Sunday, February 27, 2011


Well, finally it is here. A huge dump of snow, that has been predicted for months now. It is lovely, big fat flakes, lining the trees, covering the roads, making it so very quiet in this busy, noisy city.
So I can relax. I don't have to go prep, not badly enough to dig out the car, or deal with the slippery roads. I don't have to shop. I am sure I can find something to rustle up for lunch and dinner in the cupboards and fridge. I don't have to 'do' anything.
So, I sit, and type, and listen to Stuart McLean's Vinyl favourite Sunday afternoon activity.
I plan to knit, and catch up on tv programs missed, and knit, and sit in front of the fire. And, I might even stay in my pajamas.

When the kids were little a snowfall like this meant bundling up in snowsuits, dragging out the sleds and snowracer and meeting the neighbours outside on the hill that is our front street.

But, now I am content to sit inside the kitchen, warm and cozy watching the snow fall in huge, overwhelming flakes.

I chatted briefly to my son, in England, over skype, and I am awaiting our weekly phone chat with my daughter, in Nova Scotia. How can it be that I, born and raised in this city, a resident of the same home for 25 years, can have children that are so very far from home. So very far from home.

I miss them. Not always, but often. It is so trite to talk about how quickly they grow up, how quickly those years of dependence and responsibility go by. Trite, but true.

And they are remarkable. Each, in their own way, is remarkable. They are doing things I was afraid to do, or never thought to do, or didn't know I could do.

So I remember snowy walks, and rosy cheeks, and childhood laughter. I have them tucked safely in my heart, sitting with me in front of the fire, watching the snow fall.

They are elsewhere. I hope I am safely tucked in their hearts no matter where they go and what they do.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

This is what 55 looks like...

I have always been conscious of what I look like in a bathing suit. Always. At 15, when my body was 'bikini' worthy, at 28, when I was 'triathlon' worthy, at 35 when my body was 'two babies' worthy, and, well, you get the picture.

In my 30s I made peace with it all, even spending many summer days on the clothing optional was 'ok' surrounded by the love of family, and strangers.

In my 50s I delighted in hot-tub parties with my dear, dear women friends. Naked in the hot-tub, trying to be 'ok' that my body was not what it once was, what it ever was.

But then, last night, something amazing happened. I just let it all go. I am 55. I am a woman who carries weight, in the metaphoric and literal sense. People who know me know that I am 55 and I am a not a slender woman. So, why would I balk at enjoying a hot tub because I am not slim.

I wanted to go to the hot-tub last night. I was tired, and had had a long, headachey day. I was heading with two good girl-friends. We were going to the hot-tub - just the girls.

But then, I got there, and there was, gasp, a man there! But, ya know what? I really wanted to go into that hot-tub, and I didn't have my bathing, what the hell, I just went for it. I just stood there, took off my clothes, and walked into the hot-tub. I don't think it was a surprise to anyone that this 55 year old woman, whom they have seen for years, in her clothes, has a 55 year old body.

And it was wonderful. I was wonderful.
And besides,
I am not a slender woman,
I am rubenesque.
So there!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

my life the movie

So, if they made my life into a movie, who would play me? Who would play all the people in my life?

Ellen Burstyn comes to mind for me. Kathy Bates for my dear sister. Kevin Bacon for my older brother. Ellen Page for my daughter. Emile Hirsch for my son. Richard Gere for my husband (Jerry Garcia is a better choice, but he is no longer available, so, hey, why not Richard?). Julia Roberts and Vanessa Redgrave for my two good friends. Kevin Spacey for my younger brother... well you get the idea.

What would a movie about my life focus on? Me, the teacher? Me, the mother? Me, the wife? Actually I think I wouldn't be the focus of my own movie, but more that background character, the lead character's friend that gets the call to come watch the kids, or make tea, or just listen.. while the lead character goes and refinishes the villa in Tuscany, or has the weekend affair.....

I do think, if I was to star in my own move, it would be an Eat, Pray, Love kind of thing......I could see me doing the ashram thing, the convent thing, the camino maybe my movie would be: Yoga, Silence, Meditate. Or Walk, Swim, Sleep.

So, yes, Ellen Burstyn. Or, Joanne Woodward.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

4, or 5 , or 11 left

Sight. Quite simple, really. One of our 5 senses in the common vernacular, or 6, if you include psychic sense, or 12, if you are an anthroposophist. Don't ask, it's complicated. Anyways, sight. Lately, I have been loosing mine. The tv is blurry, I can't read the words on the screen, I can't drive at night, or on cloudy, rainy days, and, in fact, I can't really see the students in the back row of my classroom. Don't tell them that, because then God knows what they will get up to back there.

