Walking Through Holy Week

A number of years ago I wrote a special tribute for my father’s confirmation class as they celebrated their 50 year anniversary in the church where they had been confirmed.  I grew up in the same church and was confirmed some 40 years ago. So as I “walk through Holy Week” toward Easter Sunday, I share these simple words, as they remind me that life may change, but my relationship with my Lord remains ever present… Still.

STILL here with me?

Ah yes, the years have rolled on down, our journey meandering, our adventure evolving with you here.

  Here with me.  By my side …STILL.

STILL seeking answers from me?

You haven’t always received what you expected, but in every response we have traveled well together.

  You and I, side by side…STILL.

STILL needing forgiveness from me?

Our conversations have covered much ground, my friend.  I am familiar with you, accepting you.

  Lifting you up to continue on… STILL.

STILL hoping for love from me?

We made a promise many years ago, you and I.  My arms will never close to you.

  Keep reaching.  My arms are open…STILL.

STILL looking for guidance from me?

Let’s never stop on our journey together.  Let us be bold.  With courage let us meet the paths before us with determination, with conviction.

  Carry on with my assurance…STILL.

STILL here with me?

Ah yes, the years will keep rolling on down.  Some like a roller coaster, some like a peaceful walk in the woods.

But my friend, you and I, we will always land together.

  Side by side…STILL.

When the Onions Danced!

A tribute to my Dad, the gardener; and my Mom who creates delicious dishes from the harvest…

The water runs clear over the bunch of green onions as I slice the root ends, slide the outer green shoots smoothly over the white tubes, and slide away the silky casings.  Bare of clumps of mud that would suggest a recent tug of war with the wet ground, these are pre-cleaned onions I found this morning in the vegetable aisle neatly piled between the green leaf lettuce and the parsley. Instead of pulling them from a warm garden bed, I plucked the bunch from its nesting place, setting off a playful tumble toward the parsley.  They had rolled into each other piling up into a suitable presentation thanks to the thin rubber bands that squeezed their ends together.  I easily picked them from the shelf, placed them in my cart… then paused with them while I thought of Dad.

Yesterday Mom’s phone call set off my emotional alarm bells as she shared her concerns.

“Maybe he won’t put in a garden this year.  It’s so hard for Dad to get going, to kneel down and get back up.  I think he’s not doing it because he’s worried he’ll fall over.”

“Mom, without a garden Dad will become depressed.  He won’t enjoy the summer.”

“I know, I know.  That’s why I keep telling him I will help him, but he sits and thinks about how he can still do it by himself.  I keep talking and talking.  Maybe he’ll come around.  Listen here he comes, I have to go.”

After the call I had written green onions on my grocery list and prayed for Dad to accept Mom’s help.  Now leaning against my kitchen sink I breathed in the pungent smell of the wet onions, picturing Dad in his floppy straw hat, carving the garden with his trusty old hoe, tossing out rocks as he clears the ground.  I willed a vision of him in his backyard, tugging on green stems, forcing them through the sticky mud, bringing in a bunch of onions to clean.

It’s not surprising that the idea of beginning a garden exhausts my Dad this year.   At 83 he suffers with the effects of vascular troubles creating limitations on what he can and cannot do.  Preparing and planting a garden seems like an overwhelming challenge to him. But it is his challenge, his duty, his job, his service to his family and friends, his to choose to let go.  He defines this as his responsibility, as clearly as Mom’s role begins when he brings in the harvest to her.  He provides, she designs ways to enjoy the food with the family.  A time old relationship, a pattern that is difficult to change.

It has always been this way.  Dad has planted and harvested gardens in his yards year after year.  He’s worked in small patches, and on large farms.  The winter calms, the days lengthen and the rhythm of nature stirs my Dad, the steadiness of the earth balances his soul.  He’s drawn to digging the soil like the deer that paw through the spring snow to find the first chutes of grass.  Every year he begins with planting onions, the first to sow in the garden, to soak up the spring rains, to seek the earth’s warmth.

