Spring Temptations

Spring is being generous with our town this year. She showed up soft and slow, giving the city some time to sort out the sewer drains before hitting double digits this week.

I went for a walk along one of our many paved trails. The snow had melted into a small river running alongside the walkway, the sun shone warm and the pavement beneath my feet was bare and dry for the first time in months. I turned my face up to the sun, closed my eyes for a second and was suddenly struck with an overwhelming urge to lay down on the warm pathway and soak up the heat like a cat.

Only two things stopped me.

One, the pathway is frequented by dogs who make generous daily deposits. While there was no actual evidence of this in the stretch of pathway in front of me, I knew the residue was there.

Two, at my age, laying down on a public walkway would end in chaos and ambulances. Well, I suppose at any age it would cause a bit of eyebrow raising, but with me the assumption would be stroke or heart attack related for sure. How to explain I was just experiencing a bout of spring madness?

And so I carried on walking, keeping my reckless ideas safely in my head and up off the pavement for the sake of all things sanity and sanitary. But oh how warm that pavement looked after weeks of crazy cold.

People have already started shovelling the snow off their lawns and into the streets. Last year, our first spring in a house in town, I was bemused by the practice. I figured it was just a case of some home owners being anxious for spring and desperate to start mowing their lawns.

Why bother I thought to myself. Another couple weeks and everyone would have a bare lawn one way or the other. Plus all that snow could have been soaking in and watering their front yard instead of the street. It seemed a terrible waste of both time and moisture.

This year I know better.

It’s the gravel on top of the snow, tossed there during the necessity of winter maintenance, that makes returning the snow to the street such a savvy move. It is much easier to shovel snow, gravel and all, back to the street for the sweeper to reclaim than it is to rake it out of your lawn when the snow is gone.

Right now the big bank of snow along our curb is still a few feet tall, but lowering fast. I am eyeing the shrinkage and waiting for the opportune moment to start shovelling.

Things are moving faster closer to the house. Look at this!

I call it the great receding snow line. There is no sweeter sight than a flower bed emerging from the snow. This is my first spring in five years that I can step into a garden and see what has returned from all the mad planting I did the year before.

Am I excited? You bet. I could just roll around on the ground kind of excited. But I won’t. At least I am pretty sure I won’t.

I’m a Christmas Tree Genius! Than Again, Maybe Not.

This morning I realized the house we bought in April and have been madly in love with ever since, was, in fact, a terrible mistake.

Simply put, there is no room for the Christmas tree.

Back in April all I could think of was the garden. Where the Christmas tree would go was the furthest thing from my mind.

But now, standing in the living room in late November, with the partially assembled tree swelling up like an inflatable elephant in a mouse house, it was clear there was only one viable solution.

Put the house back on the market and find another place to live. Preferably within a week, so as not to lose too much decorating time.

And breathe.

I sat down to consider other options, trying to ignore the fact that when I pulled the leg rest out on the couch, my toes were in the tree.

There was only one spot the tree could go and it simply didn’t fit.

I then landed on a second solution.

We would close in the deck, knock out the wall of the living room and voila! There would now be space for the tree in all its glory.

Again, we would have to build this new addition within a week so as not to slow down my decorating schedule.

If only the tree were half as wide, it would have fit perfectly.

And then I had a third idea, only this time it was a really good one.

I would simply leave off the branches on one half of the tree and smoosh it against the wall.

Not only did this solution work, it looks fabulous. You would never guess the entire tree wasn’t there. Only the bottom four rows needed to be halved. Once I got to the top I was able to fit the branches all the way around. This configuration also made the tree far easier to string the lights and garland on.

I figured I had landed on a solution of genius proportions. Well, maybe not genius exactly, but moderately inventive and game changing.

A quick google proved otherwise. Turns out “my” idea has been done plenty of times before. What is that old saying? Necessity is the mother of all inventions. In fact, you can even buy trees already halved.

While I’m a little disappointed my idea wasn’t unique, I am beyond relieved that we don’t have to move or build an addition. So is Darcy.

