awe, humility, hope and a few other things I might notice

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Blame it on cabin fever

This is just about the most fun I have had in a while. Blame it on cabin fever- the fact that I haven’t been having much play type of fun and that this little game was too much for me to resist. See The Daily Show March 24 for details.

I love Free to Be You and Me and still find it wonderful in its charming and hokey way, so no offense intended.

Have a look and listen and hopefully, a big laugh.


Mitch McConnell Free to Be You and Me

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Pride Commeth Before the Winter


* Does anyone else still call these long johns?

It isn’t easy to smile when it’s -30 degrees Celsius, for one thing, if you do, you may get your tongue stuck to your teeth as if it were a flagpole. Well, nothing quite so dramatic as that, but your lips will dry out surprisingly fast and chap the wits off them.  Cold air stings your lungs and your pants freeze like crispy fried dough.

A few years ago there was an incident when a dead car battery made me run a mile at 1am in -18 degree weather. That jog made me remember real cold, made me remember that jeans freeze up and then you awkwardly maneuver your legs so as not to touch the frozen cardboard surface if you are not wearing long-johns.* That was an experience not to be forgotten and it brought back memories from my youth of long waits at the bus stop, precariously exciting walks on frozen ponds and adventures in the woods involving guard dogs and neighbors with shot guns and chips on their shoulders.

Now that I live in Canada I am re-experiencing the cold of my younger years in New England. Now I wear two or three pairs of pants, even while indoors with the heat on. Now even the cats get a blanket, in the living room. My circulation has not improved with age and although I bear it, my attitude is more along the lines of “count to 10 and the cold will soon be over”. This is nonsense of course, winter lasts only six months in southern Ontario. However, as an adult without outdoor responsibilities I can limit my exposure and grumble away from long outdoor conversations, and, rather than tugging on my husband’s sleeve when he lingers too long near open doors, I just walk back inside. Even so, this morning just from sitting in a slightly warmed vehicle I swore I could have gotten frostnip with my gloves on. (Note to self- buy thicker gloves or wear two pair.)

It used to be that we felt a sense of personal satisfaction from enduring the elements, the old “I walked 10 miles to school in 2 feet of snow uphill…” kind of thing. That went out of style once fleece jackets were born and gave us soft skin like upright fleece sheep. Then along came microfibers and winter fashion. Winter fashion is abhorrent stuff. Everyone should look like a stuffed badger in the winter, not sleek NY, Trinity-mimicking race car driver types. I also think I threw smugness in a corner when I recall camping in South America and just the memory of the half-frozen dew soaked night runs shivers through me.

Still, a small warm ball of community pride will rise up in respect of plummeting temperatures and rising snow fall amounts in my town even whilst I sat warm and dry in my home. To understand this you have to know that we have a longstanding yet unspoken competition in my family about who had the “est” of weather- the lowest temperature, the highest wind chill, the deepest snow. Just the town having extreme weather is enough to put cheese on that cracker. The weather jousting is the longest part of our family conversations. It begins and ends every phone call and percolates into a significant portion of our short visits. It is the most animated my mother gets in a conversation that isn’t about my father. My eyes roll and widen with every claim and for years my mild Massachusetts weather could not stand up to my mother’s coastal New England hurricanes or my brothers northern Vermont cold. But then I moved to Canada.

North. I never thought I would move farther north than my brother. But soon I started edging him out on cold temperatures, even by just a few Celsius degrees. Pride rose up within me. He could get frostbite on a hike, I could get frostbite fetching the mail. I moved into a region that was even colder than my father’s memories. Only yesterday he emailed me telling me of his youthful adventures on lakes of 3 -5 feet of ice spinning cars just for the fun of it. “Much colder back then” he declared. “Well, not colder than Canada” I retort. I’ve always been skeptical of anyone who says “the snow was up to here” while pointing to anywhere above the knee. Now, in an effort to raise my one-upmanship I can check the internet to confirm or belittle those boasts. Sure, “that’s just in the drifts” I counter, usually under my breath. In response I might hear an almost inaudible “hmmph” or sigh from the other end of the phone line. Passive aggressive, I check online. This is as close as my family gets to banter. Later, for the first few seconds I may go outside and think, it’s not so bad, until I have to touch a doorknob with my bare damp hands.


