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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Weekends With Dad

I get dressed in the early Sunday morning darkness, the memory of Saturday with dad still sticking in my throat. It was a tough one. Full of dad's confusion and frustration, and of my attempts to explain and console. So, I wake early, with worries on my heart. I chose a white sweater with the word "Peace" in shimmering silver letters. It's my prayer, and a sort of benediction I say over myself, and over my dad as I prepare to spend another hospital morning keeping his company.

In my years of working with the elderly, I've seen it all before. I'm not unfamiliar with the forgetfulness, the insistence that things are different than they appear, the frustration, even the anger that the elderly and confused can exhibit.

But its never been my dad before.

And so, of course it feels different. And even though I know its not personal, it hurts me on a personal level and leaves me feeling vulnerable and sad. This is my dad we're talking about: that strong leader type guy who people looked up to and respected. And now, he appears to be just another old guy in a hospital gown, convinced he can walk home, and that we, his family are standing in his way. Making trouble for him.

When we were kids in Sunday School, why my dad was still strong and served as Deacon, we used to sing a song that went like this:

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days, all the days of my life;

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days, all the days of my life.

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever,

And I shall feast at the table spread for me;

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days, all the days of my life."

My sister heard it this way: "Shirley, Goodness, And Mercy shall follow me", and she wondered aloud to our mother- "What sort of dress did Mercy wear?"

It's a good question, even now. When you're feeling sad and vulnerable, how can you recognize mercy if you're not sure what dress to look for? What will she look like?

Time spent with people in their days of fading light can be painful.

Sometimes impossibly boring.



Anxiety provoking.

At times it reduces me to big giant baby status, and I'm clamouring again for validation and approval. Begging for scraps as though I am not already enough.

Sometimes, the people you show up to sit with and love are a bit angry, and because their thinkers are kind of tanked, they're sort of peevish and quite insistent that you're making life difficult for them. Even though you know you just want to ease their pain. And then it all begins to feel a bit intense and a lot impossible, so you find yourself in the corridor with a few tears splashing down.

Weirdly and most unexpected- Mercy shows up wearing second hand sweatpants and a yellow hospital gown. Her eyes meet yours and within them, you see just enough kindness and goodness. She says she understands, she knows it hurts and she gives a big generous hug. She is well disguised as you hadn't quite envisioned Mercy as a home-schooling, unemployed mother of five doing her best with nowhere near enough funds.

But she too has a dad who she loves. Who yells at her for losing his walker, when the truth is she has secured it so that he won't fall, thinking of himself as well and able bodied. She brings all her children to the hospital with her, they wait at the end of the hall while she cuts his meat and spoon feeds him pineapple tidbits and chocolate pudding from a tray. He yells at her, and she tells him that she loves him. That she will keep showing up and sitting with him for eight hours at a time, feeding him meals and keeping him safe because she doesn't want him suffering with a broken hip or a broken leg, or the broken heart of being left alone.

I sit just behind the curtain and let the tears fall. There's no privacy here for family dynamics. I've heard her dad slam his fist and raise his voice in frustration. She has heard my dad insist that its time to go home, ask me if I've milked the cow, call me stubborn.

Sometimes, through the thin curtain, we stifle giggles and sighs, listening in on each other's joys and agonies whether we want to, intend to, or not.

Later in the evening when the daughter has left with her family, more guests arrive for her father. I sit quietly on our side of the tiny room, grateful for the rest that has finally come over my dad's mind and body. It's the man's relatives this time, or maybe the elders from his church. They speak to him in hushed tones and offer to pray for him, asking for strength to return to his bones. He tells them how his daughter makes him suffer and I want to defend her through my curtain, ask them to know her heart as well. The couple ask him- would you like a song? And they sing to him of "Hertzen" and "schmertzen". I can't help but laugh a little, even as I swab my eyes and cheeks- In German, even the words "I love you" sound terrifying in their throaty, spitty, hacking "ICH LIEBE DICH!" Silent no longer, I hear myself say- "What does "schmertzen" mean?"

Pain, the man says, and peeks at me from his side of the partition.

We want to pray for your dad, too, the man says. We will pray for him at home, if you like.


