Saturday, September 30, 2006


Hub is a bit chaffed with me since yesterday when he decided to independently make tomato soup. I should have probably gone to the other room but I didn’t, so that’s when the trouble started. First thing I had to tell him is because tomato soup is acidic he would have to transfer his soup from the aluminum kettle to a stainless steel pot. That’s how it started. Then there was the too and fro’ about whether sugar reduces acid, about whether the addition of cream would make the soup curdle, about what vegetables should be carmelized with the onions, about peeling tomatoes, and about bay leaves, basil, pepper corns etc. Hub was beside himself over all these orders and who could blame him?

Now go ahead and sympathize with Hub while I tell you about this morning’s events. This morning I was sitting on the deck beside my pot of lavender and white pansies when I saw a movement among the blossoms. On closer examination I discovered the movement was a sluggish honeybee. Lumbering silently over petals to get to the center of a flower. Silent, slow-moving, staggering, legs gimpy and folded. Moving like a clumsy track-machine he progressed over the outer edge of the flower by crawling into a perpendicular position until I thought he might flip over backwards, but he didn’t. Eventually, after teetering precariously on the edge, his body overbalanced and he toppled forward into the center of the flower where he lay still as if mortally wounded for some time before he eventually began weakly sipping nectar.

Now I am no ‘bee whisperer’ and although I couldn’t look in his eyes and see sadness and fear, I knew he was both sick and sad. After all, normally when honeybees are gathering nectar, they buzz happy songs and do a happy dance. This bee was soundless. Without song. Without dance. Lumbering around with such pain and discouragement that I could not help the sad feeling of concern that welled up in my breast.

I wondered if the beekeeper down the road had lifted the hives for the winter. I wondered if this sad bee had stayed out too late and been shut out. Just then I saw another bee, equally fettered by discouragement and sadness. I was relieved there was more than one but no more than two. Not like the year I awoke one frosty morning to find thousands of bees blanketing a warm place in the sun on the cab of Hub’s pick-up. Swarming, not as loyal sentinels of a Queen, but as heat-seekers endeavoring to survive. The hives were gone, the chill of frost in the air, and they had no place to go for warmth or comfort. It was a massacre of such massive proportions that I will never forget it.

Now I was not much more than a toddler when my Grandfather had bees, but Mother told me about the day I was napping on his bed and suddenly awoke with a scream and flailing arms yelling “There’s something hot in my bed!” A search indicated that there was a bee in the bed. And from that story, I know that in the fall Grandfather would seal up one of the hives and take it in to his cabin to keep his bees over winter. But what I don’t know is what supplies or furnishings were in that hive to make the period of their confinement comfortable.

But as I contemplated this method of wintering bees, I also thought of the miniatures that sit on the little shelves by my kitchen window. A six-inch high old-fashioned cream separator with tiny milk pails and a wee cream can. A tiny cast iron replica of a wood stove with a tiny poker and removable stove lids the size of dimes. So why couldn’t I make a tiny wooden bee hive to harbor two homeless and sad bees? I will make a little beehive replica and paint it white. But what will those bees need? Perhaps nothing more than a wee bit of paraffin wax and a gob of honey. Could it be possible that is all they would need? But what about bee frames? Do they need bee frames so they can do their craft in order to alleviate their boredom and to keep philosophical hope alive? And do those frames need some kind of filament or could I just hang a tiny picture frame on edge where they could fashion their own canvas mesh to do their work?

As I thought about these things, the possibility began to seem real. I called Hub out to the deck to let him know what I was thinking. I saw that look of sympathy that crossed his face as he examined the two morose little bees in the pansy-pot. And I should have been surprised when Hub told me the beehives in the field had been taken up the day before. But I wasn’t. The two sad little bees had already communicated that fact to me. But now, the hard confirmation of two wee creatures with no home or shelter did nothing more than warm my heart even more to rescue efforts. That is, until I suddenly realized a further complication.

As I said before, I don’t know a lot about bees but one thing I do know is that without their Big Mama, they cannot maintain a household. “Oh dear,” I said to Hub, “as easy as it sounds, it isn’t going to work, not without a Queen to rally them and tell them what to do.”

Hub chuckled and I know he was thinking of his soup-making efforts when he said, “Build your beehive. Bring them in. They’ll do well in your kitchen!”

