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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Courage


To write (fairly publicly) about depression is an act of courage in itself. So they tell me.

Courage? Was ever a more misunderstood word?

What is courage?

I would first of all discard the patriarchal and militaristic appropriation of the word "courage" for nefarious purposes. I think of all those millions of soldiers dying in wars not of their making. To my mind they weren’t full of courage. Fear and terror of their lives, certainly. Some of them were just barely out of diapers. Dying for some mythological cause created by monsters that were never near a battlefield. There’s never a justification for war. These poor young people are sold the hero myth and encouraged to give up their one and only precious lives for it. And take the lives of the most innocent of bystanders with them. War is all about killing children. Millions and millions of children. There is never a justification for that. And courage doesn't come into it.

We need some new definitions of courage.

Courage: ordinary people running into fires and diving into water to rescue others.
Courage: those tent cities, those smiling faces of Haitians rising up again after a devastation beyond our wildest imagination.
Courage: my friend Dan making sure he called me every day through this rough spot in spite of his own fearsome challenges and pain.

My mother showed the most remarkable courage in the face of a cancer that was vicious and unforgiving. She chose multiple amputations to halt its progress in the face of unbelievable pain rather than succumb (as she was advised) in a much shorter, morphine hazed alternative.

Courage is the face of the ordinary facing extraordinary challenges.

Life is fraught with landmines, often just those internal ones that we’ve negotiated from childhood. Sometimes, it's a conscious choice to embrace these landmines while taking the time to diffuse some of them and then moving on, knowing we will get the strength to face the next one in its time.

One of the best definitions of courage I have ever read is:

Courage, it would seem, is nothing less than the power to overcome danger, misfortune, fear, injustice, while continuing to affirm inwardly that life with all its sorrows is good; that everything is meaningful even if in a sense beyond our understanding; and that there is always tomorrow.": Dorothy Thompson

And sometimes courage is just about feeling the fear but doing it anyway. Starting by getting out of bed. And putting one foot in front of the other.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Black Dog


Is my value - my self-calculated value - to me, in spite of all my self-esteem boosting practices over the years, still liable to be smashed without warning? Why can’t I move on, and quickly, when casual meetings go sour, trivial conversations go south, and the merest dismissive flick of a stranger’s eye can cause a few hours worth of critical self-evaluation?

I see. This is depression, the Black Dog pacing up and down the hall waiting to come into the room. And, as always, I brood on all the human beings on this planet who are worse off than me, the Haitians, the chockfull cancer wards, and I feel worse. Where did anyone ever get the idea that thinking of those who would trade lives with me in a blink would automatically cheer me up?

I rarely write about it anymore. As it is that infrequent. But sometimes the moon is just right, the tides just so, and I get the urge to go outside and do a spot of baying. I resist it, of course. I used to cover pages and pages, book upon book, with the depresso-ramblings of the compulsive. Never to be shared. Every single journal packed up in Toronto and shipped to me here. Stacked like deadweight in a corner of a guestroom, like the corpses of small animals. I should bury them. They are beyond decay and more into a state of mummification now. But I can’t.

For picking one up, randomly, reminds me forcefully that whatever depths of despair I may be in at the moment (Howard Zinn dead. A SOTU that was laughable. a prorogued Canadian parliament ducking awkward electorate questions and appointing political favourites to the Senate, an economy worsening by the minute, a blog meeting gone sideways) it is as nothing to the way I was then.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

500


Yes, this is my 500th post. I can hardly believe it. This whole thing started in July of 2005. A lot of words, a lot of expounding and reflection, a lot of new friends made. Thank you all for reading me and offering me your excellent insights and support. I wouldn't be here without you!

And it's appropriate that I write today about a potential friend - alas now not to be - who fell into my life through this blog.


I often wonder what mythology I wrap myself up in as I go out there into previously unexplored territories. I’m talking about the possibility, or not, of forming a new friendship.

I imagine it’s impossible to take a long hard look at oneself and see the persona we present to the world.

I try not to sit in judgement of anyone. We are all fragile after all and I try and live by two main principles:

“My rights end exactly where yours begin.”


And

”Be kinder than necessary, everyone I meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

On the whole, this seems to work and stops me in judging others too much. It was a major defect of character for me. I could get into the whys and wherefores of all of that but I won’t. At some point in our lives we have to take full responsibility for our behaviours and change them if they are causing us too much pain and pointing fingers backwards achieves nothing.

I met with someone the other day that I’d never met before. A reader of my blog who was intrigued enough to email me several times and then ask if I would meet with him for a coffee and chat.

