Monthly Archiv: February, 2014

Pianos and me

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have in mind to write about pianos but sitting down to do it, I feel myself pulling back. I feel about pianos the way some people feel about God. The thing that’s between us is so personal it hurts. It runs deeper than the realm of something as limited as language.

Listening to me play, you wouldn’t know about us. You’d be sitting there thinking about what my fingers did with the notes. Fine for country churches, fine for a group, not even in the ballpark for a professional musician. But playing for other people was never the point. What connects us isn’t about what I do with a piano, it’s about what the piano has done for me. My throat fills up trying to say it.

I heard my mother practicing a Bach Invention when I was younger. I fell in love. I didn’t care about the piano. I took lessons because I wanted to play that Invention. My beloved, eighty year old Mrs. Murdoch took me there and beyond. A wonderful high school music teacher, Ms. Liszka, let me learn to accompany, giving me a lifetime of ways to be part of music. These two who helped me, without whom I could not have known the piano in the same way, will get their own piece someday. This imperfect piece with the wordless tears is for the piano.

For a lot of high school, I was afraid. There were lots of things to be afraid of.

Play me, it said. And I would open the hymn book and touch those promises until I believed them.

I wanted to dream. About all kinds of things – acting, writing, boys, running a home for kids nobody believed in, happy endings.

Play me, it said. And I would take out sheet music from our choir and play my heart out with, “Somewhere Out There,” and other such.

I was sad. Life was sad. I was young and I didn’t want it that way.

Play me, it said. Weep into me for as long as it takes. So I did.

I was so mad I wanted to smash things. If cars ran on rage, I could have driven to Pluto and back. Ten times.

Oh for heaven’s sake, it said. Do you honestly think there’s not something your fingers can do here that will fit the occasion? When in doubt, play louder, dear. Play softer, and you’ll figure out how much you need to cry.

To worlds gone mad, it gave me chromatic scales played contrary at lightning speed, rhythm perfectly precise.

For my sorrows, my hopes, and my happiness, it spoke to me in the places without words and gently filled them with music.

I don’t know that I ever sit down and play without remembering. When we are alone together, I am home.  A thousand thanks, beloved friend of my heart.

History of a different BB gun

"Holes In A Shooting Target" by anankkml from

“Holes In A Shooting Target” by anankkml from

Boy one inherited his father’s one eye raised about my pioneer leanings. But few boys are immune to the allure of a BB gun. When it was time we got him his own.

He also came pre-programmed with an “adherence to rules” setting (we are still looking for the flexibility button). We knew he would follow “no chickadees,” and safety guidelines carefully and he did. Target practice became a source of great joy.

This brings us to his 11th birthday. We suggested that he invite old friends, but to be brave and invite at least one friend from his new school. Boy one chose Turd (not his real name) and I picked them up from school. Turd spoke in sentences and was comfortable acknowledging my existence. Promising, I thought. Turd also discussed the BB gun he had and loved at home.

There was an hour or so before the party started. I sent the boys outside.

Would you mind if we did some target practice with my BB gun? asked Boy one.

Normally, I would not allow this, but Turd clearly seemed like a country boy, he owned his own gun, and besides, he spoke in sentences.

Ok until other people get here, but ALL the same rules still apply.

I know, Mom. Don’t worry.

Ten minutes, or was it twenty, minutes later, Boy one was at the door, his mouth dripping blood.

“Ter sho mah too,” he said, conveying rather unclearly that Turd HAD SHOT HIS TOOTH.

We left emergency messages for our dentist. In the meantime, we had a party. Boy one was in pain, but propped up with ibuprofen and icepacks. He kept a brave face while everyone else ate pizza. Never was it discovered, why, when Boy one said, “let’s go in now,” and started walking across the field, Turd lifted the gun and shot him in the mouth.

Boy one’s tooth was fixed as best as can be until he is older. The BB gun sat untouched after that.

I really can’t even look at it, said Boy One softly.

I apologized many times for my failure to protect. I ached for the delight that had become a sorrow, and life went on. Two weeks ago, Boy one (who appreciates most company except his own) stayed outside after everyone was in.

What’s he up to? I asked Boy two.

Target practice.