 

 

 

24 Scented Flowers for Spring, Summer and Fall

Lily of the Valley

SPRING

  1. Apple Blossoms (tree)
  2. Daphne odora (perennial)
  3. Grape Hyacinth Muscari armeniacum (perennial bulb)
  4. Lilac (shrub)
  5. Lily of the Valley (perennial)
  6. Primrose (choose white or yellow as blues and reds have little to no scent) (perennial)
  7. Wallflowers (short-lived perennials often grown as annuals)
  8. Violets Sweet Violet Viola odorata (perennial)

 

Sweet William offers up a wonderful clove-like scent

SUMMER

  1. Honeysuckle (vine)
  2. Jasmine (vine)
  3. Lilies (perennial)
  4. Lavender (perennial in warmer climates; annual in colder gardens)
  5. Mock Orange (shrub)
  6. Nicotiana (annual)
  7. Roses (perennial)
  8. Stocks Evening Scented (annual)
  9. Sweet Alyssum (annual)
  10. Sweet Peas (traditionally an annual though a few perennial varieties do exist)
  11. Sweet William (biannual)
  12. Valerian (perennial and can be somewhat invasive)

 

Chrysanthemums

FALL

  1. Chrysanthemum (perennial)
  2. Hymalayan Balsam (annual)
  3. Katsura (tree) Cercidiphyllum japonicum
  4. Phlox (annuals and perennials)

Always check tags and packages to ensure you are choosing a fragrant variety. Many formerly dependable scented flowers, such as Sweet Peas (annual) and roses (perennial) have been bred up for eye appeal, losing much in the way of scent. A quick check of the label should tell you if you are, indeed, choosing a scented variety.

While we have included in brackets whether the plant is an annual, perennial, biannual, shrub or tree always check the garden zone to be sure how the plant will perform in your particular growing area.

 

Margaret Falls

A couple of years ago we found ourselves traversing a canyon trail that promised to take us to a place called Margaret Falls.

“Found ourselves” sort of makes it sound like we were abducted and dropped off against our will, or perhaps that we slept walked to the falls, which would be quite a feat considering our bed is located over a thousand kilometers away.

Rest assured that we ended up on the trail-about 15 kilometers west of Salmon Arm, BC-quite deliberately, but nothing prepared us for the insane beauty of the place. From the moment we set foot on the paved path until we reached the falls itself, we felt like we had entered a sacred place.

Or perhaps a theme park or movie set.

It was confusing. And breathtaking.

Here are some pictures of the walk through the canyon, but they really don’t do the place justice.

The paved path, with its knee-high boundary fence to remind people not to trample the unique and fragile ecosystem, made it feel surreal. The waterfall fed creek flowed past moss-covered rocks while perfectly placed trees-both alive and those giving themselves back to the forest floor-made it easy to imagine the scene was birthed by Walt Disney rather than Nature…which is kind of tragic when you think about it.

One tree angled itself onto the pathway and had been clamored on by children until its trunk was polished smooth as resin.

On we went, over bridges and through the shady canyon and then…there it was! It was no Niagara, but it was perfectly proportioned and so worth the hike.

Well, the “hike” was a five-minute stroll along a paved path so pretty much anything would be worth it, but still. It was beautiful. There was a cave right in the waterfall. Apparently locals often climb through the falls and inside the cave, though this is highly discouraged and illegal.

I always imagine what tourist attractions were like before they were attractions. Before the necessary rules and the ropes. What it must have been like for the first humans who stumbled across it. During the hot summers this shady oasis would no doubt have been a popular gathering place for indigenous people and later homesteaders. If only the canyon walls could talk.

In a world where things are always changing there is a comfort in a waterfall’s never ceasing flow. I like to think about how the waterfall I am looking at now, is the very same waterfall someone else stood in front of and admired a hundred years ago…or more. It is hard to fathom so much water always falling year after year after year. And of course what a terrible thing it would be if it were to ever stop.

There is so much beauty in our world and I am so grateful for the snippets I have been able to see first hand. Margaret Falls is definitely one of them. It’s a good slice.

