Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Angels Don't Always Wear White

"Glad-eyes," that's what he has, Molson, this friend of mine with golden hair and lolling tongue.

We run from the house into the evening air, his nails tap-tap-tap-tapping lightly on the pavement as my feet thud-thud beside him.
He dances with exuberant joy at being "out." Jumping high, he catches his red leash in his mouth and tugs me along; pulling it as if he is playing a joke, pretending that it is he taking me for the walk, which is probably true. He is so HAPPY and he communicates that with every fibre of his being and glance of his glad eyes.

The first rush of excitement settles and he trots forward with focus, pacing his trot perfectly to my stride. He is a gentleman of a dog, disciplined and well bred.

He reads the ground with his nose, as avidly as my father used to read the newspaper, and leaves messages behind for others who will follow. He looks as if he is about very serious business. I don't hurry him; it seems a small thing to wait when he is such good company.

Ah, these walks!

Friday evening the village is a-buzz with lawnmowers. It seems that people are getting a head start on the weekend chores. I inhale the scent of freshly mown grass.

On Saturday the sound of backyard fun fills the air, as if, with the chores done, it is time to enjoy the weekend. From behind hedges and fences come the sound of children's voices, laughter, and the splash of water in backyard pools. The appetizing smell of a barbecue tantalizes my nose.

Sunday night we walk under a rosy sky as God slowly pulls the blanket of the evening over the village. We pass a house with the garage lit up and the front door open. Lawn chairs sit deserted outside and from a stereo inside the garage comes the mournful, wailing sound of a country song. As we pass, the music gradually fades from our ears.

Along the way, I catch the scent of blossom from a nearby tree. I walk closer and stop to sniff the source. It is Molson's turn to wait patiently. If he wonders what I can find to smell on a tree when all the good smells are on the ground, he doesn't show it. He knows the first rule of friendship; acceptance.

Blue sky and fluffy salmon pink clouds are fading quickly into dusk.We run and I hear his tags jingling and his ears thudding he shakes his head.

I shout, "Hi" to a neighbour as we pass.

"Can I see your dog?" he asks, walking towards us past a lawn sprinkler.

"He's the best dog in the world," I say, "not a mean bone in his body."

"I had a Golden myself," he says, "he got old and we had to put him down just three months ago. His name was Gatsby."

"I'm so sorry-- but what a perfect name."

He is squatting beside Molson now and Molson is sitting while he pets him. He fingers his tag with the St. John's Ambulance cross.

"He's a therapy dog," I explain, "he visits seniors now. He's working his way up to visiting group homes. "

"Ah, they will love him," he says.

I say goodbye and walk on. The air carries the fragrant scent of wood -smoke from a backyard bonfire. Firecrackers go off intermittently; it is the eve of Canada Day. Molson doesn't react—he's so not high strung.

His cold, wet nose and mouth rub my hand in a sign of love. As we walk on, fireflies flash in the ditches.

I think of Gatsby, and Eric, my friend Dave's dog, and Irene's Henry, who were such faithful friends to them while they lived; and Molson, who is still fulfilling his assignment to love his people unconditionally. And I wonder if maybe dogs earn wings like Clarence the angel in the movie, It's a Wonderful Life.
I see a lot of God in dogs: Faithfulness, unconditional love and quick forgiveness.

I am so grateful for this four-legged angel, robed in a fur coat that I am sure hides his already earned wings.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Searching for Christmas

I wrote this seven years ago and Molson has aged since that long ago walk on a sweltering August day. This will be his last Christmas unless there is some special dispensation for the most faithful of dogs. It was so good to read this, and remember "then." And the message of the story still rings true.

August was hot and steamy. Sweat trickled and tickled down spines and hair clung droopily to heads. I explained to some English guests with a craving for bracing “fresh air,” that flinging open the windows would not help at all. After a few days here they believed me.

I got into the habit of taking late evening walks with Molson, our golden retriever. Normally he bolts from the house like an arrow from a bow, but even he moved slowly on those sweltering August evenings, with the fields surrounding our village buzzing and humming with the rhythmic pulse of insect life, and the intoxicating scent of summer blooms hanging in the still air.