Oh, I said. I didn’t say more because I didn’t want to admit how much I wanted all this to be ok now. I wanted Boy one free to not be ok.

Did you see my target? Boy one asked a few days later. I strung cans on baling twine so I can hang it from a tree.

Great idea, said my husband

Yeah, pretty cool, huh? Boy one kicked off his shoes. I love target practice. It’s just so relaxing.


And me mother heart breathes out again.

History of a BB Gun

1-IMG_8324When I was about 10, my brother and I were given a BB gun. Few gifts have ever meant more to me. I owned a BB gun and I could shoot things. I feel the need to apologize now (me having been a girl and all) for the delight I took in that gun. I didn’t have any apologies then. I was a pioneer for heaven’s sake, stuck by no fault of my own in the 1980’s. Obviously, I needed a gun.

I was born believing that the end of modern technology and a return to simpler times was merely a matter of time. Call it unflinching optimism. Whenever the pioneer times did return, I had no intention of gathering herbs or stirring pots. I needed hunting experience if I wanted to save myself from the gatherers fate assigned to my gender.

Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” references the sadness of innocent life, killed for no purpose. It’s one of my favourite books of all time. I love the story, but I also know about that bird.

My goal was to get a rabbit and bring it home for dinner. Bring it in the back door, say nothing, and put it on the kitchen counter like I did it every day. Even a squirrel would have made me happy, but every time I went out walking, I saw nothing but trees and grass.

Which is when I thought of chickadees. There was a big bush at the top of the bank by our front yard. Birds came to eat the berries. They flew off en mass all a flutter when I laid down on the grass nearby, but after a while, one came back. I shot it because that had been my plan. It fell to the ground. I dropped my gun and stumbled forward knelt and touched it. It was wounded but not yet dead. I laid on the ground beside the chickadee and sobbed. I stroked it softly at first, tears falling, then realized I didn’t have the right. The miracle I begged for did not come. When it was over, I buried the bird, still weeping.

I have explained the title of Harper Lee’s book to classes of thirteen year olds. I know, I have told them. I have done this thing. The darkness is not out there somewhere. It is inside us. Not all the lines you cross can be uncrossed. It is a thing in need of many tears, a thing to look in the face long enough to be sure you can say afterwards, no, never again.

Winter Survival Techniques

January  2013 193A fresh batch of applesauce cooking on the stove is a good start to surviving winter. I drove to Smyth’s Orchards last week, just down the road from where John Macintosh discovered and named the Macintosh apple. I got 3/4 of a bushel of Macs and their last 3/4 bushel of Cortlands. The mix makes the best applesauce ever. No sugar, no spice, just apples. I like doing up a few pots at a time for days so I can maximize the amount of time that the house smells like simmering apples. Not much can be amiss when hot applesauce is bubbling.

Envisioning yogurt helps too. I haven’t been able to make homemade yogurt for months. The house doesn’t stay warm enough in winter for the wrap the crock pot in towels overnight method. I am starting to pine for it. The first night above freezing and I’m going to give it a try. I spent my breakfast yesterday listening to the chatter with one ear and letting the rest of my brain imagine the taste and look of homemade yogurt.

Sunday afternoon I spent time reading about all the different friendly ways to kill things. I liked the word pictures about bowls of liquid full of those who have passed. The creatures pick a bad time to debut, just when your lagging, holding on to the hope of spring, they decide to invade. It’s a country life thing, the cluster flies, the Japanese beetles.The snow is still here. Spring still a dream, but they’ve started unpacking their suitcases and setting up shop for another season.

I watched some deer cross the road yesterday. They’re lagging too. I think the feeding station at the graveyard next door is keeping them going. I worry about the deer. Wonder if we should be putting hay out in the far field somewhere, or if if they’d even notice or care. I don’t share my ideas with my husband. The thought of paying money to put hay in an empty field for wild things his wife imagines are failing would stretch him beyond capacity.

Sunday afternoon I had agreed to paint.  I can’t say I ever look forward to art, but once everything is out, the table is spread with things and there’s a paintbrush in your hand, it’s not so bad. We opted to produce companion pieces on trees not in winter. I could have painted lopsided trees for a long time. I felt hungry for leaves and grass. After that I was just happy putting color on scraps of paper while I waited for the girls to tire.

