Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ahh, Youth ...

I stumbled upon Craig Ferguson's take on the whole "youth" thing -- worth a look at this entertaining sage: .

I've been working from my favourite chair in the TH quite a bit this week, feeling, if not exactly old, quite tired as I have thought about the antics of a number of people in their late teens and early twenties over the past few days. The pirouetting and posing in front of plate-glass windows. The posturing. The pseudo-intellectual conversation. The interminable texting and IM-ing, even during social events. The dismantling of the English language. The preternatural perkiness. The effort of it all.

Work at Carswell has hit some unexpected pot holes and I have been finding it hard to be shiny and on track and perky when my alignment has been so jarred. So it was with a distinct sense of relief that I was privileged to have coffee on two separate occasions this week with women whose vocabulary and voice and vision and perspective and time I value highly.

Myrna, a spiritual giant and a practical saint, is visiting from BC. Her knowledge and wisdom have sustained me through some rough times in the past and her twinkling humour and insights have caused me to laugh and to think. She has her share of heartaches and frustrations and worries; but she uses these experiences to gain a greater insight into herself, into God, into others. She has the courage of her convictions and the confidence of her history to back her up.

This is a working holiday for Myrna, full of family obligations, and yet she made time for me. I took this picture of Myrna sitting in one of the purple chairs - the light enshrining her in this image is only a fraction of the radiance that exudes from her. And she can carry off a hat like most women only long to be able to do!

The second spectacular woman is Naomi. I met her first when she was carefully, painfully, beginning her ascent of the far side of the valley of the shadow. Her striking beauty and her grace and composure drew me to her when she first walked into Nilgiris with her daughter and grandchildren. Upon getting to know her better, I realized that that quiet demeanour hides a quick wit, a ready intelligence, a sparkling sense of humour and a heart that loves passionately.

Naomi has won awards for her seamstresship (is that a word?! And I was ragging on the youngsters for corrupting the language!) and this week after coffee on her deck at twilight she showed me two quilting projects. Each is a work of art. Of the completed one, she told me how she got the intended recipient to paint the colour palette the latter would like to see in the quilt. Then Naomi went to work, hunting and selecting the exquisite fabrics, adapting the pattern and cutting and stitching and blocking and ironing and undoing and resewing until every piece was perfect and the rich garnets and mysterious jades and subtle citrines chosen with such love and crafted with such care were framed in the delicate filigree pattern of the border. The other quilt squares - shades of plum and rose and ivy and violet planted in a flaxen bed - have no two identical pieces. The uniting of the squares into the quilt will indeed prove that the whole is more than the sum of its parts; but the reality is that if it had to, each could stand on its own, strong and beautiful, a masterpiece in its own right. The thought and planning and attention to detail Naomi puts into her quilts is just a shadow of the care and time she invests in the lives of the people whom she loves.
Naomi is also a photographer, her artist's eye attuned to the extraordinary couched in the everyday. And she writes as beautifully as she sews. I treasure all the cards she has given me. Her kindness to me and her sensitivity and acceptance have taught me so much about riding out and even triumphing over the vagaries of life.

Both these women are characterized by patience, control, compassion, thoughtfulness, determination, wisdom, kindness. Both carry themselves with grace and elan. Both recognize the value of meaningful friendships, never taking them for granted but rather cultivating and nurturing them. They know who they are. They are both real.

As I was steeped in their presence this week, I realized that all that dewy youth and flittering energy cannot hope to replicate this wealth of character and depth of understanding that comes only from having lived life well.

They are two of the greatest gifts the TH has given me.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


To say it was a stressful week would be quite an understatement, both at the TH and at Carswell. More about that another time. But far and away the most unnerving event last week was that my nephew Matthew, a fairly novice driver and the oldest employee at the TH (not the eldest, mind you!), totalled his mother's car ...

He had been coming home from a party, hit gravel unexpectedly and instinctively slammed on the brakes. The car flipped, end over end, three times before coming to rest in a field. Matthew had the presence of mind to extricate himself from the crushed vehicle and to run across the field, blood pouring from his head, to a nearby farmhouse where he was able to contact his mom to pick him up and where the people kindly called the hospital telling them to expect him. He escaped with a severe gash to his skull, plus cuts from glass in one hand.