With my senses drenched in summer, I had Christmas on my mind one night late in August. I pondered the next third of the year and wondered how to get it right. Maybe if I started now, I thought, this year I might find the Christmas I long for; because I’m looking for it every year—the one with the joy and the peace the angels talked about.[1]  They appeared suddenly to the shepherds, and just as suddenly they were gone, but I remember their promise, “News of great joy...peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

Jesus said of the Kingdom of heaven, that it “Is like treasure hidden in a field.”[2] That is the perfect metaphor for the treasure that is Christmas too, for it is also hidden, covered with earthiness; the sacred beneath the secular. 

The forces of a powerful enemy work to obscure it. He’s been doing so from the beginning. I mean the very beginning; when he, that old serpent, the first proponent of suggestive selling, said, “See this fruit? You didn’t know you needed it but you can’t live without it. What you have with God? It’s not enough.”

At the root of Christmas Gone Wrong; for me, at least; is the anxiety of “not enough.” Drill down deeper and “I” am not enough; the simplicity of the manger in Bethlehem is not enough; no gift I buy is good enough. The angels’ good news of joy and peace lies buried in a field of the enemy’s innuendo. And I buy into the lie; adding layer upon layer that obscures the simplicity of Original Christmas.

Bethlehem was small; the guest list hardly impressive; the venue was minimalist in the extreme. I am a follower of one born there, who lived his life peacefully and powerfully, unencumbered by entrapments, but my life often does not reflect that so well.

Dusk was falling around me as Molson and I walked home that August night.  I glanced at an old century home on the opposite side of the road. The steep gable of the Presbyterian manse pointed, as if to heaven and from a circular attic window twinkled two tiny lights; one red, the other green.

Forgotten Christmas lights, or a message from God? I choose to believe that he heard my heart cry and was sending a signal back to let me know.

Christmas--it’s a celebration of what happened in Bethlehem, pure and simple and that is so much more than enough. With God’s help I want to live out that truth this year and if I do, I know that I will find the Christmas I am longing for.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel[3] 

[1] Luke 2:9-14

[2] Matthew 13:44

[3] Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem, verse 4. Rector Phillips Brooks (1835-1903)

Sunday, October 08, 2017


Lord, your love is evident everywhere I look,
When you were making this fair earth,
What tender care you took!
You could have made the birds talk,
As plain as plain could be,
But joyous cheerful melodies,
Ring from tree to tree.
The sky so blue above us,
Your love did hang in place,
Without earth's special atmosphere,
We'd stare right into space.
In every sight, in every sound--
Your love is there--outpoured.
Oh, how I want to thank you,
My great Creator, Lord.

Belinda, 1980

Monday, September 18, 2017

Mercy Me

Our son Pete usually calls to chat during his long commute to and from work in the city and it was during one of these conversations recently that I mentioned having the gift of mercy.

He loves to tease me about what he describes as my "random mercy," and says that I'm always able to "ferret out" the good in people. A particularly flattering choice of metaphor, I thought. 

He launched into his "axe murderer" routine, saying he imagines me saying, "Well, on the good side, he always cleans up after himself. And he keeps his tools nice and sharp."

He muttered something about not many people wanting me on a parole board--getting carried away now--he was on a roll--I was laughing so hard I could hardly catch my breath--the fuel to his fire.

Pete may have been exaggerating for dramatic and comedic effect, but when I told my granddaughter Tori about his teasing, she said, "Omie, remember that terrible dream I had a few weeks ago? There was someone trying to kill me, and you didn't believe he would do it." 

And my art student granddaughter, Tippy, who only just retired her nose ring and Mohawk haircut this summer said that she would describe herself as a little more on the "conservative side" than me. The evidence in Peter's favour was mounting as I thought about it.

But this is the beautiful thing in the Kingdom of God--although we are exhorted to exercise our gifts for the common good, none of us carries our gifts in isolation--others have balancing gifts--wisdom and discernment, for example, see Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-11.

I am married to Paul, who has a great heart of compassion, but also great wisdom. He often tempers my strong emotional reaction to something, with considered and careful caution. In one another there is safety--and challenge when it is needed.

We didn't talk to Pete on his way home on Friday because Paul and I were out for dinner that evening. But I told him on Saturday that when we were driving home late the night before, I said to Paul, "We should call Pete." 

Paul said, "No, he'll be home by now," and I said, "Exactly--he can talk us home!" 

