"writing"

Fresh Start

I have a new goal: write a little every day.

And by "a little", I mean at least 10 minutes.

I may not always write in the same place. In fact, I can guarantee it that I won't. Sometimes it will be here on my blog, but more often than not, I am sure it will be in notes on my computer or my tablet, or in a journal (a private, pen-and-paper kind), or my songwriting notebook, or one of my other blogs. (Yes, there are multiples. All of the others I have are updated even less often than this one. Do the multiple blogs denote narcissism, or simply wishful thinking when it comes to writing time? Um... I'm going with option two.)

I find writing to be therapeutic, even cathartic, as evidenced from the stacks of hand-written journals I have in a box somewhere (created during my teen years, when I had, you know, time and stuff). And, I have noticed (and have also been told by many others who noticed the same) that it is much easier to write, and the writing is better, when it happens every day. I prove that to myself every time I look back at blog posts from, say, five or six years ago--when the posts actually made it into pixels on the World Wide Web four+ times a week rather than getting lost somewhere in the corpus callosum of my brain.

Speaking of corpus callosum, it is regenerating the long-dusty pathways of that very marvel of the human brain that is the precise reason for my new sense of purpose when it comes to writing. Why? Because somewhere in the dark and musty halls of the right hemisphere inside my skull wanders that elusive spectre that many have referred to as the Muse, but which I prefer to think of as inspiration. The problem is, in the crushing pressure of the "too much on my plate" that I have been overwhelmed by--and am finally starting to wriggle out from under--in the last several months to years, I have forgotten how to hear her.

(Aside: Henceforth, I will sometimes personify Inspiration as a woman, since that part of my brain is the source, and I am a woman. I may even refer to her as the Muse on occasion, although I have no desire to give any credit whatsoever to the Greek idea that Inspiration took the form of a tempestuous and fickle goddess. Rather, I consider inspiration to be divine, either directly from the Holy Spirit, or indirectly through the fact that God created this marvel inside our craniums, and made all of its workings wonderful, and gave us the ability to listen to (and the freedom to choose not to) the more elusive messages our right brain tries to share with us constantly. Nevertheless, as the Muse is now a term that has come to represent this inspiration, and most do not consider it to be divine in any form, let alone to be a goddess, and is SO much easier to use than explaining all the aforementioned stuff every time (and is seven letters shorter to type than "Inspiration"!), I may represent Inspiration with the word "Muse" on occasion as I muse over why my inspiration has been so sparse in the last year or two. End aside.)

I have read a book or two on brain mechanics. My brain is a little over-tired right now, which is why I know "mechanics" is not the word I was looking for, but can't think of a better one at the moment. At any rate, it is probably not news to you that our brains develop new pathways at a startling pace until we are about five years old. After that, those that do not continue to be used are essentially disconnected, and by the time we are twelve, they die-off rate is exponential. The older we get, the more difficult it is to reconnect pathways (or create new ones), but it becomes somewhat easier if we do it a lot. That includes the pathways that connect the logical left brain and the creative right brain together in the web of nerves between them. The stronger the pathways connecting these two dichotomous selves, the more easily and often we get those "Eureka!" moments that are the Creator's gift to us--moments that help fill our lives with purpose, meaning, and excitement.

I think it's only natural that the Creator gave those he designed in his image the ability to create in turn. But like the talent that was taken from the foolish servant who hid the only one he had in Jesus' famous parable, if we do not exercise our creative muscles, they grow weak and flabby and disintegrate... or rather, those neural goat tracks are abandoned for highways that are better maintained.

So, here's to repaving some roads!

... Now, I really gotta go get some sleep. :-)

So Thankful

In 1998, my paternal grandmother was killed in a car accident. She and my grandfather had been married for 54 years. They were both the children of homesteaders, and quickly followed in their parents' footsteps by homesteading their own parcel of land. The house they built there, as money allowed, is the house where they raised their nine children, and the house they lived in until the days they both died.

After Grandma's death, Grandpa spent almost two years proving to the world that he was no good as a bachelor before re-marrying to another very capable woman--a widow from Iowa. He and Virginia were actually married very shortly after Jason and myself. (How weird is it to be getting married the same year as your grandfather?) They enjoyed over five years together in amiable companionship before Grandpa also died of a heart attack. Virginia still lives in her own home in Iowa, and the kids and I were fortunate to get to see her last fall on our way south to Arkansas.

The very year Grandpa died, I found out some things about him that I never knew before. In fact, when I later told my dad that Grandpa had at one point wanted to be a professional cabinet-maker, even Dad was surprised. I was so sad that he died before I got to know him better as a man, not just as my Grandpa. I mourn even more for the years I lost with my Grandma Hilman--even though, as the oldest grandchild, I certainly got more time to get to know her than any of my cousins.

As I sat out in the snow this afternoon, bundled up in my winter clothes and finally digging up my potatoes from the frozen ground--on Thanksgiving day, which is generally considered a little too late in this part of the world for gardening!--I wished I could have been able to consult with my Grandma, or at least compare notes, now that I am homesteading my own place. She would have known better than to leave her garden in the ground until the second week of October. Granted, winter is not usually here by then, but there is always the odd year--and this year has been very odd. She would probably have some great stories about the first few years on the farm, before the farmhouse was built, and when it was just the two of them plus one or two little boys.