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Computer madness

While making more ghee and between cups of coffee I have been trying to do crossword puzzles lately because I want to exercise my brain. Crossword puzzles and coffee, I am becoming my mother. Anyway, I thought I didn’t like crossword puzzles when I used to watch my mother doing them because they had a lot of arcane references to movie stars or events in history that far preceded my birth. I mean it seems like the target audience is 70 year olds when I know very well the target audience is 50 er 60-65 year olds. Also, they always seemed to have a mix of overtly obvious clues such as “yes” being the answer to the clue “affirmative” and oddly obscure clues like “tobermory topper” as a clue for “tam”. Huh?? I had some internal fear that this combination of the sometimes clever or arcanely erudite and alternately mind numbing dullness would result in me being caught off guard like I was with tricky exam questions or the silly math problems my brother’s friends would ask about children getting on and off buses when the answer had something to do with the color of the bus driver’s eyes. However, now it is all too clear that my “hurumph” is preceded by an abundance of clues about compass directions, the words “aide”, “err”, “lass” or “lad” and how many times can they recycle clues for “roe”. I think there is an insidious Scottish and fish egg connoisseur bias. I think I will take my Scottish ancestry (in a family that NEVER used the word lad or lass) and my non-fish eating self on to other games, like Scrabble. But alas (having no etymological relation to lass) I end up with the even more sinister computer Scrabble genius/megalomaniac that itself uses words like “laksdfjasdkjf” for 180 gazillion points (maybe that is the Nordic spelling for something) and plainly obscure words like “auxin”. And you cannot add “r” to my “false” for “falser” unless you are 3 years old!  It also does computer-throwee-outee the window words like jade for 44 trazillion points up against my “colors” for unfair combinations of “jo” and “al”. Then there are the completely non-existent words like “tirl” employed and yet the computer evil invisible monster has the gall to declare my use of “subtle” or “export” as illegal. Hurumph! Maybe I should just work on Madlibs, at least in that game I get to choose all of the words.

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A loaf of bread, a container of milk and a stick of butter


My husband just brought home a 25kg box of butter. That’s over 50 lbs for us non-metric folks. It is a case of butter, not a box. It is not packaged and separated, just the full on plastic bag wrapped block; large, square, yellow and too big for any shelf in our kitchen.

I asked him to pick up a few basics, something like a loaf of bread, a container of milk and a stick of butter from the discount store in Ontario on his way back from a long trip. Quebec dairy prices are more outrageous than the gas prices and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. He returned home sans milk, sans anything except the incredibly heavy brown box and his explanation that the store was closing but that he got a great deal on a case of butter. I don’t know what sudden fog overcame him or what dazzling light led him to the case of butter, but surely it was some trickster.

I am bemused.

We are only two people in our family and the cats don’t eat butter.

We have no friends in the area.

We have a small apartment and an adequate fridge, but 50lbs of butter, I think it will fit best in the bathtub.

Hmm, bathing in ghee, now that’s an idea. I’m sure it’s on some list of ayurvedic treatments, sure to improve my complexion and would be a nice tonic for the drying effects of the coming winter.

Back to the facts of the matter. The amusing irony is that I have recently been thinking about leaning my strict lacto-vegetarianism towards veganism.

I have shared these thoughts with my husband.

Out loud.

I have also recently turned the corner on my newest exercise routine from feeling like death to a modest feeling that I can finish my short jog without collapsing from my physical or psychological lameness.

I have also been watching a few documentaries (Vegucate and Forks Over Knives) that make me feel like despite all my good and healthy habits I’m destined for an early or prolonged suffering death from heart disease and diabetes. The prolonged suffering is the more compelling deterrent, especially after a lifetime of trying to survive my own exercise restarts.

It needs restating here because there is a small amount of shock involved, that yesterday my husband brought home more than 50 lbs of butter. If I were in the habit of drawing stick figures to represent my emotions, today’s figures would be considerably thicker and less stick like, especially around the middle and likely slumped over their large soft bellies.

So now we are in the slow process of making ghee. This was hubby’s stated objective in buying a case of butter at wholesale price. It’s chilly outside and the windows are closed. The smell of melted butter is seeping into our clothes and adhering to the inside of my nasal passages. The cat just started licking my husband’s shirt. I said the cats don’t eat butter, but the salt must be the attraction. I think my glasses are steaming up with minute globules of fat. I fear the aromas are having a soporific effect. We are going down the rabbit hole into a Willy Wonky Butter Factory.

