Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Small World Away

We are so small, in reality, in comparison to the world that arrives on our doorsteps each morning captured in newsprint or the sensationalized visuals that flash from TV and computer screens. We are so much smaller than the world that rests in the palm of our hands, blips and beeps at the touch of a finger and disappears with a swipe, freeing us to go on about our beautiful days. Our world is so easy to share, observe, mourn and protest; we can see it all with a click, gather opinions, predictions and insight. But we have no more power as giants looking into a snow-globe on humanity than we had as ants when the world was massive and separated by the slow arrival of news and our vast detachment from conflict.

This devastated me this morning when I read of further abductions of women and children in Nigeria. How, I wonder, can this also be the same world I live in, the one I raise my children in, shop in, picnic, party and pray in? How can differences in safety, peace, opportunity and dignity be so immense? How can the suffering of another human being not impact my world, when it fills hearts with anger, desperation, chaos, grief and despair and adds suffering to humankind? If there is a folly in our making the world so small it is that we are better able to see the crimes and devastation beyond our reach and our individual capabilities are no greater than when we were blind to them. The shrinking of our world has expanded exponentially the hopelessness we feel and I found myself wondering this morning “what can I offer to a broken heart, a fearful child or a tortured nation across the world; beyond learning about their struggle and making whatever supportive choices I can, where I am, and when I can?”

It feels so ineffective.

My meditation prayer for today:

Take peace, hope and comfort from my own heart and send it to those who suffer. Send courage to the fearful and bravery to the hearts of leaders among common men.  If this request can save but one, let it be one who can save another and lessen more the suffering of our world.   



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nothing Beats a Hot Summer Breeze

Flicker Photo
I found myself yesterday afternoon lined up in an earthy furrow between a rolling lawn and a row of seedling cabbages. My bare feet burrowed in the dirt relishing the cool contrast to the hot June air. To an outside observer I would have looked awkwardly perched; my body pressing forward with the breeze and my elbows jutting steadfastly out to each side. Rivulets of sweet cool watermelon juice ran down my forearms and dripped from my funny bones creating tiny mud puddles at my feet. I had a good piece, thick and chilled just enough to refresh but not cold enough to slow me down. Most importantly—the spongy red flesh was teeming with seeds. ~Curious, that they don’t grow watermelons like this so much these days—that we’ve modified them to be neat and tidy with nothing but holes where seeds used to be. Society I think should be saddened that we worry so much about making life comfortable and clean for our children, that we find it troubling to plague their generation with a pleasure as mundane and sticky as spitting out seeds.

At the ready with an arsenal of slick black pips exposed I chanced a glance left and right measuring-up my competition, worrying little about the threat of anyone shorter than my waist. My two young brothers, beyond lacking threatening lung capacity, would be sufficiently distracted by grandma niggling on about spitting the seeds not swallowing them and mother vigilantly tracking how close they were eating to the rind.  ~Curious, I wonder, how old was I before I stopped fearing that a watermelon could sprout and grow in the dark acidic confines of my tummy and that eating to the green would kill me.  Nine, I surmise—most childhood mystical truths die around then, don’t you agree?

I caught the sideways warrior glare of my real competitors—the cousins; two, of which only one posed any arguable threat. Diane had the definite potential of a solid contender, with age and height to her advantage but suffered from situational giggles. Any advantage crumbled under her inability to maintain composure. Laughter is a serious handicap to carry on the watermelon circuit. So it came down to two, me and the champ; Sharon, small but mighty.  With good lungs and fierce determination cuz’ possesses the God given skills to hock a pip past the hollyhocks and into the neighbour’s corn field if she catches the wind just right. Looking at my adversary I drafted a small but mighty curse upon her seeds meant to render them heavy poor fliers. ~Curious that I believe too strongly in my mother’s lean to the dark arts when the odds of not believing could tip the scale against me.    

Lined up, rushing with adrenaline we did our best to psych one another out while we waited for the ‘go’ (Diane snickering already). It would come from the picnic table just a few yards away where Grandpa sat with his back to the driving shed, face to the field. Shirtless on account of the particularity warm day, revealing a large angry bypass scar polka-dotted on each side where they stapled him shut. Five degrees above rye drinking weather he was enjoying a tall glass of ale sprinkled with salt to cut the head.  He held us in the balance with his starter’s power, left us hanging, pensive and ready while he teased… “One, two, twelve...stop” One can’t help but marvel that a man with such life scars, seen and unseen, should delight so entirely in the taunting of children and laugh riotously with mischief at our protests. ~Curious, who delights in his mischief more, the sprite or the imps.

