W: We Fall Apart

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My first brush with death came when my grandfather passed away. I was 3. The viewing was at the farmhouse and I remember I had to be a “good” girl and play quietly by myself. I remember playing with coloured pieces of paper, cut out by scissors, with puppies and kitties drawn in ink. I wonder who made those drawings? I also remember my Dad picking me up to say “goodbye” to my grandfather. He was so pale in his strange “bed”, and I wondered when Papa was going to wake up.

I’ve been told, however, that my brother, being 4 years my senior, crawled under a table and refused to come out.

My grandmother refused to have music in the house or at the funeral. She thought it would make her cry, and one does not cry in public. Ever. Not even on the day you bury the love of your life.

Not having music baffled me, since it’s such an integral part of my life. That was, until my best friend’s funeral. I could hum before I could speak, but when it came time to sing, I couldn’t make any sounds. I was the last to leave her graveside, even though it was winter and bitterly cold.

This month, I wrote a letter to my unborn baby, simply because I had an overwhelming need for her to know that she was loved.

This week, I sat for awhile with a Mom who lost her son last Fall. He had had a thriving practice, an active lifestyle, a beautiful fiancee. But he died, suddenly, in the night. She hasn’t been able to return to work, and life is anything but “normal”.  She showed me his picture. She showed me the cross she wears that he once wore faithfully. Though in obvious pain, she talked and talked about her beautiful boy. Her grief was palpable and bubbling over in her rush of words.

Grief touches us all, and it’s not always the loss of a person through death. It can be the loss a relationship, a job, a dream. We all cope with loss in different ways, because we are all different. I have seen people drop to their knees and howl at the heavens, and sit painfully still, whimpering like a wounded animal. I have seen people physically collapse; marriages too. I have seen eyes welling up unexpectedly in grocery stores, and others fighting to “carry on” because “that’s what you do”.

But in the end, we all fall apart.

And I think there’s beauty in that wilderness, in the intensity of our raw emotions. Perhaps not in the ways we fall apart, in how we express our grief, but in the simple fact that we do. Princes and paupers. Sinners or saints. Slave or free. In these ways, there is common bond.

And when we fall apart, when someone reaches out to us in those most vulnerable moments, I think that’s the most beautiful of all.

 But isn’t it beautiful the way we fall apart/
It’s magical and tragic all the ways we break our hearts/
So unpredictable…we think we’re invincible/
Completely unbreakable and maybe we are/
Isn’t it beautiful the way we fall apart.
We As Human, We Fall Apart

 

V is for Video Games: Why I Play Halo

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Halo Night

That’s right…tonight is Halo Night, probably the last one for a few months.

My oldest son scolded me earlier this month because I didn’t do “H is for Halo”. It’s his fault that I’m playing it now. It was a forbidden game in our house when he was much younger. I cited the usual…addiction to violence, inability to separate fantasy and reality, dangers to physical health, blah, blah… I tried playing it once, maybe 6 years ago. The controls were confusing. Actually, figuring out how to look around was confusing. It went like this:

“Nope, mom, that’s the sky. Look down. Too far, that’s your feet. Ok, now just…nope. You’re dead!”

I don’t know how he talked me into trying it ever again. But we did…together. I learned some things about myself as I learned to defend the universe.  I’ve been criticized for playing, told I need to “grow up”, but I believe part of growing up is discovering who you are, finding what you like to do, and not letting anyone steal your joy. Here’s why I play Halo:

6) It’s fun! It may not be your idea of a good time, and that’s OK. Go watch a documentary on the life cycle of a water beetle, drool in a recipe book, or inventory your lint trap collection. Find something that makes you happy.

5) It’s even more fun when it surprises others! Recently, an electrical apprentice struck up a conversation at work over the week he was there. He was shocked to find out I wasn’t in my 20s. He was shocked to find out I had a 27 year old son. He was shocked to find out I had a tattoo (considering I work in a church, for some…that is shocking)! At the end of the week, somehow, Halo came up. As he packed up his gear, he smiled at me and told me, “Jenn, you are full of surprises”! I’m a plain, quiet, middle-aged “church lady”, so…cool!

