Post 105 – Gratitude – Mind Travel

I am grateful for my imagination and for that of my friend “Lor”.

Loraine and I have decided to paddle to Finland. We aren’t just willy-nilly with our plans, coming up with some hair-brained idea without careful planning. We want to see Finland’s outdoor glass sculptures that look like they are living beings, flames of glass seemingly growing out of the marsh and gardens in blues and reds and yellows. A PBS program sparked Loraine’s curiousity and I am just game to go along for the ride, truth be told. We thought a double kayak might work nicely to maneuver across the big cold waves in the north Atlantic. We’ll have to pack a lunch and wear some warm clothes and I don’t even want to think about what rest spots we might find on our way. So with “Lor” in Fort Frances and me in Nova Scotia we will set sail in our minds and see where we end up. It is the beauty of the imagination.

I’m not much for travel, it turns out. I would be if I could do the “beam me up, Scotty” method. So instead I imagine where I might go and how I might get there and what I might do once I am there. Not wanting to travel doesn’t mean I’m not curious and fascinated by the world outside my reach, the animals of the Sahara, the waters of Victoria Falls, the pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China. But if I am being honest, and honesty is the best policy, the great trail of the Gaspereau River calls me back over and over and it’s a mere eight minute hike from home. I don’t need my passport or my patience. I don’t have to sit still in a very small space for hours on end and pretend I’m still sane when I reach my destination. And I can bring Gracie with me.

As I get older, I don’t feel a panic to “see” what I haven’t seen. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoy hearing of the travels of others, their experiences and stories. I listen with great interest but without envy. I have friends who travel, who get off the main road and truly experience different parts of the world and the people who live there. They all report back with a similar sentiment: we are more alike than different.

My father was stationed in India with the RCAF during World War II and he saw the great Taj Mahal. Its ivory-white marble structure was magnificent, my father confirmed, a tomb erected in 1632 on the bank of the Yamuna river to house the “favourite” wife of the Mughal Emperor, who died giving birth to their fourteenth child. I’ve only just barely managed to stifle my thoughts on that, but best save it for another time. My father kept a small box with an ivory impression of the Taj Mahal on its lid to remind him he had travelled half way around the world once upon a time. He said it was an experience never to be forgotten, but living on the Rainy River was far sweeter. I concur.

T S Eliot said, “The journey not the arrival matters.” I think all our journeys are leading us home.

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Post 104 – Gratitude – A four-year-old

I am grateful for four-year-olds, not just any four-year-old, but Linden to be specific.

I am currently in British Columbia helping my grandson transition into kindergarten. My daughter is a single mom and we had the resources for me to fly out to help the glacial move from non-kindergarten to kindergarten. As I drove Linden to school for an hour one day and two hours another day I thought of single mothers in entry level jobs whose employers would have no interest in accommodating such a schedule and whose previous daycare providers would have filled those spaces with children requiring full time care.

I’m not about to get into a debate regarding the pros and cons of gradual entry to kindergarten. I’m hearing about my Ontario grandson who has had no such gentle approach to starting school, with its rip-the-Band-Aid-off strategy and as shy as he is, he adapted quickly. Nevertheless, irregardless, hereto unto fore, or any other non-words, I am here with the wonderful opportunity to spend time with Linden.

I should mention a couple of things to set the parameters of this discussion to accurately reflect my part in all of this. It has been well documented that patience is not my strong suit. I concur, though I have certainly mellowed in my later years. Others might willingly confirm said statement if called on to give testimony regarding my skills at being patient. “At least you are consistent,” Aimee confirms and I am thinking her statement is criticism masked as praise. My skin is thick. Well, maybe not that thick.

In all fairness to me are you aware that four-year-olds would challenge the patience of a Saint? True story. Granted I am no Mother Teresa, but holy cow, how much negotiation is required to get one’s shoes on. And further, are you aware that four-year-olds think grandmas are mind-readers and if they aren’t, they certainly should be. And grandmas need to be chefs ready to adjust the menu options at a moment’s notice or with no notice at all. And while four-year-olds are engrossed in their television programs, the house could explode and burst into flames and still they would not hear Grandma calling them to brush their teeth. And grandmas need the skills of a clairvoyant to know just what four-year-old’s true needs are in any given moment.

