Monday, 2 November 2009


I look forward to the evenings. I always have. Maybe it has something to do with the fact of my age. Or maybe it is because my mother told me that I was born “all grown up”. Some people enjoy the awakening of morning, the anticipation and mystery of an unfolding day. Others like the afternoon, the warmth, the vigour, the possibility of a new venture, a siesta or a rendezvous. Not me.

Now, it is not that I am a “night person”. It isn’t that I come alive at night, or that I haunted bars or nightclubs as a young woman. I don’t find darkness a stimulus for creativity or reproductive activities. I actually prefer all such activities in daylight. It has an obverse illicit feel somehow.

Night time is sunsets and bonfires and still water reflecting a full moon at midnight. It is also the portion of day when I would hold each of my children individually, just long enough to read them their bedtime story. They were a vigourous, busy bunch, my three. But by eight o’clock they were ready to cozy down, and if a story meant prolonging bedtime, that was just fine with them. I wonder who enjoyed it more. Grandchildren allow a déjà vu, however fleeting, of those precious moments, when little hands slip into mine, soft cheeks brush against my neck, and tender voices whisper, “read it again”.

And then and now my own bedtime. The ritual of fluffing pillows; laying them just so, to support a reading head; deciding which of the several books on the bedside table to enjoy on this particular night. In summer, lying scantily clad with the breezes blowing in the window; in winter with the heating pad to warm the quadrants of the body, inching the pad downward on ten minute intervals. And when it reaches the ankles and feet, it is time to turn out the lights. He comes to bed, finally, and I role over to hold him and sleep.

Thursday, 15 October 2009


I stand in front of the microwave, waiting impatiently for the two minutes required to heat my left-over coffee from yesterday’s brew. I think, “this is two minutes of my life, idly passing by.” I set the laundry dryer to thirty minutes needing the sweater that lies within for a luncheon visit with friends. In the late afternoon, I come home, tired but exhilarated, and climb into the hot tub, set the timer to the maximum twenty minutes and stretch out, relaxing until the buzzer signals that “time is up”. Meanwhile, dinner is in the oven with the timer set to an hour. Yet another hour of my life will have been neatly measured.

These mechanical timers are all useful gadgets in the day-to-day of our privileged, modern existence. But today I am thinking of a different era, when life was lived from dawn to dusk, when the sun or the moon were the timers of our lives. As children, we played until parents signaled “time is up”. We set to a task and did what we could till we were too tired to continue, or the daylight receded. We counted time, by the beginnings and conclusions of tasks, by the planting and harvesting of crops. Nature provided the cues for the passing of time. Even now, this October day, as I watch the leaves changing colour, virtually before my eyes, I think of the timelessness of this event in nature. It occurred before my birth and will cycle on after me.

We are all timers. Our internal clocks go tick-tock, tick-tock, like the metronome on top of the piano. Occasionally I try to turn off the timers, slow down the rhythms of the heart beats, in part to forget how quickly it is all passing by. Moments alone, by a fire, indoors or out, sitting by a lake, on top of a hill, in the garden, reading, thinking, or just imagining a tabula rasa state of being, provide that momentary stay again the intrusion of time.

Wordsworth’s lines from “Daffodils” come to mind:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood
They flash upon my inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

So here I sit, in the midst of all the beauty of my favourite season, and yet my mind is also thrusting ahead to the emergence of spring as time ticks away. It is all a grand illusion, this attempt to “play with time”. But play I must, since, each day becomes more precious than the last. So I harbor my memories jealously, bask in the moment selfishly, and wait patiently for the inevitability of spring.

Monday, 28 September 2009


When I was in grad school many years ago, the Professor, on the second week of a particular class, was checking attendance. Inevitably, students at the beginning of a new semester would add or drop courses after getting a preliminary overview of assignments and interests.

And so he asked, “Has anyone changed since last week.” Total silence. Clearly no meaningful business occurring here. At which point, being a mature student, and not at all shy in manner, I stood up and said, “Professor Mark, we have all changed since last week, in one way or another.” Pause. And then he smiled, allowing for a few titters from the small gathering.

But isn’t it the truth. We change daily, hourly. As women, we know we can spin from one mood to another depending on the right smile, hug, or brand of chardonnay. Sometimes the changes are not immediately perceptible. We wake up one morning and discover that our children are now adults, we have gray hair, or a new wrinkle, or an extra three pounds. How did that happen?

But when we break from the routines of our days, take holidays, spend time playing with grandchildren, get a massage, discover a new author, we can palpably feel the flow of energy, involvement, metamorphosing thought, word and deed.
Time slips away imperceptively if we let it. And like most women my age, I have alternated between running to keep up with family, career, the occasional crisis, and then living in reflection of so many events that passed too quickly without being fully savoured.

