Gratitude – Post 94 – August

I’m grateful for August, but not for the reasons one would think. August reminds me of something I need to be reminded about.

August snuck out from behind the weeds in my garden and from my so-called lawn and pounced on me, when I least expected it. August caught me off guard and threw me to the ground before I could fight back and then knocked the last bit of oxygen from my lungs. August, the month of seeing summer in the rearview mirror, has arrived.

Back to school supplies are out and though I long to buy new erasers and fresh clean stacks of paper and freshly sharpened pencils and binders and book bags, the thought of summer being in the past tense has me digging my fingernails into this day and not letting summer get away from me. But we all know how that turns out; the effort is fruitless.

August is the last chance to get a holiday in, the last chance to spring clean my windows, the last chance for picnics and boat rides and swimming in northwestern Ontario water. I know that isn’t really true, but this August day, as I sit at my desk circling the wagons around my literary efforts, those feelings seem immensely real.

August takes the summer green of July and bakes it to a dull version of itself. The grass quits growing with the same determined enthusiasm. Firewood stacking has begun, chimney cleaning booked, picking berries started and pretending I’ll do something with the dill that grows of its own accord in the pockets and corners of my garden and staring at my paddock fence does not get it painted. I’m running out of time.

Time isn’t a tangible concept, not really. What one particular minute feels like to you differs from what it feels like to me and that can change on any given day. As we age, it seems the minutes pick up their pace, trying with dedicated fervor to out run the last.

William Penn said that “time is what we want most, but what we use worst”. I had heard that saying on many occasions and it prompted me to look up the purveyor of such truth. William Penn lived from 1644 to 1718 and he was an English real estate entrepreneur, a fact I found a bit odd, considering the day in history, but that reflects my own limited education in the idea of conveying real estate. More importantly, Penn was deemed an early advocate of democracy and religious freedom. He was a Quaker and known for his good relations with “Native Americans”, a rarity at that time. Quakers don’t bow to king and consider all men equal. So I have to credit Penn with wisdom regarding time and how we use time with little regard for its peril.

I had promised myself I would take my morning coffee to my deck and tuck into a chair under my gazebo shelter and I would start the day slowly and with intention and with focus to enjoy each second or be aware of each second at the very least. I failed. Today I crawled from bed after a very little bit of sleep and I trudged as I began my day. I’ll do better tomorrow, because as Benjamin Franklin told us, “Lost time is never found again.”

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Gratitude – Post 93 – Finnegan

I am grateful for my dear cat Finnegan. A cat is a home’s visible soul, said Jean Cocteau. If that is the case my home’s soul is visibly in need of vacuuming. I have moments when I am sweeping up pet hair from my floors and from my furniture for the fourth time on any given day, moments while I am sifting through waste-laden odour-filled kitty litter, moments while I look at the thread-bare arms of my now pathetic living room furniture and during such moments I make disparaging comments about my pets and I sometimes pause to count the years until I may be free of my so-called pet burden. Well, remember when your grandmother warned you to be careful of what you wish for? She was right.

Finnegan, my ginger-coloured feline pal, had a run-in with my neighbour’s vehicle a few days ago and Finnegan ran off into the woods to presumably greet death. I am away from home and daughter Laurie is in charge and she is an animal lover of the extraordinary variety and she is also a new mom. Her plate was full before she scooped up Abby and, with umbrella in hand, went into the woods to find poor injured, or worse, Finnegan.

Upon hearing the news of Finnegan’s traffic incident, I immediately felt regret for my regular and frequent complaints regarding cat hair and claw sharpening and litter boxes while all the kitty perfection that is Finnegan rushed to the surface.

Finnegan is not aloof nor does he behave as though he is chairman of the board. He is subtle in his behaviour. I have been chastised for allowing him to run free outdoors, but he loves being a jungle cat. He embraces the wild and though that may shorten his life, such freedom gives his life greater purpose than being confined indoors to answer my needs. When he arrives home from his adventures he likes to be welcomed into the house with a touch of ceremony. One can open the door for him but he actually needs a verbal greeting and a pat on the head before he commits himself to enter. Then, of course, he likes to have a meal ready to go, but he isn’t offensively demanding. After he has filled his tummy he likes to find a place to use his contortionist skills to fall asleep. On days when he is feeling quiet and pensive, he prefers the back of my closet behind some long prom dress that one of my daughters wore. He sleeps there until he feels restored and then he comes out and likes to interact with a small dose of affection, nothing too effusive. If I am on my bed reading he likes to lie beside and if I am at my desk he likes to snuggle behind my back on my office chair. After he feels restored it is time to return to the great outdoors, rain or shine. He’s not much for winter adventures though and is very happy to see the snow recede and his freedom restored.