Not being able to see makes me cranky and tired. It is so much effort to not be able to see the flipchart in a meeting, or the street sign, or the aisle signs in a grocery or department store. I remember a friend of mine saying that at the end of the day working in English, her second language, she was exhausted. My son, who spent 6 days in Quebec, surrounded by french only speakers, talked about how exhausting it was. Not being able to see is exhausting. It is like listening to a foreign language. All day! By 8 in the morning my eye is twitching with fatigue, and the cranky meter goes directly into the red zone. By 9:30 at night I am exhausted.

So, surgery is in the future. Hopefully, they say, replacing the lens to repair the cataract will improve my sight. Of course there are no guarantees. Well, when someone wants to cut into my eye, I would like guarantees. I know? Silly, right? I can be so unreasonable at times.

And I know there are worse things in people's lives. I know that cataract surgery is common. Lots of people are telling me 'It's no big deal'. But I also know that to me it is a big deal. And it pisses me off.

I hate not being able to drive when I want, and I hate feeling helpless in a grocery store. I am 55 for God's sake, and I don't think it is too much to ask that I can see the person across from me in a meeting, or the street sign the gps is telling me to look for, or the fricking time clock on the football or hockey game.

Just sayin!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The still small voice

People who knew me in elementary and high school would say I was shy. People who know me in my 'teacher' mode might see me as extroverted. I am not.
Taking a Myers Briggs tests years ago confirmed what I always knew. I am an introvert. I first realized this at a dinner party about ten years ago. It was a greek restaurant, and, you probably guessed it, the belly-dancer showed up.
I hate belly dancers, mostly because they come over to your table and try to get you to dance too.
Three women at my table leapt up and starting dancing with her. There I was, luckily sitting with my back against a wall on the bench seat, with two male colleagues on either side of me. I grabbed the arm of each of them and whispered urgently that they were not to move until the dancer had vacated the premises! Thank God they complied. It was really my first inkling that I am indeed an introvert....those three women dancing on the floor out there? Extroverts!
This is not to say that I can't be funny and entertaining at parties. If I have a good yarn to spin, then I will spin away.....but mostly at parties, and gatherings, I sit and watch and think that everyone is having a much better time than I am. Everyone seems to be being greeted by long lost friends. Everyone seems to be having a much more interesting conversation than the one I am having, or not having.
Me? I like dinners with one person, maybe two. I love to be around people who are entertaining. I love to watch the interactions of others. I don't like to be watched.
I am not an academic. I try to read academic journals, articles, but I can't follow it, can't quote it, can't really get into it. I just know what I know. I used to try to pretend to be an academic but it was too stressful. I now tell people, out loud, "I am not an academic", just so there are no surprises, or disappointments.

When something isn't right in my life, or in the lives of people close to me, my heart hurts. This isn't metaphoric. It actually begins to ache. I have learned in my life to listen to my heart when it aches. It is never wrong. When my heart aches then I know there is something I must say. I know that I have to say it. It always turns out to be that which had to be said. You can imagine, for me, and perhaps for those around me, this can be a curse, and perhaps sometimes a blessing.

My heart also aches when I stand between two people who are in conflict with each other. It doesn't have to be spoken. My heart knows when conflict is there. It took me years to protect my heart from issues that weren't mine. Years.

So I have to protect my heart. That is really all you need to know about me. I am an introvert, and an intuitive, and I have to protect my heart.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Georgina's bedroom

