Friday, December 31, 2010


I tend to drive in silence more often than not; a concept that used to have me pretty well hyperventilating.  My ignition was basically attached to the radio knob; it went on before my seatbelt. Brian never, ever has a radio on when he drives and I thought he was downright weird. If for some reason, I was alone in a vehicle with no radio, it made me feel anxious and antsy. I’m not sure how it happened, but now I never think to turn it on. Sometimes it even catches me off guard that it’s an option.  ‘Hey! I could listen to the radio!!’ It is now a treat rather than the norm.

I have found, in silence, that I am a thousand times more observant when I’m driving. That’s not necessarily a good thing, because it’s not the road that I’m observing. It’s the sky and the trees and photographs. I tend to view my surroundings in 4x6. I truly do. I've noticed that I translate my world into what my lens would capture. It’s all light and shadow and composition with a view to zoom and crop. It has become an unintentional obsession that I am searching for the photograph in the scene, as if it is one single piece of a gigantic puzzle.  I’m pleased when I find it, until I realize that I don’t have a camera with me and then the delight changes to regret.

I have grown comfortable with the silence in my car. I see the photos more clearly without the distraction of voices. Other voices - I still have my own that I have difficulty muting. I try to direct them when I get that uninterrupted opportunity. I say: 'Okay, we've got this time, let’s think about how we’re going to get organized, get focused, get productive.’  I force my thoughts in that direction, as it seems that they don’t offer themselves up otherwise. Lately, that file seems to be generally buried at the bottom of an overwhelmingly massive pile.

When my thoughts drift … now actually, that is a totally inaccurate word … my thoughts don’t drift – they jump, they leap, they pole vault, they scramble and tumble. Drift sounds gentle and pensive.  Mine are hyperactive.  I can see those little suckers in there, gorging themselves on chocolate and then running about like maniacs, totally wild and out of control. They are not lazily drifting.  See … I just did it there.  I have totally forgotten where I was going with this.

Oh yes ... I was going with ‘Thoughts’, and how, as I was driving along in the silence, a random thought popped into my head.  “ LISTEN. Your word is Listen.

Say What?’ I responded, because it's rude not to answer. ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘Your WORD is LISTEN. Oh yeah … it had completely slipped my mind that for the last couple years I have picked a word. The new year was just on the horizon and it was time again. My mind had not gone anywhere in the vicinity of that subject. It is quite cool when the ‘pop up’ is relevant and timely. It could have just as easily surfaced in mid-March. The message was clear - my word  picked me. It happened like that last year too – also in the radio free zone of the car. Last year's word was EMBRACE.  I did.  The word for 2009 was SEE ... did that too.

For 2011 … I am to Listen.

Listen to the words and needs of others. Listen to the sounds of nature. Listen to my own heart and instinct.  Listen is a soft and gentle word. Hushed.
SILENT and LISTEN are spelled with the same letters.

The radio will remain OFF.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Close But No Cigar

I almost did it. Or at least for a minute, I thought I did.

For the first time in the history of my being responsible for Christmas, I almost had all the presents wrapped before Christmas day.  I was almost ready.

Year after year, for 37 of them, I would find myself on Christmas Eve day feeling stressed and rushed; irritated with myself that I was needing to spend five or six hours wrapping gifts, baking cookies and sometimes still shopping.  Every single year I would growl and grumble at myself and say ‘NEXT YEAR I will have all this done and will leisurely enjoy the pre-Christmas season. I will have everything bought, wrapped, baking done, the house clean and I will sit and bask in the glow of the Christmas lights.’

Has never, ever happened … even once.

When I was surrounded by kids and critters, we lived on fast forward. Constant chaos.  I never caught up with the laundry in 20 years. There was much stuff, much activity; days were a blurr of motion and commotion.  I had to accept that peace and serenity were concepts that were unattainable and unrealistic and for the most part, I didn’t care. But I carried an expectation of myself to give my children the vision or at least the illusion, that Christmas was magical, beautiful and peaceful- for even the briefest of moments. Just the calm before the storm, but a glimpse of possibility ... "how-things-could-be".

It’s that darn television’s fault.  All those people – perfectly ready when friends and neighbours would drop in … house sparkling, stockings hung; them - all pleasant and smiley in their Christmas prettiness … hair combed, make up perfect and children sweetly smiling in red velvet dresses and socks that matched. I knew it even smelled good in there – like freshly baked gingerbread cookies. Never scotch tape and wrapping paper strewn everywhere, mish-mash piles of plastic bags with unwrapped gifts, and plain old ordinary, grilled-cheese sandwich life happening.