"But," as I said to Pete, "We had mercy on you." 

"Augh!" said Pete. 

Touché! thought I.

Humour isn't mentioned in any list of spiritual gifts that I can see, but it is sprinkled like seasoning through the feast of wisdom in the pages of the bible--a gift indeed in which truth can be delivered with laughter.

Note: I read this to Pete, to get his permission to press "publish," and he said, "It's very well written. I'm glad you've been sharpening your writing skills." I did have to tell him to stop. :)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Naturally Imperfect

It was midsummer when I drove for miles down roads that wound up hills and down, to buy some apples for my small pie business. As I was leaving, the woman behind the counter of the rural country market told me that they were the end of the line and there would be no more until the new crop came in.

The three large boxes I managed to get represented quite a few pies, but one by one they all found a home before the new crop was available from my supplier. When my freezer was finally empty, I went to my local No Frills, which is a little more expensive, but I looked for the apples in bags labelled, "Naturally Imperfect." These apples lack conformity in size or shape--they aren't quite "perfect," but are perfectly delicious in the pies.

Recently as I was thinking about a fault that was obvious in an acquaintance, I thought of the "naturally imperfect" label, and how appropriately it could be applied to humans. In that moment, instead of persisting in my critical thinking, I thought instead: Why shouldn't that person have faults? Don't I? Don't we all? Isn't it part of the human condition to be imperfect?

Later that same day I was in a meeting when a topic was raised about which I had some strong feelings. When I had a chance to give input, I went on far too long, went into way too much detail, was too emotional, and, in retrospect, I realized how pompous I must have sounded, as though I thought I was some kind of expert on the subject we were discussing.

When Paul gently confirmed my suspicions after we got home, I felt so embarrassed. That was when I remembered--I am Naturally Imperfect. It was helpful to remember and accept that about myself. Sure, I embarrassed myself a little--maybe even more than a little, but so what? My friends in the meeting simply got to see that I am very human.

One area I do have some expertise in is pastry, and in my hands, even imperfect apples turn into a perfect pie. It's not a great leap to realize that it isn't about me, but about whose hands I am in. God can use me, even in my weakness and imperfection, just as a well-known old poem called The Old Violin (The Touch of the Master's Hand) describes:
But the Master comes, 
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand, 
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought 
By the Touch of the Masters' Hand.

2 Corinthians 12:9

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Moment of Decision...

It's been almost a week since we returned from Mishkeegogamang, a First Nation 2000 kilometers north of our home, and I feel as though I have a suitcase full of stories to unpack. 

We went as a team of 23 diverse people, brought together by a common desire to bring encouragement, hope, practical help and spiritual support to the people of Mish. Ten of our team were teenagers, and this story is from Tippy, who was one of  them. It happened on our first full day there and is shared as she told it to me:

Susan said that we needed to set up a buoy line, and I said, "Okay, I can do that," not thinking that the water was going to be as cold as it was. So me, Dylan, Tori, Jared and Max all went down to the water to set it up.
We got everything ready and had anchored the two 50 foot sides and were taking out the 100 foot rope for the back of the buoy line. We anchored part of the 100 foot rope to one of the sides and were taking it across to the other side, when the side that had been attached came undone and was drifting off into the river. 
So Max said, "Let's just pull it in," and we said, "No, no, the pool noodles are going to come off the rope," and he kept saying, "No, no, it'll be fine." But of course it wasn't because we could see the end of the rope getting really close to that first pool noodle and were yelling at him to stop.
But then of course the inevitable happened and the pool noodle became detached from the rope and began drifting off into the river.
So at this point Tori and Jared were on the shore holding the ropes and keeping them steady, and Dylan, Max and I were in the water watching the pool noodle drift away. And then Dylan said, "I'm not going to get it," (he couldn't see the bottom of the water,) and Max said, "It's too cold," and I'm standing there thinking, I don't want to let this pool noodle drift away, and I took off my shirt and my glasses and handed them to Dylan, and then I just dove in the water. 
I swam out and got the pool noodle, and on the way back there was just silence! I don't think Dylan cared, but I think that Max felt a bit humiliated--he just got showed up a little bit.
They asked me if it was cold, and I said, "Yes, what do you think?" and sent Tori to get a towel. I called them wusses, and Jared said, "Oooh!"
I read Tippy's account to Tori today, and she laughed, remembering, and said, "Yes, that's pretty much what happened. except she forgot to mention me yelling, 'Go get it, Dylan!'" Which he didn't.