 

Peace Pilgrim

There are a lot of things a person could admire about Peace Pilgrim.

At the age of 44, she became the first woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in a single season. A year later, she set off on foot from Pasadena California on New Year’s Day with one destination in  mind…Peace. She would never own a car, live in a house, have a bank account or answer to her birth name-Mildred Lisette Norman-again. From that day forward she called herself Peace Pilgrim, or simply Peace. She wore a navy blue tunic with deep pockets that carried everything she owned…a pen, a comb, a toothbrush and a map.

“I own only what I wear and carry. I just walk until given shelter, fast until given food,” she said at the time. “I don’t even ask; it’s given without asking. I tell you, people are good. There’s a spark of good in everybody.”

And that is what I admire most about her. Not her reliance on strangers to support her quest, but her unwavering belief that there was a spark of good in everyone. She hated war because she loved people. All people. It was a love that shone from her and captivated audiences wherever she went. She didn’t care about your political leanings or what you believed in. She simply loved people, believed in peace and walked her talk.

World Peace didn’t happen after she crossed the United States from coast to coast the first time. Or after visiting all ten provinces of Canada. Nor did it happen after crossing the United States for the second, third, fourth, fifth or even sixth time. But she kept walking anyway. She wore the words Peace Pilgrim across her tunic and welcomed conversations about her walk with everyone she met; army officers, university students, politicians…she greeted them all with love and warmth.

There seems to be an innate human tendency to mirror emotion. We match hate with hate until we simply became opposite sides of the very same coin. I once heard a talk by Pema Chodron-a Buddhist monk-where she illustrated this concept with a joke about activists clobbering opponents over the head with their peace signs.

“You can laugh,” she said. “But it isn’t that far off the mark.”

Peace Pilgrim didn’t clobber people over the head with her beliefs; like Pema, she too believed in the exact opposite approach. The following are just a few Peace Pilgrim quotes.

“There is no greater block to world peace or inner peace than fear. What we fear we tend to develop an unreasoning hatred for, so we come to hate and fear. This not only injures us psychologically and aggravates world tension, but through such negative concentration we tend to attract the things we fear. If we fear nothing and radiate love, we can expect good things to come. How much this world needs the message and example of love and of faith!”

“No one walks so safely as one who walks humbly and harmlessly with great love and great faith. For such a person gets through to the good in others (and there is good in everyone), and therefore cannot be harmed. This works between individuals, it works between groups and it would work between nations if nations had the courage to try it.”

“In order to help usher in the golden age we must see the good in people. We must know it is there, no matter how deeply it may be buried. Yes, apathy is there and selfishness is there – but good is there also. It is not through judgment that the good can be reached, but through love and faith.”

“The positive approach inspires; the negative approach makes anger. When you make people angry, they act in accordance with their baser instincts, often violently and irrationally. When you inspire people, they act in accordance with their higher instincts, sensibly and rationally. Also, anger is transient, whereas inspiration sometimes has a life-long effect.”

 

On July 7, 1981, while being driven to a speaking engagement near Knox, Indiana, Peace Pilgrim was killed in a car accident. She was 73 years old, had been walking for peace for 28 years and was undertaking her seventh trip across America.

Given everything that is going on in the world today, one could make the case that her quest was all for nothing. I subscribe to the last line in the last quote listed above…inspiration has a life-long effect.

Almost four decades since her death, I am still inspired by Peace and I still turn to the book compiled by her friends after her death Peace Pilgrim; her life and work in her own words whenever I get discouraged, feel hateful, lose my temper or need a reboot.

Peace Pilgrim inspired me and she will have an effect on the way I think and live for the rest of my life and I know I’m not the only one.

A booklet titled Steps to Inner Peace taken from a radio talk Peace gave in 1964 was published during her lifetime and given out freely. She was adamant that people should not have to pay money to hear or read her message.

Her friends knew she would feel the same about the book they put together the year after her death, so they decided to give copies out for free for as long as they could afford to print them and when they ran out of money that would be that. Well, donations poured in and 35 years later it is still being given out for free. Her message continues to be both timeless, timely and inspiring.