We’d get home from church about midnight and I would stay up for hours, making sure that when they awoke and came downstairs, that the Christmas tree would be lit and every single thing would be in order. Peace on Earth. Santa’s treasures would not be obstructed by clutter and disarray. Goodwill to Men. And Women. And children. And dogs. And EveryTHING. In all likelihood it was for my own need to achieve order and serenity for one single moment in the year, but what I envisioned  was that my brood would have warm and wonderful memories of the magic of Christmas, and that somehow would make up for the bedlam the rest of the year.

NEXT YEAR, I would tell myself ... I will absitively, posilutely be organized and ready DAYS ahead.  Perhaps even WEEKS ahead. After all,  I have had a fair number of runs at it.

I did truly, honestly believe that THIS was going to finally be NEXT YEAR. Three full days before Christmas Eve, I started wrapping gifts. I even put names on them so I didn’t have to re-open them because I couldn’t remember what they were.  I was downright giddy with the vision of being In Control. I truly thought that I was. I was congratulating myself and doing a Happy Dance. Joy to the World!!!

I’m not sure what happened.  There seems to be a chunk of time dropped completely out of the space between that day and Christmas morning.  A time warp tricked me into a false sense of sanity.

In the end, I was worse than ever. I was not only wrapping on Christmas Eve AND Christmas morning, I found myself for the first time in history, coming down to a regular weekday messy kitchen. For the last few years, I have been quietly reflective on Christmas morning, thinking about how things have changed with the kids gone. This year I didn’t even get to sit down for a cup of coffee. I do not know what made me believe that I had things under control; obviously I was hallucinating.

I was up at 7 am, working like a maniac, trying to pull things together by the time the crew arrived in the afternoon. It was a re-run of the nights that I would be scurrying around, vacuuming at 3 o’clock in the morning. I still wanted them to walk into something that looked like a television Christmas. I also wanted to be able to sit down and visit instead of the indelible image I have of my mother-in-law never leaving the kitchen or enjoying her company during holiday gatherings.

I was spinning. By the time of the expected arrival, I had cooked, carved and cleaned up the mess of two turkeys, had the gravy made and potatoes and turnip mashed and every dish done.  It was exhausting and crazy, but the transformation and order was shades of Christmas morning past.

They all walked in moments later. Was I greeting them at the door with hugs and happiness? Oh no. I had just got out of the shower - wet hair, no make up and trying to wrap last minute gifts on my bed. I was feeling tired and old and crusty and was ready for a nap. With grace of God, I hopefully will get another stab at it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Not So Bright

Many years ago I heard a strategy that I thought sounded like a good idea at the time.  If there was something in your life that was bothering you, or your mission was to get a new one, you were to totally rid yourself of the old one and then you’d be forced to do something about it rather than just settling. Made sense.

For at least eight years, the tree that I use in the livingroom has been long past its due date. It was over 20 years old and had become so sparse that I had to bend the branches on one side towards the front, then stuff garland into the holes and fill it in with a couple dozen branches from another defunct tree. It was basically only a half of tree, and not a good one at that.

Year after year I promised myself that next year I would have a new one. They go dirt cheap at the auctions in the summer – beautiful, good quality artificial trees for just a few bucks.  The problem is, the only time that it ever crosses my mind is when I drag it out each Christmas. I refuse to pay the two or three hundred dollars that it costs for a nice tree during peak time, so year after year I say to myself ‘This will be the LAST year I have to do this.  NEXT year I will get a new tree.’

Well, here we are - the season is upon us and once again I am needing to resurect my pathetic sad old tree.  Grumbling at my incompetence, I went to the basement to drag it up yet one more time.

But I couldn’t find it. I searched every room numerous times. And then it hit me. I had instituted the old ‘rid yourself of it’ tactic.  It came back to me that after Christmas I had Brian take it to the dump so I would never be tempted to get one more year out of it.

All fine and dandy if it would have August that I remembered this brilliant move. I even begrudge half price that they are now when I know they practically give them away in the summer. 

The other day, out of the blue, the nostalgic fragrance of evergreen came upon me and brought back memories of Christmas past.  Ah-hah! I thought. I can get a Real Tree!!  That will be a wonderful treat. It’s been quite a number of years since we've had one. When the kids were here, we always had a real tree as well as the phoney one. That was important to us. It came from the time that Jaime, at four said 'When do we get to put the tree together?' What self-respecting country folk lets their child believe that one "puts a tree together". From that day on, there was a live Christmas tree in this house. But when they all left, it became a mess and fuss that I determined that I could live without.