Well, there’s no stopping me now, since I met Annie (my first F2F blog buddy encounter) so I agreed to meet with him. His emails had been delightful, he was well read, articulate and charming and in the same generation as myself. A no brainer.

Things went wrong rather rapidly. He was easy on the eye, well educated and insisted on hugging when we met (in a public place, I should add!).

I won’t get into all of what we talked about in the time we were together.

But amid normal conversation, he started several rants.

One was on people that use the “I” word all the time, one of which includes his son. He had no time for them, he wished they would all go away as he wasn’t interested in them.

One was on homosexuals, not that he had any problem with them, but he disliked how they conducted themselves with their limp wrested approach to life. I said I knew many homosexuals but none who behaved like he said and how on earth did they affect his passage on this planet? Silence. Did he know any personally? Silence.

The clincher came when I told him I was conducting writing workshops where I live.
I was treated to a rant about how I could never get anyone to participate, people ‘out there’ wouldn’t be interested, ‘they’ weren’t educated enough, I must be mental. I told him I had a waiting list. Silence.

I had this queasy feeling in my stomach as I stood up. I really don’t know what that was about except that perhaps I’m maybe too sheltered by dear and darling friends and don’t realize that these completely close-minded ignoramuses WALK AMONG US. And I’d just met one.

And yes, he’ll probably read this. And wonder why I won’t meet him again. Ever.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bella Carter


That’s what the man said as we looked out over the sparkling bay. He pointed at these odd ice formations which looked for all the world like paving stones, piled up on the shore line.

“These are called Bella Carters,” he said.

“Bella Carters?” I said, the word being new to me, a mere CFA, always captivated by the wonderful words I hear around me at the edge of the Atlantic in Newfoundland. “Can you spell it?”


“Well,” he said slowly, he always speaks to me slowly as if I’m a rather dimwitted child, “I never did have to write it down but that’s what my daddy called them, and his daddy before him.”

I fell upon my dictionary once I came home. The Dictionary of Newfoundland English. Previously written about here. No Bella Carter listed. But under bellycater it says go to ballicatter. Which I do. In my slow-witted way.

And oh my, it gets a whole half page of space, this word.

And here’s the meaning I’m looking for:

“a narrow band of ice, formed in winter in the saltwater along the foreshore or landwash. Large slabs, chunks and fragments of this ice after break-up.”


And I attempted, with the photo, to give you an up close and personal look at Bella Carter.

Isn’t she gorgeous?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hope - Canadian Style



Twenty four Haitian orphans have landed in Canada on their way to their new families, mainly in Quebec, Haiti being French speaking.

Sixty more are to follow shortly.

I weep for their pain and weep again for their hope in a new life.