I only wish that I could have captured every story every day, there were so many funny, sweet, moving and poignant moments but trying to commit them to memory was a losing battle. I did take hundreds of photos but will try to capture some of what we experienced, in words, too.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

The Movers and the Moth

It was 2004 and I had gone back to England for two weeks to help my brother Robert move Mum from the two story home she was living in, to a perfect little ground floor flat in the same village.

Robert and I had a lifetime of gathered belongings to sort through and condense into a much smaller space, while Mum, blissfully unconcerned with all of this, patiently waited for the move.

I persuaded Robert that it might be a good idea, even though Mum's final quota of belongings was small, to get help in the form of a moving company.

We settled on movers called Mike and Al. Their advertisement in the phone book sounded so promising. "No job too large or too small," it boasted.

From the moment I made contact with "Mike" though, something in his voice gave a different impression to the enthusiastic advertisement. In fact, I wasn't sure that he really wanted to do this job, although he didn't come right out and say so.

When I pressed him for a quote, saying that we didn't really have a lot to move, he said, "That's what everybody says and when we get there it is a lot."

"Okay," I thought, "That's probably true, often," but it didn't seem like a very promising start to our moving relationship.

On moving day, they arrived. Each was driving a small, shiny, red moving van, one larger than the other, just like them.

Robert and I felt uncomfortably as if we were in the middle of a family argument as Mike and Al bickered with each other from the start, arguing over how items should be lifted or carried and how the move was to go.

Mum's antique china cabinet, which had belonged to Oma in Holland, had twin owls on each of two wooden spires. We asked Mike and Al to be especially careful with these. Inevitably one of the owls was broken off. It resides in a drawer of the china cabinet to this day.

Because the front door was open, a moth or butterfly fluttered in and when Mike spotted it, he said, "Is that a moth, or a butterfly? Only I've got a phobia about moths."

A phobia I could understand, although I did ask if he was really serious. But what, I wondered, was the difference between a moth and a butterfly when it came to a phobia about things fluttering?

At that point, Al came in and asked the same question about the thing on the wall. Apparently he had the same phobia.

And just in case that you ever need this piece of information, the answer was, "Moths fly at you in the face. Butterflies are frightened of you and fly away."

So good to know!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Word Makes a Difference

Sometimes one word can make a profound difference, as I found through reading the book: “Understanding the difficult words of Jesus—New Insights from a Hebraic perspective.” 

The authors, David Bivin and Roy Blizzard, Jr., believe that the first three gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke; also known as the Synoptic gospels; were not originally written in Greek as was believed for centuries, but in Hebrew, which was then translated into Greek and then from Greek into English. 

A triad of languages involved in translation, create issues obvious to anyone who has tried using Google Translate, which seems to focus on words alone as opposed to the idiom it is translating. For example, I translated “raining cats and dogs” into Dutch, and got the result: "hondenweer," which literally means “dog weather” or “dogs again.” 

Bivin and Blizzard’s  theory that the first three gospels were originally written in Hebrew is based on relatively recent evidence revealed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, between 1947 and 1956, as well as by studying the writings of the early church fathers and the inscriptions on coins from the time of Jesus.

This was interesting, but understanding how one particular word should have been translated acted like a key to understanding other scriptures. It was all to do with a Hebrew verb that was poorly translated into Greek, and in the process confusing the tense.

I learned that in Hebrew, the verb “karav” means “to be at, to come up to and be with--to be where something or someone else is,” but this was translated into the Greek word “engiken” which means “about to appear” or “is almost here,” and is sometimes interpreted into English as “come near.” 

The original word “karav” was sometimes used to indicate intimate relations between people as it clearly does in this account in Genesis 20:1-6: Abraham, was worried that his safety would be at risk because of the desirability of his beautiful wife so he told her to say that she was his sister. Here is the text:  

20 Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the [a]Negev, and [b]settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar.Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 
But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is [c]married.” Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a nation, even though [d]blameless? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my [e]hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also [f]kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.