When I was a girl I would often spend the night at my Aunt Georgina's house. She lived with her mother, my grandmother, in a wonderful old house in Vancouver's Mackenzie Heights.
Her bedroom was up this wonderful wooden stairway. They were painted brown, and there was no carpet on them. Just brown wood that echoed as you clopped up them to bed. Her bedroom was like a fairy land to me. A double bed with matching vanity and dresser, and a walk-in closet. Her room was always incredibly tidy with a white chenille bedspread and white draped curtains. A little ceramic dutch boy and girl sat on a small shelf. She had only two books in her room that I remember - Little Women and Jo's Boys.
The ritual of bedtime in that house was amazing. My aunt would pin up her mother's hair and then my grandmother would pin up my aunt's hair. I watched this activity many, many times. There came a time years later, when my aunt was stricken with Alzheimer's, that I would pin up her hair in just that same way. The routine of it would always calm her down.
While the hair pinning was going on, the kettle would be warming on their gas stove. Once it began to whistle then it was time to fill the hot water bottle. In my aunt's house there was no such thing as a bare hot water bottle. They all had lovely handknit covers.
So, hot water bottle in the bottom of the bed, and me in the bed resting my feet on the cozy cover.
Then my aunt would sit at the vanity. I have never, before or since, seen anyone do this. Well, I have in movies, but not in real life. She would sit there and put cream on her face and neck, and put lotion on her hands and arms. She looked like a movie star to me. In fact, in some of her younger pictures she looked like Judy Garland.
And then she would come to bed, and we would read aloud from one of the books with our feet resting on the cozy covered water bottle.
And often we would get the giggles about one thing or another, and Granny would call up the stairs for us to settle down.
It was magical. I can still smell the smell of the linen on the bed, and the cream on her face and hands. It was magical. I always imagined she was like Jo, in Little Women. Not your typical girl, but wild and free and stubborn minded. She actually, in many ways, was none of these things, but she was mine, and I loved her with my whole being. Even 2 1/2 years after her passing, I still love her with my whole being.

I have my mother's hands.

I have my mother's hands. They are small, but not dainty. They are peasant hands. The nails are never all the same length, or size, or shape no matter how I try to care for them. Despite my mother's voice running in my head about pushing my cuticles back after a bath, my cuticles are always torn and ragged. When I am nervous I pick at them. It is a nasty habit, and one that leaves ragged tears around each nail. Especially the nail of my right thumb. I worry that one alot.
So, they are not pretty, but they are functional. I like how they feel when I walk hand in hand with my husband. They just feel nice. I used to like walking hand in hand with my mother. It was like holding my own hand.
My relationship with my mother was, and is, fraught with pain and sadness, and sometimes deep anger. When I hear my siblings talk fondly of her I don't quite know what to do, or say. Their experiences aren't mine. She could be lovely to have tea with years and years ago, and she loved to tell naughty stories. My friends and my husband and my children liked my mother. She was witty, and could be charming. She was always friendly and kind to shop keepers, and waiters.
She wasn't always friendly and kind to me. And yet, she was my mother. And the mother to my five siblings, and many orphans, both young and old, along the way. She provided well, taught me to sew, bought me my first, and only sewing machine, that I still have, and love to use. She was a good cook, not a great cook, but a good cook, and her soups were comforting, as was her home-made bread. It is not that I don't have some happy memories of time spent with her. I do. I truly do.
But still, and all, I look at the relationship that others have with their mothers, even the relationship that some of my siblings had with our mother, and I am sad to not have had that too. Not to have been in relationship with my mother.
Recently I read something my sister had written about our mother. It was poignant, and despite the pain I know was present in that relationship, there was still evidence of a deep and abiding love. I do not have that.
I realized around the time of my mother's 60th birthday that I didn't like her very much. If fact, I didn't love her. And how do you live with that? Not loving your mother. What kind of person am I? In admitting that out loud to my husband I felt like I had said something so profoundly wrong, and yet, in speaking this truth, for myself there was some kind of liberation.
She was an amazing woman in many ways. Living and loving my father could not have been any kind of easy. Raising six children could not have been any kind of easy. Having to battle to keep her status in her own family of 5 sisters and 1 brother could not have been any kind of easy. Watching her husband of 32 years die at the age of 49 could not have been any kind of easy.
Being her daughter was not any kind of easy.
I have my mother's hands. I see them everyday doing a million different things. I have my mother's hands.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

flying stone

Everything that lives wants to fly
A Mohawk friend told me
As we watched grosbeaks take seeds
Fluttering before our eyes
They were dinosaurs once
They gave up their power in return for the sky.

She had lived with that poem all her life. All her life she had dreamed she could fly. And the dreams were so real, that every morning when she awoke for a split second she forgot it was a dream. And in the next second was the disappointment that she could not, in fact, fly.

All her life she had been bound to the earth, to the hard rock that covered the land she lived on. Her home was by the sea, a sea, that although it’s name meant Peaceful, could be stormy, harsh, unforgiving and angry. The waves would crash against the stony coastland. A coast land that was jagged, like the coast of Finland, like the coast that was said to have been made by the shoulders, and arms and neck of a giantess who was so tired of swimming.