One……two…….three….and a half………………………………………………………………….Go! There was no stopping the sudden barrage of air launched seeds! The trick to speed is always keeping the seeds wet and slippy, reducing drag while they shoot past your lips. Distance comes from curling your tongue up like a cannon barrel and giving the pip some trajectory. My gaze was locked on the feathery mass of asparagus gone to seed on the far side of the garden. Beside me Diane’s snicker had morphed into fits of giggles simply by watching my little brothers; Rob with seeds dribbling down off his chin while tremendous bursts of successful noise sounded from his lips. Grant still plunked butt down from waiting for the ‘go’ hurling dirt clods in place of seeds and getting some pretty good distance in fact. The sidelines cheered “Go Diane go!” which effectively induced tears of laughter and rendered her un-spit-able.

The field narrowed considerably, Sharon and I were fiercely head to head. Setting records; past the pepper rows, the carrot rows and the beets and the chives. Spitting mercilessly and pointing in dramatic fashion to draw attention from the crowd for a brilliant sail. Jumping up and down and trying to exclaim our superiority through pursed lips. But the laughing, the way Grandpa carried on and tried to trip us up, and Mom tried to be an impartial judge, Diane rolling on the ground behind us and Grandma trying to curtail Grant’s hurling of dirt clods in between chuckles—we were no match.  Rob’s impressive fruitless sound effects increasing in volume to surmount the laughter….it was winning. Watermelon juice drying on your skin causes an itch that you can’t wriggle away while you swat at the flies it attracts. Sharon and I were losing ground, mouths drying out with every spit and falling into the giggling trap behind us.  Our launches flew shallower and shallower as our shoulders began to shutter and we gave-in to the revels cheering us on. ~Curious how infectious we can be.

There is always a moment when an inhale and exhale cross paths and a seed goes inward instead of out. In that moment in the heat of battle, in the face of onlookers you forget that you already know a watermelon can’t germinate in your stomach and you are paralyzed by the sudden heart stopping fear that you are in fact going to die. The look on your face in that paralysed moment stops your mother cold. When a mother stops laughing everyone stops laughing….until someone asks what’s wrong and you scream out that you swallowed a seed. Then the laughter explodes and you simply can’t spit anymore. Your opponent wins.

~Curious that a little seed can stop everything for you; the way a hot summer breeze that greets you as you depart the double doors of your very grown up life stops you where you are and transports you back in time to one of your favourite summer days. 

If you were there I hope you've gone back too.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Don't Miss Your Dover

Some opportunities present themselves once. The tradition of Canada’s largest single day rally of Motorcycles in quiet little Port Dover, Ontario is one such opportunity—for 2014 at least. If you missed the June event you will have to wait until February 2015 before the doomy date rolls around again.

The motorcycle descent on Dover is a tradition that was born on November 13, 1981 when Chris Simons and a couple dozen friends gathered at a local watering hole, had a great time and agreed to make it a ‘thing’ to do whenever a Friday the 13th rolled around. Fast-forward thirty-three years and Chris and his gathering of buddies has spilled over the confines of the Commercial Hotel into the streets, the parks, the pier and beyond, including a makeshift tent city that springs up in a Kinsmen sports park.  Estimates are that more than 100,000 soul moving machines of steel and chrome come together to carry on the tradition of Destination 13. Mike was among them arriving on his classic, a Honda CB750.

I arrived in my own vehicle and like thousands of other four-wheeled party crashers was stopped pleasantly at the edge of town by Provincial Police, redirected to a cornfield and bussed-in to join the event. The irony of all those black and white rebel leather clad biker movies was not lost on me in this moment. 

And just to clear up the fuzzy detail of why I was not on the bike with Mike—two very important factors: First, my ‘Motorcycle’ and my ‘Momma’ are not quite in sync yet. We’re not entirely finished raising the last of our children into adulthood and I’m just starting to nurture some long supressed reckless abandon back to life. A sustainable future of traversing the continent on two wheels with my husband depends on a good introduction of short successful rides; this was not the day for my ride. The second reason I drove myself is the very cognisant understanding that riding for Mike is therapy, meditation and how he gets his brain back; I have a theory that any trouble he has with me is not going to be escaped with my arms wrapped around his waist at 100km/hr. That’s a little like trying to run away from your own stink. Twenty-two years of marriage has taught me that a little space is some of the best affection I have to shower. 

