Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Borrowed Wisdom

Sometimes, it's best just to say nothing and lean on the wisdom of someone who has learned the lesson and speaks it fearlessly.

I am sharing with you a young man named Jack Bailey. You won't regret the introduction.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Scent of a Memory

Tonight, I crawled into bed tired but satisfied by a creative and productive day at work. I love those days...where you're physically and creatively spent but satisfied by the result.

The window in my room has been open today and the cool April breeze is bringing along a smoky scent of a distant grass fire. I settled in with the intent to continue reading an incredible book that I've been really learning a lot from and as I picked it up, with at least an hour to read before I really need to fall asleep, I caught the scent of many an evening in Zambia at Kachele. I lay in my bed and I felt the same satisfaction of a day well spent - albeit very differently - and the gratitude for a pure and happy memory that came to me literally on the wind.

The past few months have been a really introspective time - almost a hibernation of sorts, allowing my roots to grow deeply back into places where they were torn apart. I have felt the stabilizing of our household of three, even as the boys grow into men before my eyes and we are ever changing in our schedules and lives...it's been a really slow and comfortable time to just be with them nearly every night at dinner, listening to their stories, their upcoming exam schedules, their conversations with each other and the best part, having sweet girls in the house as well bringing a whole new sound of laughter and conversation to the household.  Spring brings much change to our household and yet, with all that needs to be done to sell a house and pack up a life and figure out a new living situation and unpack a life....it continues to allow me to just revisit memories, good ones and difficult ones, with fresh eyes. Sometimes it's cathartic and I can Marie Kondo my way through some of the difficult or unattached memories. Sometimes it's painful and I pile things to be evaluated again on whether they get packed up and brought with...or let go with all the others things loosened in the past years.

So tonight, I'm just here to say, "I'm still here." I'm still figuring out life after marriage. Life with boys for a few more ...dare I say it...years of sharing a home. Life on my own and working and walking the dog and throwing the cat outside at 3:30 am and all the things that continue on and must...despite what has changed and evolved.

I'm here. 
I'm tired but satisfied.
I'm alternately anxious and confident.
I'm still figuring out how to hold these boys up and let them go at the same time.
I'm grieving and celebrating their independence and their maturity as they grow into men.
I'm sure of myself in ways I've never been and I'm happy in ways I can't remember but I can be brought back to the pain by a phone call or a photograph in an instant. I'm learning not to hold on to those instants...just to breathe through them and remember they never last as long as they once did.
I'm loved. I'm broken. I'm healing. I'm hopeful.

I'm thankful for this one and only life and I'm growing into whatever this next stage of it looks like.

The memory of Zambia not only makes me happy, it reminds me of where I'm happiest and why.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Year of The T-Bar

A cold nose and a whiny nudge wake me up on the couch. My home is full with my boys upstairs, their lengthy bodies no longer able to stretch fully on their boyhood beds.  A sweet girl from Switzerland in our guest bed. Two of my favourite "outlaws" and their dog in my room.
It’s 2019.

The vinyl siding of the suburbs is lit in pink and the temperatures are in the negatives so far that steamy clouds stiffen and sit above each home, as though a waxy crayon in a child’s hand drew them there.

The dog goes out. The cat comes in, frozen and indignant as if he didn't demand release at 5 am.
I start the coffee maker and my hand hesitates in front of the cupboard full of mixed mugs and random glassware that nearly eleven years has accumulated. I grab a pottery mug - one saved for company or special occasions. Even if I broke it today, it’s a wedding gift that outlasted the marriage by more than a year. I am not saving things for special days anymore. I’m enjoying what I can, when I can.

The year behind has been full, though every year upon reflection carries its share of laughter and pain, successes and failures. As I look back, I see friendships that have deepened, work that is rewarding and a life with three of us figuring out that family is word that can evolve and change and strengthen. I look back on my time in Zimbabwe and Zambia as a reminder that the things I value are still available to me even though they may be harder to achieve on my own, I can prioritize them differently now and make them happen. As the New Year began across the globe, the messages that lit up my phone by time zone reminded me that we live in a world where friendships aren’t bound by proximity and relationships can be mature and deepen despite distance.