When I was sure I would never see Finnegan again, I was longing for his snuggles and I convinced myself that he doesn’t shed that much and I didn’t like my sofa anyway in that it is the colour of a sickly bowl of pea soup so what harm did his scratching do in the long run. But mostly I knew my life would be incomplete without his meow at the door that said, “Here I am. I’m home.”

Finnegan used up one of his lives and seems to have come through the truck battle with only minor injuries. He and Laurie visited the vet and without fuss Finnegan allowed those in the veterinary profession to check him out. He is home and awaiting my return and I look forward to snuggling him and telling him I am so glad that he is okay and to assure him we are still in this thing together. Perhaps you could remind me of this when I next complain about the mountain of cat hair on everything. If you wouldn’t mind.

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Gratitude – Post 92 – Aimee and Linden

I am grateful for Aimee and Linden. I just had the great fortune of spending time with Aimee, daughter #1, and my wee grandson Linden who is three. The moments we spend with family are far too rare these days, but when it happens I ask the cells of my heart to take it all in, to store the magical moments until “next time”. We laughed, we remembered and we shared a few tears. Aimee has an extraordinary heart. Watching her mother her son with patience, kindness and unlimited love moves me to tears in those moments when I am witness. She is fair and consistent as we all strive for while most of us fall short, but even at three Linden has wings to be Linden, a gift from his mother and she is at the ready to help him, to guide him and most importantly, to keep him safe when someone or something might harm him.

Though he is only three, Linden’s language allows for conversation and real discussion about the challenges of being three. When asked if he could fetch a run-away shovel from the water beside a dock, his no nonsense response was “that’s not possible” with a look on his face of how could you think it was, do you see how short my arms are?

Linden loves his mommy. He is sure to check on her when she is out of sight. When she steals a moment for a shower he is soon knocking on the bathroom door and asking, “Are you okay, mommy? Do you want me to come in?” before he enters regardless of her answer and he is always welcome. I have no doubt Linden will grow into a man with a firm dose of empathy, of kindness, of integrity. All those qualities are there now being nurtured and fed. He notices when others need help and he has no tolerance for unkindness. He tests the waters of “I want” in appropriate intervals to keep his mother on her toes, sometimes throwing in a good collapsing to the floor and a wail of just the right intensity. But then reason prevails and he dusts himself off and gets on with the day. Some days we all feel like flopping on to the floor and should follow Linden’s lead.

After seven glorious days with Linden and Aimee I find my heart heavy as I head for home. Though home is a lovely place to be heading, I wish I could tuck the two of them into my suitcase and release them only when they promise never to wander from my “every day”. But we do wander and adventures call to us and we end up spread far too widely apart when the dust settles. Linden’s last little nugget of advice that I shall incorporate into my mantra was “I promised my mind”. While he was trying to get a job done and was asked to leave it unfinished, he merely shook his head and replied in a firm but quiet voice. “Sorry, Mom. I promised my mind.” I shall take that one step further. I shall promise my heart to never forget these moments. I should probably let my mind in on the plan, too.

What promises have you made to your mind? Hope you can see them through.

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Gratitude- Post 91 – Aiden

I am grateful for Aiden. Let me explain.

If your heart is aching or unsure of itself, if the world feels heavy and makes no sense, I happen to know a cure. It’s organic and homeopathic so it will treat the heart, the brain, the soles of your feet and it comes with an infallible guarantee. Follow my instructions closely.

Find a little boy, one who is almost three years old, who answers to the name of Aiden, whose eyes sparkle blue and his hair is clinging to its baby blond by its finger tips, who wears his favourite Blue Jays ball cap a little to the side, unintentionally, and as a result his appearance has a jaunty flavour. When he invites you to his pretend playground that doubles as a foyer in his home, don’t hesitate, accept willingly and wholeheartedly. With his favourite book in tow, make yourself comfortable as best you can. Though your aging bum might groan and your back may whine, stretch out on the floor and tuck wee Aiden under your arm and hold his offered hand tightly and begin to read. When he lays his head against you, up close to your heart, anything and everything that was troubling you will vanish in the space of a heartbeat. I assure you.

I’ve just had such a wonderful experience with my Aiden, my grandson who melts my heart when I watch him play, his imagination well nurtured and encouraged. I am blessed, my three grandchildren absolutely perfect and there’s no grandma bias anywhere in that statement I would argue. Ha ha.