In an effort to stay the rampaging of my life, just a little, and because I am turning 69 this year, and therefore, theoretically, beginning my seventieth decade, I have decided to begin a year of living purposely, of taking more chances, and consciously planning at least one new experience for myself each month. Instead of time charging ahead of me, in spite of me. I am going to take control of my life, to create each day, week, and month of this first year, and ultimately the entire daring decade, with purpose and meaning. In other words, my goal is to explore the world and myself like never before.

I am equally excited about the “plan” and about chronicling the events, twists and turns. Part of my definition of “control” also means putting myself in the way of the unexpected. I will visit new areas of Canada, the USA, Paris, Venice. I will finish my novel. “Do I dare to eat a peach?” Of course I will. And I will not walk crablike backwards. I will greet each morning with a grand “Hello, Gorgeous”, and not let the parade pass me by. If not now, when? How about you? Come share the feast of finessing time with me.

Sunday, 9 August 2009


My early morning internet cruise this morning landed me on the lap of Charlie Rose (If only!!). I discovered an interview he did with Nora Ephron, who, next to both of my sisters,is one of the funniest women I know. Here she is in 2006 talking about men and women (her favourite theme), as well as Barack, Blogging, and Aging, delivered with her usual candor and simplicity of style. At one point she talks about Obama's writing and his ability to write a clean, decent sentence.

I thought afterwards about how the wisdom of "clean and decent" applies to so many aspects of ourselves and our lives. The day-to-day may drift, giving a pretence of simplicity, when indeed it is often convoluted, confused, distorted, and in an inevitable process of decay."The time is out of joint..." Reading and Listening to Nora sends me back to the power of humour to relax the jaw muscles, conserve the estrogen, and seek out the lushness of now.

Here is the interview:

Saturday, 8 August 2009


I was just talking to my sister, Norma, and she told me that she was in the midst of having a “perfect day”.

“Tell me what that looks like,” I asked.

And so she proceeded to explain that she had just been to see the movie,“Julia and Julie”, based on the blog written by Julie Powell, about her year of cooking all the recipes in Julia Child’s famous cookbook, “The Art of French Cooking”. She mentioned that one of the lines of the movie struck a chord. “What do you enjoy?” and the corollary to that, of course, is once you have answered that question, try to do more of it. For Norma, the answer was simple, cooking, crafts, and looking after her “nest” (aka, home and family).

To that end, Norma had just finished the initial stages of the beef bourguignon recipe from Julia's book and placed it in the oven for the requisite 2 hour harmony bake. In the interim she planned to begin a new knitting pattern, having just purchase silk and cotton threads from a local yarn shop. All this while her handyman, Ted, was doing, God knows what, creative maneuverings in the backyard of her "nest". Such productivity on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Well, I had to ponder that query a bit further for myself. And not that I was trying to one-up my darling sister, but I quickly realized that my list is quite long. In fairness, I am sure there are a dozen other items Norma could add to her list. But she was, at least for today, focusing on her top three. Well, thought I, how about if I focus on my top three as well. So I easily came up with the following:

talking to family
drinking wine

With that, I called Norma back to share the good news that I had found a lovely Vouvray in the wine cellar; was in the process of drinking my third sip; and pondering the challenging question from our earlier phone call. Given, that Julie Powell has a bestselling book and soon to be blockbuster movie from a simple blog that she had created over the course of a year of living gastronomically consumed, I figured it was time to get back to my own self-indulgent writing.

So here I sit, savouring the Vouvray, in awe of the power or words to drawn us out of our self-imposed lethargy, and pull us back into the activities that truly give our lives energy and meaning. As I post it, I imagine my friends and family reading my words, as if we were in real time conversing. An almost perfect day for me.

Another of my passions is actually, no kidding, cooking and eating. So with that I will away and promise to return very soon with more, much more, if only for my own sake. The pot is starting to come to a boil again. Oh, by the way, “What do you enjoy?”

Monday, 11 May 2009


I remember the first time I heard the word “motif”. It was and still is an enchanting word. Unlike “fractals”, which also refers to patterns, “motif” has a sweet gentleness to its power, like a butterfly wing. Fractals are associated with skulking the universe for nefarious collections of meaning. Motifs are repetition with variation, harmonies, rhythms that give cadence and reassurance to our lives. Fractals are scary. Aha, there goes another fractal, carrying with it apocalyptic secrets.

Fractals are those Dickensian caricatures, part animal, part human. Without a past or future, devoid of feeling or sentimentality, they just are. They don’t drive the plot of life, or contribute to the growth and nurturing of the main character. They are the undercurrents of existence lurking in roadside ditches or behind tall trees, under rocks or inside caves.

Motifs flutter and float among the reflective moments of our lives. We see them in the way a grandchild will repeat mannerisms of a distant relative. The Gandhi wisdom of a four year old, who says, “Let’s all try to get along.” The fairies at the bottom of the garden game repeats with each generation. Sometimes the pattern gets disrupted by an unbelieving child. But then an hour with Peter Pan, and the belief is restored.