One of the things I enjoy about having graduated from active duty as a mother to active duty as a grandmother, is I can recall my own skills as a mother as being flawless. My children never acted up, never made a fuss about what was being served for supper, always went to bed without complaint and without requesting water, without another story, without more water, without a pillow adjustment, without one more trip to the bathroom, etc, etc, etc and without maybe just one more sip of water. My children never had temper tantrums, never balked at being told to make their bed or comb their hair. Well, maybe the hair thing was a struggle, but that was the only “tremor in the force” as I recall. My children may remember things differently, but memory is a fluid thing.

I must confess when four-year-olds say they want to sleep with grandma tonight and cuddle up under my arm with a story, their head resting on my chest, their little fingers disappearing inside my hand, then all those other things really don’t matter one iota. But I think you already knew that.

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Post 103 – Gratitude – Daughters

I am grateful for my daughters. I lied in bed the night before last, waiting, knowing it was the last night of our visit, the last night of my children returning to the nest so I could pretend they had never left. I know they are meant to leave, are meant to stretch their wings so the air can lift them from the branch, but part of my “mother soul” is stuck on repeat and I still want to tuck them into bed and hear their stories and lean in for the whispers of what matters to them and fall asleep knowing they are safe. I want to tie their shoes and brush their hair and assure them nothing can harm them while they are on my knee.

But of course, time marches on and they are mothers themselves and I watch with wonder and awe at their patience and capacity to love. I see the Mother Bear in them, the shoot-first-ask-questions-later when it comes to protecting their child, along with the teaching of life’s lessons of sharing, that is never easy for anyone under three feet tall, and sometimes not easy for those of any height, and lessons about waiting their turn and eating their dinner and brushing their teeth and learning to walk and trying to talk. I saw the look in my daughters eyes, the look they give in brief moments when raising toddlers, a look that says I’m not sure I’m going to survive motherhood. They will.

There were squabbles about who was playing with what first and there were tears of frustration, but there was laughter, the kind of laughter that soaks through your skin and you never want it to stop. It is the most precious of sounds, the sound of children and fun. I am still able to close my eyes and hear my own wee ones, their laughter shaking their bellies, their eyes sparkling with joy and I freeze-frame those moments to carry me through the winters of life, when I sit back in my chair, the light coming over my shoulder and shining just right on the pages of my favourite book. I lie my head back, forgetting the words in front of me and remembering instead the sounds, the moments when a hug solved all wounds, when baking their favourite cake was the absolute best thing, when humming a familiar song with their head against my chest made sleep simple and swift and dragging my fingers through their long hair soothed all the demons that raged.

And when they have gone, for a moment in the silence and among the scattered toys and forgotten socks and scuffs on the wall and fingerprints on every surface, I can’t remember who I am.

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Post 102 – Gratitude – Jason Bateman

I am grateful for Jason Bateman. I love Jason Bateman. Well, I don’t love love him, but I love the character he is in all his movies and I like to think, and I do so with reasonable certainty, that he is cast as the dependable good guy because he is just that. So when the director shouts out ACTION, Jason merely has to be himself.

There are so few things we can count on these days and we need to be able to depend that some things won’t change without our bidding. For example, Diet Coke. When I was drinking Diet Coke, which I’m not. Well, not that often. Hardly ever, but I digress. Diet Coke changed its recipe without even running it by me and if they had I would have said don’t mess with it, it’s just fine the way it is. Why is everyone compelled to change things? And if you would like to know what my impression of the new and improved Diet Coke is: Bleh. It’s not easy to write a word for the noise I am making.

One minute coffee is going to kill us off in the next few hours and then the experts are telling us coffee is going to lengthen our lives. I’ve quit listening to the debate on should we or should we not use coconut oil. All I really know is that Jason Bateman’s character makes me laugh. And I love to laugh. I just watched his latest film Game Night and he and Rachel McAdams made me laugh right out loud.