It makes me wonder how much wisdom has been lost in the last century about how to really live on this earth--how many children have grown up from the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries without knowing the wonderful things that their grandparents could have taught them? How much are we having to re-learn, not at our grandparents' knees, but through trial and error or electronically via the internet? Thank goodness that someone took time to learn from their family's previous generations, so that humanity as a whole could benefit!

I would not wallow in misery for what is no longer retrievable, though. These thoughts made me grateful for the wisdom that is still available to me--both of my maternal grandparents are still living (and from good farming stock, too). My father and mother both have farming backgrounds, and knowledge about many, many other subjects, besides. I have numerous (and I do mean NUMEROUS!) uncles and aunts that know pieces of Grandpa and Grandma Hilman's stories--pieces that could be fitted together to make an interesting picture of their lives, even if necessarily incomplete. Their legacy is not dead--it lives on in us, their family.

I have the world's best husband, three adorable kids, and a roof over my head. There is food in my fridge and friends close by. In this twenty-first century, with uncertain economic times, a changing climate, and predictions of doom and gloom all around, there is still so much to be thankful for.

One of the best parts of the legacy that my grandparents left was faith--the kind of faith that gets you through fifty-four years of marriage, many hard times, and many good ones. The kind of faith that reminds you through all of it that at the end of the Book, the Good Guy wins.

So why not be thankful? After all, it's all going to be okay.

"Pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." I Thessalonians 5:17, 18 (NIV)

I Could Use A Little Fuel Myself

I need to get out of here--out of my house, out of this town, beyond the boundaries of these four walls and this river valley. I need to breathe fresh air, see green trees, stretch my legs and my mind and my horizons. I need to get behind the wheel and drive and drive until I don't want to drive any more. I feel the call of warm weather, warm company, and warm Starbuck's Caramel Apple Cider.

I need an adventure. I've been cooped up too long, doing the same thing, stuck in bed, too tired to do my laundry. I'm tired of looking out my own front window. I'm tired of walking the same worn paths around my house. I'm tired of being tired.

C'mon, Honey! Let's load up our stuff, load up our kids, load up the van! Let's seek out adventures, greener pastures, the wind on our faces and the sun on our backs! Let's hit the road and get out of here!

Spring. Break. Can't come soon enough.

It's a Tea With Cardamom Sort of Day

I learned to like tea in India. Before that, I really didn't care for any caffeinated beverages, with the possible exception of an extremely occasional Sprite or 7-Up. My dad drank coffee, not tea, and my mom drank, well, um, she drank water. Lots of water.

In India, tea is such an integral part of the culture, it would almost have been impossible to avoid developing a taste for it. There is "tea time" twice a day at the school where we worked, as well as in every home that I visited there. If you were to visit someone, the first thing they would do would be to offer you some "chai", even if they were so poor that it meant using up the last of their milk to do so.

Here is where we in North America have made an error. (My Indian readers, please correct me if I'm wrong.) To us, "chai" has come to mean "tea with milk and sugar and a whole variety of spices." In reality, "chai" is the word for "tea." I was going to say "Hindi word for tea," but it's actually the word for tea in every Indian language that I know of, and I believe it is also the word for tea in some African languages. Which language it originated from, I have no idea. Especially since chai with lots of milk and sugar was a drinking custom introduced by the British during the colonial days, since that is how they like their tea.

"Tea with spices" is known as "masala (spiced) chai," and the type of spices used range in variety and quantity, depending on what area--and what household--you are in.

Most of the time while I was there, we simply had chai, which is loose tea in a base of about half milk and half water and a fair amount of sugar, all heated until just barely boiling, then strained into your mug for a cup of creamy goodness. It is a safe way to drink milk of questionable origin, water of questionable origin, and a social custom that bonds families, friends, and strangers. (I remember my shock the first time I saw my friend Chingluan pouring tea back and forth between two mugs to cool it off for her daughter--who was two at the time!)

I'm not sure the reason why, but it was somewhere around 2000 that "chai" became extremely popular in North America. Thus Jason and I began our search for "the perfect chai," the one that would bring back all the flavour and memories we had come to love while in India--our hearts' other home country.

It was a long and disappointing search. We found a few that were close, but still seemed like someone had just gone a little crazy with throwing in anything from the spice shelf. I couldn't figure out why. Finally, when George and Ruth Peters visited us in 2005, I asked Ruth.

"How do you make chai? And what is the spice that you put in it?" She answered that while she usually just made basic chai, occasionally, she would add a sprinkle of cardamom to it (thus elevating it to "masala chai.") This was the answer we had been looking for!

I just about choked when I saw the price of the stuff. I don't know how it compares overseas, but here, cardamom is twice as expensive as every other spice (with the exception of saffron, which is just expensive everywhere.) Fortunately, I really only had one use for it. Each cup required only the tiniest sprinkle for flavour, so in six years, I think I might still be on my first jar. Partly because I soon discovered that I like the tea without cardamom as much as with it, and it became a "luxury" that I rarely partake in--and Jason feels the same. Tea drinkers that we are, our day is usually masala-less--at least as far as tea is concerned!