Why is this all so important and how and why does it make such a difference? Luke 10:1-11 New American Standard Bible (NASB) describes Jesus sending out 70 disciples ahead to the cities he planned to visit. Notice the instances where the words “come near” are used:
The Seventy Sent Out
10 Now after this the Lord appointed [a]seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. And He was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no money belt, no [b]bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ If a [c]man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in [d]that house, eating and drinking [e]what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’10 But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet we wipe off in protest against you; yet [f]be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’

Verses 9 & 11 use the phrase, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you,”  but translated back to the Hebrew “Karav” it should say, “It’s here! It has arrived!” That makes a profound difference.

Luke 17:20-21
New American Standard Bible (NASB)

20 Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with [a]signs to be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is [b]in your midst.”

 How was the kingdom of God present in this case? In the people sprinkled like salt and light amongst the crowd--Jesus and his followers.

We who know him, represent the Kingdom of God. We carry the kingdom where we go—light in the darkness of the world.
Everything about us should represent God’s rule and reign--his character: goodness, mercy, patience, gentleness, love, kindness, long-suffering, faithfulness, humility. Realizing this makes a difference. I am not just representing me but someone and something more important. I have to pause and consider this when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed in a grouchy mood.
Familiar verses have a deeper meaning.
Micah 6:8New American Standard Bible (NASB)
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love [a]kindness,
And to walk [b]humbly with your God?

In other words, God requires us to make manifest the values of the kingdom of God and of the heart of God. And this is why Jesus could say to us:
Matthew 5:48New American Standard Bible (NASB)

48 Therefore [a]you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 It isn’t actually we who have to struggle to be perfect, but it happens as a result of our awareness that his kingdom has taken up residence in us.

2 Corinthians 4:7New American Standard Bible (NASB)
 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;

John 17:11New American Standard Bible (NASB)

11 I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.

 When “the name” is referenced in the Bible, it talks of character. At a conference author Mark Buchanan said that he understood the commandment “you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7) to mean that the sin is to act in the name of God in a way that doesn’t represent his character; in other words to misrepresent God to the world.

When Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which you have given Me, that they may be one even as we are,” it is to do with his “keeping us” in his character—upholding his kingdom as we represent him to the world.

   Galatians 5:22-23 speaks of the “fruit” of the Spirit.
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Fruit is the product of intimacy. Think of that word “karav” again, interpreted as to “come near,” but actually a synonym for an intimate encounter.

In John 3, Jesus has an encounter with a curious member of the ruling council of Pharisees.
John 3:1-6New American Standard Bible (NASB)
The New Birth
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these [a]signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born [b]again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Before there can be a spiritual birth, there must be an intimate encounter with someone, the Holy Spirit.
A couple of Sunday mornings ago, I was meditating on what I had just seen about the kingdom of God before church. An hour went by like short minutes as scripture after familiar scripture came alive in a new way.
That morning our pastor led us in the Lord’s prayer.
I listened to the words “Your kingdom come,” but instead of seeing them as a prayer for his kingdom to come in the future, I prayed them as in the present tense, “Your kingdom come--now—in me.”
The prayer ends, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory.”
Not our power or glory—it is all his!
During our sharing time that morning I had asked for prayer for a man who had not been heard from for 5 days in Thunder Bay, the brother of a friend on a northern reserve.  The night before she had been distraught with worry and I said in a message to her on FB that we had no place to run but to Jesus. On my mind were the many First Nations people in Thunder Bay that have been found in the river. When I got home from church, I checked FB and saw that she had posted a one line prayer:
“Our Father who art in heaven.”
Another person added
“Hallowed be thy name”
Then someone else wrote
“Thy kingdom come”
Twice in one day, it felt like God confirmed what he was teaching me about the Kingdom of God.
My prayer that I wrote in my journal that morning before church was:
 “Today I am praying that God will make me usable and keep me in a state of usability.”
I could as easily have simply written, “Thy kingdom come.”
Hidden Treasure
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
A Costly Pearl
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls,46 and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

An intimate encounter with the Holy Spirit—it can happen here and now. We just have to answer “yes”--and open the doors of our hearts.