All my daughters are coming for a visit, the first of which arrives tomorrow. It is Aimee’s birthday and so I have baked her our traditional birthday cake that dates back to my Grandma Stewart so suffice to say the cake recipe has been around for a long time and we have never had the urge to change it, to muss with it, to try and better it. It is just perfect the way it is. The recipe is precise and it’s been called Ishgy-Gishgy Cake for as long as my memory goes back. I think the official name was Chocolate Chip Cake, but that hardly does it justice, besides the fact that none of us are really sure how to spell its name, which adds a certain delicious mystery.

I know change in life is inevitable. I assure you I’m well aware how age is messing with things and changing the things I used to count on, first and foremost my eyesight. But most of the time I don’t care about that. When I see a movie with Jason Bateman in it, I want it to be classic Jason Bateman. I don’t want him pursuing any roles that stretch his creative experience. I want him just as he is and then I can handle all the other stuff that swirls around in a fury of nothing lasts forever.

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Post 101 – Gratitude – Winnie the Pooh

I am grateful for the wisdom of a bear, a very wise bear.

My father called me Winnie Pooh when I was little, dropping “the” so as not to be accused of violating copyright laws. I’m sure that was the reason. When I re-read the letters he wrote to me just before he died, letters I’ve read at least a hundred times, he started each letter with “Dear Pooh”, simplifying the name even more and willingly copying the habit of those referring to Winnie the Pooh. Though Pooh was considered by his creator and admirers to be “naïve and slow-witted”, I consider Winnie the Pooh to be the smartest bear I know, smarter in fact than most people I know, certainly smarter than me, but he helps me strive to see life as clearly and as simply as he. He has what few of us do, common sense.

Winnie the Pooh is a humble bear who takes on the problems of the day with a hum, a good strategy we should all adopt. Winnie the Pooh, like me, is aging, but unlike me, he is unchanging, connecting with children for the past ninety-two years, an honour that his creator had no idea of.

Canada plays an important role in the creation of Winnie the Pooh, more specifically a Canadian soldier, a veterinarian Harry Colebourn. Harry bought a black bear cub for twenty dollars at the train station in Eagle River on his way overseas to serve in World War I. The bear became the mascot of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade. When Harry was dispatched to France he loaned Winnie, named after his adopted hometown of Winnipeg, to the London Zoo where she became a beloved resident. A.A. Milne took his son Christopher to the zoo to visit Winnie the black bear and the rest, as they say, is history

A.A. Milne, Alan Alexander Milne, brought Winnie the Pooh to life for his son. Milne was born in London in 1882. He had one son whose name was none other than Christopher Robin, born in 1920. Christopher Robin lives on in the pages of A. A. Milne’s books, a timeless character for whom many feel great affection. Milne studied mathematics and then became a successful playwright before he started penning his tales with Winnie the Pooh, but his previous work was seriously overshadowed with the adventures of a bear and almost entirely forgotten and it is said he didn’t really want to be known as an author of children’s literature. But that’s where he’s wrong. I think the older we get the greater lessons we see that occurred in The Hundred Acre Wood.

Pooh shared the fact that a river knows this: there is no hurry. We shall get there one day. I grew up next to a river and knew exactly what Pooh meant; hurrying doesn’t change anything.

Perhaps his greatest wisdom is this:

What day is it, asked Pooh.

            It’s today, squeaked Piglet.

            My favourite day, said Pooh.  

I think I’ll go and read my dad’s letters over again. Just because today is the best sort of day to do such things.

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Post 100 – Gratitude – Full Moons

I am grateful for a full moon. It was a full moon on my birthday, April 29th.

My mother used to sing a song to Aimee, my eldest daughter, when Aimee was little. My mother may have adjusted the lyrics slightly, combined a couple of verses together, but this is how we remember it. And I doubt very much if Robert Meredith Willson would mind my mother taking artistic license with his song.