I'm not sure what possessed me this morning. Most days, I make a "cheater chai" that does not require the mess of loose tea and straining. It is not as strong as the real stuff, but nearly as good. I steep my tea bag (Lipton Red Rose Orange Pekoe is the best we've found) extra-long, throw it out, add a good-sized glob of honey from a teaspoon, then fill the mug up with cream until the colour is pale and delicious-looking. Then I take that first, satisfying sip.

This morning, though, I looked at the concoction in my mug and said "it's a cardamom sort of day."

Some days, the routine of dressing and feeding a family, getting Jude to school on time, making dinner ahead of time, teaching piano lessons all evening, doing dishes, working on my e-Bay business, being wife, mother, nursemaid, teacher, babysitter, friend, daughter, and all my many other hats can just seem overwhelming--like there is no way to live up to it all. Those are the days when my loving husband lets me have a little time to myself to create something beautiful, or go on a walk, or when a well-timed hug from my babies can turn a really stressful day around.

The cardamom was just the perfect touch on what would otherwise have been an ordinary, everyday-sort of cup of tea. Once in a while, all we need is a little masala to put things in perspective.

Creativity Is For Copycats

cre·a·tive (kr-tv)
adj.
1. Having the ability or power to create: Human beings are creative animals.
2. Productive; creating.
3. Characterized by originality and expressiveness; imaginative: creative writing.
n.

One who displays productive originality: the creatives in the advertising department.

♣♣♣

I often get comments about how creative I am. These are usually uttered with a wistful look in the eye of the speaker, followed with something along the lines of "I wish I were that creative, but I don't have a creative bone in my body."

One of my friends, Christa D., told me once about something she heard regarding this very lament: we are all creative beings. Why? Because we were made in the image of the Creator.

Not long ago, I was thinking about the very essence of creativity. What does it mean to be creative? Isn't it just rearranging known variables in a new order, and maybe even throwing in one or two that no one seems to have combined with those before?

For example, in yesterday's post, I posted a video detailing the many variations of Pachelbel's Canon in D that have appeared in western music. Why is this? Well, let's think about it: There are only 12 different tones in our scale, covering almost eight octaves. There are only a finite number of chords that can be built with those tones. And to limit it further, our ears are trained to prefer only certain movements of those chords. For instance (bear with me as the music geek comes out for a minute), I think you would be hard-pressed to find a song on the radio today that does not end in a V-I chord combination, unless they chose to leave it deliberately unresolved. ("Clocks" is a good example of an unresolved song.) Without that good V-I punch at the end, the song does not feel "finished."

More than that, there are certain chords we like to hear more than the others. And we like them to move a certain way to other chords. With all of these "rules" to what makes a "good song," is it any wonder that there has been very little truly creative happen in pop music since Bach was writing fugues for his organ?

What?! you say in shock. Are you comparing bands like Nine Inch Nails, KISS, Enigma, and yes, even artists like Gordon Lightfoot and Shania Twain to classical music? Beethoven would roll over in his grave!

You think my statement too harsh? Remember, Beethoven wrote the popular music of his time, and if he wrote something a little too radical, it was not likely to earn him a lot of money--similar to artists of today.

Of course there has been plenty of creativity in music over the last four hundred years, even in "pop" music. However, you seldom see big jumps in style all at once. Usually it is a gradual change--each generation and artist building on the knowledge of the last, pushing the edges of the popular style envelope (but not too much!), but with a backbone that still very much resembles the original. We still use the same 12 tones. The same basic chords. Even Indian music, which also incorporates quarter tones, still has to deal within finite limitations. The generation after Bach wasn't suddenly shaking their hips to "Old Time Rock-and-Roll," for instance. And Mozart was considered a radical who died young--and broke.

We can see further clarification of this if we look at today's popular genres. (I keep emphasizing "popular", because the twentieth century saw some really far-out stuff, musically, that WAS a rather big jump away from what the masses were listening to--but on the other hand, the masses don't know the names of most of those composers, and it is the masses I am addressing, so we'll stick to popular music.) A country song sounds very different, stylistically, than a punk rock song. I have a friend who insists that country stopped evolving creatively about ten years ago, that they have hit a rut, and every song now follows the same basic formula that country has used for the last decade. He prefers heavy metal, because he says that at least there is still creativity being employed there.

Now, I'm not into metal myself, but I can appreciate his enthusiasm when he talks about such-and-such guitarist with jazz roots throwing jazz-based riffs into his guitar solos. Not only that, it would be ridiculous to try to write a song that would work for both country and heavy metal--not a style you often see "redone" in the other. (I only say "often" to cover my butt--I don't know of any, but that doesn't mean no one's ever tried it.) So, in other words, when someone sits down to write a song for a particular genre, there are rules which one must follow to be accepted as "creative" in that genre. Yes, you want to make it sound different enough from everything else out there that you don't land yourself in a plagiarism suit, but, as mentioned before, there are only so many methods you can employ to this purpose. Plagiarism is more easily recognized in lyrics than music, unless there is a certain riff that is in both the "new" and the "plagiarized" songs.