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I grew up thinking the world was fair. That ‘no one could have it all’ because for everyone with an excess of wealth or beauty, there is still something in their lives that levels the playing field. Some kind of negative trade-off.

‘Fair’ is nice. It’s nice to be able to cancel out envy of the massive curly locks, beauty of face, and slim waist of a beauty queen by knowing that there is a definite trade-off involved. She probably has a sad homelife or the personality of a stick. It’s nice to think that the wealthy are discontent because of their inability to appreciate the small stuff. Comforting and nice to think that everyone (self included), despite blessings, has burdens that counterbalance those blessings and make us all into a multitude of equals.

So whether I encountered someone with the singing voice of an angel, or the ability to play a piano like Mozart, or the fine clothes and adornments of wealth, I could dismiss envy like it never existed, knowing in my heart that with these fine accomplishments came a trade-off. The more blessed a life, the bigger the counterweight, just to keep equality (i.e. fairness) in good order. My burden might be want, but theirs could be any number of things so much worst.

But then slowly, but surely, I became aware that some have it all, without the backlash of burdens necessary to maintain fairness. As I continued life’s journey, I began to uncover people of stunning physical beauty, with magnetic personalities, that were smart, friendly, rich, organized, successful, educated persons without zits, excess weight or other infirmities and with solid family relationships. That was pretty upsetting. And despite my conviction that ‘No one can have it all’, they had it all.

I was broken-hearted for a time. Where, oh where was the trade-off that they are obliged to give in order to have so many blessings? Where was the trade-off needed in a world that promises to be fair?

I must have a world that is fair. This is the root of my optimism and daily delight. I will build in my mind a discovery that will return the world to fairness one way or another. I wasn’t given this incredible imagination for nothing. And so I contemplated and twisted thoughts until eventually the discovery I needed surfaced. A discovery of understanding that returned all to fairness and completely melted away my disappointment. A discovery, that cured the chaffing of my envy.

And what I discovered was this. Despite their enviable success, cheerful smiles, personal magnetism and sweet dispositions, their beauty is stained and marred by a burden as well. There is an ugly and nasty thing tainting their perfection. And the infirmity or burden they must carry through life is far worse than a mountainous pus-filled zit on the end of a delicately carved nose. What they do, that is so Not-Nice, is make the rest of us feel completely ‘inadequate’.

I wouldn’t want to be like that for anything. Going around, making myself despicable by hurting others, by burdening them with feelings of inadequacy. Would you?

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Don’t we just spend most of our lives searching for ways to make ourselves more attractive? It’s the thing that we hope will single us out so we will be picked as the most desirable mate, employee, mother, model, or citizen without having to jump up and down with hand in the air yelling, “Pick me, pick me.” And even those who swear they neither want or need approval are engaged in the hunt. For women the hunt is often for fashionable clothing, a flattering hairdo, longer eyelashes, or fingernails, or a way to lose a few pounds or gain a few pounds, or even surgery that will enhance breasts, lips, noses, or some other minor body flaw.

But in our yen to be more attractive, do we really know what ‘attractive’ means? Too many think the best word that describes ‘attractive’ is ‘sexy’. Not so, the best that describes attractive is ‘pleasing to the eye and charming to the mind’. And that latter part, that ‘charming to the mind part’, is the clincher.

Now this search to be more attractive is no different from the physical search for a lost or misplaced pen or scissors. The harder we look, the less we see. And eventually when we find the missing item, we have to kick ourselves because it was right under our noses during the whole of the frustrating search.

What hampers us most in our quest to be attractive is the irrevocable damage when we become too scientific, too fact-orientated, too hard-wired to find delight in fantasy, and humor in minor agitation. Science is hard on an imagination. There is no humor to be found in the context of cold hard facts that ultimately lead to the embattlements of whom is right and who is wrong.

So often it is said that if you want to a relationship to survive, you have to maintain a certain amount of mysticism. It is believed that is at the root of sustainable relationships.

And so, with our flat and scientific minds, we ask ‘How can I possibly do that? This man I am married to for thirty years has already seen me at my worst – without my teeth, without my clothes, or in slovenly robes and Medusa hair. I don’t know how, in such a climate, to retain the magnetism of mysticism.’