I could feel the benefits of his solo ride along the winding roads to Dover when we met up in front of the Main street post office. I couldn’t help but acknowledge that the ‘something in the air’ that is Port Dover on Friday the 13th was also in my husband. A relaxed, no worry, no judgement demeanour that saunters down the middle of the road admiring the view and the sunlight glinting off candy apple paint and shined up chrome.
There is something I discovered to appreciate wholly about an event that draws a crowd as ‘walk-of-life-diverse’ as a biker’s rally, and places you so completely in the company of good people who are good with life.

This struck me right away and has remained; the amazing commonality in a crowd thousands. Beyond the obvious affection for riding was a distinct absence of striving, a peaceful ‘be here now’–ness which I’ve simply never encountered anywhere else in my everyday living outside of my own personal stillness practice. It was interesting that though Mike and I travel very different routes to inner peace, here in this place the two came together in a single subtly of mind.   

We lunched on the lawn of a beautiful Port Dover home with soft grass and stately trees. It was an ideal side-street retreat from the sun and the denser crowds. Gathered there with others resting we admired a steady stream of riders leaving and arriving to and from destinations unknown. 

I closed my eyes for a moment and absorbed as much with my other senses as I could, the sounds, the smells, the rumble of the motors and the songs of the birds. I memorized the feel of the warm sun breeze on my skin and Mike’s hand upon my back. This is what the world needs I thought, this right here and I wanted to take it with me, every ounce and nuance of it—back with me from these rally streets to everyday life. When they talk about how to change the world, I am convinced the answer can be found in the collective peace of 100,000 souls gathered together for no reason other than to be there.  

Some opportunities present themselves only once—like life. I’m very glad I didn’t let this one slip on by. seizing opportunities! 


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sometimes You Have to Wrench on Life

There has been some very serious tinkering going on in our garage over the past couple of weeks. Apparently motorcycles, older ones like my husband’s particularly, have a personality; Mike’s is a bit of a prick with hypochondriac tendencies.  That’s a nice way of saying the damned thing doesn’t make caring for it easy and decided not to start this cycling season. (Story note: I’m going to use the phrase ‘the damn thing’ repeatedly throughout this piece as that is actually the name I have given Mike’s bike… mostly, except ‘damn’ has replaced a much ‘F’-ier 4 letter word—it’s a well-earned moniker)

Our goal is to have the damn thing running like a top before Friday 13th so that Mike can make his ride to Port Dover.

There is a chasm of uncertainty and repair that spans the distance between ‘the damn thing won’t run’ and ‘Dover’.

I offered to help, but I didn’t really know what I was doing or in for.  Trying, testing, cleaning, replacing, repairing and rebuilding. There have been numerous trips to dealerships, chain stores and motorcycle graveyards to collect parts, tools and fluids. Hours have been spent pouring over repair manuals and grease-monkey forums. I’ll be honest here and admit that I never actually picked up a tool. My ‘help’ was mostly moral support with a side of reading and eyelash batting encouragement.  The air in the garage has been thick with smoke, heady with fumes and on more than one occasion —blue.

Sometimes a change works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes fixing one issue sheds a bright white light on another problem. While I’ve hit the wall of ‘damn this’ more than a few times in the process I’m growing a deep affection for the iron beast; in comparison I am not fractionally as needy and temperamental—how can you not love a thing that makes you look like a dream to live with!

Slowly…hideously slowly, after painstaking hours of fiddling, Dover has come into sight.
We cracked a cold one, man cave style, last night in semi-celebration of our success in finally getting the engine running (if not purring). I stared at the damn thing and a wave of accomplishment washed over me. We did it—conquered the damn thing!