Perhaps that’s the big difference. Motifs are about imagination and believing that there is meaning and purpose in the recurrence of events. Fractals are those logical, sometimes practical patterns and observations of the world. We dissect to understand fractals; we reflect on the power of motifs.

Monday, 20 April 2009


T.S. Eliot’s “Prufrock” had measured out his life in “coffee spoons”. It is a sad image of an idle, indolent, wasted life. Most of us would like to think that we could measure out our lives with far more significant markers. Some of these markers might give meaning to our lives, point to key associations of geography, indicate symbolic preferences, something about ourselves and our value systems. As I looked out from my back porch last night at the array of deciduous trees, Manitoba Maple, Poplar, Elm, Peach, Apple, Walnut, Catalpa, Hawthorne just anxious to burst forth their leafy show this spring, I thought of how my life has had many types of markers, perhaps the most vital being trees.

As I child it wasn’t any type of tree in particular, but more the awareness of an abundance of trees when, at the age of seven, we moved from the city to the country. My father loved nature and would take me and my sisters on annual spring excursions into the woods to see the first blooms of white and purple trilliums growing under the maple and poplar bows. In March we would go to a nearby sugar bush and watch the syrup dripping from the taps in the forest of maple trees. We would take our fingers and run them under the sap, licking the sticky syrup, sweet enough even before the boiling process.

As a young bride I moved to Northern Ontario where the triumvirate of Cambrian rocks, spring fed lakes, and large, verdant woodlands, imprinted themselves on my core self. Our home was built on the edge of a Lake and the land was populated by majestic white birch. Even in winter, devoid of leaves, the tall, graceful white columns added a majesty to our surroundings. Their smooth skin was a delight to touch. My children would dare to strip some bark from a tree to make various crafts, miniature canoes, or scribble secret messages on the interior side, to be hidden under rock crevices. Birches are not a hardy tree, and every few years the spring would reveal that yet another had succumbed to old age and the ravages of northern winters. And yet as they thinned themselves, the remaining ones appeared straighter, taller, and more magnificent than ever. I think of them now as anthropomorphised guardians of our lake home for so many years.

Now, in the trimester of my life, the trees that dominate are hawthorne. They thrive both at my home and at the cottage. Their prickly branches intertwine in gnarly, arthritic kinks. A strong wind will clip them of their weaker limbs. But spring encourages bright, white blossoms that camouflage the twisted limbs. Summer is all green and verdant, offering shade and colour. Bright red balls of inedible fruit tease us into fall. And then they drop, and the bare, intertwined limbs seem to clump closer to each other, as if to give reassurance as another winter approaches. They are an ironic tree, appearing vulnerable and yet asserting independence with their needle spines.

By turns, my trees have provided beauty, detachment, meditation, protection, and comfort. And, as I reflect, it seems that each one, that has presided over a period of my life, did so for a reason, and perhaps, in part, as an avatar of myself.

Sunday, 5 April 2009


In my junior years (as opposed to my senior years) we had a lot of ways to “soothe the soul”. We just didn’t realize we needed to answer that call literally. Just as well, since it was too soon in the evolution of a self, and therefore, would not have worked anyway.

I remember dancing to “Give me that ole time Rock and Roll; the kind of music that soothes the soul.” And we did rock and roll, and jump and jive, and jitterbug, at many parties, many times. We were young, in love, and full of energy. Soul music was for slow dancing. Soul food was exotic cuisine. Soul brothers were those gorgeous black men, like Sidney or Harry, who were verboten to young, white girls like me. At that time the term “soul” was an adjective rather than a noun. And why not. We were young, beautiful, energetic, and from some vantage points, immortal.

Only after a certain age, in this case, sixty, the term “soul” became a noun .Only then did I begin to examine more closely the elements that make up my soul and me. Since time immemorial, as the saying goes, “Soul searching” has been a prerogative of the young. And many sensitive, artistic, imaginative individuals have been on this quest throughout their very early years. I feel somehow melancoly for them and their futile search. As the expression goes, “it a takes a village” to raise a child. Similarly, it takes a good portion of a lifetime to create a soul. Before having lived and matured, “soul” is just a word, a meaningless word.

Trying to figure out what career path to take, or how to contribute to the welfare of humanity has nothing to do with one’s soul. Instead it is all about ego. Legitimate soul searching can only begin to happen after the ego has released its grip on ambition, vanity, greed and false altruism.

Today, as I was walking along the beach of my lake house, I felt a sense of awe at the grandeur of nature, the endless landscape of the water that was only halted by the commanding arm of the sky. The winter waves had rolled in more rocks, pebbles and sand.

I reminded of the brilliant novel by William Golding, “Lord of the Flies”. The story begins on a mountaintop, after a plane crash, with a handful of young school boys as the only survivors. The story, which evolves into grim contortions, concludes on a beach. In between, Golding makes boulders, rocks, pebbles, and sand, significant symbols and metaphors. Most importantly, he does so in that descending order, to correspond with the reversal of evolution playing out in the raw, naked edges of the world of these prepubescent boys.