I see the moon, the moon sees me

Over the mountain, over the sea

Back where my heart is longing to be

Back to the one I love.

A full moon is thought to bring us awareness and clarity, but one must be in a calm state to reap the benefits of the moon. Meditating during a full moon, outside under its light can harness a calm and understanding that seems to go to our very cells, so I’ve read. A full moon is said to propel writers to have a deeper connection with his/her writing. One can only hope. The downside of a full moon, “experts” say, is our personality defects can be enhanced by a full moon, hence the unusual circumstances that bring people to the emergency rooms in great numbers when the moon’s light is full. The Fundy tides surge and swell during a full moon, often spilling over. The power of the moon is visible.

There are more theories and stories and myths about a full moon than one would want to bother counting, but I find a full moon calming, restorative. It makes any problems that I think I might have shrink and become hardly worth bothering about. I leave my blinds up on a full moon night and let the light wash into my bedroom and wake me, if I happen to be asleep, so I can go out on the deck, weather permitting, and soak up that glorious light.

The light from that magnificent moon can unite those separated by geography, as you both stare up in wonder and send your very best wishes and thoughts to float on those beams of light to find their way into the heart of the other. The next full moon is May 29th. Be ready.

Science says the sun is the past, the earth is the present and the moon is the future. Perhaps this is why we gaze at it, our breath halted as we bathe in its light and imagine all the possibilities that are yet to come. If we miss it, if the clouds obstruct our view, if the rain keeps us indoors, take comfort. Another is coming.

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Post 99 – Gratitude – Car Rides

I am grateful for car rides. Just the other day I was remembering Sunday drives from my childhood, the whole family piled into the car, only a brief argument about who got stuck in the middle. Me. The burden of being the youngest. Erma Bombeck said never have more children than you have car windows. She was right. Sometimes those drives would be quiet, everyone lost in their own thoughts, and other times the conversation was lively, stories spilling, one into another, everyone having a chance to be heard.

The car is a perfect place for conversation, for sharing. There are no interruptions aside of the driver keeping her eyes on the road and doing her best not to careen into the ditch. You can share the really big stuff in a car, the hard bits, the deep stories that take a few hundred miles to get at. With no eye contact, other than a few glances, you can really hear, listen to the words, the tone, to get to the guts of what you are talking about. It’s a captive audience, literally. No one is going to jump from a moving car to avoid a particular topic. There is an ease in road trip conversation with its inherent privacy and intimacy.

My sister and I did a road trip not so many years ago, from Kelowna, BC to Fort Frances. We laughed a lot, cried a little, and listened to each other’s take-away from childhood, differing in some perspectives and mirrored in others. Our sisterhood was refreshed with common stories and memories, our uniqueness springing from a shared starting place.

A car ride conversation is a bit like being in the psychiatrist’s office, lying on her couch, she sitting behind you, out of view, probably because she’s writing her grocery list or playing Sudoku, but you don’t know that. You have to trust she’s paying attention. She probably is. And I’m not sure it matters, because it’s all about getting the “stuff” from deep inside out to where you can see it.

Maybe we could solve some of the world’s problems if people went for a car ride. Trump and Kim Jong-un would have to drive around the planet several times before they stopped spitting at each other and got to the truth. Israel and Palestine could stand to do some listening, each taking a turn. A car ride might be perfect for that.

I don’t mean to make light of serious matters, but I’m not sure it should be so difficult to get along, to see another person’s perspective, even those at cross-purposes to our own. I watched a film not long ago about the difficulties between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, the centuries old siege pitting Catholics and Protestants against one another. The leaders of the opposing “teams” ended up in a car together due to weather and the premise was they would begin to understand the opposing side, which led to a calming of the conflict. Made perfect sense to me. You can’t hold a grudge for long in a car; not the way you can when you’re hiding behind walls and rhetoric.

I’d love a car ride today. I’d like to escape and have a conversation of the heart. William Butler Yeats said it right: “Come, Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame.” What he was really saying was, let’s go for a car ride.

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