I overuse the word gratitude when it comes to my life but I’m at a loss for something that encompasses the feelings I have for the lessons of living through the the grief of separation and divorce; the ridiculous pride of having two sons who continue to grow and mature into good hearted people and the simple happiness that comes from sitting around the island with them, their girlfriends, my friends...

2018 started as a notch above rock bottom for me but I’m not going to look back on it with anything but clarity. There were days when white knuckles and a message from someone praying for me were the only thing that kept me going. There were also days where peace of mind and a contentment with ambiguity lasted from dawn to dusk.

I always think back on something one of the men I admire most in the world said to me. In those days, I worked in a ski school and our days off were spent looking for more vertical footage to ski, more powder and fresh tracks as often as we could get them. We'd drive hours to other mountains, pooling our resources for overcrowded motel rooms and pitchers of beer. This particular weekend, we were skiing with a group and while most of us were in line for a high speed chairlift, he poked me with his pole and motioned me to follow him to a nearby t-bar lift. This man, respected for his skiing technique and awards, could have pushed to the front of the lift line with his credentials but didn’t. We stood side by side, propelled up the hill with our feet never leaving the snow and he said to me, “It’s all vertical feet.” We went through the trees, smelled the evergreens, absorbed the quiet and felt the topography under our feet on the way up the hill.  Over the years, it’s been sort of a mantra in tough times. It doesn’t matter how you get up the hill, it’s the same destination regardless of whether you glide above the heads of those below or you are pulled along. And sometimes, most times, it affords you a very different perspective.

2018 has been my t-bar. 2019 will probably still find me taking the long way up but enjoying the feeling of the mountain beneath my feet.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Keeping Each Other in Balance

I haven't been writing much...publicly anyway. I have lots of notes and lines and thoughts jotted down on napkins and on the back of business cards and on receipts in my wallet but there's nothing really coming together that is shareable at this point in time.

In the meantime, I have been busy. I've been enjoying being able to work where I do and if you wonder what kind of job has me looking forward to going to work, then this is a little peek of what the team of amazing people I work with can put together in about 10 long days of unloading sea cans and organizing boxes and building displays... we went from patio season to full on Christmas in a matter of days and it was a lot of work and a lot of creative fun!

December finds us looking forward to a different kind of Christmas this year. We have a young lady from Switzerland coming to stay for two weeks over the holidays and we're excited to have the opportunity to host and show her our beautiful city. We're hoping it'll snow just a little more in the coming days so we can get out and take advantage of some of the beauty and activities that come with winter in the prairies.

Easton just recovered from a flu that had him out of commission for a week, even to the point that he missed a couple performances of his school musical. I felt sad for him that he wasn't able to perform all his shows but he did an incredible job of the two performances that I was able to see. He completely lost his voice and was laid up in bed for a week. Thankfully he's feeling much better but boy, he's such a skinny kid to begin with that a week of being sick makes him look deathly ill. This week he's playing Jack Skellington from the Nightmare Before Christmas so he'll use his gaunt appearance to his advantage, I suppose!

Aidan was accepted into the University of Saskatchewan and is excited/dreading going back to school. He has a sweet schedule courtesy of Lauryn who ensured he had no early morning or late night classes. He definitely found a great girl in her...she's not only beautiful but incredibly clever.

Our day to day just keeps getting easier. There's a lot more laughter in our household these days. The boys are pretty great to live with as they grow into men and while we still all have very messy rooms, we generally get along extremely well and have a lot of good times together. I honestly feel like these are some of the best days with the boys as they mature and grow and yet still have that goofy sense of humour and incredibly unique perspectives on life. They are kind and generous and the best of both Jason and I, which I'm thankful for.

We know that our time in this house is coming to a close as we agreed to sell it in the coming months. It's bittersweet. Moving is something I think we all anticipate and dread in equal portions, depending on the day. We'll still all live together for the next while as Aidan goes to school and Easton figures out what's next, though he does have the travel bug as well...we'll hold space for him always to come home to.  So, as we move forward, we continue to do our best to embrace what comes our way.

I'll leave you with an example of life with the boys and our best efforts...