Waking from my slumber, it occurs to me, but certainly has not yet occurred to my husband, that we need to put this ghee in something. All the large containers in any normal household would not be enough to hold this much ghee unless we consider sanitizing the cooler. Now I’m back to ideas of bathing in ghee again. A kind of autumnal baptism.

Maybe we will give the ghee away to friends for Canadian Thanksgiving, and U.S. Thanksgiving, and winter solstice, and New Years and maybe Easter… We can try to confiscate those charming blue and yellow metal tins of butter cookies, you know the ones that almost never ever have butter cookies in them, from yard sales and people’s top shelves and the deeps of their already full pantry closets. We’ll line them with saran wrap (because sanitizing those tins is nearly impossible) and fill them with golden ghee. A perfect gift. It will avoid all the hasty purchases of chocolate or flowers, and no need for bags that cost as much as the gift, or ribbons or tissue paper. The savings are mounting.

Yet I don’t think my husband had gifts in mind when he purchased the equivalent of a small child of butter. Maybe he wanted to contribute an adornment for the ice sculptures that are so popular at winter festivals up here. We may be processing the ghee until December, so that will be just in time.

Time lapse writing…We have finished cooking our first batch, in our one large pot on our one large burner. The case looks untouched, hacked at with our one large strong knife (excepting the cleaver which just didn’t seem appropriate for the task) still sticking out from the center. The cube of sunshine is barely wounded, only flaking a little at the top, like me, my exercise routine and my thoughts of veganizing.

I think I need to teach my husband the little ditty;

“a loaf of bread, a container of milk and a STICK of butter”.

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I walk across the wood parquet floor and notice warm spots and small warped puddles. This warm smoothness conjures a powerful memory of the sandy floor of the lake where the summer sun cast through water and waves to make little golden spotlights and floating sand shone like shimmering mystical fish scales. Sitting on the couch is bathwater, its grey cover resembling unreflected stillness when clouds and wind breathed in relief. The only sounds are the hush of light breezes from the window fan and the remarkably close twittering of urban birds. My eyes set on the card my mother sent about a year ago of bending red tulips still closed and lithe and floating in their white 3×5 vase.

There is nothing synthetic about these feelings. Indoors is outdoors, not just blending, but interchangeable. In South American homes with courtyards or the meandering ladders of roof patios in India the indoor and outdoor experiences merge. Courtyards become mazes of potted plants, kitchen gardens, and stone-base cooking stoves. Drying clothes are strung on wires and in the shelter of shade from a cuticle of cement overhang sleep babies and stray cats. In India beds (manji) are brought out, serve as hammocks for mid-day naps, dining tables, and royal thrones for guests. There are no beaches, no lakeshore, no ease at riverbanks, but the courtyards and roofs are cottage retreats nonetheless. So too is my aerie with fluttering curtains and spider’s webs in ceiling corners. Ticking clocks and refrigerator gurgles replace the metronome of ocean waves and the distant settling of seawater through ancient rock tunnels. I can feel the scratchy surface of barnacles on weathered stones and test slimy seaweed ledges with tender toes. I smell the salt in the air and the splash of humidity is spray from the waves crashing.

I am at the sea, the lake, the cottage, alone amongst thousands but immersed in the fullness of the heart. The timeless ageless echoes are in the present because imagination encircles the synthetic with memory in high-speed orbits to reveal only essence in a peaceful mind.



If there were a hypothesis, and I am suggesting one right here in this sentence, of the existence of a writing gene I think our family, at least the women in our family, would be the case subjects in the clinical trial. Not only a writing gene, but there is also a case monograph here of a writing tone gene. What part of our upbringing, what aspect of our environments though 2,000 and 3,000 or more miles apart can account for the uncanny similarities of the writing style of my mother, my (female) cousin and my aunt (mother’s sister)? How many more are we? If I were to find her again would my cousin on my father’s side carry the gene? She too was brought up, at least in part, more than 1,000 or more miles from each of us. It is as if the universe created geographical bookends to separate us, just enough to rule out too many confounders. You are quite unaware perhaps of the layers of lengthening lines between us. We were all separated by angry parents and still hidden secrets. That much, or that little, you know.  Yet, those seeds once planted grew into long vines and the untangling at our middle ages seems too much trouble for delayed interventions.