I mentioned my idea of a real tree to Brian and immediately he was on a mission. He's a fan of Real things. He borrowed a truck, which cost him twenty bucks in gas; the tree was forty and another ten for sand. Seventy bucks. That would have gone a fair way towards the decent artificial one that I'd have for next year too. Oh well.  A beautiful, full, fresh, gorgeous big tree would be such a treat. And Christmas Tree Smell. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

Back in the day, we would have great fun picking a tree - it was an event. This time, Brian brought one home in a net. Never got a tree in a bag before; actually never let Brian out on his own to pick out a tree on his own either. Times change. I have become a lot less fussy about a lot things.  I could release control enough to let him choose all on his own.

So I open the tree. It’s a little on the puny side compared to the image I was courting. I wait for the branches to fall. I wait. And wait. Thinking that they’ve just been traumatized, I wait til morning, at which time I must face reality. The middle of my tree seems to be missing. Turning it doesn’t help. Hmmm…looks suspiciously similar to the one that went to the dump except that I can’t bend the branches toward the front. And it doesn’t smell.  At all. Really ... AT ALL. 

What to do? Back to the basement. Why I kept the bag of ‘fill in’ branches but threw the tree out, I don’t know, but I was glad I did.  They didn’t snuggle in like they did in my phoney tree, but it filled sufficiently to block some of the light and support the goods.

I stuffed it with gold net garland and reams of beads, then added my favourite antiqued white iced pointsettias and dried hydrangea. I used every strand of coloured lights I could get my hands on, being forced to mix styles to get the coverage.  I topped it off with some collected treasures, like the paper angel that Daniel made in kindergarten a quarter century ago.

Holes, phoney branches, and lack of fragrance notwithstanding, it’s done;  it’s fine and I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. 

#1) Sure … rid yourself of the old but you need to remember that you did that.

#2) Even the Real Thing can have major holes.

#3) Don’t buy a tree in a hair net.

#4) If you have enough stuff to load something down, and can turn the lights out and squint, anything looks fine.

#5) There's always next year.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Babes

Donkeys have been a huge part of my life for 28 years.  The four-legged, long-eared ones; some two legged ones have been for much longer than that.

For me, there is not an animal-joy that can compare to the excitement of a new born babe.  The softness of their fur, their velvet nose and incredible ears – holding them in your arms like a baby is something to experience. It has been such a delight to me, and as Chief Dan George says: “My heart soars.

But equally emotional on the other end of the scale, is the day they leave.  It is not for missing them that I am sad. I am always confident that they are going to a wonderful home where they will have even more love and attention than I can give them. It is for the moms that I grieve.

This weekend, all three of my summer babies have gone off to their new lives.  Summer Solstice … I called her Sully, but her new parents are calling her Summer, is joining her sister, ‘Colette’, who they adopted last year. They are great folk who have obviously love her a great deal and have kept in touch and sent photos to keep me updated. I am so happy for both Sully and Colette, to have each other.

Paddy O’Malley was adopted on Thursday by a lovely young couple with two small children.  I could instantly tell that he was going to have a wonderful life.  In fact, I saw myself in the mom – the excitement and enthusiasm of getting her first donkey – I can still feel that. But it was her genuine concern for Maggie that endeared me to her. She kept saying ‘I feel so badly for her.’ And so did I.

That’s the very hardest thing about raising donkeys. Not letting them go, but watching the mothers frantically looking for their babes. I cry every time.  I can’t even think about it without crying. I tell them over and over – “I’m SO sorry, I’m so VERY, VERY sorry.”  They are my dear friends and I hate to see them grieving. It just tears your heart out to see them running and pacing, and hear them crying out. I can’t look out the window.

When this young couple got Paddy – who I have I have actually called ‘Chocolate’, I warned them: “I just need you to know, this won’t be your only donkey. Be prepared to fall in love. He is just going to be your first, he won’t be an only child.”  I was speaking from experience. Donkeys, for animal lovers, are like potato chips, you can’t have just one.

The phone rang on Friday, it was Chocolate’s new parents. They were smitten in record time. ‘Yep, we’re in love.’, the husband confirmed. ‘Can we get that little white one too.’ ‘Sure, when?’ I asked. ‘Would an hour be okay?’ was the answer.

I am so happy for Paddy O’Malley and Molly Malone.  Not only are they going to have the most wonderful life with people who clearly love them already, and will grow up with two darling little children, but they will get to be together. 

It was a little easier on me to have all three moms lose their babies at the same time. When there’s one missing, they particularly panic.  This time, they seem to have settled quicker, going back to their old pattern of hanging out with the girls.

They'll be okay, and so will I.