Sunday, June 04, 2017


I had the privilege of delivering the message at Green Valley Alliance Church today and because it was live-streamed I can post it here.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017


It was a season of “lasts:” the last budget preparation at year-end; the last 1.1 with each of her direct reports; the last meeting of each of the many groups and committees of which she had been part for so many years--the last this—the last that. She had loved her job these many years, and she had wanted to finish well, had worked hard at leaving everything in perfect shape for her successor. She was dutiful, committed, loyal and hardworking, no one could say otherwise, but now, as she sat at her desk one morning when the finish line was in sight, suddenly she felt an unfamiliar stirring  within her, a sort of reckless abandonment that was as intriguing as it was terrifying.

She glanced at the clock hanging above her desk and realized that she had completely lost track of time while working to finish a project before leaving for another of those “last” meetings.  With a gasped, “Oh my goodness!” she quickly reigned in her thoughts, shut her laptop with a bang, and gathered her coat and briefcase.

It was her turn to bring the refreshments for the meeting with a group of her peers--agency executive directors. She had planned to stop on the way to pick these up. What happened next surprised her, but she seemed to be guided by a force outside herself.  She found herself stopping at the corner 7-11 store instead of the fancy little patisserie where she had planned on choosing a tasteful selection of elegant pastries. Inside the store she avidly surveyed the candy counter, sniffing the air fragrant with the scent of chocolate and other sugary concoctions. Her eyes lit up at the sight of the giant neon-coloured gumballs and Tootsie Rolls and she grabbed a large bag of each of these, leaving the store with a smile on her lips and a skip in her step.

At the meeting she arranged her loot on several elegant platters, if pouring out the clattering riot of garish gumballs and Tootsie Rolls could be called “arranging.” She placed the platters around the meeting table and enjoyed the gasps of surprise and titters of laughter as her colleagues arrived and sat down. As they helped themselves, she herself smothered the urge to giggle at the normally super-professional crowd struggling to hold the giant gumballs in their mouths as they attempted to chew them. A few dribbles escaped from mouths, while teeth and lips absorbed the cheap dye of the gumballs. Meanwhile those who had chosen the Tootsie Rolls fared no better as they tried hard to separate their jaws without losing expensive crowns or fillings. All dignity had fled the room.

“This is so--CHUMMY!”  She cried, smiling brightly at the sea of dismayed faces, but of course there were no verbal responses, only mute nods, because everyone’s mouths were quite busy enough without trying to speak. And if only everyone had kept their eyes on her, things might not have devolved further, but inevitably they looked around at one another, and that’s when the resulting explosive laughter projected gumballs and Tootsie Rolls—and of course, colourful drool, into the air at high velocity. There were sputtered apologies between dabbing at mouths and unsuccessful attempts at smothering the laughter, which exploded again the moment it died down. Tears ran down faces along with mascara, while some ran from the room doubled over, with a posture that indicated their urgent destination.

She yawned, her brain waking up, but not yet able to piece together threads such as time, or day, or place. She lifted her head from her desk, realizing where and when she had fallen asleep.  As she gathered her thoughts, the article she had been reading on her laptop reminded her--it had been lunchtime. The article had interested her, “A Short-timer,” she had read, “is a term for a person nearing the end of their military service or that period before retirement or when a contract or project is almost at an end and productivity decreases or is overwhelming.” Interesting, she mused, just before her eyes became irresistibly heavy and she succumbed to the compulsion to lay her head on the desk for just a few moments...

And this entire story is a piece of nonsense, in other words;

(Inspired by a writing prompt in Monica Wood's book: Pocket Muse 2: Endless Inspiration for Writers, which said: Work a little magic with the following words: gumballs  flimflammery  tootsie  short-timer  chummy )

Friday, May 05, 2017

The Air We Breathed

We know that each generation influences the next with its physical DNA, passing on predictors of appearance; health; gifts; interests and propensities. But there are other things less tangible that invisibly and strongly, guide the actions and attitudes of the next generation. It's almost as if it's the air we breathed.

I considered this recently as I went through the clothes in my cluttered clothes closet. I thought about my mother's clothes closet, which stands in my mind as a symbol of something about her, and about me. 

Firstly it was not a closet really, but a wardrobe. In England, where I grew up, we did not have bedroom closets but wooden wardrobes.
My parents had a 1950's, shiny, walnut veneer wardrobe, from which wafted the faint smell of moth balls. It had two sides, each with a curved door, ornately patterned metal handles, and locks that held keys, but were never locked. 