And I thought about my own raw world, the evolution of my children, their ambitions, their focussed lives, just as mine had been. And I looked down at the whole panoply of rocks, pebbles, and sand. And I thought to myself, this experience of mine is so intimate, so personal, so illuminating, and yet, so much larger than me. And I suddenly felt a sense of warmth. Ironic how, when we realize that the world, and specifically, our world, does not revolve around us, there is such a sense of release, of freedom, of that “peace that passes understanding.”


The word is out. Those of us who think we are entering the last stages of our lives may really only be halfway there. Now, unlike the proverbial childhood journey to grandma’s place, “Are we there yet?” the possibility that grandma’s “place” is still a distance away, is awe inspiring. At the same time, it is not without its challenges.

According to the prominent medical voices of the day, keeping old age at a distance is not a passive activity. We need to be active participants in our own lives. But, I wonder, how does that differ from when I was younger? Certainly, throughout my adult life I was always careful about what I would eat, took regular exercise, and was constantly checking calendars to keep track of family schedules. Mind and body were rarely still. The soul wandered hither and yon. I didn’t much pay attention to that element of myself.

Now, in my senior adult years, I begin to dither. “What day is it?” I email someone, waiting for a response. Nothing arrives. I wonder if they are okay? Did they receive my email? Finally I get a response and realize it is only a day later. Time has this funny way of both expanding and compressing at the same time. What is going on here?It is as if the body is going through new calibrations. This internal control system is rebooting itself and saying something like:

Since you have been blessed to live in a safe, healthy country and you have strong genetic components, and you have lived a relatively balanced life up to this point, we will be reassigning you to track three with current extension options for track four. The Manual is still a work in progress, but we have the outline and the index. It looks something like this:

Eat small portions of healthy food at 3-4 hour intervals. Maintain a BMI of 24.
Get regular exercise. EVERY DAY.
Nurture yourself and your relationships with friends and family.
Get 8-9 hours sleep a night.
Laugh, love, hug, dance, sing, play.
Be mindful of the small moments of beauty and grace in your surroundings.
Drink lots of fluids, including red wine on occasion.

The list seems quite manageable to me. Almost too easy. I understand how living life forward is essential to good health. However, there is still trailing behind me the caboose of a life lived unwisely at times. And then I begin to question whether this second half of my life is possibly an opportunity for atonement, not in any religious or mythological way, but rather, as a time for gathering together the strands of my life, and allowing the soul, that has been waiting on the sidelines for so long, to work as a cleansing agent, to help clear away the grief, guilt, and sadness of past events. It is that element of “unconditional love” that we all carry around inside, taking for granted its presence, shoving it away most of the time in those busy early and middle years. But my soul has been patient, and must have known that at some point I would come to recognize its power and energy to revitalize my inner self. Yes, I am a part of all that I have met, done, said. Indeed so are we all. Now, I realize that it is time to sit still and listen to the inner voice of reassurance and renewal and love. It seems as essential as any of the tangible replenishments in a day.
Do you think they will remember to put that longevity feature in the Manual?

Monday, 16 March 2009


At my annual medical checkup this year, my doctor informed me that, given my present medical stats, my lifestyle and commitment to healthy living, my family history of longevity, current medical advances, and barring any ugly surprises, I could probably expect to live another 40 or even 50 years.

Needless to say, I walked out of that appointment on a John Denver high. I know, poor example. Or is it? Because, in fact, our lives, long or short, healthy or otherwise, are primarily under our own control. Fifty, forty, even thirty years is a whole other lifetime. So I began to think, if I were to assume that all those years are ahead of me, how would I want to live them?

Like many woman my age, we occasionally reflect on our past lives, what we would have changed, how we could have done a better job as wives, mothers, sisters, and friends. Dysfunctional is a modern social term. Frankly I think it is a very inadequate and damaging word. Along with words like happy, unhappy, successful, unsuccessful, it is meaningless and vague, with as many different definitions as there are individuals, and even then the meanings, like us, continue to evolve. Tolstoy wrote that all happy families are happy in the same way; unhappy families are unhappy in different ways. I prefer to revise the line such that all families are both happy and unhappy in ways unique to themselves.

We become experts at revisionist history, especially our own history. And that is how we multiply the lives we have lived and continue to overlap them with our present selves. It is also how we bury the demons and nurture the best parts of our lives into manageable memories, to help us moving forward. To be honest with myself, if I had it to do all over, I would change many parts of my past life. But, as Lear said, “That way lies madness.” Instead I find myself returning to a new refrain. How do I want to live my “second life?”