In the past few weeks, our computer imploded, our washing machine went into a meltdown and the car was squealing for attention for longer than I care to admit.  I tackled what I could and that meant a day with YouTube and the washing machine in pieces across the floor as I fished quarters and nickels out of the drain motor and fixed it. I was pretty proud of myself and I know the boys were mildly impressed, though they feigned otherwise. No more money laundering in our household!  Alas, I couldn't YouTube the computer repair and I knew the issue with the wheel bearings and brakes was beyond my scope so nearly $1700 later, we have a rebuilt computer and a vehicle that once again stops upon pressing the brakes. It's the little things really. But, this morning when the mechanic called to say that the bill was going to be $1100, Aidan overheard my response and I'm sure I didn't sound overly excited. I was sitting at the newly refurbished computer, transferring funds to pay for the vehicle repair and Aidan pops around the corner after throwing in his laundry and announces, "That, people, is a fully functioning washing machine though!"  That's pretty much how things go around here....we get discouraged but we also do our best to remind each other when things go well. It's all we can do really and somehow, today, I found a way to be grateful not only for the fact that I had the funds to pay for these things saved up...which is new for me to have a savings that actually is ready for emergencies like this...and for the fact that I didn't have to add a washing machine repair bill to the list.

Life is good. Even when it's difficult, there's much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Nature of Details

It's no secret that one of my favourite day off activities is to get outside and just enjoy either being with Charlie at the dog park or paddle on the river or even just roll the windows down and go for a long day dreamy drive.

Today, it promised to be the perfect weather for just such an excursion so once the frost thawed off the windshield, I said the two magic words that light up Charlie's face and we headed for the dog park. Now, those of you who live in major cities may wonder what the fascination with a chain linked enclosure with too many dogs in proximity has in the way of nature or enjoyment, but here in Saskatchewan - we are incredibly spoiled with wide open spaces and never ending skies. Sure, we are equally spoiled with -40 weather and the occasional mosquito in summer, but we take it all in stride.

We parked at the entrance and Charlie commenced the announcement of her arrival to all her friends (none of the dogs even noticed...) and I got myself out of the way as she launched herself out of the truck to hit the trails. I wasn't far behind her but on days like this with no time constraints and no agenda, I let her lead. She headed for a familiar trail along the bluffs that overlook the river. Walking in the fall in the open prairie is an experience for all the senses. The wind is crisp and cool and brings with it the scent of the river water, the dirt and the occasional waft of burning leaves or grasses. The sounds of the an open prairie though are the best. There is the scratching and whistling of branches and dried grasses, beckoning you to slow and listen. The trees still drop occasional leaves or lovingly edge up against each other, swooning and whispering to one another. The sound of Charlie's snuffling nose finding scent after scent to explore and her thundering paw drops as she pounds back around corners to ensure I'm still with her are reassuringly common. Overhead and down below along the sand bars, the snow geese are constantly honking their signature calls, loud and unceasing, like the last shouts of college frat boys leaving a party and arranging their next stop over the heads of their giggling girlfriends.

The sounds of the prairie and the river combine to be a restful replacement for the noise of life at home and at work. Conversations cease here. My mind stops racing and slows to take in the beauty around me. I still have to work at keeping the thoughts of work and life and worry at bay but somehow here it's easier to just be.

The space is incredibly large and today Charlie and I stumble upon a small gift. We find a green chair perched on a bluff that I've seen numerous times from the water as I've paddled by. Today, I am privvy to sit on this chair and enjoy the view from the top side. It's hidden from our regular path by about eight feet of scrub and leaves but today we took a little side trail and discovered this small treasure of a resting spot. Sitting here, I hear another couple walking their dog above us and their dog comes down to greet Charlie and I, running past us and into the water at the bottom of the bluff. Charlie has already had a quick swim and so she waits to greet the new dog upon her return. They say a quick hello and circle one another and then the visitor leaves as quickly as she arrived, beckoned by the sound of clapping hands not too far from where I am perched unnoticed, despite my mustard coat.