Peace, I say. Please pray for peace.

Goodness and Mercy.

They show up in outfits I really hadn't expected. Dresses that I would have dismissed as inadequate, inferior, dare I say- beneath me. But still they come to me wearing ugly hats and dirty jackets, stringy hair, and bad teeth. Practical shoes, head coverings, tired churchy words.

And I recognize that Mercy's dress is nothing at all what I had expected and that

It is enough.

It is more than enough.



Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Weird- only 37 days until we get to go somewhere hot, humid, and beautiful. A land flowing with guacamole and cervesa.

Last year when we were counting down, I felt like I was literally dying in the winter of 2014.

It was a terrible winter. Colder than any human should endure. Plus bronchitis, an unending cough, and a house full of the most obnoxious preschoolers I've ever endured.

We were totally stuck indoors- hacking, crying, and throwing endless tantrums.

It was the worst of times.

And soooo the best time ever for Brian to win a free trip. I clung to the thought of flying out of Winnipeg like Kate Winslet clung to her bit of Titanic debris. Dresses and bikinis came out of the closet weeks in advance, and I soothed myself through painful afternoons by reading endless reviews on trip advisor.

And when the countdown was finally over, we boarded that early morning flight to Cancun and embarked on seven of the most glorious days and nights of our lives.

Straight up bliss. Hair thick with salt water. Books by the stack. No cooking, cleaning, scheduling, or alarms. Flowers, green grass, trees and iguanas.

I stretched out and tried to fill every pore in my body with that sun.

In 37 sleeps, we get to do that all over again. It feels different this year- partly I imagine because we have done it before. Last year was the first time ever that Brian and I have done something so gloriously relaxing and inclusive. So, this year I know what to expect. I remember the pools, the hot concrete, the way the humidity beads your water glass. The orange juice and champagne at breakfast, the cats that wander by begging for scraps, the birds that swoop in to help clear the plates. I remember how light the ocean water makes you feel, the crinkle of salt on my skin and hair, the sounds of the birds in the early morning light.

And so when I let myself- I get excited. But this winter has been different- sure, the toddlers have shown more mercy, the worst offenders have replaced their tantrumming ways with words much of the time and the temperatures have been more tolerable. But the big difference is that now my dad lives in the hospital.

So this winter has been spent taking shifts to be with him, and there have been worrying times. Lately though, it seems that a "new normal" has taken shape, and we are cautiously easing into life with dad on new terms. So in ways, I'm not in any hurry for time to pass quickly.

But time will continue to pass. Mexico will approach, with her sun and greenery.

Countdowns of different kinds.


Monday, February 09, 2015

Retreat 2015

Retreat. Re-Treat.

Treats to relish, over and over again: beginning in the days and weeks leading up to retreat day, as I review and rediscover all the goodies in my sewing room and begin to choose what to pack up to share. To reuse.

Retreat has given me justification for purchasing gorgeous old thrifted sewing machines. What an honor! To think of the woman (I'll go ahead and make that assumption) who held this before me, and to wonder at what she created with it. So lovingly cared for Pfaffy, as she is now affectionately known, is a gem, complete with accessory box, original manual, and brilliantly designed carrying case.

And with just a few whiny panic texts to my brother in law (Master of All Things Sewing Machine), I got her all oiled up and massaged away all her tension.

I carefully took old Singer Featherweight from her box and ran my fingers across her beautiful lines, reaquainting ourselves on her intricacies. Whenever she and I spend time together, I can't help but be flooded with gratitude and astonishment, as this piece was a gift. Straight up. Someone trusted me with their grandmother's treasure, and treasure her I do.

My trusty berninas, Singer, Royal Red and Pfaffy all passed inspection.

And I'm fairly certain they received a special blessing from Floey the Praying Cat. A sort of "God speed! Travelling mercies! I'll be here awaiting your return and tales of reuse and retreat!"

Our day at Bonnie's begins with hot strong fairtrade coffee and cinnamon buns so ridiculous that I coughed and lied and ponied up for seconds. Then we meet in the cabin for poetry, contemplative thinking, quiet meditation. Something always gets said that makes me think- "I thought I was the only bear to have thunk such thinky thoughts." Which just gets me thinking the more.