As a young girl I helped Dad plant them, pushing the tiny bulbs into their spots, making sure that they pointed upwards towards the sun.  Dad would take his hoe, draw a straight line in the dirt, and place two bulbs along the line so I could see how far apart they should be planted.  He’d give me a little brown bag of bulbs and let me plant my row all by myself.  Because I didn’t like straight rows of anything, I would mischievously imagine my bulbs dancing along the line in the dirt, hopping over it, back and forth, slightly missing, but nearing it within reason.  At least they seemed appropriately aligned for Dad’s inspection before he raked the topsoil over them.  I don’t remember him correcting my “dancing onions,” perhaps he merely enjoyed my company in the garden.

I looked forward to digging my fingers into the dirt to let my onion bulbs create their dance.  In my mind the routine took place on a beautiful outdoor stage, a rainbow arcing above…

“Hey there’s a big one, pull it out and put it in the bucket.”

Dad somehow appeared over me as I daydreamed, just in time to notice when a worm would wriggle free from the soil.  He liked to collect the worms we uncovered to use as bait for trout fishing.  Thankfully garden worms didn’t have the same smell as their counterparts that littered the driveway and sidewalks on rainy days.  I would happily scoop up these worms and plop them into the bucket Dad had filled with soil.  I thought it seemed like a friendly rite of passage for them.  Their service as dirt aerators complete, they graduated to fishing duty.  With any luck they would be the worms I would put on my hook, so that when I wildly cast my fishing line they would be flung free to the safety of the creek bank, free to wriggle away to a new land, to a new adventure.

Onions, I miss those dancing onions in my Dad’s garden.  I even miss the worms squirming in the bucket of dirt awaiting their fishing escapades.

“Guess what I did this morning,” my Dad says, when he answers the phone later that day.

“I don’t know what did you do, Dad?”

“I planted onions.”

“You started the garden?”

“With Mom, she helped me and well, Mom and I planted the onions.”

“I remember when we did that together, Dad.”

“Yeah, well… I’ll get Mom, she’ll tell you all about it.”

That’s probably the longest conversation Dad and I have had lately. He sounds so happy, so relieved.  He found a way to join the rhythm of nature again.  Somehow Mom convinced him that she should help with the planting.  I wonder how?  Well she’ll certainly tell me all about it when she comes to the phone.

For just a moment, I close my eyes, I breathe in the scent of upturned spring soil. I picture Dad in his floppy straw hat, his new garden partner taking his hand as she rises from her knees.  There’s a natural flow in their movements even with an awkward backward stumble. Back and forth they step with each other across the rows of onions they’ve planted.  It’s something new and different, maybe not striking or graceful, but somewhere beneath the soil I imagine onion bulbs swaying to their dance.

Rolling up Patience and Peanut Butter!

There’s a reason patience comes before peanut butter (alphabetically speaking), I think to myself.

With every homemade peanut butter Easter egg I make I suck in heaping amounts of patience, patience, patience.  I find it also helps to sandwich a little peanut butter between my patience, and my tendency to mutter, “Oh mother.”

Every year before Easter I find myself on the phone with my mother trying to understand or rather translate her recipe for her Easter candy.

“Well I guess I doctored these eggs up a little bit over the years, but they always turn out good.”

“Mom, how much confectionery sugar do you actually use, because last year I think you told me ½ to ¾ pound, but I wonder if you mean half a bag?”

“Oh I don’t buy my sugar in bags, I buy the boxes, but only when they’re on sale, when I can buy them at a dollar each.  No, no I use about half a pound, is that a cup? After you add the peanut butter you can feel how much sugar you need to add.”

“Okay, the recipe I have from you reads ½ cup of butter, ½  to ¾  pound confectionery sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and then just peanut butter until creamy. How much peanut butter is that, mother?”

“Oh well, sometimes I use a 16 oz jar or if I can get it on sale the 20 oz jar. You know you can always add a little bit more peanut butter, it’s more creamy that way.”