We’ll see how things go. I’m starting to picture newspaper taped all over the kitchen walls, me and the kids with big paint brushes and four or five shades of bright. Or maybe no kids, maybe it’ll be just me and the paint.

Grounded with wings

Saturday was a deep thought day. I wasn’t feeling great. No suffering worth empathy, but my body was tired and fighting something. Of more significance, my insides were pensive, broody, and on the slow churn sorting out my trials. I was in the girls room because: a) it has a couch, b) it was quiet, and c) unlike my room, it is warm without blankets and a winter hat.

I stayed for a while. When I stood up to go, I noticed a small sign on the floor. In pink chalk, I read the words, “fly home.”


It felt like an answer. Fly home. Maybe it’s that simple, I said.

Fly where? said my other self.

Home. Simple. No matter the darkness, sometimes  we just need to fly home.  I could feel my spirit’s lifting. The magic, the miracles. Here, right when I needed it, a tiny message written for me. Fly home. Even written from hand of one of my lovely children.

Which is when my other side said – Why would they write that?

I took another look.

It wasn’t a sign. It was a little black box. Click. Processing information. Click.

So yeah. “Fly,” was an adjective explaining what kind of home the box was, not a verb followed by a destination.

I pondered it all for a minute. My disgusting children who cannot be convinced that flies are disease transport vehicles with bulging eyes. The helpful results of my misread. I thought about destroying yet another bug captivity contraption, but really what’s the use? I went and got the camera.

What the heck. It was good advice all around. Flying. Home. Kids to keep your feet on the ground. There’s gold in them there hills.

Lines are short, now’s a good time, fries anybody?

I have been working on a children’s novel for a few years now. I re-hauled it with some significant changes and hopefully better writing this fall. I get excited about it until I think about doing something with it. Then, I want to give up. I am a cheerer, not a seller, I want to scream.

The only thing I ever sold happily was French Fries, and I was young. It was a few weekends at a carnival type event. I cooked, and sold, cleaned up, oversaw my help, and hawked in the customers left, right and center to rave reviews from the organizers. I called in the customers at ten o’clock in the morning, a little impressed with myself about the skill it took to convince people to buy fresh cut fries before they see the sights or play the games. Now, I roll my eyes. Skills? Not likely. More like luring the already health challenged minions of junk food addicts to the first fix of the day. (I remind myself of this when we have a frugal month around here and I catch myself wondering where I could sell French fries. Yes, dear, I say to myself. You really are a very good French Fry cooker and seller, but do you want to feel like a drug dealer?)

We sell meat around here sometimes, but we sell it as a loss. Not on purpose. It helps us eat like kings and maintain the lifestyle we love, but we aren’t set up to be profitable. A friend says if you run the numbers, it takes at least 100 ewes to be profitable. We’ve got three pregnant ewes at the moment and no equipment for doing our own hay. The price is right for grass in the summer, winter feeding is a bit more pricey.

Publishing, everyone will tell you, is all about who you know. Super! Because I run into so many people out here in the woods you would not believe. My slightly reclusive, somewhat private, home is a happy hermitage approach to living is going to do very well in this model.

It would all be doom and gloom, but we just picked up the mail. A newsletter came from EastGen, a company we dealt with for about six minutes last summer. For the real farmers, the ad on the back might not stand out, but we don’t pretend to be real farmers. Updates from breeding companies are new to us.

“Ice Breaker Special,” it said. “For every fifty shots of semen, you can have 5 free from your choice of the following sires . . . ”

Is it redundant to explain why after I finished laughing, I thought I’d tack the ad to the wall of the laundry room?

Somebody out there sells bovine reproduction for a living. Selling a book? Well, it could be worse.


More Olympics

Two weeks ago I volunteered to run an Olympic Challenge at the kid’s school. Yesterday was the big day. Perfect weather. Lots of fun in the spirit of healthy competition. My kids came home exhausted and silly and went to bed rather easily. They slept like little logs. Preparations for the event left me a little challenged in a few other areas . . . namely, the completion of the piece I was working on for this morning, and the ability to think coherent thoughts. Time, and maybe a batch of homemade applesauce ought to fix that. In the meantime, I hope you are all much blessed today.