I begin by examining those elements of my life that are under my control. What I eat and drink. How much I exercise. Who I spend time with. How I spend my personal time. What projects, challenges I want to explore. Where I want to travel. How I want to share time with my family. How best to be a mother at a distance, and a grandmother at hand.

Suddenly the task of living this second life becomes full of questions and decisions. Perhaps the lingering regrets of parts of my first life are a result of having lived it carelessly and casually, taking so much for granted. Like the euphoria of stock market gains, we think the good times will never end. These glorious children will always be children. Income streams will continue to rise. Love and passion will never abate.

Clichés have their place as short forms to thinking, if only to help us get a head start on the program of living forward. Today is the first day…etc. How can I make each day valuable and productive? What is my idea of a good day? I will assemble a repertoire of moments that have given me pleasure; stock my portfolio with those occasions that provide the best returns; set manageable daily goals and create my own “Happiness Project”, living a life henceforth of least regrets. A daunting task, all this, but one I am fortunate to be able to begin. It may not be the road less travelled; on the contrary, I am hoping I will find many kindred “seconds” and even “thirds” along the way.

Monday, 9 February 2009


“You sound just like your mother.” How many of us have heard that phrase over the years? And how do we interpret it? For me, it has been both a compliment and a criticism. "Please, anything but that." Several years ago, my two sisters and I made a pact that we would try to honour the best of our mother, appreciate and respect those features of her personality and character that we admired, and rage, rage against any embarrassing elements that might somehow have made their way to our personal domains.

My mother has always had a youthful, melodic voice. She was the daughter of a Unitarian minister who was admired and respected for his oratorical skills. So, at ten years of age, while other girls were taking ballet or piano lessons, she was enrolled in elocution lessons, and as a result, even with only two years of post secondary education, she spoke with the precision of a Harvard graduate. It didn’t matter if we slouched, or held our fork awkwardly, although those points of etiquette were addressed, but “god forbid” that we mumbled, slurred, or mispronounced a word. “Speak up,” she would say. Or, in one of her scathing, sarcastic octaves, “Did you mean to say…?”

When my mother was in her fifties, she changed careers and realized a livelong dream of becoming a “nurse”. Well, not an RN exactly, but close. A family associate, who needed a temporary receptionist for his medical practice, called upon my mother to fill in for a few weeks. As sometimes happens, those weeks turned into years, as my mother, who had never been one to run an efficient household, suddenly found her niche as receptionist, bookkeeper, witness to patient examinations, and much more. On many occasions she would give needles and apply bandages. And when someone referred to her as “Nurse Ethel”, dressed as she was in her white uniform, she never bothered to correct them.

One day a young pregnant woman suddenly began haemorrhaging in the middle of the waiting room. Once Mom had urgently settled the woman in a separate room and called the doctor, she then quickly proceeded to clean up the mess on the floor. Ironically, her reasons for not training as a nurse had been because she couldn’t stand the sight of blood. Well, “God dammit”. She would say when retelling the story, "all these years I had been deceived by a myth of my own making."

The patients loved her ribald sense of humour and her "take no prisoners" attitude. You were either a “gorgeous creature” or “a silly bugger”. One quickly learned their place in the Nurse Ethel hierarchy of favourites. If she called you “darling” or “honey”, you knew you had a chance to get an early appointment. The term “sweetheart” could sometimes be delivered ambiguously. As in, “sweetheart, not a chance in hell.” Or, “sweetheart, forget it.” The voice could variously drip with honey or disgust in equal measure. It would be a kindness to say that she “did not suffer fools gladly”. In truth, she just did not suffer anyone she chose to dislike.

One of her favourite stories is of a young man (i.e. much younger than her) who had called several times, without success, for an immediate appointment. She liked his sense of humour on the phone this particular day and booked an appointment at the earliest date possible, concluding the phone call with her most charming, youthful voice.“Honey, I’ll look forward to seeing you next Tuesday.” At which point, he responded that he too was looking forward to finally meeting her. She chuckles as she says, “You should have seen the look on his face when he walked through the door, expecting to see some sweet, young receptionist and, instead, there I was, a plump, middle-aged, white haired grandmother.”

Up until last year, at the age of 93, my mother’s voice still had the youthful, playful lilt that I have always loved. This past year, after 3 bouts of bronchitis, and seemingly incessant coughing, she has suddenly assumed the raspy, sometimes childlike voice consistent with her age. Her sense of humour is still there, the sparkle in her eyes, and language that would make the devil quake, but I miss that marvellous voice. Maybe T. S. Eliot was right. It will all end someday, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Saturday, 24 January 2009


It’s been awhile now since I have had a dream that stayed with me in such a visceral way. Apparently, we all dream in some form or another during that phase called REM sleep, the deep, consolidating, replenishing phase that occurs in the later hours of sleep. Or as WS put it,"sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care." (Or not!). Perhaps that is why those dreams can appear so vivid, and we sometimes awaken still feeling disoriented. This type of confused awakening happened to me this morning.