I know Peace would wish for a world where her message wasn’t needed; where we all walked humbly and harmlessly with great love. But in the meantime-if you haven’t heard of her and if you’re interested-hers is a voice of sanity when it feels as if the world has gone mad.

Zen concept background-The balance between the black and white zen stones

 

 

 

Telling Our Stories

On a Marengo Saskatchewan morning in 1925 my great-grandmother made a grisly discovery. She woke her 22-year-old son with the words, “Come see what your father has done.”

My grandfather threw on his clothes, pulled on his boots and grabbing his coat from the peg by the farmhouse door, stumbled into the still dark morning of December 22nd. He followed the fast-moving small figure of his mother down the icy path to the barn. It was only two more nights until Christmas. Maybe his father had made something special for his thirteen year old brother or twelve-year-old sister.

Nothing prepared him for what he saw when his mother stepped inside the barn and held the lantern aloft.

It was true that his father had been depressed. Grain prices were down and the family was struggling. In the early years they had always made enough money from the farm to not only live, but to improve upon it and even make yearly trips down to visit family in Minnesota or to go south in the winter to escape the brutal prairie winters. They weren’t rich but they were comfortable. All that had gone the way of falling grain prices and temperamental prairie storms. Even so, no one expected my great-grandfather to shoot himself. But sometime in the night that is exactly what he had done.

His name was Frank and he was fifty-three years old. The same age I am on this same December day when he took his life. My great-grandmother Margaret was forty-seven; widowed on a prairie December morning just two days before Christmas. At twenty-two, ready to step out into a world of possibilities, my Grandpa Don instead found himself shouldered with the family farm.

Suicide doesn’t end the pain. It just passes it on to someone else.

Nearby, on their own farm, my great-great grandparents, Emma and Frank, had yet to learn the news that their only son was gone.

A couple of years later Frank passed away and the family decided to sell the family farms and move to Drumheller, Alberta. In 1928 Grandpa Don married my Grandma Isabelle and soon after my Aunt Doreen was born followed by my father in 1930. In 1929 Emma passed away and my grandfather and his younger brother decided to take up homesteads in the Peace Country.  In 1931 their wagon rolled onto the quarter northwest of Dawson Creek that would forever more be known to our family as “The Old Place.”

Great Grandma Margaret (affectionately known as Little Grandma due to her diminutive size) came along for the adventure and my father, all of one year old at the time, loved to proclaim that moving to the Peace Country was the smartest decision he ever made.

Christmas is a time of memories. The only relatives from this story I knew personally were my Uncle, my Grandma Isabelle, Aunt Doreen and, of course, my father. Grandpa Don died ten years before I was born when he was only 52, from a stroke.

I grew up playing in the buildings at The Old Place that my grandfather built, but I never knew a time when they weren’t abandoned. They were rich fuel for a young child’s imagination. It was among the log cabins, barns and sheds that the dream of one day having my own log cabin in the woods took seed. In fact, I wanted to be a homesteader, go back in time, grow all our own food and live my albeit romantic version of a simple, peaceful life.

And it happened. Sort of. For 16 years I lived with my own family in a log house only six miles from The Old Place. I grew much of our own food and it was a simple and peaceful life. Most of the time. I am grateful to have lived my dream.

Today I am sitting at my computer in our fourth floor apartment, looking out over rooftops at a Chinook-riddled Peace Country sky, thinking of all the Christmases come and gone. Soon our oldest son will be flying in across the same skies I am looking at now. Our youngest son and daughter in law can’t make it in person this year, but we’ll Skype.

On our way down to my sister’s house for Christmas supper we will pick up my Mom from her apartment in Assisted Living. She will be excited and happy to see us, and a little confused. We will cross the parking lot to the long-term care facility to visit my father.