We wait until we hear their calls and conversation fade and then Charlie and I wander out of the trail into the open prairie, off the graded trail and into the topography of gopher holes and shallow berms made by wind and rain. We wander haphazardly, not following any direction too closely, just generally heading back the direction we'd started out from. I am distracted by small things just as Charlie is distracted by scents so as she sniffs every few metres, I too stop and look at the details in the dried Scottish thistle, its purple long replaced by a cotton like fluff and it's stalwart petals now transformed into thick brown crust holding this small cotton pie together. I take a few photos on the phone and know that it's not coming close to capturing what the eye can see in symphony with the wind and the whistling of dried grasses leaning around me.

Venturing further afield, I find a small track and a miniature valley of white fluff covered sticks that look as though they've grown fuzzy as part of their own evolution. They are actually small burrs that have collected the fuzz from the wind as it blows through their particular little ecosystem between two small berms. They look like a natural Q-tip of sorts and as I pick one up for closer observation, I wonder about the validity of a theory expressed in Dr. Suess' 'Horton Hears a Who' in which small civilizations live on the cusp of such worlds, smaller than we can imagine.

We meander through low grasses, illuminated by the strong sun in a cloudless sky, and there is nothing quite so beautiful as your brown dog's coat turning to gold and blending into the landscape as though she were made for this. It feels like a glimpse of heaven to me and I am immediately hopeful that heaven would be this fresh and clear and emotionally restful.  Charlie just hopes there are gophers and sticks. She's a simple girl.

At this point, I realize I've lost my sunglasses along the way and so we retrace our steps back to the patch of thistle but it's pretty clear they are not going to resurface easily. I'm sad for a moment and then think it will be a sweet find for someone out in the field at some point to come across some pale pink flowered sunglasses as a gift for their wandering. As I think on this, I look down and I find an artist's paintbrush, in the grasses and I feel like I've been given something in place of what I've lost. I pick up the paintbrush with remnants of sky blue on it and I wonder as we head back to the truck, if I will ever see the painting that this tool brought to life. If the colour on the head is to be trusted, the artist has the exact right colour for this prairie landscape. We head around the last bend and I am breathing slowly and deeply now... the relaxed breath of one who has slowed to the pace of the land around her. I'm thankful for this space where I can breath that sort of relaxed breath. Too often I find myself trying to catch my breath, looking for room to just be for a few moments before entering into the next task or role for the moment or the hour or the day.

Today was the type of day that felt made for a day off and a walk along the river. I'm glad I didn't squander it on more "productive" things, more mundane things, more "important" things. The dishes will wait. The flat tire will still be there on Thursday. The need to catch up on paperwork will still be pressing me as I head back to work in the morning. But for this day, I've slowed and been still and taken deep breaths and that's what allows me to keep moving forward at the pace life keeps pushing me to.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Looking Forward To...

Those of you who are closest to me were probably privileged to be on the receiving end of a really emotional series of phone calls, text messages and distress signals in the days leading up to my departure for Zimbabwe and Zambia last month.  As I packed, I cried and worried about leaving my boys alone for the first time and the idea of having an ocean between us was compounding my fears. They are good guys and I wasn't actually worried that they would act up, I was more afraid of something happening that would cause them stress or worry...so you know, I pre-worried and stressed it all in advance because that absolves them of risk. I know. 

I landed in Toronto and I still felt completely ill about leaving. I thought about changing my flight, heading to Austin to my sweet friends, Robin and Bruce, and just throwing some old photos up of past trips to convince people that I had actually gone to Africa, because heaven knows, if worrying isn't the answer, being a fraud certainly is. 

I didn't sleep much overnight and by the time I was in my seat and listening to the Ethiopian version of the safety message, I was exhausted. If nothing else, I thought, I was in the place where I was being propelled towards the destination through no effort of my own for the next 26 hours. And it was there that I felt my body relax and my mind drift towards excitement and anticipation.  By the time I arrived in Harare and saw Farai at the airport waiting for me, I was completely at peace in my mind and my heart that I was where I was meant to be.  The focus of the trip changed once I hit the ground, as Farai told me just as we were leaving the airport parking lot, there was a cholera outbreak and it meant that there was much work to be done to get ahead of it and ensure that our kids remained not only protected from the cholera but also from the potential of the feeding programs being shut down. 