Anyway, let's get back to my point, which is this: anyone to whom the world refers as "creative" is actually and essentially a copycat--their creativity lies in being able to arrange the elements they are given in a way that is slightly different from everyone else's. The elements are the same, and certain formulas must still be applied in their arrangement. It is the arrangement itself which is the "x-factor", that makes it special.

Let's apply this to other things: Science. If I remember correctly, the atom bomb was invented almost simultaneously in three different places around the globe. These scientists rearranged the elements and knowledge that they were building on from those who went before in such a way that they discovered this super-destructive mechanism. The time was just right--all the elements were available, waiting for that "creative" x-factor to discover the secret they held. It could not even have happened before then, because the human race did not possess enough knowledge to have the correct elements of re-arrangement. But once they did, "creativity" took over.

In scrapbooking, everyone works with the same basic elements: photos, paper, glue, words, and embellishments. Even in scrapbooking, you see certain "rules". You often hear about "design rules" and "what looks best on a page," as well as different scrapbooking "styles." And just as often, you hear about "throwing out the rules". The beauty is, you don't have to be creative to scrapbook. Be a copycat. It's actually a hobby where blatant plagiarism is encouraged! (Well, in the actual layouts, so long as you are not making money off of them or something.) But it's also a hobby where you are free to be as creative as your imagination--and your nerve--allows. Rearrange those elements with wild abandon! The copycat part is that you are using the same basic tools that everyone else has available to them, in a medium that is pre-determined. The creativity comes in knowing that you can use any arrangement of those tools that you want--and you can't be wrong! It's your scrapbook--as long as you are happy with it, that's what counts!

Here's something even more basic: cooking. Whether you are scrambling eggs, or inventing a new pie recipe, there are certain restrictions placed upon you by the very definition of what you are trying to create--but you are free to combine any flavours that you wish within those restrictions. Your tongue (or your family) will tell you the outcome, but all you really need, all anyone really needs, is the bravery to try. To risk. To stick your neck out and rearrange the elements.

So c'mon. Be creative. Be a copycat!

My Secret Obsession

I have never been one of those girls that gets obsessed with superstars.

While my friends were drooling over the posters of Christian Slater, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Val Kilmer in their lockers, I was rolling my eyes and saying "Whatever!" under my breath, while I slammed my own locker door on my own hand-drawn poster of a character from a book I had read.

However, I have been known to get obsessed with stories. Frequently.

I love reading, and always have. I also love watching movies, because for the last few years, I have found the leisure time I used to spend reading increasingly diminished by my other responsibilities and hobbies, but still felt the need to consume stories. This year has seen me picking up books again more, and it's a pleasure I had forgotten how much I loved.

The first story I became obsessed with was Black Beauty, which I received for my ninth birthday, I think it was. Over the next few years, I read the paperback so many times that pages were broken away from the binding and sitting loosely in the book. I actually re-purchased the book as an adult so my library of children's books would still contain it.

Then, at twelve, it was Walt Disney's The Little Mermaid. I watched it every day for at least six months, sometimes more than once in a twenty-four hour span. My parents tolerated this fairly well, but I think I understand my father's subsequent aversion to all things animated. Especially since, as an adult, I am fairly amazed by the shallowness of every main character in the story.

Other stories followed, with differing degrees of obsession, but here are the ones that grabbed hold of me the most: the off-Broadway Canadian tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera in 1992; The Princess Bride in both book and movie form; Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; Braveheart and Gladiator in movie form (although the book for Braveheart is excellent--I highly recommend it); Moulin Rouge; and more than it would be polite to continue listing. Hmm, do we notice any commonalities here? *ticks each off on fingers* Love story, love story, love story, and, uh...yep, all love stories. I'm such a girl.

This week has been marked by a new obsession: Pride and Prejudice.

I had read the novel when I was nursing Jude, using it to keep me awake while I was up with him at night so I didn't just fall asleep in my chair with him on the breast and wake up two hours later with him ready to feed again. (You moms who are nursing or have nursed a baby know what I'm talking about.) I loved the book then, and had long desired to re-read it, but there were just too many other books on my "to read" list to justify reading something I had previously enjoyed.

I loved the book so much that I was hesitant to watch the movie. Does this happen to anyone else? I was nervous that the movie would not do the book justice, and thereby ruin both for me. I even rented the Colin Firth version once, but "ran out of time" to watch it before it needed to be returned. Ahem.

Well, last Sunday night I watched the 2005 version starring Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen. And fell in love.

I immediately began to re-read the book, and watched the movie a second time on Thursday before it was due back at the video store. (I seldom watch a movie twice in the same week, so that must tell you something of how much I enjoyed it.)

I just find it amazing that in a world where every interaction seems so steeped in protocol and etiquette, and barely a private thought is expressed publicly, that two such people as Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam (!) Darcy could fall in love. Also, in spite of the fact that the Bennets are considered a bit "low" because of a poor yearly income, among other things, it still seems a bit like reading a fairy tale without the crowns and tiaras since the main characters are obviously upper-class enough to not spend their days cleaning and cooking. Instead, their time is chiefly spent in walking to the village, gossiping, reading, doing needlework, and visiting with friends and family.