Aiden got me to thinking. If politicians and lobbyists and all those making decisions about the future of the country, of the planet, would conjure up the perfection of their version of Aiden, of a child that means the world to them, I think we would have less slip-ups, our vision would lengthen when we look for solutions and answers to new questions and when we ponder corrections for old mistakes that have yet to be solved.

I recently watched a video of British school children at about the age of six or seven. They were paired up with differing heritage and skin colour; a Downs Syndrome little girl was paired with her non-Downs Syndrome pal, a child with lovely coloured skin matched with a white child and so on. These children were asked what makes them different from each other. Each pair, without exception, was stumped for an answer to this query. They thought and thought, looking at each other with careful scrutiny and could come up with only differences such as preferring skipping over running, living up the hill versus down, but in all other areas of comparison they saw each other as exactly the same and therein lies the hope, therein is the positive core of being human. If we let the child in us outshine the cynical adults we have become, if we plan for a future that keeps all our “Aidens” safe, we won’t go wrong. That is my wish as we begin the next 150 years of being Canadian and maybe, just maybe, our example will spill out and spread around the world.

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Gratitude – Post 90 – Wasting Food

I am grateful for the hearts and brains that reside in those who find solutions to problems and change the face of humanity even if only briefly or in a small localized area. Some of these superheroes are tackling the idea of waste not, want not.

To say I find the number of those living on the street in this country, in any country, alarming and upsetting seems an obvious statement to make and somewhat trite. I heard someone in political authority once say there is no solution to poverty that poverty begets poverty. I think the latter part of that statement is true. How does one break from the chains of poverty when the weight of life is so very heavy, the opportunities so limited? But a solution still exists, buried beneath the rhetoric and lip service, denying those who claim from some misguided religious doctrine that those who live in poverty are there because they have “earned” it and likewise for those living with extraordinary wealth.

Some time ago I watched a film about the waste of food in grocery stores and restaurants. I’m sure it is no surprise the facts are disturbing. Perfectly edible food ends up in landfill because it is part of doing business the big grocery stores claim. When Marketplace dug through Walmart’s garbage bins in 2016 they found a staggering amount of fresh edible food, cartons of milk still ahead of its best-before-date, cheeses, oranges. Walmart’s solution upon being exposed: build a fence around their trash bins. And as an added concern, this food was thrown in the trash without being separated for compost and recycling. Walmart isn’t the only violator, but the other big chains use a trash compactor to hide their transgressions. Meanwhile, the homeless go hungry and food banks struggle to provide quality food to those in need.

850,000 Canadians use food banks every month, reported CBC Marketplace in 2016, yet $31 billion of food ends up in landfill and composters each year. Many countries have been looking long and hard at this problem. France has banned food waste. Supermarkets are required to create partnerships with charities to keep food out of the garbage bin. Italy has taken steps making food donations easier and offering tax credits for food donations.

Government has been slow to respond in Canada, but charitable groups and entrepreneurs are thinking creatively to solve the problem of food waste, the superheroes, if you will. Toronto’s Second Harvest has been involved in “food rescue” for more than thirty years. Not Far From The Tree, another Toronto initiative, harvests fruit from trees in private yards and gets that surplus fruit to those in need. In 2015, the UN signed on to cutting food waste in half by 2030, at both the retail and consumer level.

We are consumers who insist on beautiful produce and the “ugly fruit” gets tossed because of its aesthetic value, not because of its food value. I watched a local gardener last fall grind up a mountain of carrots to put back on the land because of the imperfect appearance of the carrots. Though that is better than occupying landfill, I think of all the families who could have benefited from an “ugly” carrot. I’m rather fond of an ugly vegetable. As kids when potato harvest was upon us we looked for the lopsided, strangely shaped potatoes and we were absolutely certain they possessed an amazing power that we would inherit if we ate them. What if that were true?

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Gratitude – Post 89 – Castles

I am grateful for castles. I would like to live in a castle, maybe one in Ireland, because I’m fairly certain that Canadian castles are in short supply.

The selection of castles in Europe is extensive, I’ve read. Windsor Castle holds some sort of record for having been continuously lived in for the longest period of time, all the way back a thousand years to when William the Conqueror built it. Windsor Castle is home to the royals and despite its size it would feel crowded to me and a bit stuffy, the Queen telling me not to run in the halls or slide down the banisters, that sort of thing I would guess, though I’m not sure castles have banisters come to think of it. So I’ll not live in Windsor Castle, even if they invite me. I’ll choose some other castle.