Friday, January 22, 2010

La Bohėme


~~~~~~~~~~~click on photo to enbiggen~~~~~~~~~~~

One of my favourite operas is “La Bohėme”.

I may have seen it five times, I may have seen it ten. I lost track.

Each production has captivated me.

On many levels.

The story: Love found. Love lost. Love extinguished. Love grieved.

Paris. 1896. A garret. Rooftops. Chimneys. Students. Mimi.

This past spring, 2009, I took a picture of Paris garrets from my room.

And I imagine the Italian composer, Puccini, composing the beautiful music based loosely upon a few stories about French students and a gypsy, living only in the Bohemian Paris of his imagination.

And I hear, like the echo of a dream, my father singing the famous Rudolfo aria from it while in the perfect acoustics of our small bathroom in Ireland: Che Gelida Manina: “Your tiny hand is frozen”.

Now and again, as the picture above flashes up on the slideshow in my sidebar, I think of all of this.

And it all makes a strange and lovely sense.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Addition & Subtraction


It strikes me there are two types of people in this world.

Those who like vast empty spaces in their homes.

And those, like me, who can’t abide an empty shelf or cupboard or cabinet or rack or window and feel compelled - perhaps even driven - to fill it chock full of, oh, whatevers.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Worry


“Why worry be happy” as the not-so-old song says.

I pretty much embraced this philosophy over the last few years.

I got to the age where I realized that none of my worries ever actually happened.

Wrestling with the thoughts of an outcome I could do absolutely nothing about seemed to be a useless occupation in my mind.

I used to worry a lot, you see. Worry about my kids, my relationships, money, my health, your health, your depression, my depression, the plumbing.

What a complete and utter waste of time when I could be knitting a pair of socks.

Or just being in the now, enjoying that pink sunset.

I was stealing precious time from myself, and all the worry in the world wouldn’t get me the desired result of anything I was worrying about.

So I virtually abandoned it. Worry that is.

Life will run its course with or without me.

I’ve never been in charge.

Which is all in the way of saying: I had my appointment with the eye surgeon. And it was a classic good news and bad news scenario.

The bad news was I have hypertension in my eyeballs which can lead to glaucoma.

The good news is that I have extraordinarily thick corneas which research has shown prevent the development of glaucoma. So no immediate surgery or medication.

I am scheduled for more tests in the hospital about six months from now.

And seriously, I didn’t worry.

And thank you all for the show of hands and hearts.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wisewebwoman Woodstove Soup.


(My photo is one of the last jugs of the wild flowers of Newfoundland, taken in late September to remind us that yes, Virginia, there's going to be a Spring)

By popular request: here is the recipe.

Note: this can be a totally vegan/vegetarian soup if chicken stock is substituted with a good vegetable stock.

Ingredients:

4 cups chicken stock – or vegetarian stock
4 cups pumpkin (fresh or canned), seeds reserved and roasted for topping soup or saving.
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
2 medium onions finely chopped and sautéed in a bit of sesame oil until golden.
1 cup julienned carrot
1 cup julienned turnip
1 cup julienned parsnip
2 cups julienned potato
3 large celery stalks finely chopped
1 or 2 large Portobello mushroom finely chopped.
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika spice (this is the really, really secret ingredient – it has to be the smoked, OK?)


(Note: julienning is running all veggies through the julienne-slice disc on a food processor or cutting the veggies in sticks about half the size of a normal French fry.)

Throw everything in large cast-iron stockpot or slow cooker crockpot mixing it up real good, stirring when you think of it, and slow cooking/simmering for a minimum of 4 hours or until the aroma drives you mental with desire.

I get about 12 very decent servings out of this. It's a complete meal with Irish soda bread and cheese on the side.

If a thinner soup is desired, just add water.

This freezes beautifully in meal size portions.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Solitary Woman


I live alone - well, apart from Ansa - but I am rarely lonely.

Like last night, I came home from the day’s events and find that Leo had filled the woodbox. Not only that - and this is so special - he had laid a fire in the grate, ready for me to put a match to it. We place a lot of value in each other, Leo and me.

Today, I entertain a gentleman caller to lunch. My famous woodstove soup, some lovely smoked salmon and soda bread, a camembert cheese and small salad. He is 89 going on 40. He teaches me a lot and is a considerable and well respected artist in wood.

We enjoy talking to each other. We are both coming from the Church of Reality and are surrounded by the Cult of Christianity where we often dare not speak openly of our beliefs. It is a blessing to talk freely and spontaneously with each other about so many events and changing times without the pall of a mystical Invisible Cosmic Housekeeper hanging over us.

Later on, I moved my laptop out of my office and in front of the fire. Not a good thing, perhaps. No reading, writing (apart from this) or knitting is being done as I play on it in front of the flames, toasty and warm.

Tomorrow I head into town for The First Annual Sparks Literary Festival which promises to be a day overflowing with authors and readings.