In this particular dream I had discovered that I was one course short of completing or qualifying for some sort of designation. It obviously had to do with writing, because the workbooks and the test itself were all about language. I felt annoyed, confused, and frustrated. How could this be possible, with an honours degree, a specialist certificate in English, and two graduate degrees, where exactly was the gap, and how had I missed it?

One of the things that fascinates me about dreams is not so much the panorama of events, or the sideshow of images, but more the strong, intense feelings that the body generates. The heart beats faster, or so it seems; the brow furrows; fists clench; the body moans, groans, laughs, mutters. We are in another world, a parallel universe, living or reliving through memories, challenges, past or present problems.

So coming back to my dream, I began to wonder about its relevance or symbolism. Certainly, throughout my early adult life I was always taking one course or another. Teachers do that. But I also loved the world of academia. So while my children paddled in the water with their friends on a summer’s day, I enjoyed a lawn chair in the shade, with a text on whatever topic of literature I was currently pursuing. One of the motivating elements of those summer courses was that I got the reward of a grade that could accumulate into another category in my teaching grid, or another degree. I called it disciplined hedonism. It always felt good.

With this dream in mind, I could also venture into the deep, dark abyss of motherhood, and realize how inadequate my qualifications were in that department. I kept hoping that hugs, hot chocolate and warm cookies would do the trick. It seems to be working with my grandchildren. But one’s own progeny are more complex than that. I am sure, in fact I know, that I missed the grade, so to speak, on more than a few occasions in their young lives. And yet they have emerged as successful adults, by any reasonable standards. So I stand proud of them alone for being who they are.

A person can take full credit for a test score or a job well done. Those are measureable achievements. Children are not. Perhaps my dream was all about the feeling that I am missing a motherhood credential. One of the challenges of the second half of our lives is focusing on what we can change and what we can’t (thank you Reinhold Niebuhr), putting aside the self absorbed activities of youth and focusing on a more selfless approach to sharing our wisdom, experience, and energy with others, especially Grandchildren. Gosh I am trying my best in that department.

While I was chatting with my son last night to wish him Happy Birthday, he asked the usual, “What’s new?” I said that I was trying to complete the final draft of my novel (“You know; the one I have been working on for the past three years!”), by the end of this month in order to have it ready to send to a publisher for consideration. He said, “What novel?”

Now, he knows that I love to write, that I am always dabbling in something, and I have referenced my novel numerous times in the past. But he is living the life of the young, career oriented adult (husband and father), hearing words that don’t register, because his mind is so full of all the challenges and exigencies of his own day-to-day life. (Oh yes, that was me, not so long ago. Okay, I understand. )

I said one more thing to him. “Yes, I want to finish this first novel (with emphasis on first) so that I can legitimately call myself a writer (with emphasis on writer). His mortgaged mind immediately responded, “Yes, it would be good to get an income stream out of it.”

I didn’t choose motherhood, or take courses, for monetary gain. Nor am I under any delusions about making a fortune with my writing. We give birth, get an education, and do whatever else we do, garden, sculpt, paint, write, because it is in our bones, our hearts ,our visceral selves to do so. I write for the same reason that I love, because it is part of who I am. To misquote Jerry Maguire, “It completes me.” And obviously, as my dream reminded me, there is still some "completing" to do.

Sunday, 18 January 2009


The other day I began thinking about life as a series of interludes, a clever metaphor I thought, something like chapters in a novel. Yes, that’s right. Each of us is our own novel. But hold on. Within minutes, I realized that I was using the term incorrectly.

In actual fact, (I thought, correcting myself), while our life is, let’s allow, like an historical novel, although without the excitement, drama, and, god willing, the dire events that make a novel a riveting runaway bestseller, it is more like a chronological sequence of causal events, many of which are continuous and sustained over a long period of time.

For example, “She was born, educated, got married, lived a married life, had children, raised them, come hell or high water or chicken pox, interspersed, (God knows where she found the time) with a career, grandchildren, retired to a nursing home with visits from offspring, and then she died.” That would be it, and not too much of an exciting “it” at that, if it were not for, you guessed, the interludes.

To assist in clarifying my own thinking, I checked out the definition of my new found word-friend. Here it is:
1 : a usually short simple play or dramatic entertainment
2 : an intervening or interruptive period, space, or event : interval
3 : a musical composition inserted between the parts of a longer composition, a drama, or a religious service

Exactly, I thought, this definition fits my theory perfectly. John Steinbeck’s strategy in his famous novel, Cannery Row, was not only poetic, but also psychological brilliant. While the novel meanders casually through the lives of Mack and the Boys and their relationships with various members of the Salinas Valley community, without anything meaningful really happening, it is the chapter interludes that give the poetry and substance to the novel. So too, I suggest, is the case with many lives.