“Do I melt the butter before adding it or just add softened butter?”

“No, don’t melt it, just set your butter on the counter a few hours before you start.  If you forget you can add a little bit of cream cheese, just a tiny bit to help mix in the butter. “

“But that’s not on your recipe, mother.  Why would I add cream cheese to the peanut butter eggs?”

“Well, you’re going to make the coconut eggs, right?  So you already have the cream cheese, in case you need it to soften the butter.”

By the time I’ve stirred the ingredients together while sucking in huge sighs of patience, and tucking in little tastes of peanut butter I am ready for what my mother terms, “such a playing.”  One by one I roll the peanut butter mixture into dozens of little eggs.  I had asked her how many eggs this recipe would make and she laughed,

“Don’t worry you’ll have lots, just make them into nicely shaped tiny eggs.”

Pardon me, here’s my crazy cook confession, “I do not roll uniform size candy eggs, neatly shaped to line up side-by-side. “

In fact, on purpose the rebellious, free-spirited teenager of the seventies surfaces and suddenly those eggs look a little bit short, a little bit long, and a little bit wide.  This cook’s rolled one-too-many Easter eggs through the decades!

This year I thought I would escape the candy making ritual due to bidding farewell to one son as he escaped to the shores of Hawaii, and having surprised the other son with his favourite cookies, and sour jelly beans on a recent visit.  Then my mother called to share her news.

“I’m sending along my recipe for Easter candy so you can give it to Catherine at her wedding shower.  I know this is one of Christopher’s favourite things so I wanted her to have my recipe.  But you should try it first and write down exactly what you put in, because sometimes I change it while I’m making the candy.”

Yes, that’s the truth.  That’s why I always roll up some patience with my peanut butter eggs.  How much?   Oh maybe ½ to ¾ pound, or maybe more.  I’ll be able to tell how much I need by the way it feels.

Dusty

Dusty waits patiently for a drop of peanut butter to fall!
By the way, this is only the first part of the Easter egg candy making.  Stay tuned for the second half…

Just the Boot!

Recently I ate breakfast at The Fisherman’s Boot in Steveston, British Columbia.  As the title implies local fishermen frequent this eatery, not because it features great selections of fish, but it offers the basics, nothing fancy but everything necessary, the boot if you will.  The menu features a hearty breakfast complete with coffee, toast, 3 eggs, potatoes and a choice of bacon, sausage or ham all for a mere five dollars.  Wooden reindeer peer over the seating area oblivious that their season has come and gone, proudly showcasing silk bouquets of spring flowers.  Multi-purposeful decorations that highlight the idea that this place doesn’t pander to holiday housecleaning, in fact it doesn’t even update the bench covers in its booths.  However an array of overstuffed sandwiches awaits the customer who wants to buy lunch for his fishing trip, any of them look like they would stave off a hungry stomach through a long days’ work of pulling in the catch.  Over in the corner a bookshelf of well-worn paperbacks offers a free companion for whomever chooses to peruse through the titles.
Looking around at the varied customers I noted that a table of older women looked more like a book club than a group of fisherwomen.  In fact the Boot has become known as a place where locals can socialize in a pared-down atmosphere, while eating a meal of tried and true selections. Probably the most innovative items in the place were the three flavoured crèmes by the help-yourself coffee canisters.

At any rate, the Boot represents to me an often known but sometimes ignored truth about writing.  Often we offer the same choices on our word menus but how we present them to our audience determines who stops for a while to enjoy them.

Who are we writing for? Do we often consider the audience or do we find the audience after we have written an inspired piece?  Both approaches happen in the course of writing, however we as writers need to focus on the needs of our audience. We need to spend some time getting to know our customers to understand what they truly want.  Sometimes it might require some honest conversation between two characters, simple, direct, straight to the point.  In some situations we might need to pare down our writing and offer “just the boot” to draw in the readers that truly need to hear our intended message.