Well, actually it’s easy. Now I can’t say this is a general rule but in my mind I suspect it is. I’ve read enough books where despite a wealth of physical flaws, he still loved her for her mysticism – her simplicity, naiveté, sweet totally trusting nature, or imagination. These are the things that play a magic roll in relationships. So in my life, though often slovenly and unkempt, after more than thirty years of marriage, I still retain the magnetism of a bit of mysticism. So shall I tell you my secrets?

My mysticism takes the form of occasional genuine stupidity. Or the form of pretended “I don’t get it” and pleas for Hub’s wisdom(?). Or letting him be right though I know he is wrong. Sometimes it takes the form of a garish display of helpless dependency, and sometimes the form of smooth spiced-up gravy to go with his mashed potatoes.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I remembered her today. I remembered she had hopes and dreams like we all do. Hope that her life would have meaning, despite the harshness of her reality. I remembered how brave she was. With courage rooted in Godliness. She knew that ‘charity’ was the best of the spiritual gifts, but for her ‘charity’ was quite out of the question. She had nothing to give. So she set herself up for an alternate goal and strove with every breath to perfect it – A goal of ‘humility’.

She mistakenly took it to be a choice rather than what it was – a mindset forced on her by circumstance. She never realized that reality forced her to be ‘humble’, no matter what her choice or intent. That’s not how she saw it. In her mind, ‘Humility’ was a spiritual mandate entirely of her own choosing.

And so she believed it required an intensified struggle on her part – to hold fast to a denial of all luxury, comfort, and adornment. She had no silk stockings, no broaches, no jewelry, fashionable clothes, fur coats, or leather footwear. We all knew she couldn’t afford such luxuries anyway, but without a desire for these things, poverty lost its identity. In her reality, poverty was ever present, but her way of thinking morphed it from misery into something attired in the consoling costume of a comfortable existence.

And I also remember, as if it were yesterday, the lovely blue dress she got for her birthday. We were so excited. We couldn’t wait for her to put it on. But when she did, she put it on grudgingly and wore it grudgingly. It seemed that she idealized, or perhaps pretended until she believed it, that the brightness and freshness of that dress put a stain on the humility that she preferred to wear.

It is odd, this notion she had. That she could live a physical existence of abject self-deprecation, while at the same time an emotional existence of grandiosity. Odd to see arrogance coupled with humility as if they were compatible partners. But yet this uncommon approach to living magically transformed poverty to riches and allowed her to spin deprivation into gold.

Friday, September 15, 2006


A few months ago I introduced my six-year-old granddaughter to canvas stitching. I thought she was probably too young to get the hang of it but after only one session she was able to thread that thick yarn into the slender eye of a needle (something I thought would be too difficult for her). But watching her made me laugh. In no time, she was doing it like an old pro. Squeezing the yarn in a tight fold over the needle tip and then plunging it through the eye of the needle as slick as you please.

And now she knows how to make the stitches, count the squares, and even how to pull out the yarn if she makes a mistake. She has already stitched a picture of a little duck. And she is busy as a little bee stitching her second and more complex picture. I expect when that is done, which it soon will be, she will be ready to move to the finer detail of counted cross-stitch.

Granddaughter is a little girl that has always been a bouncy, bounding, ball of energy. Always in a state of restlessness. Always fretting about what is happening now and what is going to happen next. But now MD (Middle Daughter) tells me that with the stitching has come unexpected calm. A changed child, quietly content and happily stitching.

Now, for just a brief moment, I want to redirect this discussion to the Community Calender of winter activities for this area. As far back as I can remember the offerings have been a variation of artful things like pottery, painting, quilting, basket weaving, willow-art, or cabinet making. But, no more. This year there is none of that. This year from cover to cover, there is a seemingly endless list of classes in self-transformation through various means of internal meditation – i.e. self-hypnosis, forward thinking, positive thinking, self-healing, relaxation, something called Chatras and Reiki, and weight-management.

I was surprised and taken aback at the new themes. Where is the artful stuff? And then I thought of stitching – Granddaughter’s stitching, and my own as well. And you know what I realized? The same thing MD realized about Granddaughter. When I am stitching, I move by default into a world of self-hypnosis, positive redirection of energy, forward thinking, emotional healing, relaxation, self-meditation and transformation. And with such busy hands, even weight management. It pretty much covers everything in this year’s calendar, and all it takes is a needle, and a scrap of yarn.