Then its time for workshops, and I can share my loves.

And while we are creating and recreating, smells begin to climb the circular staircase and lure us away from Pfaffy, and Ruby Red, fibers, weaves, lacy bits and crochet flowers.

And that's how we travel through our day, meeting and dispersing, talking and stitching, laughing, crying, talking, reflecting.

Why do I love retreat?

It's a place where raw edges come together. A place for women to meet, tell their truths, listen to one another. A place to challenge the mind and the fingers with new perspectives and new skills. It's a safe place for the homeschool mom, the grandmother, the daughters, the educators, the students, the hippies and the professionals. We hear each other and nod at our commonalities, our mutual desires to live well, to care for the earth and its occupants, to take the edges of someone's pain and match it up against our own raw edge and find something lovely there.

A sort of redemption. As we reuse, rethink, reflect and



Monday, February 02, 2015


A little over two weeks ago I sat at my parents' kitchen island and shared in their breakfast rituals. First mom and dad took turns with the Bible reading and the Daily Bread. Then they dug into their raisin bran and homemade yogurt as only an 88 and 92 year old can. Dad struggling to make the spoon meet his mouth and mom pouring milk from the same rose pitcher we used when I was a child.

Later that day, my brother and I drove our dad to the hospital. He'd had a rough week, and we suspected an infection. He wasn't moving well, he wasn't remembering well, and nobody was sleeping well at all.

Now dad lives in room One-Ten.

On Sunday mornings I take the foil off his plastic carton of milk.

And together, we read the Daily Bread.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Some Thoughts

For days I have yearned to sit at my keyboard and pour myself out.

To reach into the sadness and gladness and all the profound and ordinary. To lay it all out and wrap it in words, and move it from churning into sentence and paragraph.

But I've not yet found that sweet release, and with each new try the words look cheap and profane. Too contrived to be authentic.

Let me say this, for sure.

That life is so short (see, how cheap, how ordinary, how tired these words appear?)

That kindness matters.


What doesn't matter, though I sweat and strain as though it does, is that

my kitchen cupboard doors are ugly

and the bathroom vanity is swelling.

I've grown a poochy little belly and

liver spots are cropping up on my face

I didn't pay my credit card in full.

or put the bikes in the garage before the snow.


It won't matter.

It doesn't really matter.


Here's the part where words won't help me say what does matter

because it will sound trite to talk about


It will sound contrived to talk about making sure that people are seen, and valued.

or to speak of sticking up for annoying people (because they usually annoy me, and I wish they would just go away).

It will all sound tired.

I know firsthand how impossible it is to be kind to little children at times, even though it matters.

I know how hard it is to forgive little and medium sized hurts, not to mention massive, horrific, life-altering wrongs.

It's even hard for me to tolerate the girl at McDonalds who puts an "X" in ESPRESSO when there clearly is no x.

So why would it make any sense for me to attempt to wax poetic on being kind, on caring for others, on "keeping the patient comfortable, and handing out tumblers of cool water", as Anne Lamott has been teaching me.

I can't ask you to learn from me, but I can say this. I think this is what it all comes down to- to show up. To care. To keep your patients comfortable and hydrated. To let your heart break. To not get too comfortable with your storing up and hoarding for the future. To say the stuff that's hard to say, but is true and good and Holy in some inexplicable way.

Even as you hate the colour of your bathroom and the laminate is cheap and chipping and the car has a billion thousand kilometers and the driveway isn't even paved.

Even as the kids pee on your kitchen chairs and floors and what you think you really want is for them all to go away.

Little urges and senses will come to you, and they may smell like banana bread or red wine, and you will know that its time to distribute the elements. To get off your pinchy, grumpy little self involved attitude and cut some slices to hand out with glasses of cool water or wine to share. Even if it feels a bit uncomfortable, and you're not sure your people even like banana bread.

Or maybe you'll know to just sit with your tribe and study their eyes and kiss their bald heads and nod while they tell you stories that make no real sense but that pour out of their old bodies like incense or rain.