Mind you this idea came to me this morning as I groggily pulled on my boots after a spring snowfall greeted me on my return to Calgary.  My little dog, Dusty didn’t know that I was still on Vancouver time; he needed to go do his morning duty.  Halfway down the driveway to retrieve the newspaper, I realized that my feet bent awkwardly as I walked.  In my rush I had put my boots on the wrong feet.  I thought about where I had been the day before, and I mulled around the idea… sometimes we need to make sure we have “just the boot” that fits.

Snow Bundles

As the snow continues to fall in the middle of this “snow event” I am listening to a wonderful chorus by a little bird chirping by my chimney.  It’s probably sitting on the branches of my forsythia bush as it provides a lovely accompaniment to the flurries floating to the garden patch below it.  Somewhere deep beneath the ground the roots probably want to know, “Was yesterday’s warm glow a true promise of spring, or just a peek? Why are these snowy drops icing my tips?”

Dusty is rolling about on the carpet at my feet, intent on drying the remaining bits of snow from his back and belly.  Despite having a neatly cleared trail before him, he pounced about in the snow like a little rabbit, he snuck through the rose bushes, circled round the fire pit and flung himself towards the snow-covered leaf piles near the wolf willows.  So needless to say, when he was finally ready to go back inside, he had sported a pile of snow bundles hanging all over him.  His little whiskers had a white, smushy mess crusted on them, while his paw pads had crushed snow sticking firmly between them.

“Come here you little snowball,” I said as he gleefully jumped up for a quick toweling.  However, his idea of quick was even briefer than mine, and off he dashed down the hardwood floor and into the family room before I could even try to catch him.

So here we are. He’s rolling about with his snow bundles, as I sit by the fireplace being serenaded by a bird in the forsythia bush at the foot of our chimney. Outside my window all the spruce trees have that gorgeous look like gobs of white icing have been plopped onto a decorated Christmas scene.  Of course in December this would be a winter wonderland.  Today for some it might be misconstrued as a March mess.  To me it’s a gift in a moment in time, on a March day in Springbank, Alberta.

Hmmm… maybe I should turn on my dryer since we strategically planted the forsythia bush directly in front of the dryer vent.  This provides some blasts of warmth for my favourite spring bush to at least try to bloom its delicate yellow flowers.  I usually gratefully accept that the struggling blossoms on the bottom branches have come forth to take an opening bow, but provide only a short preview of what might happen.

Like Dusty, shaking off the snow bundles, I’ve decided to enjoy the March surprise.  I turn on my dryer; sending some pleasant breezes to surround the performance unfolding outside my laundry window, and then I settle back in my chair to listen to the concert.  I picture the forsythia’s blossom buds resting, as the snow bundles on the branches above, giving some sources of moisture to the roots below.  A cold and refreshing drink after a warm Chinook wind will probably send some encouragement below, some reassurance that March holds the coming of spring.

The song has ended, a simple reprise of intermittent chirps flows through the chimney walls.  Dusty has curled up in his bed for an afternoon nap.  There’s a lull in the snowfall, a silence beneath a snowy blanket.

Perhaps this is the premier of the colors of spring, a pure lusciously white snowfall, silencing the landscape, covering us with snow bundles.

Springtime’s coming…

It must be Bread Bag Time!!

As I woke up to another snowfall this morning I am thinking of the promise of spring, and for me, that always, always meant Bread Bag Time…

I twist the bread bag closing it tightly, as I carefully avoid squashing the leftover ends of the loaf.  I tuck it into a corner of the freezer, pleased that I will be ready to feed the ducks on a future visit to the park.  For a moment I picture a bright, sunny afternoon by the edges of a pond, as ducks scurry to grab a piece of bread I toss their way.  By my side is Dusty, my little dog, balancing on his hind legs as he watches them from a safe distance.  His instinctive reaction is to raise himself higher so he can assess the situation and satisfy his cautious curiosity while wondering,

“Is that something I should explore? Should I run towards it or away from it? Will it play with me?” I can almost hear him thinking these thoughts.