Let’s take, for instance, the interlude of a holiday. Now that is basic, brief and sometimes forgettable, but it is often the event that a couple or a family will return to again and again, in conversation. Do they narrate the details of breakfast cereal options or the sequence of birthday parties beginning at the age of two? Or even the twelve to thirteen years of schooling prior to work or university. No, it is the intervals between the day-to-day of our lives that sometimes have the greatest impact upon us.

I am not talking about a spa interlude, or a visit to the acupuncturist. I am referring to interludes with heft, those that have an impact on our lives, that give the pauses, and the punctuation. Sometimes they define or change the ongoing chronology of events. At other times they may just be what the purity of the word suggests, an interval, like a dam in the middle of a stream. The water stops temporarily, the natural flow is suspended. But then the pressure of the original momentum itself, breaks through the temporary interruption, and the flow continues. Maybe it’s a protracted illness, a near-death experience, a love affair, a period of sadness, depression even.

A family member went through a heartbreaking event in her late forties, which lasted three years. She now refers to it as her “little set-back”. In fact, once she “emerged” from the noonday demon, as it is referred to, she proceeded to reinvent herself, and to resume the intended chronology of her life with greater vigour and success.

Set-back or set-forward, an interlude can be one or both or more. I took a sabbatical from my teaching career when I turned fifty, (my little version of a mid-life crisis), in order to fulfill a long-time dream to achieve a doctorate degree. It was an interlude that relocated me to another city and consumed me twelve hours a day, for two years. And when it was done, it was done. I was surprised at how relatively insignificant the whole achievement felt. Immediately after, I resumed my teaching career, and my community/home life, as if I had only been gone a weekend. While it is an interlude I recall with pride and pleasure, I think I got a greater rush the summer that I ran a mile, non-stop, down to the end of our country road, something that I had “trained” for all summer with my kids.

So while interludes can be private, individual, shared, painful, joyous, they are identifiable markers in the journey we call our life. Too often I think we look at our lives as a total panorama, full of anecdotes about Uncle Charlie, or the new bike. But for the most part, they become a merged blur.

Perhaps it is worthwhile, as the sunflowers are drying on their stalks, to take one apart, piece by piece and notice the intricacies, the subtleties, the wonder, reflect upon the stages of the journey that make up a single living organism. We might be surprised as to how many (or how few) are in need of discarding and which ones we want to save carefully for replanting in the spring.

Thursday, 15 January 2009


I love fine jewelry, the more expensive the better, although I have never been one to wear a great deal at any time. I remember reading an article about an elegant society woman, whose preference was to wear only one exceptional piece at a time. If it was earrings, that was it, no necklace, bracelet, brooch. Just a single focus point, pure and simple. I began adopting that model for many years. Other than a requisite watch, I would wear only a single item. My other habit was to avoid costume jewelry. Much too tacky, I thought. It had to be gold, silver, diamonds or nothing. Just as well that I had chosen to decorate myself sparingly.

Over the years, (another benefit of time perhaps) the generous men in my life have gifted me with many beautiful pieces, so that after almost fifty years, I have assembled quite a collection. Recently I have begun surveying my jewelry boxes. I have even discussed “who gets what” with both of my daughters. Fortunately they chose differently, so no lottery required.

In more recent years, I have also begun to develop an appreciation for costume jewelry. Thanks to the collections of a few family members now deceased, I have an array of glistening and gaudy, grand and tawdry. My grandchildren delight in choosing from the collection to play dressup when they visit. Sometimes I let them each choose one piece to take home. And now that jewelry making, (repurposing new out of old) has become an au courant hobby, I am looking at the various semi-precious pieces with grander plans.

But here’s the curious thing. Recently, I have begun to actually wear more jewelry, more often. Even on days when I know I will be home, at the computer, in front of the stove or sink, I will adorn myself with earrings, necklace and sometimes even a bracelet. Almost garish, my mother would say.

My mother also tells me that her paternal grandmother wore earrings every day of her adult life, big, flashy, jeweled earrings. They were the first thing she attached to her body each morning. Whether gardening or baking the seven pies that she prepared each week for her husband and six sons, the earrings were the hallmark of her style.

The other day I put on a pair of large, round, sterling silver earrings that I have not worn for decades. It staggered me to realize that they were fifty years old, a gift from my first love, when I was eighteen. And they shone as if brand new. One of the beauties of jewelry, I suddenly realized, is that they contain memories. Clothing eventually wears out or shrinks. (That has happened to a lot of my clothing over the past few years.) But jewelry is eternal. The pharaohs had their jewels buried with them in their tombs, still intact to this day.

Now, when I put on a particular piece of jewelry, I feel I am connecting very viscerally with memories, my own history of past loves and generosities. And as I approach seventy, I am discovering that my natural inclination is to live a layered life, with past, present, and future comingling.