And although you know that you're mean and self indulgent and grumpy, it will all return to you, your hands and heart overflowing. Your eyes will overflow too, and you'll be glad you always forget about make-up and that kleenex is cheap and you'll remember that life is short and precious. In that overflowing, it will matter less that your cupboards suck and your floor is broken, that you always forget to remind your kids to brush their teeth, and that your boy's room hasn't been vacuumed in a fortnight or twelve, or that your thighs are touching in weirder ways than they did when you were in your thirties.

These, I suspect, are some of the things that do matter. And on good days, it's not so hard to see that the profound is all mixed up with the ordinary, and if you blink, or spend your time sweating over those cupboard doors,

You just might miss it all.


Friday, January 09, 2015

All The New Year's Resolutions

  1. Only Ever wear stretchy pants. Ever. (when it's just barely January, and you're trying really, really hard not to hate yourself for the box of wine and bottles of wine and maybe the spiced rum too. oh- and the chocolates. All the chocolates. And then there was that beer-querita night- oy vay.)
  2. Dance Party, at home in the living room. Always. Someone once coined the phrase: "dance like no one's watching". Pfffft. In your own living room, no one IS watching. And if they happen to pass by to fetch a snack or use the toilet, they scurry with haste back to their bedrooms in shame and humiliation. Yay! alone time.
  3. Consumerism. Because thrift shops, forever.
  4. Bring back spice racks! Spice racks were the best idea ever. What happened?
  5. Learn about tire pressure gauges, so that its possible to put air in tires without being afraid of blowing one's face off. I'm terrified of losing my face right beside the Co-op gas bar, and when I'm found (faceless but identifiable because of my Ugly Legs) people will just laugh and laugh and point and say- "She didn't know how to use a tire pressure gauge?!
  6. Give up on Ideal Parenting, because clearly, I Suck.
  7. Keep redefining your identity. Because, keep 'em guessing.
  8. If you decide that you're a Lulu lemon girl, keep your eyes peeled for the $1.60 sales tags. (Altona MCC thrift shop, last weekend. Sorry you missed it.)
  9. Raise your kids right, even if you're a terrible parent.

(honour her request for a day of thrifting together, even if you'd rather be at a High End Mall with all the Cool Kids.)

10. Never pass a McDonalds without purchasing a medium coffee- one cream, one sugar, one espresso shot. And if the girl or boy who takes your order says "EXpresso" - hit them. Hard. I'm talking- classic bitch slap. Go for it. Trust me, they asked for it. There is no X in espresso.

11. Debunk the mysteries of the freezers.

Every fall, we purchase a whack-load of chickens from a free range farmer that we know. These birds take up a fair piece of space, and keep us in fowl all year. One fall when the chickens were due to die, we had a sore lack of freezer space, so Brian bought another one off of kijiji (my second love). From that day on forward, there were two: The Old Freezer, and The New Freezer. Of course, the New Freezer was not actually new. But.

What happened next may not be a mystery to you seasoned dual freezer owners.

We now have two deep freezers full of stuff, and nothing to eat except frozen dead chickens and some summer sorrel for summa borscht that no one ever makes. So, this long, cold, dark winter, I plan to eat my way through the freezers.

In my stretchy pants.

It's going to be an amazing year like no other, I can just tell. Because- all the resolutions.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Life With Really Ugly Legs

I imagine it was an undiagnosed congenital disease, since I barely remember a time that I wasn't hyper conscious that I wasn't like the other kids. By grade six, at the tender age of eleven, I was actively trying to do something about my condition. It was the year my mom required us to pack our own lunches, and let it suffice to say, that mine was left sorely lacking.