I sometimes ask myself, where would I squeeze in a full time relationship in all of this? He'd have to be a very busy man indeed.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A New Pair of Glasses



It’s the little things, tiny things really, that tell me I’ve been accepted as a native rather than a CFA (come from away) in my community here in Newfoundland.

Today, a couple and I had been invited to another couple’s home for dinner - which is the midday meal here.

They tell me to drive to their place which is about halfway and they will drive the rest of the distance.

When I get into the back of their SUV, I find it is blanketed.

“Oh, they say, that’s for your dog, we thought you’d bring Ansa, we wanted her to feel at home in our car”.

We’re all on coffee and tea after we finish this fabulous meal of cod, potatoes, coleslaw and homemade carrot relish when the two women start teasing me about the china cups I’d used at my recent Nollaig na Mban and maybe I’d be getting too fancy now to use mugs. To much laughter, I gave as good as I got, saying I’d never be back again if I wasn’t served on the very best china.

All of this I observe through my new spectacles.

And I get a lump in my throat.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Visionary



There’s a clarity to the air here this morning that's like Vick’s Vapo Rub. I took a series of pics outside in my PJs from my deck. It’s not like it’s cold, it’s above zero after all. It's more like you want to drink the air in so deep and so long so that it could fix whatever ails you.

With me, it’s an annoying left eye problem where sometimes my vision goes so blurry as to render me almost blind in that eye. Now I know why others don’t report such things. Dreaded fear of the all important driver’s licence being yanked.

I do have an appointment with an eye surgeon on Monday, referred to him by my eye doctor as he said my eyes needed a specialist's evaluation.

However, I will probably join the ranks of the secretive and not mention the episodic blindness and let him do the analysis based on examination only.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

MOMENTS


Did you ever see the tide turning?

It hardly lasts a few breaths.

The birds sense it in their very bones and clear the way for it. Some flying off to watch from nearby trees. Others, like the loons, too unwieldy to march to shore, diving beneath the warring waves until the battle is over.

More of a skirmish, really. With a foregone conclusion.

Sometimes the moon comes out and gazes upon the havoc that she creates. You can catch her unwavering smile if you can tear your eyes away from the water.

And then it’s all over. Order is restored to the tussling waves. The moon goes back behind a cloud, all shy and innocent.

You’d never know it happened.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Once upon a time, in a car dealership far, far, away….


So it’s like this.

I’m at the Toyota Dealership to get the winter tires on – a huge joke as it’s been warmer than South Carolina here. Seriously. Every bit of good weather on the planet earth has been tucked away in our corner of Newfoundland, for like months now. We go around grinning at each other, exchanging daily reports of the weather elsewhere: did you hear about Roscommon, under two feet of snow? Arf-Arf. And Ontario ? My God, 30 below. Snorfle, snorfle. And now it’s hotter than Florida here, snort, guffaw. Guys are out running in SHORTS here.

So I mention a funny noise coming from the car to the service guy. A noise I enjoyed a lot as my little Toyota - Strawbella - makes out like she’s a big hairy Jeep. But knowing cops and their sensitivity to this kind of thing, I thought I’d better get it checked.

Oh, exhaust pipe and gaskets and bolties, oh my? OK I tell him, go ahead with the extra work.

Then I’m paged again.

Oh, we don’t like the look of your brake pads at all, actually you don’t have brake pads to look at? Well, l think, with over 130,000k on her, baby should have herself a new pair of shoes. OK, I tell him, go ahead.

This all takes hours. I read, I knit, I stretch, I scratch myself, I play with lipstick in the bathroom, I drink some miserable masquerade of faux java and frown at the Timbits ™ in the nice glass container. I feel like a loser. Those with lives are taking the courtesy shuffle to all sorts of destinations around the city. Me, with no life, I’ve nowhere to go, no one to see, nothing to do. Just wait around 4 hours longer than I’d planned for my car to emerge.

Now the waiting room is down to 2 losers. Me and a woman of my age who looks oddly familiar. It comes to me. She looks amazingly like my dear treasured friend who recently died. Only 30 years younger.

I put down the book and say, in the manner in which all Newfoundlanders are speaking in this yucking it up way these days: Sunscreen weather, ha?

She chortles obligingly and says, my god where are you from?

Cork, I say, astonished – and so are you?

Yes, she sez, from East Cork originally.

Go on! sez I, me too! and where did you go to school?

St. Al’s, sez she.

I faint dead away.

Two Old Girls from the same Cork, Ireland, Secondary School, in a Toyota dealership waiting room. In St. John’s, Newfoundland.

And yes, we’re getting together for lunch soon.

You can’t make this stuff up!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS


{Picture above is of unread books on my left sidetable. A veritable feast, thanks mainly to # 1 Daughter}

Books read in 2009.

I would have said 75 maybe 70.

My goal was to read 100 books in 2009, but I actually fell far short of that by reading 51.

Here they are from my sidebar:

Singing Lessons - Judy Collins
Through Black Spruce - Joseph Boyden
Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen *
Payback - Margaret Attwood
Forty Words for Sorrow - Giles Blunt *
October - Richard B. Wright *
Marley & Me - John Grogan *
Mama Makes Up Her Mind - Bailey White
The Camera My Mother Gave Me - Susanna Kaysen
84 Charing Cross Road (for the umpteenth time!) - Helene Hanff *
The Domino Principle - Adam Kennedy
Faith - Jodi Picoult
The Road - Cormac McCarthy *
The Feast of Love - Charles Baxter *
Somewhere Towards the End - Diana Athill *
Fair & Tender Ladies - Lee Smith *
Deadly Appearances - Gail Bowen
The Amateur Marriage - Anne Tyler *
A Colder Kind of Death - Gail Bowen
A Delicate Storm - Giles Blunt
The Secret Scriptures - Sebastian Barry *
Surface Tension - Patrick Ocampo
Belong to me - Marisa de los Santos *
The Outport People - Claire Mowat *
The Custodian of Paradise - Wayne Johnston *
The Soloist - Steve Lopez *
R.E.A.L. From the Edge of the Rock - Rita Mary Stamp
In the Middle of Life - Richard B. Wright *
Fruit - Brian Francis *
The Chameleon's Shadow - Minette Walters
Helpless - Barbara Gowdy *
The Last Coyote - Michael Connolly
Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn *
Me & Emma - Elizabeth Flock
Displaced Persons - Margie Taylor *
The Lincoln Lawyer - Michael Connolly
92 Stories - James Thurber
Weekend Man - Richard B. Wright *
A Great Deliverance - Elizabeth George
Kill The Messenger - Tami Hoag
Shadow Of The Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon *
Dark Places - Gillian Flynn *
Too Much Happiness - Alice Munro *
T is for Trespass - Sue Grafton
Love & Summer - William Trevor *
From the Ashes of my Dreams - Ed Smith
Come Thou Tortoise - Jessica Grant *
Cloud of Bones - Bernice Morgan
Children of Eve - Deirdre Purcell
The Bishop's Man - Linden McIntyre *
Brooklyn - Colm Toibin


The best are asterisked.

One a week, eh? Not bad.

However, in my old age, I’ve discovered a new skill. I have this sturdy leather book holder I use for recipe books. Now I use it for propping the book I’m currently reading and knit as I read in front of the fire.

Highly recommended - for those who invariably multi-task.

Maybe I’ll crack 60 books this year. Along with 51 pairs of assorted cashmere, silk and cotton hand knit socks completed?

Oops, oh, and did I mention my Lexulous addiction?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Nollaig Na Mban (again)



As Daughter and I attack the last load of fancy china and put away the rarely used silver serving spoons, I reflect on the privilege of being able to host a Women’s Christmas (aka Nollaig na Mban – written about previously in this list of posts) for the first time here in Newfoundland in my magical home by the sea. The oldest today was 87 and the youngest was 5. Apart from Daughter and Niece, the rest of the friends here were all relatively new to my life in chronology but long in shared tribal origins and in making room in each other’s hearts relatively late in life for new friendships. Living proof that it can be done.

There were 13 of us - never an unlucky number I say - in total, a bit of a squeeze around the long harvest table but we managed. We sipped from delicate china cups and ate many courses, salads, fruits, my Famous Strata, perogies, sausages, blueberry cobbler (I froze blueberries picked from the Barrens in September), Irish biscuits and cheeses, raisin scones, treacle scones and Irish soda bread with organic butter.

Great chat was generated, as only a gathering of disparate women can do, it was interesting watching the youngest and the eldest there bond so tightly even though they had not met before. So much in common, I would think!

I feel so blessed and so honoured that my home can be the scene of such warmth and camaraderie.

Thank you, to the spirits of Granny and Mum and my nine blood aunts for showing me the way!

Friday, January 01, 2010

A scent of laundry. Part 2.



See Part 1 here.

She was there for a little party business I started to supplement my low female wages in Cork back in the day, when she invited all her well to do friends to her house so I could sell them a record amount of Tupperware.

She was there for my wedding, making all the bridesmaids’ dresses including fittings and arranging for shoe dyeing and matching hair bands.

She was there when my baby was born, making ridiculously fancy and gorgeous velvet dresses with lacy collars in every colour imaginable.

She was there to hold my precious mother, her sister, as she went through horrific chemo treatments and multiple amputations.

She was there but not so much when I would visit her after my mother’s death.

She was very much less there at my sister’s wedding. She kept disappearing to the ladies’ room and when she was at our table, she was oddly incoherent and inappropriately cynical.

I noticed a strange vinegary odour coming from her any time I would meet her when I went back home. I could not engage with her like in the old days. She had a remarkable lack of interest in my life and she forbade me to mention my mother’s name.

One night, when I asked my cousin, her daughter, what was going on, she silently gave me a tour of the house that had been the scene of so much laughter, community, and feasts fit for a queen.

Her dressing table, her pride and joy, laden with Waterford Crystal perfume bottles and handcut face cream jars, was the first stop. Each and every container was full of vodka.

The toilet tanks, the hot presses under the towels, the back recesses of the sideboard, even the opened yawning mouth of the piano: every nook and cranny held a bottle or a mickey full of alcohol.

Later, I sat down with her beautiful teenage granddaughter at a party in a cousin’s house and described her grandmother’s heyday to her. She looked at me blankly, almost disbelievingly.

“I’ve never known her to be anything but like she is now,’ she said softly.