But the battle was a challenge. At first we stood around with our hands on our hips starring at the lifeless machine and surmised the many various possibilities why it wasn’t working. Next we tried a couple of quick fixes and proclaimed our frustration as each failed. We got a little indignant with not knowing why ‘the damned thing’ wouldn’t run. Then we walked away for a day or two ignoring the bike as though fixing it didn’t really matter. At some point however, reality set in and the acknowledgement that our days to Dover were dwindling took us back to the garage. It was time to do the hard work. We began digging, investigating, examining the parts, the systems, the problems, the potential failures. Little by little, the more we delved into the troubles and slowly repaired each kink in the chain things improved. First a spark, then a crank, then a choking, spitting, backfiring rumble followed by a stall, a return to hard starts and then back again to good ignition, a high idle and a stall. Eventually though, through determination we’ve made it to the miraculous stage of ‘tweaking’! Hallelujah, raise the roof and pass the gravy! (or in this instance degreasing hand cleaner)

Barring any further neurosis of the damn thing Mike will ride to Dover. This is a very good thing. Riding, Mike always claims, is how he gets his brain back. Blacktop therapy. We all need it—a way to find and feed our inner peace.

It seems to be the same with motorcycles as it is with people

The trick to finding inner peace is getting the bike to run.

You have to have work through the problems, investigate the source of emotional struggles, acknowledge and repair and be honest with your own short comings, take ownership for your part and ignite a desire to fix it. Through the problem not around it lays the path to achieving freedom and the goal. And yes sometimes it sucks, sometimes it sets you back, sometimes it has you doing and acknowledging things you wish you didn’t have to do or face. Sometimes you need help. But when you finally get through the process, when everything runs and the problem is not just behind you but repaired….—Man, life is a sweet ride!  

Take a chance...see where the road takes you.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Life is about...Emerging a Happy Camper

The call came in around 6:15 last night, a tired voice on the other end of the phone whispered “We’re back, can you please come pick me up?”

I was excited to have my girl home. I arrived to the school within a few short minutes and was greeted by a group of weary and trudging teens who, without exception, were zapped. The hands unloading the travel van of expedition gear were not moving quite as quickly and enthusiastically as the ones which had loaded it 3 days earlier at the crack of dawn. There were still smiles on some faces though; mostly the grown-up faces, the teachers and the chaperones who survived two separate 3 day expeditions to Algonquin Park and about 60 teenage charges. Thought bubbles floating above their heads I imagined said things like ‘beer’, ‘shower’, and ‘investigate permanent contraceptive options’.

A parent of teenagers understands one cardinal rule: Stay in the car. I decided however that this was the one exception to the rule, today Kate would be happy to see me sooner than later. Physically and emotional exhausted kids love their moms even in a sea of peers, parental rule #2 Seize your opportunity!  So I got out of the car and waited on the edge of the crowd.

I recognized many of the kids and welcomed them home—“Did you have fun?”  Every single one answered “Yah, it was great!” followed up with glazed over exhausted smiles. Then Kate came into view, bag in hand and moving just enough to propel her body forward.

I asked the same question—“Did you have fun?” half expecting the same “Yah, it was great!” answer and half expecting the “No, it was stupid.” answer I got.  (for the record everything is stupid right now, has been for about 3 weeks – I can’t wait until stupid is over)

Parental guideline #3 encourages parents to shut up when ‘stupid’ things happen and let the details emerge in their own time. I smiled (mostly quietly) and loaded bags into the car. All the while wondering how every kid I asked had fun except mine; was I the Debbie-Downer’s mom?

The details did, as I expected, begin to emerge. There was bad weather – rain, thunderstorms and strong winds. The bug populous outranked human representation 3 zillion to one and was impervious to every cocktail of repellents. There was drama of the Boyfriend/girlfriend variety among some of the campers. Kate was up the entire last night of their voyage nursing/comforting her tent-mate who was upchucking from dusk till dawn (without even a good ‘tied-one-on’ story to minimize the trial of this circumstance-it was the flu).There is little wonder she was cranky, exhausted and starving. Did you know that the diet of wilderness camping, to accommodate canoe loads and ease of portaging, consists primarily of dried fruit, nuts and seeds? Coincidently these are also the top three items a person with braces cannot eat with any success. Apparently wilderness campers do not get braces or people with braces do not wilderness camp for fear of starvation.