Since I've been back I've been wondering why after nearly ten years and countless trips overseas, I had such a visceral reaction to leaving. I think in so many ways, it was indicative of stepping out of the past year of firsts and into the new chapter of life after the break up of my marriage.  I was still holding on to fears and anxieties that I knew were false and unfounded but it was hard to let go of those...and yet, I took the first step, it eased a little. I've checked for ways to circumvent the pain and avoid the work of healing and yet, I had to get into a space where I'd have to sit and be propelled forward alone. Once I did that, I could get to the place where I was excited and energized again.

It's a bit of a funky metaphor for my life but the truth is, I'm waking up happier and more energized than I have in a long time. There's still lots of unknowns and there are many things that threaten to shut down this sense of well being but there are more that enhance it these days. Our boys are doing well. I mean, really well. They are figuring out future plans and balancing work and school and play and still not able to figure out how to take the recycling out before it threatens to avalanche us...but they are really genuinely good people. This month we celebrated their 20th and 17th birthdays and it was without a doubt, easy to celebrate these two guys. Following closely on the heels of their birthdays was our Thanksgiving and though we were in no way traditional, we certainly had moments where we could express our thankfulness to and for one another. 

I have always wondered about the power of God when I go to Africa. It's not that he doesn't show up here in so many, many ways...but there's something about standing in a place where you know you are exactly where you're meant to be in that moment that makes you feel completely at ease with his plans.  I feel that in Zimbabwe, I feel it in Zambia and I feel it in my work here in Canada and especially in this season of living with pain and yet being surrounded by friends and family and particularly these two amazing boys that call me Mom. 

I'm not sure what this next chapter...the year after...looks like....but I do know that I have been given some incredible privileges in being able to live through and live well this one life I have. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Small Sampling of Sukubva, Zimbabwe

We walked with one of our primary care givers who lives alone with her three small boys in a room
the size of a walk in closet. It's dark and hot, filled with their worldly possessions: some clothing, a few kitchen items and a brazier for cooking, some pots and pans, a water container and a platform that serves as a bed for mother and baby to curl up together while the two older boys, sleep on the cement floor beside and under the bed.

Housing built for mine workers over 40 years ago now serves as homes for families.
Often more than one family will share a home as the cost of living is very high for families who are
out of work or only able to get piece work to earn an income. 

This front step is a big jump.

Two of our volunteer care workers watch the children play games at the care centre
after they have come from school and had their daily meal. 

Andrew leads games with the kids that come to the care centre after school. The children are often looked down
upon and ostracized at school for their poverty. Here, they find friendships and acceptance with other children who
live the hard lives that they do. Play is an important part of their day as they often have to go home and continue to work
until dark helping out around the home and taking care of siblings while their parent or caregiver works.

Andrew and I heard stories of children swimming and playing in the water near the care point.
We went to check it out and found this broken pipe spraying water into the nearby field. Kids were using it to cool off
in the heat, which seemed harmless enough. Unfortunately, nearby though, was a large pit that was full of water from the pipe and kids were jumping in to cool off. There was no way of knowing how deep it was but we stuck about a 10ft piece of bamboo in it and didn't reach bottom. The sides were slick with mud and it was incredibly dangerous because once the kids jumped in, it was difficult to get out. Also, not many of the kids know how to actually swim so they just jumped in to cool off, but were risking drowning, by being unable to swim or touch bottom.
We called the council to come and either fence it off or cover it somehow so that kids couldn't access it.
It's one of those things that we take for granted that kids learn water safety but in this community, there is no real
reason to teach it and so a seemingly innocent pastime of cooling off could potentially end very badly for our kids.

One of the best parts of returning year after year, is seeing some of our kids as they grow and flourish
with the care they are receiving. This guy has held a special place in my heart since I first met him.
He is always smiling and is such a good guy to his friends and those around him. I'm so proud he thinks of me as his

My sweet friend dancing behind the scenes, away from the crowd. We share a name and
she is growing up quickly and becoming such a confident little girl. 

The train goes by the care centre several times a day and the children are still fascinated by it and where it's going.

Still one of the best toys around...an old tire or wheel provides lots of entertainment for the kids who chase them up and down the yard.