I’ve wasted far too much of the first half of my life crying, so I am determined to laugh more (even if it means by myself or laughing at myself – I will never cease to be amused). – jennsmidlifecrisis

4) For health reason. A 2003 study showed that action gamers were better than non-gamers at quickly processing complex info, estimating numbers, controlling their attention spatially, and switching between tasks. Video games can also  help with fine motor control and reaction time, as well as in developing strengths like patience, perseverance, and strategizing/problem-solving. I enjoy the mental stimulation of a challenge, and the euphoria of success!

3) I find it relaxing. I can zone out from the real world for a short time, which gives my mind and my body a break. I can take my frustrations in a place where I won’t cause harm. Increased dopamine helps reduce frustration. It’s one of the strongest drivers of work ethic because we focus on building successes or positive outcomes. Our brains then create optimistic and hopeful feelings. As our focus shifts to improving, it can heighten our sense of having control in a situation, which then transfers into the real world. We all, at times, need to “reboot”.

2) I can do it! There are a lot of things I can’t do, for one reason or another. I have physical limitations – the spirit is willing, but the body can’t keep up! I have mental limitations – math, for example, is not my friend! The gifts and talents I have been given are not transferrable to every area, in every part of the known universe. But in this world, I am strong. I am capable. I am in control. I feel like a dangerous and invincible warrior!

Warriors are those who choose to stand between their enemy and all that he loves or holds sacred – Author unknown

1) I get to spend time with my kid. He grew up too fast. He’s moved away and building his own life. I’m proud of him – that’s how it’s supposed to be. So if he still wants to hang out with me, from time to time, bring it on! Relationships are a two-way street. If I don’t take an interest in the things that interest him, we might drift apart, and I can’t bear the thought of not having him in my life. Besides, I’ve improving and sometimes, I can kick his butt!

Bonus – I get to do it in a hot body!

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U is for Ugly Underwear…

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Or more specifically Ugly Underwear Guy!

We bought our house in 2001, only a few years after Ugly Naked Guy, was first mentioned on the popular sitcom, Friends! Ugly Naked Guy was the nudist who lived across from Monica and Rachel’s apartment.

We purchased the house in July, touring it in the evening before the sun went down. We moved in on September 30th, when most of the leaves were still on the backyard trees. See where this is going?

So it wasn’t until we were  surveying our backyard by the light of the moon, somewhere around Christmas, that I noticed our neighbour was almost sporting a moon over the top of his “tighty whities”. His pasty-white, doughy belly hung over the waistband in the front. His equally blanched butt sagged below the legholes in the back. Everything undulated as he walked around his house. This man was clearly the king of his castle and obviously comfortable in his own skin.

He did everything in his underwear. Cook, clean, watch T.V. Everything!

I only saw him once with a lady in his living room. She was wearing a slip.

While we could never unsee the unbelievably unwelcome graphic display of this unconformist, we chose not to make Ugly Naked Guy the source of jests. But every now and then, I’d unintentionally catch a flash of unnaturally waxed flesh when I closed the blinds. I’d make an unsolicited comment to Hubby, “Ugly Naked Guy is home”, to which Hubby would groan, “Ugh”!

Ugly Naked Guy moved 2 or 3 years after we moved into the neighbourhood, but this untempter’s unflinching devotion to undress has not been forgotten.

Postscript: Aren’t you glad I didn’t take any photos?

 

 

T is for…

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I know…everyone who knows me is shocked right now because I didn’t write T is for Tea. They know I’m a huge “tea granny” – black, green, red, white, matcha, oolong, flavoured, herbal. It’s the first thing I consume in the morning, and often the last thing too. I have my own kettle and tea pot in my office. I even have a “supplier” who often offers to pick it up for me mid-day.  It’s not uncommon for my family to find cups of tea all over the house, and forgotten in the microwave. But writing about tea seemed too easy! This is suppposed to be a challenge!

My next thought was trees. My oldest son has every little boy’s dream job – he climbs trees for a living.

 Great idea…no time! The day got away on me, and as supper bubbled on the stove, my eyes roamed around the kitchen looking for quick inspiration. And I found it!

Salt Water Taffy.

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Years ago, my grandparents would travel to Florida every March, and they would return bearing gifts, sometimes including salt water taffy. I’d unwrap the white wax paper and bite into the soft, sticky taffy, while Grandpa grinned at me. I would tuck my handful of pastel-coloured treats in a safe place, and savour them for months.

