Thursday, September 30, 2010

Survival of the Busiest

     Just when I wonder if life can get more complicated, something new arises. I am reminded of the summer of 2008. My mother died suddenly, I got food poisoning in Cuba, and while there, we got a call from my son saying he had totaled our car. I was in deep, stupefying grief, had a stomach ailment from the nether regions and came home to a notice from Revenue Canada that we were to be audited. I was trying to look after my grieving, confused father and regularly thought I was going to have a stroke. This all happened within three weeks. I walked around in a fog of desperation. Surprisingly, I felt the Lord’s tangible presence, as I knew many people were praying for me. That summer passed without me having any recollection of it. It was just mourning.
      So what I face now is simple really. No one has died. The government is leaving us be, our cars work and my doctor informs me that I am healthy, but perhaps a little nuts. The addition has left me busy and worn to a frazz.
      The water had to be turned off for 48 hours, so this week I checked into a cheap (seriously cheap) hotel and got exactly what I paid for. By 11:40p.m. I had to flee because the smell from this “non-smoking room” (yah, sure!), was going to permeate my being for life.  I confronted the desk clerk. She came clean and said it “used to be” a smoking room. I’m thinking that if it used to be, it was a pretty recent change. The place was an abyss of lung clogging particles. And I got to pay for it, as they refused to refund my hard-earned money.
       This morning the water was on at home. Things are shaping up. In the midst of all this, I am making decisions about toilets and sink placements, light fixtures and towel bars. It’s like being in labour and the birth is taking forever. 
      I visited my father this past weekend and he commented on how much dust was in his house and wondered where it all came from. I advised him that I am now a carrier and probably it fell from my hair and clothing. My beloved husband wants to hire a cleaning service at the end of it all and I say, “Bravo…I love you!”
     A wonderful sign of hope....there are slender tendrils of baby grass sprouting in the backyard. We could be growing a lawn back there!
Counting the days till normal life returns…

Looking like HORDERS...

Friday, September 24, 2010


       A few weeks ago, Cuz came into town from Montreal and we had a quick opportunity to dash into the bedroom at my father's house and talk privately. I love my cousin. I've never had a sister, and Cuz is the closest I'll ever get. We grew up around the corner from each other and our families were close. She is hilarious. She "gets it." There's history there and family traits we can laugh about.
       She brought with her a newspaper article and photograph about an old friend, someone we haven't seen in 30 years. I met "Jim" in my second year of university, in art school. He was a looker. And manners...the guy was pure, genuine charm. We had the same sense of humour and could fall down laughing on almost every occasion. We shared a love of fine art and Gary Larson "Far Side" cartoons. We became quite close, but never in a romantic sense. I had a steady guy at the time, and he loved the tall, slender types, something I have never, ever come close to being accused of. So we had a "safe" guy-gal friendship.
       I don't remember when I introduced Cuz to Jim, but there was a definite attraction between them. (She takes after the other side of the family - the willowy ones.) We were visiting the gallery where he worked and she and I headed off to the ladies' room and spoke rather enthusiastically about how captivating Jim was. We were mighty red-faced when we came out and realized he had been waiting in the hallway and had heard everything we said. Gentleman that he was, he pretended he didn’t.
       Cuz liked Jim, but I don't think anything too intimate developed between them. A kiss or two, but both instinctively knew that separate ways were inevitable. As time went by, we all lost touch. Jim ran the local art gallery, Cuz struck out to become a paper restorer and worked for a number of galleries across North America. I became an art and English teacher on the west coast. All of us in different goes on and the drift becomes sure.
       And now the memories flood back as I look at a photo of a man I'd never recognize. We were astounded at how timeworn he appeared. When I asked my husband how old he thought the man in the photo looked, he guessed a full 20 years older than Jim is. Our friend looked gaunt and ill, white haired with sunken eyes. How could this be? Time had ravaged him. I wonder what life events had taken such a toll on this gentle man? Was he ill or deeply grieving? After a distance of 30 years, a phone call seems out of place, nosy, inappropriate. Cuz and I decide to just leave it be. But I will pray for my old friend. It is a blessing to know that Jesus sees all and can touch that heart, so distant from me. And I thank Him for the memories that still make me grin.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

How I "See" It

       Being a drawer and watercolour painter, over the years, I have taught myself to see in two dimensions. When I need to, I can bring what's before me into a flat plane, so that I can concentrate on positive and negative spaces in order to draw them. I have never "worked with my hands," to create in the form of sculpture or to build anything three dimensional. It's not in me to do. I have been known to draw or paint pictures of houses and buildings and in my younger days, became somewhat skilled at it. But there it lies. I create in two dimensions.