Is it what you described as our “white trash” upbringing that ties us together? I never knew, for I assumed or was taught that your side of the ocean brought gold onto its sandy beaches. Does the range of defianteness quite judicially parsed out on a scale of silent to screaming of our mothers and aunts serve as our baseline? I know there are the obvious genes that relate us through maternal lines of depression which underlie the faculties of so many writers and then there is also the common factor of temporary insanity via subservience to men. But I never knew your mother, just stories re-told of the upset but acceptable and far off histories. Our common grandmother was a distant half-smiling figure. It was our grandfather that encouraged us to write, although he never really wanted grandchildren, more simply a student at a desk to be corrected. My other aunts, well, perhaps they are key links more than any other factor, those sixties thinkers who allowed art and argument to shape their futures.

Do you have another female cousin? Another one of us? If she exists, my most distant figment of a sister, finding her would be like observing the missing protein sequence. She could prove the rule or rule us all as the outliers in America that we feel ourselves to be. Is this mere convenience sampling so tenuous that it shows what I fear; that we have no bonds at all? I have hope though, that in discovering you I see a part of myself that I never would have expected, but in some long ago fantasy always wanted to be true.

Family. Family. The word distorts in its repetition. In its very meaning absurd, broken, stretched far beyond the resilience point like the near 40 year-old flesh on my hips. It is mine but I do not own it.  How could you be there, so pronounced? A star or more appropriately, a moon in our universe. I thought you were buried a little under the dust of so much casting off. Or have we reached a point where we have cast ourselves so much that the trailing dust is coalescing? It is something still unshared, this universe of forming proto-stars and cells.

These examining slides are still all a jumble. I don’t want to know if you like science fiction, or if your husband is gentle and kind because you knew how to choose the first time. But I am curious if underneath our skin there are threads that bind us, pirouetting familiars.

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Another side of immigration

We laughed, we sang, we meditated. Probably an apt phrase for a few spiritual camps out there of all persuasions, but this is actually the subheading for my application to become a permanent resident of another country, TBA (just in-case they’re listening).

Goldilocks zone we have not found, nay, but we have made a decision after several portents, (ok one portent in the name of the she-devil of immigration…can I say she-devil and still be considered a feminist?…), and several signs of the more positive sort came our way.

So, back to the original idea. I am writing the story for our application to immigration and sprinkled throughout the visit dates, mentions of flight itineraries attached, and the dropping of names of our friends as we met them along our little journey to couplehood and matrimony, I have included a few words about the kinds of things we do together. We laugh, no matter that we are serious types and more often have discussions about how to experience God amidst the emotional commotion of our era. We sing, usually softly and to ourselves, and we meditate, together even, although not recently.

I can only imagine what it is like to be an immigration officer reading over couple’s stories, getting to know them, or trying to see through them to their ulterior motives I don’t know which, or both most likely. Are financial documents like joint bank accounts equal to spending 2 weeks together while truck camping? Will they bother reading everything, word for word, or do they just scan the stories and check off the documents received? Should we note the things we have in common, tell them in writing that he cooks sometimes but I do all the laundry? Do we explain all our major decisions, why he proposed and so soon after we met? Do we need to annotate why we didn’t take pictures of our every day life? I don’t have a single picture of us just sitting in our apartment together. Does anybody?

To distract our minds we watch science fiction shows (and yes I am considering writing that in the application) and I recently watched “Atonement” from season 4 of Babylon 5. The scene about 15 mins. in with Delenn and her Minbari clan leaders sounds a lot like immigration. In re-watching it, the similarity is overwhelming and poignant. Delenn is made to answer why she has gone against the tradition of her clan in proposing a non-Minbari for a mate. The clan leader states that the leaders of her clan must determine and judge if the true reasons for her choice are appropriate or not. Basically, Delenn has to prove her choice is made completely freely through a dreaming ceremony. Love or even her own subconscious desire for atonement would be reason for the clan’s disapproval of the union.

Just one of the many precious exchanges;

Delenn: “If I say I love him is that not enough?”

Clan leader: “No. You must convince us on other grounds.”

Delenn: “What other grounds could there be? You set the rules, so you’ve already decided that this is wrong. What hope do I have of convincing you?

Clan leader: “That is what you must discover.”

Now, governments don’t yet delve into the dreams of people applying for immigration, but I sometimes wonder if that would be easier.