Last year, my parents brought me a bag from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (their March haunt)…and I’ve been savouring them all year!

“It’s strange how memory gets twisted and pulled like taffy in its retelling, how a single event can mean something different to everyone present. – Lisa Unger

S is for Squirrel Games!

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Forget the Hunger Games, I am fighting the Squirrel Games. Like spiders, they are everywhere..hiding just out of reach, waiting to steal and destroy. We have black ones, gray ones, and red ones, and they invaded my territory! It’s psychological warfare.

They dig up my flowerpots. They leave nuts and half-eaten apples on my fence.

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Last year, someone (Squirrel!) ate my chocolate cupcakes, which I foolishly set outside for a few minutes to cool. I was baking for a bake sale and I ran out of room in my tiny ugly retro kitchen and dining room. I never saw the actual culprit, but his razor-sharp claws and fangs made fast work of those cupcakes and he left a little path of crumbs petering out down the steps.

I have been routinely, rudely awakened by squirrels digging at my window. Seriously, the only nut around that window is the squirrel. I started cranking the window open (I’m pretty cranky at 6 in the morning) – the window was half open when it noticed…and jumped straight up in the air and off the ledge. Fear not!  The shocked sciurine miraculously grabbed the edge with its back toes as it skydived headfirst toward the ground. The next morning, all I had to do was tap the window and say “boo” – it fled in abject terror!

Black Squirrel

Last Fall, someone (Squirrel!) ate my chair cushion and stole my panties! I think they were sending me a message, or was it retribution because I didn’t succomb to your “cutsey” posturing on my back porch railing and lay out a sweeter spread.

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Those cotton knickers were brand new, and I continue to have disturbing dreams of drunken squirrels doing people impressions.

They are getting bolder, They’ve taken to spying on us through the windows.

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I see them watching me from the treetops. They scream death threats too, every time I leave the house. There are news stories about kamakaze squirrel attacks.  I’m worried that one day, they will discover how to infiltrate my house and I will find one in my toilet. You laugh, but there are videos of it happening, on Youtube! I don’t know what I’m going to do! If it’s on the internet, it must be true.

So – if I suddenly disappear from this a-to-z challenge, you know where to point the authorities – to this blog post and the mug shots contained within it. Start with the Red Squirrel – I think he’s their lead…ack….

R is for Rome

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If money and time, and all the other reasons I don’t travel magically disappeared, I know where I’d go. It surprises me a little bit every time I think about it! Take me to the Eternal City – Rome!

I started saving for a trip to Europe when I was 8! I opened my first bank account and faithfully deposited my birthday money, my allowance, and my first paychecks. Nothing was going to keep me from seeing the Scottish moors, the English castles and the gorgeous green of Ireland. By high school, I had added France, Germany and Austria.

But it wasn’t until 1999, 18 years after I started saving my pennies, that I finally boarded a plane with my Mom for the trip of a lifetime…except that it didn’t include Scotland, Ireland, Austria or Germany. We would wend our way from Italy (Rome, Florence & Venice), Switzerland (Lucerne), France (Paris) and England (London), on a flying bus trip! The mornings were early, the pace grueling, and the temperatures scorching.

In all the cities we passed through, none captured my heart like Rome. Everything was covered in history. In North America, our history is so “young”. We don’t begin to treasure what little history we have, so we tear down and rebuild, losing character and history for “ticky-tack” houses and large box stores.

Being able to do this with my Mom made it extra special! We both  love history and so we soaked it all up. There was so much we missed, so much we were herded by with no time to ponder or reflect. We furiously wrote in journals, comparing our notes so that someday, as we sat graying in our chairs, a pot of tea between us, we could relive these moments.

If I could choose to go anywhere in the world, I would choose Rome. I would meander down quiet streets, and take time to sit in the piazzas to people-watch. I would wander leisurely through the ruins, worship quietly in the churches, and pause in the catacombs.

I may never get to visit the Eternal City again, but just in case….I’m learning Italian!

Forse un giorno!

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July 1999

She had always been fond of history, and here [in Rome] was history in the stones of the street and the atoms of the sunshine.”- Henry James

I Quit!