"Old House"
        When we hired someone to draw up blueprints for our little house addition, I found it difficult to visualize the finished project. I would pace it out in the backyard, stretch out arms to form the space, but couldn't see it in three dimensions. And at every step of this process I have watched in awe as these competent young men create a structure I will live in. They confidently ripped off the back of the house; they put in footings; they took all sizes of boards and nails and metal and made something real...big, and heavy and real. I stand amazed.
        In the midst of my limitations, I panicked at times at how this would all get done. I have had to trust their know-how, their experience. They know enough to take it one step at a time, each working within their area of expertise: framers, dry-wallers, insulation experts, plumbers, electricians, painters and landscapers. My job has been to stand back, watch, and learn.
        And isn't that how it is with life? We can't do it all. We want to, but we can't. We have to recognize our own limitations, give the experts their due, and trust them. Too often I want to be in charge, to handle it all and these days, I find the more often I stand back, mouth closed, the more I learn and the more peace I feel.
        And there's the Lord, who CAN do it all. He sees how everything will turn out in all things. He sends help along the way when I am out of my element. He sends "experts" to teach me in life and at times, to do it for me. All I need to do is trust. He knows what it will all look like. He is trustworthy in all things. He sees in multi dimensions, knows my limits and loves me fully.

Psalms 9:10
Those who know your name will trust in you,
for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Addition Update

       What joy to arrive home from work daily and find significant changes in the addition on the back of our house. We are well past the lock-up stage, insulation as thick and impenetrable as a cast-iron frying pan. My favourite day so far was the one last week where I arrived home and found the old outer wall between the present mini-kitchen and its new partner knocked down - the only barrier existing now a sheet of plastic to keep out as much dust as possible. Finally I got a glimpse of the size of the new kitchen! What fun! Closing my eyes, I see family and friends gathered around a new harvest table enjoying an elaborate meal, lovingly prepared by me! In the corner a new dishwasher waits for all those dirty excellent end to any meal. (No more dishpan hands for me!)

       My husband has been my champion in all of this. He fought for the best materials, the most secure form of insulation and drainage. He traveled far and wide to choose stylish tile for floors and the perfect bathtub. He has been the one to communicate to contractor and workers, inspectors and tradesmen. A detail man, it will be perfect if he has any part in it at all. I sit back and watch, trying to hold my tongue, be appreciative and not be a contributor to stress. (I’m learning, sometimes the hard way!) We made a trip to IKEA on Saturday and laughed as we concocted a wish list. We agreed on everything and my husband had inspired ideas on how to make the kitchen functional. What an imagination!

        So....all is well in the addition department. Chaos still reigns as we live with dust beyond what I could imagine and many belongings in the living room. I hear it’s about to get it’s the bathroom! Time for faith that soon our home will be livable again and more than that supremely more functional. Thank you, Lord for this great opportunity.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tornado Tree

by Michele

       On a wide curve on the Charleston Sideroad between Airport Road and the village of Caledon stands a lone elm tree. About ten years ago, on that road at dusk, my husband had drifted off to sleep in the passenger seat. As we rounded the curve, in some hazy dream state, his eyes opened, he shuddered and belted out, "Tornado!" The elm, standing alone by the roadside in the dusk, had been mistaken for a twister. Ever since then we've called it the "Tornado Tree."

       This living monument was somehow overlooked when the road was put through and the farmers cleared the land. Or perhaps it remained a lone survivor in an outbreak of Dutch Elm disease. Why it is there is beyond me, but I am grateful. I drive that road many times in a month on my way to visit my elderly dad, and it is a marker and reminder.

         Isaiah 55:12 comes to mind:   "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands."       The elm, branches raised toward heaven and spreading over the earth seems to be reaching toward its creator and at the same time pointing the way. I've imagined it worshiping, standing, roots firm, for over a hundred years. It fulfils its purpose: it provides shade, it houses birds and insects and it is a living testament to its Creator, a thing of beauty put there for us to enjoy.

          I want to be like that Tornado Tree. I want to fulfill my purpose, thrive where I'm planted and point the way to the Lord of Creation. I want to worship Him with the gifts He has imparted and bless others. When storms come, I want to stand, even if I'm standing alone.

         That is the lesson of this elm tree for me.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Back to Woodland

by Michele
      Traveling to Woodland Beach on the Labour Day weekend was bittersweet. I love the area on Nottawasaga Bay: the breeze off the lake, the crashing waves, the smell of oak and poplar trees.

      When I see acorns on the ground, I'm a kid again. My mom took us by the hands and we filled paper sacks. We spread them on the picnic table, gave them characters and drew faces on them. We'd laugh as she took off their "hats" and made them dance.

Mom and I at Woodland

      We spent endless hours daily on the shore. Only hunger persuaded us to head back to the cottage for suppers. We would load into the car, bathing suits itching where sand had intruded to make its mark. On top of the old car, the giant tractor tube perched. My father drove at a snail’s pace and held it with one hand on the short drive from water’s edge to the cottage, but it was worth it to play on that tube. After supper, we'd head back down again, ice cream cones in hand to feed the seagulls and watch the sunset.

The Old Cottage
       My grandpa Pete built the first cottage the year I was born. Apparently, on Sunday morning when the whole family was off to mass, Pete stayed behind with me. At six months old, he'd tie me onto the old rocking chair with a bed sheet. He'd go about his business, sawing and hammering and give the rocker a push when I'd start to squawk. That cottage was magical to a small child, filled with secret spaces and steep stairways. The oil-burning furnace on the main floor was actually open to the bedroom loft. We were not to go near it, but could peer inside and see blue flames. In late October of 1967, some hunters borrowed the cottage and drying their socks on the oven door, set it ablaze. With the area deserted and no volunteer fire department in place, it burned down in minutes, the cutlery falling to the ground in neat rows. My heart-broken grandparents were in Montreal at the time they heard the news.