I smile and sigh as I file the picture of Dusty and the ducks into the pages of my mind, just as I tucked the bread bag into its corner in the freezer.  One spring day I will unearth both of them, because if it’s spring it must be bread bag time.  Yes, if it is spring, I can close my eyes and I can feel a bread bag flopping by the side of my legs as I skip along the banks of a stream. I can hear the water gurgling around the rocks and fallen branches. I can smell the muddy areas hiding under last fall’s leaves, waiting for me to slip and slide in their musty depths.  Yes, if it is spring, I can travel back in time to bread bag time with my Dad, when we would scout the stream for the best place to fish on the opening day of trout fishing season.

Every year Dad would grab the bags of leftover bread scraps from the freezer and we’d go for a walk by the stream that flowed through and around our small town.  The local fish and game unit stocked the stream with new trout every year before the start of the fishing season.  Dad said he could predict where the greater numbers of trout would gather by taking his family for a fish walk.  My sister and I eagerly followed my Dad with our prized bread bags clutched in our hands.  It didn’t matter to us where we were going, as long as we could swing our bags around, toss in a few crumbs to find the fish, and watch them break the surface of the water to grab the tasty treats.

It was Spring and it was bread bag time!

Sometimes I would forget and I would break off a large clump of bread instead of the tiny pieces Dad instructed us to throw.  The clump would float along, a fish might pop up to nibble at it but the clump didn’t disappear like the tiny pieces did.  The fish were hungry but they didn’t mistake a large clump of bread for a water bug. They might be curious and want to see what it was, but they would find out that it didn’t bounce on the water like the tiny pieces did.  I learned that fish were cautious about something new and different.

Looking back, I remember placing my feet as close to the stream bank as possible so I could throw the crumbs to entice the fish.  Sometimes I stood on my tiptoes to increase the reach of my throw.  My sister often ventured out on a small rock or a fallen log so she could make her toss.  I remember I tried to follow her one-year as she hopped across to a small patch of ground in the middle of the stream.  Instead of landing safely I slid down plopping noisily into the water, and frightening the fish away. This resulted in smelly, squishy sneakers for the remainder of the fish walk.  I learned that rushing along without thinking didn’t necessarily bring about the best results!

As I grew older, I realized that the fish walk didn’t actually determine Dad’s choice of where he would fish on opening day.  In fact, Dad usually fished in the same spot each year.  When I asked him why he had taken us on an annual fish walk if he intended on returning to the same spot he merely replied,

“I liked watching your excitement as you were throwing in the crumbs.  Every time a fish popped to the surface of the water you both thought you had won a prize.”

As I look forward to the coming Spring I invite you to join me in getting ready for the bread bag ritual. May it be a reminder to look for new ideas or approaches to what is happening in our lives.  Perhaps you are facing a career change, or a move to a new place.  Perhaps you are experiencing a transition in your life with children, parents, your spouse, or with a new challenge.  Perhaps you will discover an opportunity to explore ways to serve others, or how to develop a new or older friendship.

Lets take out those bread bags that we have saved and tucked away so carefully.  Maybe we’ve pushed a few hopes and wishes into a corner, but the new days of Spring might help us to test the waters once again.  We can toss a few crumbs onto the surface, and we can attempt to gain a better understanding of what will happen.  Sometimes we might be like a clump of bread not seen for who or what we truly are, sometimes we might fall down before we even have a chance to toss in our ideas, or we might make an overwhelming splash and lose the chance to make a difference.  Fortunately, we all have the opportunity to renew ourselves, our relationships and our reactions to each new phase of life.  Springtime comes; we all can dig out our bread bags, we can hope for a few prizes to pop to the surface of our everyday walks, and we can find the excitement we have to give to others as a response to what life brings to us.