When the police found the car next morning, they actually searched for a body in the field nearby. No one should have survived that accident.
On Sunday morning my Dad spoke in the tiny church in Penhold. The text he chose was from Psalm 22, and his sermon was entitled Alone.
He talked about how David's state of mind when he penned these words was akin to that of a pendulum, swinging between his faith and his feelings. Even the superscription of this song, dedicated to the Chief Musician, is telling: "Upon Aijeleth Shahar" - translated "where darkness and morning meet" ... the darkest moments of the entire day's cycle.

I couldn't help but think of Matthew, spinning, suspended, flipping back and forth in this terror ride in the moments between darkness and dawn, beseeching himself -- or God -- "Don't die ... don't die ..." feeling utterly alone and helpless in those slow-motion movements.

King David begins the Psalm with the words, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" Interesting, Dad said, that these also were almost the last words uttered by Jesus on the cross as He hung suspended, about to die. Significant, too, that the answer, the conclusion to this soul- searching question from David is finally supplied in the echo by Jesus centuries later.

Dad followed each upswing and downstroke of the pendulum as David struggled between despair and hope, between feeling and faith, between "He trusted in God that He would deliver him; let Him deliver him, seeing he delighted in Him" - words immortalized in Handel's Messiah as the crowd spits out their scorn - and "Be not far from me, for trouble is near ..."

Dad concluded by saying that we would do well to view the vicissitudes of life in light of grace and of the entire story; to examine the whole picture; to trust that God has only the best for us in mind.

In light of the entire story, the very last words of Jesus on the cross were "It is finished!" -- not a cry of despair or rejection or questioning, but a cry of triumph. The job had been done; the work was completed; the whole picture could now be revealed.

And then Dad brought in the story of Matt's accident and filled us in on the whole picture. Matt himself should have been killed; but he walked away from that car.
The rest of the story involves a friend of Matt who had ridden to the party with him and was supposed to drive back with him too. At the last minute, the friend said that he wanted to stay at the party and would find another way home.

The next day, after Matt's cell phone had been retrieved, he found a message from his friend - left just after the accident had occurred - saying he had changed his mind; could Matt come back and pick him up? If that young man had been in the car, he would unquestionably have been killed.

There is another layer to this story too: just around the time that Matt and his friend were supposed to leave the party, the friend's dad woke up and felt constrained to pray for his boy - right at the time that the boy decided not to head back to town with Matthew. God answered the prayer of a father for his son: the passenger side of the car was obliterated.

And yet, Dad pointed out, even if there had been two funerals that week, God would still be there; God would still care. We would have to try to sift through the tragedy to find evidence of the whole story, the greater picture; but it would be revealed in due course.
The server in the picture you see on the home page of this website is Matthew. He is a valued member of our tea house family, a treasured part of our Ironside family, and a priceless part of God's family. This child has endured much in his seventeen years; and yet he prevails. He has been a gift to our family from the moment of his conception. His life is a story that is being crafted and woven and illustrated and edited all the time. I am so deeply grateful that he is still with us. The moments of darkness before dawn would have seemed interminable had we lost him.
Matthew was not alone, and we are not alone, even in the impenetrable moments just before the breaking of the day.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Our New Rose Bush

When my sister Deborah's friend Sue departed Alberta for Manitoba, she gave Deb a rose bush that she loved and couldn't bear to leave in the garden of her now former home.

Deb thought that the very place it should be was outside the TH. Last Sunday she drove it down from Calgary and planted it to nestle in the embrace of the rock on our front lawn, a little wrought iron trestle its support. She sternly gave me instructions about remembering to shower it with TLC, and that maybe a little water now and then wouldn't hurt it either.

This is the thing about Deb: she is is a very brilliant, capable, informed woman on every level, and yet she has the most tender heart. She has a responsible job at Children's Hospital, respected by her doctors and colleagues and loved by her little patients and their families; but she still manages to invest so much into the lives of her own family and those of the people she loves. She is the youngest of six kids and we were hoping to call her Shauna Rose; but my grandfather prevailed, insisting that she be Deborah after his mother.

And as it turns out, she was aptly named: Deborah means honey bee; combine that with her middle name, Joy, and you get a clear snapshot of my sister. She's industrious, loyal, beautiful, efficient, provides nourishment of body and soul with a great deal of sweetness, and is both joyful and a joy to be with. She is strong and courageous, like the prophetess Deborah in the Bible. She loves God. She is thoughtful and seeks out beauty in her surroundings and in other people.