       For love of Woodland Beach and in hopes of retirement there, a new cottage was constructed on the same site. This one was home-like, insulated and winter ready. We spent many family years there before it was sold. By that time, I was long gone from Ontario.

Second Cottage

       On Labour Day weekend, I was saddened to think of how many family members are gone. Those sing-a-longs around the fire pit seem like eons ago. Familiar cottages are now timeworn, some ramshackle. Even the beach itself is changed. Gone is the white expanse of sand; in its place are weeds and rocks. My son and his cousins will never know that place and this saddens me. Time, as they say, marches on, and I remain grateful to God for time well spent at Woodland Beach.

Woodland Beach now...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Fish that Started it All

by Michele

        Four summers ago on Lake Kashagawigamog, a five pound smallmouth bass started my love of lake and river fishing. My husband had received a top of the line reel for his 50th birthday and a trip to Bass Pro added a near mortgage payment of supplies to it. A solid rod, many lures, jerk baits, hooks, a net, sinkers and bobbers filled up an old tackle box. He was ready. Oh, and of course he paid for the necessary license!

        Our friend and cottage owner Jane, seemed a bit skeptical as he cast from her dock. Seems her father and brothers didn’t catch much in that location in years gone by. Standing there on the dock, I decided to give it a try. In the shed, I found Jane’s old fishing rod and a “hula popper” - a glob of painted wood with a fringe and a nasty hook. I figured out how to cast with this bait-caster type reel and let it fly. It felt powerful to hurl this thing way out into the water. I did it two, maybe three times. I had just said to my husband, “What sort of fish would be stupid enough to think that the hula popper is food?“ And it hit. I felt a thunderous tug and started to holler, “Fish, fish, fish, I got a fish!” My husband was trying to keep me calm and finally I just hurled the pole to him. I didn’t want to lose the fish. I wanted to see what kind of creature was on the end of that line. It was all flurry and commands and I got the net and lifted it onto the dock. My first Ontario smallmouth and it was a five pound, eighteen incher! Jane ran for the camera and was surprised to see a fish that size on her dock. It was the opening day of bass season, 2006, and that was the biggest bass I have caught to date. We cooked up the fish, added some Lays and had “fish and chips.”

         That bass was not the only one that was hooked. I was too. We made another trip to Bass Pro, but for me this time. I wanted my own equipment. That summer we caught dozens of fish, took hundreds of photos and learned where every fishing hole was within a two hour drive from our home. Not being boat owners, we discovered unsuspecting fish under bridges over rivers, streams and connectors between lakes. We fished from riverbanks, concrete wharves and old wooden docks.

       My husband purchased a book for me called, (of course), Fishing For Dummies. I loved how in the opening paragraph it said something like, “A fish has only two goals, eat and not get eaten.” I learned a lot from that book, but most of what I know comes from imitation. I watched my husband. If he jigged the line, I did. If he just dropped the lure and it sank to the bottom, I did the same. He advised me on what bait to use and when to use it. He unsnaggled many bird’s nests of line that caught around my spinning reel until I learned to use it properly. And though he tried, with patience, on many occasions to teach me how to take the fish off the hook, I still can’t do it. It freaks me out! I’ve since adopted the use of barbless hooks. This cuts down on how many times I have to interrupt my husband to unhook my fish.

        Fishing, for me, has been a delight. Catching a trophy fish is a thrill, but other benefits outweigh this. We’ve gotten off the couch and outside. We spend long hours in the car, having “car moments” of intimate conversation and fellowship. We’ve rejoiced together when the catch has been good and we’ve voiced prayers of thanksgiving for all that God has given. I'm so grateful for the bass that started it all!

At Cragleith

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Write Like There's No Tomorrow

Dear Writer Friend,

       It's in you to write because you are a writer. There's no need to walk down any other road of thought. It's who you are. It's what you've been given. So write dear friend, write. Don't waste another moment thinking that you're not good enough. No one is "good enough", whatever that is. Write for the sheer hilarity it brings. Write funny things. Write things that you love. No one need ever see it. You won't sell everything. You won't publish everything. But not writing - you won't publish anything. And my friend, that's just not acceptable, because it's in you to write.

        Why not take a precious few moments of each day to get alone and love those moments by doing what you love to do---be a wordsmith. Close your eyes and type. Tap into that beautiful source, that flow of God's thoughts and inspiration to you and just let er rip! As you turn to Him, you will always have something to write about.

        Sweet friend, talented friend. Don't quit. Don't give up. Don't give place to thoughts of doubt. You've been given a gift, and to store it in a jar in the nightstand to collect dust is unacceptable. Use that gift, even for a few moments a day. Honour your Father in heaven by using what He gave you. He loves that and He loves you!