She had grown up on that rocky coast. Running over the barnacled rock with her bare feet, calloused and cut numerous times. She had fallen on those rocks so many times, bandaged knees were the norm. Her mother dabbing the blood with a soft cotton cloth as she picked out the shells and pebbles before bandaging her up yet again. She loved those rocky beaches, she always had rocks in her pockets, or on her bedside table, or on the kitchen window sill.

She had met her son’s father on another beach not so far away. A beach where large basalt, six-sided formations cliffed against the ‘not so peaceful’ sea. He was a scientist. He was older than she was. He knew so much about the rocks that she had taken for granted all her life. She loved him, And she loved those rocks, she did. But sometimes, she still dared to look to the sky.

As often happens in stories such as this, love stories, a son was soon born to her. A son with eyes as blue as the sky that domed the ocean, and a will as strong as the rocks that surrounded her.

And so….life went on….she raised her son to a strong young man, she grew older, and weary, and forgot about flying - she let her dreams go. She just kept her feet on the ground, on those rocks, and kept her eyes on the sea - in case it would decide to lash out at her and steal those she loved so much.

She shared her name with another young woman who had lived a long time past. She too had a son, she too had married a man older than her. Sometimes she wondered if that ‘Mary’ had ever dreamed of flying. She had only heard stories of her adult life, homeless, scared, blessed, mournful.

Her son knew her well. He would see the far off look in her eyes when she talked of her youth, of the rocks, and the sea, He too shared his father’s scientific mind, and he too wanted to show her the magic and mystery of these giant rocks that have stood for millions of years. For him rocks were a freedom, he understood that rocks could help you to fly.

Come, he said, one late summer afternoon. Let’s walk. Let us go on a hike. There is something I want to show you. He had a gift for her. And so they walked. Up. Up the backside of a huge granite column. It rose 650 metres above them, the trail slowly zig zagging its way up and up and up. Above the tree line, above the ‘not so peaceful’ ocean, above and away from her rock bound life. On the ascent she could only feel the rock beneath her feet, the scrap on her knee from a tumble, the cool rock on her hands as she supported herself through thin crevices, the hot rocks as she scrambled up the last few metres.

They reached the top. A plateau. Flat, and warm. Isolated and still. A chipmunk welcomed her by running up to her and perching on her ankle. She felt like a small girl again. A great raven flew over her head, so close she could hear the whoosh of air in its mighty wings. She could look right into its eye as it flew past her. She remembered her dream. She remembered the words of her Mohawk friend. So did her son.

Come, he said. Come to the edge. Kneel down. Crawl forward. Push yourself out over the edge. So she bellied out until her chest, her shoulders, her arms, and her head were jutting out over the edge. 650 metres above the sea. The sides fell away so steeply she could not see them.

Put out you arms, he said. Look up, he said. She put out her arms. She looked up. The warmth of the great stone under her belly and her hips secured her to the earth, but she felt like she was flying. She soared with the raven. She felt like she was flying. Her dream had not died afterall.

Everything that lives wants to fly
A Mohawk friend once told me
As grosbeaks gathered seeds
Fluttering before our eyes
They were dinosaurs once
But they gave up that power
In return for the sky.

walking the hill

Whose idea was this? Every school day morning I take my class of 12/13 year olds out for a 2km walk, the first half is up a very steep hill. Every morning. Rain or shine. Snow, or even occasionally sun. Every day I hear: Do we have to? Can't we just skip it today? It's really rainy out! (And that is just my inner voice before I get to school).

And yes, we have to. Why? Because I said so. And we are off.....

It is hard. Hauling myself up this hill is hard. Every day it is hard. But, I do it, because I have promised myself to be standing on top of the Stawamus Chief with my class in June. If I say things out loud and to enough people then I have to do it. So I do. Everyday.

I did the Chief 18 months ago with my son, on a whim. He was bored. We were camping close to the chief. Can I do it? Sure, mom, come on.....

The story of that climb is another story. One a might blog here one day, but suffice to say...I did it! I stood on top of that mountain, and looked over the view of the Sound and hugged my son, and wept. And my second thought cool to bring my class up here.

So, we are walking. ok, truthfully, 4 of them are running. And you know the funny thing. They are alot nicer to teach since they started walking. They are more respectful, funnier, just down-right more enjoyable to be around.

Oh, wait, I think that's me.