P.S. Somehow I think there is a correlation between young people that do artful things and others who lose their way for lack of the calmness and contentment that comes from what I call ‘sampler occupations’. (That being any occupation that parallels the decorative stitching that young girls were obliged to do as part of Life-Skills training in the 18th and 19th century.) Do you think there could be?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Today I have to ask you, “What kind of person who understands poverty and hunger, would huck 40 or 50 cobs of corn in a ditch?” That’s the question I asked my neighbor years ago when I discovered that was exactly what she did. I couldn’t comprehend that she could bring herself to do it.

Never forgot it, never will. And I never forgot her explanation either. “That’s no big deal, everybody hucks corn.”

There was something in that reasoning that confused me about truth and lies. Something that snagged another concept. And almost immediately I knew what it was. “People do not ‘huck’ corn in the ditch. That is not what they do. They ‘husk’ corn and throw it in a pot, or freeze it, or can it. They do not huck it in the ditch!” Her actions were so disappointing to me. A betrayal of our deep friendship that grew out of common thinking and the solid belief that nothing of value should ever be discarded.

That was twenty years ago, maybe more. And I am still back there recycling that incident. What prompted my return? A bumper crop of cucumbers.

Have you seen the commercial on TV where an expectant mother opens the fridge door and out tumbles cucumbers? So many cucumbers that she is soon up to her chest in them. I don’t even know what the commercial was for, but that is me this year. In thirty years of gardening I have never had this kind of abundance of cucumbers from one measly slim package of seed.

And so, since I don’t huck corn in the ditch, or anything else that is usable and of value, I have been very busy. I have made no less than thirty jars of pickles. Two buckets of pickles-in-a-pail. And in the last month, Hub and I have sipped tea and eaten more cucumber sandwiches than the Queen has in her entire lifetime. And always there are more to pick, leaving no time to peel them, weep them, and remove the seeds as Her Majesty’s kitchen staff do to prevent flatulence in public. We just shove them down our throats with the assumption that everyone in our small social group loves us enough to accept us for who we are. And if we are in doubt we drag them home with us for tea and cucumber (the flatulent kind…unseeded, unwept, etc.) sandwiches.

So in my desperation to use up all these cucumbers, I have gone to the net and looked for boiled, braised, fried, or baked cukes. Not much luck. What surfaced most quickly was a comment that only people who enjoy eating slimy chunks of snot would be interested in cooking cucumbers. That was discouraging to say the least.

Nevertheless I feel like an “Iron Chef” – theme ingredient – cucumbers. And so I have peeled and stuffed the larger ones with wild rice and mushrooms and baked them in sour cream. I have substituted them in zucchini recipes. I have cubed them, simmered them, and added them to lemon dill sauce for topping barbecued pork or fish. All of these efforts passable, none exceptional except perhaps the ones I stuffed and baked in sour cream but that recipe takes too much patience and determination to keep two halves of a cucumber together while browning them in a frypan before transferring them to the oven. And, on the other hand, leaving them in tact and carving out the inside with an apple corer is not an option. That takes the mastery of someone adept at building ships in a bottle.

But it just goes on and on. Every two days, I pick another nine gallons of cucumbers. My nearest neighbor doesn’t grow a garden (something that I have to admit I found a bit annoying until this year) so I have been hauling as many cucumbers to her house as I have been keeping. Eventually I had to say, “Please take these and if you end up hucking them in the ditch, please don’t tell me.”

And then yesterday, oh woe is me, I did something I swore I would never do. It was a crime and Hub was a enthusiastic participant. He and I stood in the garden and hucked fifty or more cucumbers into the ditch! Oh, the remorse. Oh, the guilt. Already I don’t want to talk about it.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

# 180 BLOG FOG and a DOG JOG

There is Blog fog on the deck at seven in the morning. And although the Blog Fog is wispy, floaty, and hard to collect, I managed to snag a wee wisp while sitting out there earlier today.

But before I share those thoughts, I should tell you that the twins from next door walked the doggies with us last night, as they generally do. This is a special time for them and they had loads of stuff to tell us. The excitement of the first day back at school kept them chatting at high speed throughout the walk. About new teachers, new classrooms, new clothes, and new friends. They poured out their excitement and were so flattered when Hub and I noticed their new school shoes and as a result took exceptional care to walk the paths that were clean and dry.

I laughed when I saw them coming up the driveway and went out to greet them. They both stopped, one twin grabbed the other by the hand, and posing together as if for a picture, they yelled in unison, “Roberta, you are now looking at two Grade fivers! How neat is that?”