I wish my life were more like a Jane Austen novel sometimes. Then I could use words like "amiable" in everyday conversation. However, since it is not, I must content myself with using them in my blog posts. Since I intend to read several other Austen novels in succession after finishing P&P, expect the language of my blog to be influenced for a few more weeks to come.

Oh. And even though I may not get obsessed with superstars, that still did not stop me from thoroughly enjoying the Josh Groban concert I attended in Edmonton on Tuesday, or appreciating that he has rather fine features when he walked within two feet of me on his "I'm here so you can love me" walk through the crowd. (I'm sure he would have asked me up on stage to sing with him, if he'd only seen me standing there. Hee!)

How was your week, friends?

84,000

84,000 is Jude's "number of choice" whenever he's trying to get across the concept of "a lot."

"How long until Daddy gets home?"

"A few more hours."

"84,000?"

"How far is it to Papa's house?"

"It's a really long drive, remember? It takes us all day."

"84,000?"

Or, when I comment, "You're getting really tall, buddy!"

"Yeah! I'm 84,000 tall!"

I don't know where he picked this number up from--one of his friends, probably. The funniest thing is, he really has no concept of any number over 10, and has no clue about units of measurement for time, height, distance, or anything else. Jason just playing along and saying "yep" probably isn't helping, either.

This week it seems we have accomplished 84,000 renovation projects, but in reality we are only at varying stages through three or four. Remember Max's room in Where the Wild Things Are? Remember how the carpet turned to grass and the trees grew up to the ceiling and it turned into a forest by the sea? That is, apparently, what is going on in our basement bathroom. When we lifted the linoleum down there to prep it for new flooring, we discovered a small lake that was harbouring a rather largish colony of black mold. And, lovingly wrapped around the base of our toilet was--I kid you not--a tree root. We diffused Young Living's Thieves blend of oil for a day in there to kill the mold, and the air is much clearer-smelling. Now I just have to go down there and clean up the mess. (Apparently, using chlorine bleach actually just drives the mold spores into the air where you can breathe them in, and the Thieves actually kills 99.96% of the spores.)

There's something more than a little unsettling about discovering that nature has invaded your domain so passive-aggressively. Most of the "something" has to do with the dollar signs adding up in your head to fix the problem--the little voice that is whispering in your head is fairly certain it will be somewhere in the area of $84,000.

I have heard that there is a magical, terrible moment that sometimes happens to people with very long, straight hair, when it suddenly develops a mind of it's own and instantaneously snarls so badly that almost the only way to solve the mess is to cut it all off.

That is what happened to my back last night, inconveniently right before our date. I was going along fine, minding my own business; I had just put the paintbrush away to get ready for the date--wrapping it carefully in a plastic bag so that later, I could easily pick up where I left off--when BAM! out of no where I could barely lift my arms. Somewhere in the middle of my back the muscles had snarled beyond recognition. Hopefully, complete amputation won't be necessary--just a massage from my honey should give a good jump-start on the healing process. (I suspect that my sexy new chocolate brown bra is the culprit, unfortunately. Sigh.)

This morning, unfortunately, it still hurts 84,000.

Happy Weekend, friends. Tell me something interesting about your week...

Skip five--or maybe not.

Skip--5 minutes.

It had been reminding me every day, just like that, for at least two months. Every time I would sit my soft tushy down in my chair at my desk, open Outlook, and look at my daily schedule, there it would be--not pushy, but a present reminder of an unkept promise to myself.

One, two, three, four...

The rope smacked the laminate in front of me as my bare toes pushed off in unison, the rope slid underneath, and my toes made contact with the floor again.

I had had a few false starts where, instead of smacking the floor, the rope had made a painful acquaintance with my shins. I tsk, tsked myself, then shrugged--I guess that's what happens when you don't handle a skipping rope for almost twenty years.

...eight, nine, ten...

I was actually skipping rather quickly--much faster than the easy, take-your-time-and-jump-over-one-leg-at-a-time approach I used to have during school recesses. No "Cinderella dressed in yellow" here--although my brain had time to go a mile a minute, I was hard-pressed to even gasp out the few words it required to tell Jude to stay well clear of the rope's path as it whizzed through the air.

...fifteen, sixteen, seventeen...

Five minutes? It seemed so basic, almost laughable, when I had first put it into the daily planner. Of course I can do five minutes! I can do it while I am waiting for the oatmeal to cook in the morning! I can do it while I am watching my kids play outside! Piece of cake!

...twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six...

Did I really say five minutes? I can hardly breathe here, and I'm only at twenty-seven reps!

Thirty!

Okay, time for a break.

Jude asked me a question. I wheezed out a response between gasps. I thought of the triceps that had been flapping rather annoyingly while I bounced. I thought of the slim-but-not-very-well-toned calves that were just barely getting warmed up. As soon as my breathing was under control, I did another thirty reps.

Then I collapsed on the couch.

Five minutes? I guess I'll have to work up to that.