If he isn’t sleeping, he will smile when he sees us and try to talk. We won’t understand what he is trying to say, but we will smile and nod back. The strong, farmer legs that the grandchildren used to scramble up like a tree while he held their hands, encouraging them to walk their way up to his shoulders and somersault shrieking back to the floor, no longer work. It’s been ten Christmases since he started the long goodbye, the slow fade. Every year less of him remains, and yet all of him is still here. This is his fourth Christmas in long-term care. It’s the third Christmas since my mother first started showing symptoms of what we would later learn was a mix of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s her first Christmas in assisted living.

People always say they wished they had asked their parents more questions while they still could. We are lucky in that the slow decline of our parents have allowed us to ask and ask and ask, until the information wicket falls shut.

Now I wonder what to do with all the answers and stories swirling in my head. Watching first one parent, then the other, lose their memories makes me want to scramble to get everything down before my own brain tangles and it all vanishes like fairy dust. I want evidence that it all really happened. That we were all really here. That there were lots of good moments too.

So many Christmases, so many memories made under these same Peace Country skies. It’s like one big bowl of emotional sweet and sour soup.

So I guess I have my New Year resolution. To write the book of us. A family like every other, a family like no other. My family. Our family. The story of us. It won’t be the greatest story every told, but it will be ours. Or my version of it anyway.

I wish everyone a joyous season filled with good moments and great stories.

 

We’ve Turned Up Old

Years ago my father in law was aghast at having run into an old acquaintance who he felt hadn’t aged well.

“He turned up old!” he exclaimed.

Well, today it’s official. My husband and I have turned up old.

I blame the apartment.

For most of our lives the arrival of visitors has been heralded by barking dogs, the sound of a vehicle, footsteps on the deck and knocking on the door. Oh how I miss those days.

The arrival of apartment visitors lead to an entirely different sequence of events.

Our apartment has an intercom featuring an abundance of buttons for various purposes, along with a miniature TV screen allowing us to see the visitor without them seeing us back. It has been almost two years and the sound of the intercom ringing still kicks off the same sad series of events; give or take a few ingredients.

Take last night for instance.

Cue the intercom.

“What’s that noise?”

“I don’t know. Is it your phone?”

“No, is it yours?”

“No.”

“Wait. I think it might be the intercom.”

“Who could it be?”

“I don’t know.”

Cautiously we approach the dining room wall with the intercom on it and peer at the screen. An unfamiliar man is holding a large package and looking impatient.

“Do you know who it is?”

“No, do you?”

“Press the talk button.”

“Which one is the talk button again?”

“That one. The one with the picture of a person talking.”

“Hello? Hello? It looks like he’s talking but I can’t hear him.”

“You have to take your finger off the talk button so he can talk.”

“Is that how it works?”

“Pizza delivery.”

“Pizza! We didn’t order pizza.”

“Tell him.”

“I am!”

“He doesn’t look like he hears you.”

“We didn’t order pizza.”

“You have to press the button when you talk.”

“We didn’t order pizza.”

“Let go! Take your finger off so he can answer.”

“I don’t think you need to.”

“Hello?”

“What?”

“Can you hear me?”

“Food! Did you order any food?”

The unidentified man is now looking beyond impatient and we are practically wringing our hands.

“Tell him no!”

“I’m trying.”

“Press that button.”

“Well, what does this one do?”

“I don’t know, but don’t press the one with the key on it or you’ll accidentally let him in!”

“Calm down. It’s a pizza delivery guy, not a rabid dog. It might be simpler if we just buzzed him in and explained when he got up here.”

In the mini TV screen we watch the man flail one arm about his head in frustration, the other holding what is presumably a box of pizza. He turns towards the main door, violently pushes it open and leaves.

“Well, at least he’s gone. You can stop pressing the button now.”

And then it hits me.

“Oh my god. Would you look at us? Do you know what this means?”

“Yeah. Someone in the other apartment with the same number as ours probably ordered pizza.”

“No. We’ve been here two years and it just took both of us to run the intercom and we still couldn’t do it. We’ve turned up old.”

“You know what’s even worse?”

“What?”

“Now I feel like pizza.”

Pizza vector icon isolated on white background