And may Canada win gold today in women’s curling and women’s hockey!

Go Canada!

Go Canada!

Sochi Dreams

New Moves

Training for PyeongChang

If the Olympics are meant to inspire, it’s working. The kids had a four day weekend and spent every day skating on the pond. We shovelled out our own little short track through two feet of snow, with a pass in the middle to keep things interesting. The gentlemen decided they needed a rink as well, so they could set up a net and take shots on each other. The winter that was beginning to drag transformed into marvelous.

We were divided as to whether our arena should be called little Sochi, or the Ice Palace, but we agreed that it was perfect. I timed the kids doing laps so they could race each other without bloodshed. We played tag until I gave up on ever catching boy two without plowing girl two into a snow bank on the way.

Canadian Ice Dancers, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (world champions, and recent silver medallists in Sochi) are the talk of the house. The three younger ones (all on hockey skates) practiced their spins and dreamt out loud about figure skating lessons. Part A of my split personality smiles from a distance at how sincerely they discuss whether or not they would like to be in the Olympics some day. They skate on an indoor rink once or twice a year, but the impossible distance of the Olympics means nothing to them.

Part B of my personality lifts a back foot ever so slightly down the long stretch of little Sochi to see what it might feel like to glide along on one foot. My skate is approximately 2 cm off the ice, the glide no more than a second, bulky snow pants and twenty year old purple jacket notwithstanding, but I am picturing it differently. Leg stretched back, parallel to smooth ice, arms outstretched eloquent in flight without wings, all billowing silk and ruffles and lace, I am.

Part A does alright. She keeps the laundry done and the dishes washed. Part B, well, I had to put her to bed early the last few nights so as to give her the longest possible chance to dream about becoming an unusually late blooming figure skater.

Picture time

Girl two and I got interested in the way the ice was coming off the roof. We accidentally knocked the screen out of the window, but got our picture.

Girl two and I got interested in the way the ice was coming off the roof. We accidentally knocked the screen out of the window, but got our picture.

Couldn't get rid of the screen for this picture. Girl one fills buckets with water from the faucet every night, then waits for boy one to come haul them out to the animals on a sled. This night I watched her hang upside down for about ten minutes while I made dinner. Finally, I got up and got my camera just as she was swinging up.

Couldn’t get rid of the screen for this picture. Girl one fills buckets with water from the faucet every night, then waits for boy one to come haul them out to the animals on a sled. This night I watched her hang upside down for about ten minutes while I made dinner. Finally, I got my camera.

Best picture goes to the Olympians. Boy one has had his riders carrying the flag all weekend. Go Canada!

Best picture goes to the Olympians. Boy one has his riders carrying the flag these days. Go Canada!







In my early twenties I was desperate to save myself, find true love, and do something that really mattered.  As you can imagine, I was not always completely coherent. Making so many life or death decisions and finding the world so black and white rendered me a little unsteady on my feet.

At 25, I married my husband. In my mind, we had entered into an arrangement whereby we had agreed to fight the bad guys together and if one of us fell, the other would stand and cover until we were both on our feet again. We loved each other in a great big exciting adventure kind of way. I thought perhaps we could save ourselves by saving others.

I awoke to discover that among other things, my husband was a thrasher. It takes him ten or so minutes each night to get mostly comfortable. Then he falls asleep and spends the rest of the night changing positions and yanking on the blankets. After a month of marriage I was beside myself. I cried exhausted hopeless tears that hardly fell because even if they formed a river and took out a wall, the crucible would hold.

Something happens in these places that I cannot explain. One day you are dying. (Even worse, you are saving no one.) You try to maintain whatever meager excuses for good manners you can muster in the midst of perishing by the pernicious hand of the trivial. Perishing is hard work, so a lot of the time you can’t even muster. The best you can do is to stand there with bad manners. A thousand of these go by. You wake up and somewhere in the trying, the stuff of you has shifted. In the nine square inches you have left to dance, it doesn’t seem that hard to keep your balance. Things are growing in the soil too tender yet to name. You wonder if it needs more water, more sunshine, but for the most part you leave it be. You’re not sure if meddling with miracles is a good idea. Perhaps best to just say thank you.