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Quit!

It’s not really a word in my vocabulary. Stubborn, obstinate, driven, perfectionistic…these words are part of the very fabric of my being. I would die fighting. Quit? No way!

I imagine there are permanent dents in the boards in the far corner of my hometown arena. If there aren’t, there should be. I must have fallen hundreds of times (on my knees, on my butt, on my face) and slid into the boards with a resounding thud, especially when I was learning to do a double-flip. I worked on it for months, on and off the ice. I think I landed on my feet only once. But I didn’t quit.

Math was not my subject but I diligently practiced – from roman numerals and fractions, to parabolas and quadratic equations – all through school. I always got As. I didn’t quit.

When I was a single parent and Big Guy was in the hospital for surgery (twice), I lived and studied in the in the hospital, leaving only to go to classes and write my college exams. (Thankfully my parents and grandparents filled in when I had to be away from the hospital). I did what I had to do…and I didn’t quit!

When my body failed me after Little Guy was born and I despaired that I would ever shower without tears, I didn’t quit! When I trained for Mud Hero, fully expecting to die in the woods on race day, I didn’t quit!

When life pushes me I push harder; What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. – Skillet, Not Gonna Die

But this week I made a decision in an ongoing situation. I quit! It may be for a short time. It may be forever.

I’m giving up something I’m passionate about, something that stretches me, something that I feel I was made to do. It hurts.

My decision isn’t a knee-jerk reaction. I’ve given it a lot of thought. I’ve taken time to pray, and to listen. And all I keep hearing is “He leads me beside still waters”.(PS. 23:)  I’m not sure I know what still waters sound like anymore. It’s been awhile since I’ve been still. There are always deadlines, always preparations for the “next thing”, always voices clamoring for my attention. Sometimes the ones in my own head are the loudest of all. Everything rushes by so quickly and I’m really wondering what important moments and important people are drowned out by the roar. I’m ready to be still, to watch, to listen. I’m hoping I rediscover Someone who captured my heart a long time ago.

But in this situation, for today, maybe for a number of days, I quit!

 

O is for Oaks – Vimy Oaks

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The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Every Canadian child will be taught about the battle of Vimy Ridge, which history marks as an iconic milestone in shaping Canada’s national identity. I think it’s important for our kids to know the parts their country played in those two world conflicts, and the costs. I have shared my family’s story with my kids because I want them to understand the personal cost. After the war, our world had to learn to reconcile our differences and strive to build a better world for the next generation.

This weekend, my aunt share a story that has been a 100 years in the making!

In 1917, following the battle of Vimy Ridge, Lt. Miller went for a walk on the battlefield, and gathered a handful of acorns. The regal oak trees he had written about seeing all over France, were destroyed. He sent those acorns to his family in Canada and asked that they be planted. Two years later, he returned home, married his sweetheart and started his farm, Vimy Oaks. The small acorns were starting too.

Tall  oaks from little acorns grow. – Proverb

In 1950, a random veteran saw the farm’s sign and decided to make inquiries. The two veterans of Vimy became fast friends, often working together on Miller’s farm. Miller, not having children of his own, enjoyed the company of the veteran and his boys. After the farm was sold in the 1960’s, one of the boys, Monty, continued to visit the Millers. Lt. Miller passed away in 1979 at the age of 90.

In 2004, Monty took his wife to Europe to retrace his father’s war experiences and visit the Vimy Memorial. He was struck by the bare landscape, and he started to think about the Oaks at the Farm.

Ideas are acorns. They’re only powerful because that acorn becomes an oak tree. – Bob Clemans

By 2014, the oaks were 10 metres high. With the help of the Vimy Foundation and a local nursery, shoots from the acorns were grafted onto root stock from British Columbian oaks. But the process to certify them for transportation to France was too complex.

In the Summer of 2016, Monty and his grandchildren gathered acorns from the Vimy Oak grove. They were taken to a nursery in France, where they were germinated and continue to grow. Meanwhile, with the help of donations, a small parcel of land has been purchased near the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, and once it has been de-mined in 2018, the tiny oaks will be planted. Beauty after the battle.

May our children, like these acorns, grow tall and strong and steadfast,
and may they always know peace.