Hockey Night In Canada

Most people around the world are aware that the sport of hockey is something that is integral to our image as Canadians. In the famous "I. Am. Canadian." ad campaign, we are even referred to as the "first nation of hockey."

I have never been what you call an "avid" fan of the sport, myself, despite having been raised in a house where we had two options: we could cheer for the Calgary Flames, or we could live somewhere else. (My dad believes in freedom of choice.) While my brother plugged into this program with full watts on (able to recognize the entire Flames team by name at the age of 5), I was always, "Okay, yeah, whatever. It's a sport on television. Do I know anyone on that team? No? Lanny? He's the guy with the funny mustache who sells cars on T.V., right? Okay, go Flames. Rah, rah, rah."

I was somewhat flabbergasted when, upon entering Grade 10 Phys. Ed. class, I was informed that hockey was not, in fact, our national sport--lacrosse was! Something to do with the fact that it was invented by Native Canadians, long before the imaginary map lines that created our country existed. This situation has now since been rectified, making us one of the only (I'm sure) countries to have national summer and national winter sports.

For those of you who don't understand the full cultural impact hockey has on our province of Alberta, let me give you some background: Alberta has two hockey teams. The Calgary Flames are located in the city of Calgary, in the southern half of our province. Three hours drive north of this, along a straight, densely-populated (for our province) corridor of highway lies our province's capital city, Edmonton, home of the Oilers. Traditionally, everyone north of Edmonton (or the northern two-thirds of our province, land-mass-wise) cheers for the Oilers, those near-to-and-south-of Calgary root for the Flames, while those in the middle are raised in a confusion of conflicting loyalties that can lead to all kinds of problems, such as losing sleep, business partners, harmony amongst extended family, and the occasional marital separation during the playoffs.

My hometown of Sylvan Lake is at almost the exact half-way mark between these two Hockey Cities. (Fifteen minutes west of Red Deer on the map I linked to.) While most of our friends cheered for the Oilers, due to the fact that they had Wayne Gretzky, five Stanley Cups, and the audacity to put "The City of Champions" on their city sign, the little enclave of my brother, parents, and I put on the Red and Gold colours every spring. My dad taught us that loyalty was important, and called many of the so-called Oilers fans "Romans" who only cheered for the Edmonton team while they were winning, alluding to the way the Romans in the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar would be swayed back and forth between "Kill him!" or "No, don't kill him!" every time a new speaker opened his mouth. So we would cheer for the Flames.

I remember 1989. Oh, glorious day for any Calgary Flames fan, when instead of coming to the last round of the finals and failing, the great Stanley Cup got to live in the Saddledome for one magnificent year! Every year, as anxious Flames fanatics follow the playoff stats, watching Calgary come this close, they think Maybe this will be the year. Maybe we will get the Cup! This might be 1989: The Resurrection! Oh, how painful it was when their nemesis team, the Oilers, took the cup north again in 1990. Oh, how often since then could they taste victory, like a kid who stuck his tongue onto the swing set in January, only to have it ripped away by another team. The bitter, bitter gall of it all.

When I started seeing Jason, it wasn't long before I found out that he was not a Calgary Flames fan. Instead, he cheered for the Blue and Gold. Fearing repercussions against the only dating relationship my father had ever approved of, I said, "Don't tell Dad!"

And he didn't. It was not until after we said "I do," and the first fateful post-marriage hockey season was upon us that the truth about his hockey loyalties came out. As it so happened, we were actually residing in my father's basement that year while Jason took one more year of college education. There were a few brief moments where I thought my dad was going to follow through on that "cheer-for-the-Flames-or-live-somewhere-else" rule, but thankfully, he reluctantly conceded and allowed us to finish out the college term!

Not that he would ever admit it, but the rivalry in hockey loyalties between my father and my husband has been one of the most fun parts of their relationship--they thrive on it. They call each other to gloat after each victory for their own team or loss for the other's; when my dad gets free tickets from a vendor or client to a Calgary/Edmonton game he will often try to take Jason. While living in Sylvan Lake, Jason would go over to watch the games on Dad's satellite, since we got no television reception at all at our house in the trees.

Since moving to Peace River, I think Jason has been feeling a bit hockey-deprived. We had not been able to get T.V. reception here, either, so he would occasionally go over to his friend Wes' to catch the games, when possible. I don't think it is quite the same, though, since he and Wes cheer for the same team. What fun is there in that? Also, with the additional considerations required for Wes' family time, these events have been a little few and far between.

Last week, Jason decided to change all that. He went to Liquidation World and bought a Radio Shack digital rabbit ears device. He has determined that our house will be hockey-less no more!

Apparently, it was not a moment too soon. When he turned the game on last night, Jude asked, "Dad, what game is this?"

Let the education--and the continuation of generational loyalties in the Battle of Alberta--begin!

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Jude and I read a story about a little boy who wanted to take dance classes tonight--between that and his current obsession with the movie "Happy Feet", I thought it was high time he had some point of reference for what REAL dancing looks like. So, we got onto YouTube and had fun finding all kinds of dance videos. I came up with some real treasures, including this video. (Which, apparently, everyone on the internet has seen. Well, except me, that is.) If you have six minutes, and are with me in the "haven't seen it before club," I highly recommend it. Enjoy!