Ah spring, and the simple ritual of the bread bag.  I look forward to my upcoming days with Dusty at the park.  I imagine we will take a walk, we will stop and I will throw some bread to the ducks at the water’s edge.  Dusty will rise up on his hind legs, eagerly walking closer while trying to determine what he should do next.  I’ll be waiting for the prizes to pop, as the bread bag flops against my leg, walking along the water’s edge.

Diamonds all along the way!

Diamonds all along the way, diamonds beckoning me to reach down and scoop up their glittering beauty, to toss them over my head so that they shower me with cascading rivulets of bouncing, dancing lights.  Diamonds all along the way, lining the side of the road, sparkling from the tips of every stalk of grass, glinting in the morning sun, shimmering just beyond my windshield, frosted diamonds darting, dazzling like a strand of flickering strobe lights.  I could almost hear them resounding in their glory, following me like a crescendo up the crest of the hill.  Diamonds, albeit frozen icicle diamonds caught in the rays of the sun as it beamed across the fields, diamond icicles all along the way, lining the road on my drive toward the highway.  Could there be anything better than diamonds in the morning to begin my day?

The sun often strikes boldly on my morning drives sweeping with broad strokes, forcing its light with intense heat and glare, sending me to grab my sunglasses and slam down my sun visor so that I can drive without swerving into the ditch.  But sometimes the finest slivers of ice slide on the surface of the frozen grass and intercept the striking sun, sending its radiance into a fine sheen, broken apart into reflective, radiant sun diamonds.

Not mined, not purchased, not selected, simply given, softly presented, waiting to be seen, signaling to be known.  Sun diamonds all along the way, lining the road, highlighting the start of a new day.

And oh how I need it to be a new day, Lord.  After yesterday’s lurches and spins and topsy-turvy, round-and-round we go movements.  The vertigo hit like a vengeance yesterday, unruly, unexpected and unwelcome.  As I tackled an organization project long overdue, I ruthlessly tossed away papers and folders, turning to this corner and then to that one, removing the old, setting up the new, swiveling about… whoa one too many times.  Then the room lurched like a ship on the lost seas caught in a maelstrom of steep waves tossing it high and low.  Vertigo lurches and lunges that wouldn’t stop despite the medication, or regardless of a regrouping position on a comfy couch or a restful bed.  Oh well, the merry-go-round never stops!

I almost decided to give up this blog over the last few weeks.  I couldn’t find the words, or perhaps the words wouldn’t find me in the middle of the constant spinning, twirling descent.  I felt lost, I had to keep blinking or I might close my eyes and spin out into a black hole.  This I suppose has been the closest I have come to filling out the dance card of depression since this vertigo came into my life over a year ago.  Constant heartfelt prayer, consistent faith and trust in an ever present Lord, continual inspiring and uplifting music, captivating family and friends who bring laughter and daily joy… these have been my stocked supply of artillery against the assault of frustration.

And then today, the Diamonds appeared.  I imagine  scooping them one, by one, by one.  Scooping them and pouring them over me so that as they melt they  seep into my very being, reaffirming the steadiness of my soul.

Maybe I swerve and sway on the outside but I am grounded and rooted within.  Diamonds from the fingers of God pour deep into my soul and steady my heart day in and day out. Like the diamonds found in the earth these solidify into enduring strength and hidden treasure.  Like the sun that slipped onto the dewy grass, these diamonds slide into place within me and build up on top of each other. I picture these diamonds lodging into place, sending forth their light, their reflections darting about, throughout and within me.

Light up diamonds, shoot your beams into the corners of my spinning mind.  Like a laser strike the vertigo at its source, zap it into oblivion and illuminate my brain so it will compensate for the mixed up messages it receives.

One more thought:  Maybe this diamond message speaks loudly to all of us.  Aren’t we all hidden treasures of resilient, refined strength?  Don’t we have within us the ability to reflect outward to others despite our unbalanced situations?  Truly isn’t that all we need to do, everyday, in as many ways as possible?  Just let the diamonds shine…

May we all have…

Diamonds all along the way, every day!