So I take new pictures of family at every opportunity and add them to the family archives. I pick up a ski sweater, that I will probably never wear again, from the bottom drawer of my bureau, and briefly hold it to my chest, reliving the swish of the skis, and the sun in my face. I replace it carefully, because, maybe just one more time, I might wear it. And I adorn myself in jewelry old and new, everyday, as if to wrap myself, in the most tangible way, with all the golden moments and brilliant people of my life. I love them all. This habit is becoming one of the most powerful urgings of my golden years.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

100 BOOKS IN 2009

I have signed up for the 100 BOOKS IN 2009 challenge as presented on J. KAYE'S BOOK BLOG.
Here are the guidelines:
1) You can join anytime as long as you don’t start reading your books prior to 2009.
2) This challenge is for 2009 only. The last day to have all your books read is December 31, 2009.
3) You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009.
4) If you don’t have a blog, please join our Yahoo Groups.
5) When you sign up under Mr. Linky, list the direct link to your post where your 100+ books will be listed. If you list just your blog’s URL, it will be removed.
6) All books count: children’s, YA, adults, fiction, non-fiction, how-tos, etc.
7) Feel free to post in the comment section or on Yahoo Groups your monthly progress as well as your favorite books that month.
Click Above
8) If you have any questions, feel free to ask below or email me at Comments usually get a quicker response.
powered by blogpoll***Update: You do not have to decided on your books ahead of time. You can add or subtract from your list during the year.

Such a clever idea. Each day I check Tessa's Nuts and Mutton blog to see where my discretionary time should be taking me. While our selection of books may vary, I certainly do take note of her selections and reviews.

Unlike others, I dont have a list complied. Instead I will just read books as the mood suits me. Titles and commentaries to follow. I hope you will join in on the fun and challenge.

Saturday, 3 January 2009


When I was still teaching my senior, cynical, know-it-all students, I would sometimes lapse into a good old “roll of the eyes” moment. I figured that if they refused to exercise their mind, they might as well exercise a body part close by. My “moment” would largely consist of extolling the beauty of a sunset and I would cite the writings and teachings of the American Transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. From a personal perspective I told them my goal was to try never to miss a sunrise or a sunset.

The sunset part is somehow easier to manage these days of indolent retirement. And it was with great delight that I happened upon this article by Bernard Baskin, in today’s Hamilton Spectator. One paragraph in particular opened up my morning. Rabbi Baskin referenced Ralph Waldo Emerson's idea that "if the sunset took place once every 10 years we would be so awed by its splendour and beauty that we would regard it as a miracle. But since it happens every day, we rarely pause to relish its wonder."

So, here is the first item on my list for the New Year. I will endeavour, each day of this year, to meet the evening sunset, with wonder and delight, wherever I may be, by the lake, the firepit, the porch, the roadside, the garden, the window. I hope you will find it possible to do so as well. I will be thinking of you.

The entire article by Rabbi Baskin is well worth a moment to enjoy, in advance of tonight’s sunset.

Thursday, 1 January 2009


Last night we watched “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. And in spite of Roger Ebert’s acerbic critique, we thoroughly enjoyed it. Jack was his usual rascally self, a persona that he has successfully cultivated on and off screen. The premise is simple. Two men, confronting imminent death, make a wish list of things they would like to do before they kick the bucket, so to speak. It is somehow a fitting theme to ponder on New Year’s Day.

Despite the fact that my sister always keeps her resolutions... (in a drawer) and that others consider this annual ritual silly and futile, I enjoy contemplating the year ahead, making plans, exploring possibilities. In doing so, it seems worthwhile to examine one’s own persona, if only to determine what will or will not be remotely possible. As Shakespeare said, “All the world’s stage/ And all the men and women merely players.” Well, discounting the word, “merely”, I think we all know that old Willy had us tagged correctly.

As we emerge from the sturm and drang of childhood, we take on various roles: wife, mother, friend, neighbour, career colleague. These roles become our identity points. And, like the career actors of the world, we have a persona, which is sometimes different from the self we live with, one that we present to the world, recalibrating to suit others, or the circumstances.

So, who are we really? Is there a self that we can pinpoint, readily identify. How many of us can easily answer the question. “Who am I?” More specifically, “Who am I, aside from external associations, deep down in the core of my being?

Maybe the answer doesn’t matter. Maybe identity cannot be determined in a vacuum. Like any good photograph the foreground is defined by its background. But, aha, a photograph is a two-dimensional figure, and we are not. In fact, just as psychologists are now realizing, there are multiple types of intelligences, so too, our characters, personalities, soul-selves are multi-layered, multi-faceted entities.

I will make my usual checklist this year: Lose more weight; get more exercise; declutter home and mind; do unto others, etc. But, in addition, this year, and thanks to Jack, I am going to try to do some things I have never done before. The list is not yet fully compiled. Of course, it includes finishing my novel. But I am also thinking about exploring new territory, areas of life that I have never tread before. I may tread lightly and tentatively at first. But who knows where my quest might lead, or what aspect of myself I might discover in the process. I will keep you posted.