The top of the wardrobe held all sorts of things that had nowhere else to be stored, including a cardboard box that contained a photograph album with black and white photos of my mother's youth, and many envelopes containing loose photographs, which I loved to look through. 

Image result for brownie cameraMum's side of the wardrobe had some shelves and among other things her black Kodak Number 2 Brownie camera was kept there. At 11 years old my own love of photography developed and I was allowed to use this simple, sturdy camera that took great photos. I haven't stopped recording life in pictures since then. 

When it came to clothes though, there were not many in Mum's wardrobe. We were probably no poorer than other families in post-war England, but what little money there was, did not go towards clothes, except for school uniforms and sturdy, serviceable shoes, always bought with room to grow into. As a result, I can remember every non-essential item with clarity--a white dress splashed with a pattern of big deep pink roses, with a pink waistband that tied in a bow at the back--black patent leather shoes, and the white shoes with a bottle of whiting--that strong smelling liquid that you had to shake well and then apply with a sponge. New shoes spent at least their first night beside my bed being cherished in their pristine shoe boxes, ensconced between sheets of tissue paper, smelling "new" and wonderful!

My mother's items of clothing seemed to last many years. She had a suit that she wore only on special occasions, such as when we traveled to Holland to visit our maternal family. In it she looked even more beautiful than usual. It was of soft brownish fawn cloth with pin prick polka dots. The jacket shoulders were slightly padded, it had lapels and a fitted waist, and the skirt was flared. Below it in the wardrobe was a pair of high heeled brown suede open toed shoes, worn as rarely as the suit, and a handbag. Normally Mum simply used a series of practical canvas shopping bags to carry her wallet, Polo peppermints, clear plastic rain-hat, smaller shopping bags rolled up and secured with elastic bands, and handkerchiefs. 

When Mum got an office job, she suddenly needed clothes to wear to work and so she bought two outfits which she alternated. One skirt was of Black Watch tartan, with a cream blouse and green cardigan. The other pleated skirt was of a blue based tartan with a white blouse and blue cardigan. When I was 13, I was invited to a friend's 13th birthday party and having nothing to wear, borrowed Mum's blue outfit. I was tall for my age, and a little chunky--and must have been the least stylish teenager ever!

Other clothes landed in Mum's wardrobe from two more glamorous sources though. One of these was one of Mum's best friends, whom she'd met in the 1940's and with whom she remained steadfast friends all of her life--Auntie May. Auntie May lived in South Shields, near to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and spoke with a soft Geordie accent. Mum, with blue-gray eyes and abundant glossy, dark brown hair was a natural beauty. Auntie May had honey blond hair and was similarly gorgeous. She has had a life-long passion for clothes and would often pass on beautiful things to Mum--who still however wore the clothes she felt comfortable with, which she called her, "office clobber." "Clobber" is British slang for attire! When I grew older I would often find things of Auntie May's that I loved. This photo is of Mum with Auntie May. :)

The other source of lovely clothes was Tante Corrie, Mum's eldest sister, and more financially well off than we were. From Tante Corrie came really pretty things. I remember a flouncy grey flowered chiffon skirt that had an attached underskirt. We never actually wore it, but I loved to try it on and admire it occasionally.

Mum continued her thrifty, utilitarian approach to clothing all of her life. She put other things and people ahead of her own needs, and clothes were not her priority, ever. 

Maybe in reaction to this bare bones up-bringing, I had a bit of an obsession with clothes for much of my adult life and more than made up for any early scarcity. Now I find myself more closely in tune with Mum's approach, especially since I spend much of my life these days at home. 

We were in Mishkeegogamang, a First Nations reserve in North-Western Ontario last year when one of our friends there told me that the belief of the older members of their community is that goods coming in as donations or gifts to the reserve should go to the younger people. They won't take from them because they have all that they need and no longer need so much anyway. That freedom from perceived want and need, and their contentment, resonates with me across cultures and it reminds me of my own mum. 

Good air for the next generation to breathe.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Dairy Queen Debacle

I have discovered that the road to high drama or comedy often starts out as an innocuous trail of breadcrumbs.

Such was the case recently, when in the middle of cleaning her kitchen cupboards my friend Susan texted me with the wry declaration that she was married to a condiments hoarder.