By the age of eighteen it must have been catastrophic, since it was at that time I began to puke my guts out. And not from the flu, either. More of a "home remedy" sort of approach to prevention against the fear of growing further out of control.
Often, I could tell that other people didn't notice my curse. They would comment on my skinny-ness, and how lucky I was. I needed that so badly, as I felt I had so little going for me in the broader arenas of personality or intellect. I had a serious deficit in "coolness factor" that no one could deny.
So, I went with skinny, even though I knew how ugly I was. And I puked my guts out because I had to hold the inevitable at bay. Getting fatter would only accelerate the condition.
Somehow I was always a pretty happy person, smiling and laughing a lot so by hook or by crook, I managed to get some dates. I kept smiling a lot, even when I thought the guys were total idiots, because I didn't want them to find out that I had no personality and no brain. So, sometimes they would think they wanted to marry me, since it was a pretty good deal from their angle. That's when I really had to bolt, since I hadn't even been honest about my problems, and if they knew me at all, they'd start laughing and running and not stop until they reached the sunshine coast.
By the time I met Brian, I was pretty tired of smiling all the time, and super tired of puking. So I told him all my terrible truths, especially the one about my legs being really ugly. I cautioned him that the condition was irreversible, chronic, and progressive and that he may want to consider his options, and quite possibly take up the sort of long distance running where you never, ever look back. But Brian was distracted by my breasts, I think, and kind of tuned out of the whole bit about the legs. Maybe he thought it wasn't really a big deal, just a little something that would clear up,over time.
He was wrong about that.

We're more than twenty-two years in now, and my legs are uglier than ever.


But Brian's legs are strong and beautiful, and since he has stayed married to me despite my condition, I like to think of them as at least half mine.


With his legs and mine, we even managed to compile a gorgeous family. Incredible.


A few years ago, I started to think about this word: "Enough". I'm pretty sure it was after a cousin told me that she had finally aligned herself with the truth that she was enough.

It sounded big and daring and bold to me. Outside of my reach.

But, it played on my brain, and I started to wonder about living as though I too were enough. Thin enough, smart enough, bold enough. Just for today. And to say ENOUGH! to things and thoughts in my life that were choking out the good, making the air feel thin and raw, and like I had to gasp and claw for a little place to feel safe in. Maybe there was already enough space for me.

So, one summer day at the beach, I didn't cover up my Really Ugly Legs when I went for a little walkabout. I noticed a lady doing henna tattoos, and I decided to practise wearing a visual reminder to myself that my legs were good enough.
Thing is, my legs have taken me to so many interesting places. Have carried my body and my eyes on such beautiful adventures.
My ugly legs, so utterly lacking in coolness, have been welcomed into some Very Cool atmospheres, where the Ultra Cool people hang out, playing their instruments and chatting about the book learnin'.
Perhaps one of the greatest surprises of investigating the enoughness concept has been that these Ugly Old Legs of mine have carried me through some very turbulent waters of terror, and into the local cross fit gym. These legs have remembered how to skip, have learned how to squat, and how to do a little jog.
My gym friends don't seem to notice my condition, and if they do, we are too busy laughing and loving on each other to take much notice about my ugly legs.

Last summer, my legs went ahead and did some other ridiculous things that I hadn't thought they were capable of. Like, participating in the local Imagine run for Mental Health, and much to my surprise, managing to run four out of the five kilometres that were set out before me. Evidently, cellulite in no way impedes the ability in thighs to grow tiny muscles and just keep moving.
And equally, if not more remarkable, was that my legs began to dance. It was the darnedest thing, that will live in the legends of Blunderview for generations to come. These nearly atrophied, entirely repressed Mennonite legs, with a pretty serious case of RUL, began to dance. They danced for hour upon hour, as the townspeople stood agog and aghast at this thing that had come to pass.
For sure, there are days when my condition feels crippling and my mind and eyes can't see straight. All I see is shame, disgust, and horror when I look down at the sags and bags, cellulite, fat, veins, lumpy mashed potatoey mess that is my legs.
But if I could gather up that little girl in the chevron fortrel pants, I would tell her not to waste a minute of her precious life worrying about the state of her limbs. I would tell her to pump her legs on the swing and go really high and really far, to use her legs to explore the big tree in the garden, and to love on her legs early on so that they know they are enough.
I'm pretty sure that 50, 60, and 70 year old Joyce would like to sit 47 year old Joyce down to do some leg talk too. I imagine them encouraging younger Joyce to stay mobile, limber, to use those legs to live out her life.
They might even say- "You think your legs are ugly now? Whoa mama! Those were the good old days, cuz now we be living with Really Ugly Legs!"
And I would try to remind them, in the kindest way I know how, that our legs are enough.
Just the way they are.