In case you think this would make for a rather vapid personality, let me remind you of the bee's sting: once I was talking to her about who knows what now; suffice it to say I was rambling. She started calling me "Kookamalu" in the most loving, encouraging tone. I was bathed in contentment, knowing Deb's penchant for affectionate nicknames. At the end of the conversation I said to her, "I like my new nickname -- what does it mean?" Her response was, "Oh, I called you that because it would have been rude to say just Kook ..."

Not long ago she sent me a "personality" test, during part of which you link a colour from the list with a person you know well. We compared notes after we had each taken the test and discovered that both of us had written down the other's name associated with the colour red. Red stood for "someone you really love."

I think I am going to name our new rose bush Shauna Rose. And I red you, Deborah Joy.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Afternoon Tea

Maria and friends popped in from Red Deer and Innisfail for afternoon tea this past Saturday. We served them on antique cake plates, each laden with egg salad and cucumber-and-dill sandwiches, orange-raisin scones with our clotted cream and jam, pear with carmelized onion and brie quiche, carrot cake, mango mousse, black forest cherry cupcakes and strawberry tarts. Chai and a selection of teas were sipped from china cups, and the conversation at that table was lively!

It's not often you meet a person with whom you truly click almost immediately. Maria is one of those people for me. I met her through my job with Carswell and quickly discovered that she loves antiques and books; she's an editor and a teller of tales and a keeper of secrets; she works hard, but she plays hard too. And she is quick with a quip or a word of encouragement, depending on what the situation calls for. She surrounds herself with interesting people and takes on fascinating, sometimes quirky, projects. Oh, and she loves her husband -- just ask her about those new diamond earrings!

I think what I find most compelling about Maria is her generosity of spirit. Spending time with her challenges me to hone my skills and expand my horizons and be kind to my neighbour.

And I've thought of something that can combine all three: I'm going to visit Jeri down the street and see if we can plan a block party for a lazy Friday evening in August ...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Leaving the Nest

Sitting in one of the purple armchairs by the fireplace this morning doing my Carswell work (after all, it is a Tuesday!), I was privileged to see this tender scene unfolding outside the window:

An infant robin flew shakily onto the wrought iron table and refused to budge, claws clinging to the scroll work. It looked from side to side, eyes enormous in its little head, baby fluff still tangled in its almost-grown feathers. I heard it cheeping frantically; and all at once there was an answering cheep and its mother landed next to it on the table. She talked to it for a while, and the baby replied. She flew to the ground and cheeped from there; the baby again replied but still seemed unable to move.

The wind was blowing without regard for this frightened little creature, who puffed out its feathers in feeble defence. Its mother finally seemed to give up and flew away. I watched helplessly from inside the warm room as the baby cried pitifully for several minutes.

Suddenly there was a rustle of wings and the mother landed back on the table with a snack in her beak. She came right over to her little one and, breast to breast, fed it until it had consumed the whole thing. She then hopped onto the ground again and looked up, calling to her baby to join her. The young robin looked down and answered but still did not move.

Again the elder bird flew away; and, sure enough, in a few minutes she returned with another tempting morsel. She landed on the table right next to the baby -- but this time, as the young one reached for the snack, the mother hopped one step away. The infant, with much trembling and cheeping, hopped one step closer to its mother. The mother retreated one more step and the baby followed. The process repeated until they were at the table's edge. Then the mother flew down to the ground and looked up, snack still in mouth.

Holding my breath I watched the baby peer over the side of the table and finally, FINALLY, flutter timidly down to the ground to join its mother, who promptly gave it the reward. And in the next minute they both flew to a low branch of the Schubert cherry tree.

I recalled the chat I had with one of "my girls" last night -- about how much I would miss her when she leaves the known parameters of the TH and Three Hills, about how much I want for her as she continues on to the next stage of her life's journey; and I thought about the rich, sweet conversation I had with a friend of mine at dinner earlier this evening -- she, too, is about to wing her way east to discover her passion and develop her potential.

To each of them I want to say, "Your presence in my life is such gift. You are truly an independent, strong, intelligent, beautiful young woman; a rara avis who can achieve anything to which you set your mind and your heart." I look forward to watching both of them rise and soar in the year to come. And I hope they cheep in my direction now and then!

I wish my Mum were sitting in the other purple armchair.