“Dozens and dozens of packets of soy-sauce, ketchup, and sundry containers of salad dressing, vinegar, etc.,” she wrote. She thanked God for small mercies--at least Ron didn’t save the packets of salt and pepper, but she said that she could not suggest throwing any of the collection out.

Ron had said defensively that the last time the kids were over, he had given them all little ketchup packs to put on their French fries. 

“At that rate,” wrote Susan, “there’s no way we will be able to use them up before the end of the next decade! Then there are all the other little packets…And every time he gets takeout…there are MORE!”

“Oh, dear,” I texted back, adding that I had used up my own ketchup hoard by snipping the ends off the sachets and emptying them into my large ketchup bottle. Strangely, Susan didn't seem impressed by that.  

“Squeeze them into big bottles hey?” she  replied, “Ron suggested that, but I told him that was his job…that’s when he said I should throw them out.”

Ron’s hoard would have come in handy when Paul and I stopped to pick up supper from the Dairy Queen a few days later. He had been ill, and had lost his appetite for a couple of weeks, so I was relieved when he had the sudden urge for a DQ Crispy Chicken Salad with his favourite Honey Mustard dressing. Things began to unravel quickly when the server brought out the salad and told him that she was sorry, but they were out of Honey Mustard dressing. Paul was disappointed. The young server was poised with a cooked Crispy Chicken Salad, but without the Honey Mustard dressing, Paul did not want it. 

Childhood family dynamics made me a Rescuer of Awkward Moments and this one triggered me. I instantly remembered a leftover sachet of Honey Mustard Dressing that was waiting in the door of our fridge at home. Disappointment was unnecessary! All would be well.

As soon as the car stopped in our driveway, I rushed inside, an invisible red rescue cape flapping in the wind behind me. I skidded to a halt in front of the fridge, and flung open the door--but there was no dressing! In my own round of purging zeal, I had thrown it away. Next I ran to the pantry, where I was sure I had an unopened bottle of honey mustard dressing. I searched in vain before remembering it had gone the way of the sachet when I had noticed that the “Best Before” date was several years in the past.

Paul was eating his melting ice-cream first, but it was going fast. I felt like a contestant on a cooking show trying to beat the clock. I ransacked my cookbooks for recipes for Honey Mustard dressing—no luck. Undeterred, I ran upstairs and printed off the first honey mustard recipe I could find on the internet.

I gathered the ingredients quickly: Dijon mustard, honey, cider vinegar, salt and oil, and started measuring them out. The print on the recipe was small and I had to squint—my reading glasses weren’t handy but I didn’t want to waste time searching.

1 ¼ cups of Dijon mustard did seem like rather a lot, followed by 2 ¼ cups of honey and 3 ¼ cups of cider vinegar. I was just thankful that I had these things on hand in such quantity. I underestimated the size of bowl I would need and had to find a bigger one to transfer the mixture into. This must be a commercial recipe, I thought, but by now I was committed. 

Then I paused to take a calming breath and looked closely at the next ingredient. I saw to my dismay that what seemed at quick glance to read, “41½ teaspoons of salt,” was actually, step number 4--1½ teaspoons of salt, and that what seemed to be ever-increasing ingredient quantities were the result of my including the step numbers in the measurements. The last one would have been step 5. ¼ cup plus two tablespoons, of oil. The practice of thanking God for small mercies was heartily applied as I contemplated the amount of oil that would have swelled the growing concoction on my counter had I not pressed the pause button before adding that.

I pushed the overflowing bowl to one side and began again with the right amounts this time--and triumphantly carried in the hard-won dressing just as Paul was opening his chicken salad.

Afterwards I asked him how it was.

“Not the same,” he said—Paul is nothing if not truthful. He had no idea of the behind-the-scenes drama that had gone into its production.

I did briefly consider how I might rescue the original bowl of ingredients, but to do so would have meant adding 2 more cups of Dijon Mustard and another cup of honey to balance out the volume of cider vinegar--which was 13 times the correct amount of just a ¼ cup. There would have been enough dressing nobody really liked, to last a lifetime. You have to know when to cut your losses.

I’m trying to decide if the moral of this story is “haste makes waste” or “penny wise—pound foolish.” Maybe I should ask Ron.