To See What They Could See

Once there were three brothers named Jude, Noah, and Jabin. Jude was the oldest, Noah next-oldest, and Jabin was barely more than a baby.

One of their favourite things to do was to go out on walks to see what they could see.

One Tuesday morning, Mommy said to the three boys, "Get your outside things on. We need to take our van to the shop, and while it is being looked at, we will walk around and see what we can see."

So they put on their hats, and snow pants, and coats, and mittens, for it was a mild winter day, but it was still winter, after all.

When they dropped off the van, Mommy put Jabin in the stroller and said, "Walking along the street can be dangerous, so make sure you always hold on to the stroller." (This was especially important for Noah, whose attention wandered faster than he did.)

Then they set out to see what they could see. And they saw...

...a GREAT BIG TRUCK with a very noisy engine and thick black smoke belching out of its exhaust pipes...

...a yellow school-bus, empty of children, waiting patiently in the grocery-store parking lot...

...a white town-bus, and a grey and red passenger bus...

...some men blowing snow off a roof--and some crows holding parliament on another one...

...some of their favourite story characters on the front of the movie jackets when they went to borrow a free movie from the supermarket...

...a very friendly and helpful lady who held the door open for them at the bank...

...the fun red button they got to push that held the door open for them on the way out of the bank...

...lots of busy, hungry people that filled up the little restaurant where they ate their lunch...

...a video and some pictures that Mommy took on her new phone...

...a really cool abacus that was in the toy box at the shop when they got back.

When they got to the grocery store, Mommy said, "Jabin, you look tired. Do you need a nap?"

Jabin blinked back. Jude said, "Not me! I don't need a nap!"

When they got to the restaurant, Mommy said, "Noah, you look tired. Do you need a nap?"

Noah blinked back. Jude said, "Not me! I don't need a nap!"

On the way back to the shop, Jabin fell asleep in the stroller. He slept and he slept and he slept. Mommy said, "Jabin is sleeping a lot. He must have been really tired."

Jude said, "Yep! But not me!"

Noah got so tired of walking, he tried to climb onto the stroller and rest. There wasn't enough room, so Mommy said, "Just a few more minutes, Noah, and then you can get in the van and have a nap."

Jude said, "But not me! I don't need a nap!"

"Okay," said Mommy.

Jabin woke up when they got in the van. He was smiling and very happy.

Noah still looked a little sleepy.

But as they were driving home, and Mommy looked into the rear-view mirror to see what she could see, she saw...

...Jude.

And he was fast asleep.


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Now I just need an illustrator! :-)

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

For I May Never Pass This Way Again

She was behind the counter as I breezed into the hardware store. I was glad to see her, and when she glanced up I smiled and asked "How're ya' doin'?"

She nodded and returned the obligatory, "Alright, and you?"

"Good, thanks," I said, then asked her to remind me where the electronics section was, even though I knew perfectly well. She looked across the store and named a couple of aisles, and I went to look for my item.

As I stood in line at the till, I wondered--not for the first time--what her story was. I knew very little about her--just that before she started here a few weeks ago, she used to work at the grocery store. I had once seen her in that same store as a customer with a young child in tow--a daughter, I think. Something about this woman told me that the father was not a prominent part of her life, at least not anymore. Perhaps it was the thin line she set her lips into whenever she had to do, well, anything. Perhaps it was the lack of a ring on her left hand. Or perhaps it was the fact that she never smiled.

I had tried to get her to smile. I had made a point of commenting on her unusual, but pretty name. I had used said name every time I had seen her since then, even when her name tag was not present or visible. I shared my own name with her, making small talk about the weather, the season, the busy-ness of the store. But not once had this woman with the flame-coloured hair and serious eyes broken into a full, genuine smile.

I wondered what had happened to this woman to give her such a serious outlook on life. (And if perhaps, she would still be working at the grocery store if she had been a little friendlier with the customers.) I also wondered if today would be the day when I would reach my goal--to see a beautiful smile crinkle her face, and see if maybe the lines were not so uncomfortable there as my experience would suggest.

"Would you like a bag for that?" Her query interrupted my reverie. I looked at the small item she had just rung though.

"No, thanks. Save a plastic tree, and all that."

And then I saw it--the slight up-turn of the corners of the mouth. I was close, I could feel it!

It was like the smile just kept growing. The few remaining comments in our conversation were not particularly humourous or entertaining, but before I left, she was wearing--albeit briefly--a full, glorious smile.

As I got back into my van, I knew what my new goal was:

If possible, I will be her friend.

Busy signal

This is an article I wrote in 2004 (before the word "blog" had entered my vocabulary.) I was reminded of it the other night when someone looked at my three little boys and once again I heard the words "so, you're busy." Although I only had two at the time of writing this, not much has changed in my perspective. Enjoy.

