmas concert highly enough. The students will be well rehearsed. Their repertoire will be a wonderful mix of pieces worth doing. The evening will appeal to kids and adults of all ages because the performers and their impassioned and talented director will bring enough joy to fill the place.  The concert features Jr. and Sr. bands, a jazz band, and my personal favourite, a chamber choir.

On Thursday, December 12, at 7:00pm, something simple, true, and beautiful is happening. At that time, in that place, young men and women beaming with the promise of tomorrow will be making music. Together. For free. For you. If you can believe in their possibilities by attending the concert, you will be richly rewarded with the experience of something as new and alive as a miracle.

If you cannot come see these particular young people at this particular school, consider finding a school near you which is doing music well and then support them with your presence. Schools that value music need to know that we’re behind them because our children need to be able to sing. Children who sing know how to listen to the voices of others. They have seen and heard and felt for themselves the mystery of individuals working together to create a whole that is bigger than any one of them. Children who sing not only discover their own beautiful voices they learn how to make them stronger. They learn how to hold their own when others are singing something different.

This applies to those in choirs, as well as those in bands. A girl with a clarinet is discovering her voice as much as a tenor singing his first solo. Instruments are voices to which we have added imagination. What would happen if we were to hold our mouths just so and blow through this tube, or across the hole on the side of it? A hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand people have wondered, have practiced this . . . and then along comes the girl.  She picks up the instrument, and to all the imagination that has gone before her, she adds her own. She finds her voice and sings an old song, now born into something completely new.

I am posting this now, in early November, because right now there is still plenty of time to save the night for this concert on your calendar. I’ll send a reminder in December, but consider blocking the time now. I don’t know about you, but I look outside and see a world that needs joyful voices. I see kids walking down the street, wondering about tomorrow, and I hope someone is teaching them to sing.

This Christmas season, if you can, find a school concert with outstanding music and go to it. Say with your presence that you don’t want a world without twelve year olds on trumpets and seventeen year olds singing Handel. Say their voices matter. Say you want the music.

Surprises from trees

Mondays is farm project day. It gives my husband and I chance to see each other for free. Also,  keep things from falling apart around here. This week the project was to clear the old road that winds through our woods. Now instead of a path you can walk, stepping over logs and around things, there is a clear road to drive a tractor through.

There is really nothing like taking care of the land that you own. It was a nice feeling sitting on the wagon as my husband drove it through our reclaimed road. We were doing a test drive for the birthday party hay ride we are planning later this week. Testing was a good idea. We found two problems. The first, came approximately 5 seconds after I told the driver to trust me to keep his eyes on the road ahead and to trust me to watch behind us, when a tree with serious curvature of the spine made itself known. The wagon, shaped like an L, was completely flat except for a five foot panel at the back. The base of the wagon passed the deformed tree just fine. Unfortunately for us, at about the five foot mark, the trunk grew out into the path. “Stop,” was not shouted energetically enough and the back wall of the wagon was relocated rather quickly to the mud of our new road. Wagon shape has moved from capital L to lowercase.

Problem #2 was more easily solved. Three cedars with trunks four to five inches in diameter made the entrance back to the field a little narrow for our wide wagon. I suggested we wait to get the chain saw, but the manager of the operation decreed that his bow saw would be good enough. A little effort later, he was right about that too. It was a very good day for him.

Getting the old road I’ve been nattering about since spring would have made me happy all by itself, but there was more. As we cleared the path, there was a log lying across it too heavy to pick up. We sawed it in sections and kicked at it. One of the rotten pieces came off the top half of the log as I lifted it. Lying there a Queen bee. I’d never seen one before. But there she was, all groggy and hunkered down for the winter, surprised by all the light. Twenty years ago I might not have stopped, but thank goodness one picks up at least a little common sense along the way. I went and found a tiny see through plastic case that once held fasteners of some kind or another and put her majesty inside so the kids could see when they got home.

Her plastic kingdom is now on the kitchen counter beside the pumpkins, where she will reign somewhat stupefied until further notice.