As I listened to her adventure unfold over the next several hours the ‘It was great’ bits began emerging, much to my relief. I was sad to think that all of Kate’s preparation, excitement and anticipation for the trip had been a waste; to hear that it wasn’t all bad warmed my heart. It warmed my heart a little too that her initial response to my “Did you have fun?” question was so honest and forthright. By all accounts her trip was miserable. No less miserable than it had been for the girl who said “Yah, it was great” but was actually throwing up for 90% of the excursion. No less miserable than it was for the girl who said “Yah, it was great.” but spent the days preoccupied in a lovers quarrel. No less miserable for that girl’s boyfriend either I would guess.  By Kate’s account those campers were miserable from start to finish and I felt bad for them that they felt compelled to disguise their discontent with a less than honest reply.

It’s funny that we do this; say what we think people want to hear rather than say how we actually feel even when there is no danger of hurting the question asker’s feelings. I wonder if it makes us feel better or worse about our experience. According to my recent read The Antidote –by Oliver Burkeman, our ability to honestly confront our less than ideal outcomes and failures actually helps improve our appreciation of them. I think this could very likely be accurate. As Kate relived all the ‘stupid-ness’ of her adventure it seemed to become less stupid and more adventure.

When my kids go away on one of these types of adventures I always wonder what their/our lesson will be. This has been a great one—it would have been so easy for Kate’s experience to remain a bad memory. There is a sticking point between acknowledging the misery and moving past it to identify the good bits. You can see people get trapped every day in this pit, clinging to miserable events and memories. It seems so much easier to recount our despair or pretend it doesn’t exist with a “Yah, it was great.” than to work our way through it to a place where our adventure can be appreciated from both ends of the spectrum, as a complete experience where the bad illuminates the good more intensely. I am very proud of Kate for completing the process—for learning something more important than how to make a fire in a thunderstorm, for learning how to make a memory if not great at least salvageable.

We’ll see what Ethan’s lesson is for us when he returns from his camping expedition on Friday night….I can hardly wait! 

Camp On! 


Monday, June 2, 2014


It’s a number—the number actually that has been swirling around in my head since yesterday morning’s shower. Don’t ask me why stupid insights hit me in the shower—but I always appreciate my brain’s attempt to detract attention from my mismanaged curves.

Did you know that 90 is the magic number? I learned this sitting behind my desk on the fringes of Insurance and Financial Advisor-ship. 90 is the industry standard. When clients want to know how long their retirement money will last or how long they can expect to need insurance coverage for, the industry guesses the most likely oldest you will live to be. That number is 90. An age no doubt calculated on averages, variables and statistics because that is how the insurance industry does everything. My short tenure experiencing their capability of prediction and accounting leads me to believe that it’s probably a very accurate number to support the average. Arguably 90 is a pretty good number.

Unless you are standing in the shower on the morning of the birthday hurling you into your 45th year of life, mid lather I realized that I am exactly halfway to my end-date. This came out the first time as “I’m Half-way dead.” I revised it to “I’ve lived half of my life.” which still didn’t sit perfectly well with me. I tried “I’ve lived more days than I probably have left” that almost worked except it got me thinking that I could have far less days even than that if I’m not on track to hit the magic average. I turned the water up a little hotter to sweat out some excess excess toxins and made a mental note to walk the dog and eat more kale.

I let a more troublesome thought than dying wash over me (which wasn’t difficult; dying doesn’t scare me like it used to—I learned this on the way up).  The scarier thought that hit me was…. “What am I going to do with the second half of my life?” If I am in the middle does this mean that I’m on the summit? that the proverbial ‘all downhill from here’ applies?  I’ve never thought about life in that pictorial sense (see illustration below…on account of I just thought of it like that).

Illustration Below

I have a really difficult time seeing it playing out this way, I’m more of a ‘half way up the climb’ kind of girl (refer to clever Pictionary rendering B below).

Clever Pictionary Rendering 'B'

But I can’t help but contemplate as I take a minute to look over what I’ve already traversed— “What does this mean? Life has been pretty incredible so far; filled with marriage and motherhood, learning, growing, losing, loving, triumphs and challenges. If it only gets better what am I in for?” question—exclamation—question mark. Looking down below I send my gaze skyward for a moment “Are you sure you can top that?”

I can almost hear God laughing in reply.

A couple of the things I’ve learned on the challenging climb; it’s okay to be a little fearless and that the worst almost always never  happens,  what you need never really leaves you and love is our only purpose—beyond these notes I’ve learned that the very best things always arrive wrapped in surprise and tied with faith.

Have a little.

Onward and upward with the journey!