“So, You’re Busy!”
by Talena Winters

“So, you’re busy,” I hear, for the fourth time that day. This time, it comes from the matronly lady at the Wal-Mart checkout, as she eyes four-month-old Noah in the stroller, and 20-month-old Jude perched precariously on top of it.I am trying to rummage through my purse with one hand, looking for my debit card, while preventing Jude from toppling to the floor with the other, as he is fearlessly reaching toward the debit machine because he likes “helping Mommy with the buttons.” I smile at the clerk, and say, “But in a good way,” finish paying for my goods, and mercifully get to leave the store behind, with its many temptations for little fingers.

I am never quite sure how to respond to that comment. Are people saying I am crazy to have chosen to have two children, only sixteen months apart? Or are they secretly trying to discover if I have chosen this? Are they commenting on the energy little boys are known to have, and imagining if it were them trying to keep up? Or simply trying to express empathy for the “harried mother?” So many things that could be wrapped up in one innocent sentence.

Yes, I have to admit, there are days when I look back at my life “before children” and wonder what I did to keep myself occupied. I remember that I was always busy then, too. Busy with trying to get my home-based business to succeed. Busy in indulging my own pleasures. Busy with trying to accomplish dreams that seemed so important. Always working at my busy-ness, all day long, afraid of what would happen if I ever slowed down for just a moment and reviewed what all of it was accomplishing.

I question, now, as I examine my life, why I always felt so much “busier” then, and why I am so much happier, now. If busy-ness can be equated with the amount of work and personal projects one can cram into a day, am I really busy?

No mother can deny the amount of work it takes to shape young lives into something of value—to focus and direct the boundless energy, imagination, and enthusiasm that each child carries in their little heart. But do you really consider it work to explain, for the “nth” time, that they need to apologize when they hurt someone, the first time you see them do it voluntarily? Do you really count all the times you’ve named that colour, or letter, or animal, when they finally recognize it and name it themselves, and pride fills your heart at your young genius? Are the acts of discipline you have to hand out regretted when you see your child spontaneously perform an act of kindness and empathy for someone else? Do not a simple hug and kiss erase all the frustrations of the day?

The quality of my busy-ness has changed since becoming a mother. To spend my days instructing my children, loving them, and encouraging them, seems of much more worth than the vain and selfish pursuits I used to partake in. Perhaps this is what the outsider who comments on my daily life is seeing—the self-denial it takes to be a mother, regardless of the number or age of your children. You no longer have the time to be selfish. Perhaps they are secretly relieved it is not them, and admiring of someone who would be willing to give up so much of themselves to further the species.

As for myself, I do not begrudge these days that are filled with the rearing of two little boys. Although they are still so young, I already know in my heart that it passes far too quickly, and soon enough my young fledglings will grow up and fly from the nest. Then, I will have all the time I need—forty years or more, most likely—to pursue all of the things that I have had to set aside right now. I will probably look back with longing on the days when my sons were small enough to fit in a stroller, labeling them “good ol’.”

So, the next time some stranger tells me how busy I am, I will take it as a compliment. And without any pretense at all, I will confidently smile at them and say, “I wouldn’t trade it for the world!”

July 4, 2004

Shocking Headlines and Stupid People

So, I'm standing in the IGA with my one ball of yarn in my hand. This is supposedly the Express, 6-items-or-less line, and I've already been standing there for 5 minutes, cursing out the lady two ahead of me who can't count. I know that Jason's home with Jabin, who is probably screaming his head off demanding food, but there is nothing I can do about Miss I-Can't-Read, so I start to scan headlines on the tabloid rack. Get a load of this one:

"William Catches Camilla CHEATING ON CHARLES ... and tells Dad."

Two odd things about this headline:

1. I can understand wanting to cheat on a guy that looks like Prince Charles, but who in their right mind would want to have an affair with a woman that looks like Camilla?!
2. Nowhere in this headline did the word "shocking" appear. I didn't think tabloid writers could create a headline without using this word. They've overused the word "shocking" so much, I don't think they really know what it means anymore!

Okay, make that three odd things:

3. This headline had nothing to do with Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, or Jennifer Aniston. FINALLY! Someone is giving it a rest! (Can't say the same for the other 4 or 5 publications on that rack.) The ones who were rehashing the current favourite tabloid topics were obviously lacking some truly remarkable news this week. Besides an inflated episode in the Brangelina drama, there was one about how Tom and Katie really met, a totally unsubstantiated rumour about Britney being pregnant again (with a picture of her hand on her totally flat belly), and Nick and Jessica Simpson's current affairs. Oh, and lets not forget a guest appearance by O.J. Simpson!

I can't imagine working at one of these magazines and having to find new trash to print every week. What if no one is doing anything trashy? Then you have to start inventing stuff, or putting totally unsupported rumours as the headlines on the front of your magazine! I'm sure SOMEWHERE, someone NEW must be doing SOMETHING worthy of putting on the front cover! Perhaps it might even be something worthwhile, such as "Martha Stewart Now Making Handmade Cardboard Boxes For Homeless Shelters" or "Mel Gibson On A Hollywood Marriage That Works". THOSE are the headlines that would make me pick up a magazine and bring it home. (Well, maybe not the Martha Stewart one. But at least it would give me a good feeling while I'm trying not to let my angst in the Express Line overwhelm me.)