And later when they were preparing to leave, Boy Twin said to me in a sadly disappointed voice, “I want to ride my bike to school but Mom says ‘no’. She says it is too far and I’m too young.”

So whether these next thoughts come from his comment, or from the exactness of the flavor of the air that marks every September, or from the bit of Blog Fog I snagged on the deck, I can’t say for sure. All I know is that this morning I found myself sniffing the air and reminiscing about my own excitement each September.

Starting in Grade five, I, too, wanted to ride my bike to school and I did. I rode my bike to school for a time every September for a few years and always, after the fact, wondered what drove me to do it. But usually after biking for no more than a week, the chill of early Fall mornings forced me to return to riding the bus. And then I would wonder why I did such a silly thing in the first place.

It was not that I was proud of my bike with its beat-up fenders, lop-sided basket, peeling paint, and tatty seat. In fact it was such a decrepit old thing, it was a definite embarrassment. And it was not because we lived in flat country where one could build up speed and coast effortlessly most of the way. We lived in such rolling country that I tell you the honest-to-God-truth when I say that ‘it was uphill both ways’. And after the first two miles of packed road, there was that impossible-to-maneuver long stretch of loose gravel.

But I was too excited about a new school year to wait for the bus. By starting for school an hour or more earlier, on my bike, I could get there long before the bus. And when you’re that excited about your destination, it’s good to get there early. Even if your old bike sets a negative tone among your peers of how poor you are. Does it matter? You know you’re dirt poor, they know you’re dirt poor, and you also know you have no hope of counteracting this hard fact despite first-day’s new shoes and first-day’s new home-made dress recycled from an old lavender ball gown.

It seems life is in the moment when you are a kid and there is nothing to be gained, when you’re in Grade Four, by ‘fashionable lateness’. That impresses no one. It could even be cause for ‘detention’. But everyone is impressed if you are early because that is what’s important. First on the ball diamond if you want to be ‘batter’. First to the bookshelf if you want to get the best book. First on the bus, or in the classroom, if you want the best seat. (Seems like the pushing and shoving and fighting occur, more often than not, in the middle of the queue rather than up front.)

The twins understand this stuff about getting there first. They are never late (more often too early) for dog jogs. And every game we play with them in the woods or meadows while on a dog jog ends up with the summation that has been a favorite of all kids for all time – “Last one there is a rotten egg!”

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


She parks her car at the workplace and climbs out and makes her way to the entrance doors. Her feet feel as if they are tarred to the concrete. Yet when she manages to lift one foot, and readies it for a next step, it slams down hard, as if drawn by a powerful magnet. And she is aware of a dizzy weakness in head and body that makes each step, each progressive movement, an act that requires a collected effort and concentrated will.

She moves her hand to the latch of the entryway. She pulls at the door. It is heavy. So heavy. She stands for a moment with her hand on the latch, contemplating the heaviness, and thinking about how things used to be. How she used to come to work. Jumping out of her car every morning with such enthusiasm. Walking with briskness across the parking lot and bounding in a ‘lighter’ door with such positive expectation.

But no more. As she stands there this morning, asserting a better strength to open the door, she realizes that this is the way each morning has been now for more than two months. It is a revelation she must learn to accept and absorb. It is a marker that indicates Life’s Continental Divide. That unique summit that marks the division of waters that flow in opposite directions. She must have left the marker behind, without noticing, but now she is suddenly slammed with the awareness that weakness and fatigue will be her daily portion as she skids down the other side.

But she can deal with it. It’s nothing more than mind over matter. She will, of course, be at a slight disadvantage and maybe somewhat less creative now that she cannot walk and move and think in synchronized automation. Now that each physical effort requires mental contemplation, to create the will and to qualify the effort. Difficult, yes. But with a fulcrum of brave assertiveness she is convinced she can orientate herself to this opposing direction and reduce the fatigue of physical friction and drag.

She remembers her first fascination with the Continental Divide on a road trip. How beautiful the approach to the summit was. And having reached the summit, surprised that the other side had the same beauty. The sun as bright, bird songs as sweet, flowers as profuse. Perhaps Life's Continental Divide is no different. Having reached that unique point where life flows in opposite directions, perhaps beyond that point there will be another dimensional plane of equal beauty.