Wales boasts the most castles in Europe in terms of castles per square mile, with over 600 of these amazing structures. Surely I could find a castle that suits my needs. I suppose I could live in Wales with a field of Welsh ponies that I would survey from the “keep of the castle”. That’s castle lingo, refers to the highest point and the centre of defense. A castle dweller should know such things and use the correct terminology.

But I’m leaning to Ireland as a home base for my castle, Ireland with its perpetual green-ness, at least in my mind, with rainbows everywhere and leprechauns scampering about hiding their pots of gold and stone walls as far as the eye can see. Ireland seems the best plan for me. I’ve never been to Ireland so it would be a real adventure.

When I was little and had a nightmare or any frightening experience, I would imagine running to my castle for safety. My castle came with a very deep moat around it, filled to the brim with nasty creatures to gobble up my enemies and the scary things that terrorized my dreams. The draw bridge was heavy and mighty, the chain cranking loudly and slowly, so slowly that at times I wasn’t sure the draw bridge would make it to the upright position before the monsters got to it, but thankfully it always did. I kept a big pot of boiling oil at the ready should someone with evil intentions try to scale my castle wall. On a more positive note, my castle had a central courtyard with lush green grass, a huge swing with someone obligated to push me higher and higher, and a big fire pit on which to roast marshmallows, from my perpetual inventory of marshmallows.

That’s what we do as children, we create sanctuary in our mind, that safe place to go when life gets confusing and wrought with danger at every turn. I think of the children growing up in this unsteady world, one in which the adults are always waging war with one another, usually with the innocent falling. These children have no sanctuary and I’m willing to bet their life is so wrought with danger they have a hard time imagining a castle that will keep them safe. So I feel great pride that I am Canadian and though we don’t have castles here, we certainly have safety and I hope we never lose sight of that rare privilege.

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Gratitude – Post 88 – Labour

I am grateful for labour, of the childbirth variety. I know that sounds like a strange thing to be grateful for, but …

It is my baby’s birthday today, April 26th, the youngest of my brood, four daughters who are no longer babies at all, but instead are full-fledged adults, living lives in which I am an accessory, no longer a necessity. I can’t pull them on to my lap and kiss away their tears when they are hurt. I can’t speak up for them and be their shield when others would do them harm. I can’t go along with them to interviews and proclaim their unsurpassed value and how bloody lucky any employer would be to have them, mother bias aside.

It’s a strange sensation, every now and then, when I realize how quickly the time passed. The diapers and night-time feedings, the getting teeth and the losing teeth, and the growing pains that required leg massage in the wee hours of the morning, are all but a distant memory.

I just saw my Laurie, daughter number three, through labour and delivery as she welcomed Abigail Anne into this world. It is not an undertaking for the faint of heart and there were moments I felt crazed enough to demand to know where the off switch was, so we could both take a breather from the torture-like endurance test of giving birth. Laurie may have had it a little more difficult than myself if I am being honest, but it was really really hard. No other way to say it.

As I collapsed into bed at 6:00 in the morning, when it was all done, after running this marathon for almost twenty-four hours I was thinking about labour and wondering why it is so painful and wouldn’t we do better having been equipped with a zipper or using a teleporting method or osmosis or something without so much intense pain. Wouldn’t that have been a better idea? I may ask the powers to be when I get to where I’m going and I might consider some scolding and encourage evolution to pick up the pace. In the end, I think labour serves a valuable purpose.

Motherhood is all encompassing. It is my life’s work, and everything that came before or after pales in comparison. Labour and delivery is a rite of passage, and it is an experience that tells women we can do anything, that arms us for the heart-ache that comes with watching our child hurt and struggle, or worse, to lose them. Having been through the intensity of birth tells us we are survivors, even in those moments when we are certain we will not survive.

I recently heard a speech given on how we cripple our children. We have created a generation of those who feel entitled, who don’t want to fly the nest, who think life should be perfect and aren’t willing to settle for less without complaint and angst. Most of our suppositions about parenting are clearer in hindsight, so I tend to err on the side of what my heart tells me to do.

We could take some notes from the animal kingdom. Beavers allow their young to stay with the family unit for more than two years before driving them out. Elephant mothers nurse their young for four to six years, the calves staying with their mother for as long as sixteen years. But my favourite – the killer whale, whose young stay with their mother for life. That makes the most sense to me. And what do I have to say about the mind-numbing pain of labour? Worth it, every second.

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