Sunday, September 27, 2009

A change of season;
a season of change

Change is in the air. The signs were all present when Ed's cup, the one we had found just for him early in Nilgiris' history, the manly breakfast cup with the pheasants adorning it that no one else got to drink from, developed a spider-web crack in its side and sustained a chip in the saucer.

I searched for months for a replacement; but the only masculine breakfast cups I came across were "mustache cups" ("Tell him to grow one!" urged one ancient vendor, a grande dame who said that in her day, whiskers were considered fashionable and manly and "the mustache cup might be an encouragement to the gentleman ...").

Ed was one of our first guests when we opened Nilgiris in 2003, an old friend from years gone by. He is the first guest we routinely welcome on Saturday mornings. When he is gone on vacation, everyone -- including 5-year-old Taylor and 6-year-old Sarah, my tiniest "employees" -- miss him. The TH seems strangely out of sync when we don't make that pot of Earl Grey just before we open at 10-ish on a Saturday morning!

Ed's Saturday morning visits are as much part of the warp and woof of Nilgiris as was the old red barn across the road, the barn that engaged my imagination right from the days that the TH was being built. I loved the romance of how it listed to one side like an ancient ark tossed by rough seas and filled with bales, cats, birds and other livestock spilling out of it at various times. I loved observing Miss Anderson, the intrepid 84-year-old remaining daughter of the farm, trudge determinedly from her house to the barn to feed the cats and whatever else was hungry.

But times change and to my sorrow the old red barn had to come down earlier this year. Miss Anderson, the last of the line of farmers for whom our division of town is named, had sustained a fall that put her in a nursing home; too soon thereafter she passed on to her reward.

My sense of loss was mitigated somewhat as I discovered the presence of three new neighbours - young deer who had taken up residence in the tangled green space and played hide and seek with the dappled sunlight and the elusive shadows and the people who stopped to grumble or to admire.

Then out of nowhere heavy equipment moved in and started slashing at trees, tugging out beautiful bushes whose flowers and perfume used to fill the air in the spring. A formal "green space" was planned, to replace the natural green of the old homestead's magnificent yard.

My deer neighbours fled right before the plough arrived to pillage their home.

Some weeks later Matthew and Corinne, employees and gifts to the TH both, went to Mount Royal University. Lois went to Haiti and New York on a five-week trip, giving us a taste of what is to come in the new year. And what a gap their absence was for our Nilgiris family! We develop a sort of rhythmn as we work together. We're all a team here, and those of us who are left behind miss them so.

Businesses have closed or moved this summer, giving our Main Street a bewildered air.

And Tina, beloved friend to my Mum and Oma to four of my staff members, passed away; her funeral was held nine months to the day of the accident that precipitated her last earthly journey. The same amount of time it would take for a baby to be carried in the womb and be born into the new world awaiting her. Not quite the amount of time it would take for us to say goodbye.

And this weekend the second crazy, violent storm of the summer came up out of nowhere, lopping off treetops and dashing the lamppost across from the TH to the ground. The power was out for a couple of hours, and baskets of flowers and spectacular tumbleweeds sailed by our windows.

A tumbleweed accosting Shauna Rose

All of this to-ing and fro-ing, this temporal unrest of the past few months in matters large and small, puts me in mind of the drama being enacted in our little Trois Lumps itself now: The College versus The Town. Rumours are flying. Motives are being questioned. Tempers are fraying. Long-time allegiances are disintegrating. Doors are closing and discussions are being held on either side of them. It feels like the power is being snuffed out and we are all being plunged into the dark. The situation seems intractable.

And yet ... and yet ...

Some days later, two of the deer returned. This time they locked antlers and got down to the business of determining who was in control. Friend turned on friend as they took their brawl from the cover of the few remaining bushes to the open brown space. But soon they realized that this exercise was pointless: they had been together for so long that their differences were inconsequential; at heart they were friends. They moved amicably to a sunny grassy patch and enjoyed the afternoon, "a pair of book- ends," one neighbour laughed.

And after listening to my wise Dad's take on things, I realized that The College has not been reduced to the current administration, or the current board, or the current location, or the current student body. This college is and always has been the realization of a vision for students, for opportunities to impact lives around the world.

"Where there is no vision, the people perish," the old King James version of the proverb observes. A newer translation puts it this way: "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint ..." Maybe this is a case of no new revelation, and so people in leadership are grasping at straws, blinded by the pressures and desperate for direction. Maybe the vision is missing, and so the restraint has been jettisoned; faith is being nudged aside by feelings, and serendipity given greater weight than sagacity. Maybe we -- whichever "side" we're on -- need to pray for vision rather than restraint. Maybe we need to be gentle instead of locking horns. Maybe we need to discover the sunny patch of neutral ground that's just nearby and spend some time together remembering our history and our mutual strengths and together seeking for revelation, for a vision for both The Town and The College.

One of my human neighbours captured the deer on camera and shared with me the images you see here. As I was looking at the pictures again on the day that two years earlier we had buried my Mum's body in broken brown ground punctuated with trees not unlike the space across the road, I realized that changes have been happening all around me: that neighbors come and go and neighbourhoods shift and readjust; that institutions teeter and perhaps topple; that people you have counted on as your closest friends are no longer there; that teacups crack and chip; that the deer are here only for a season.

It behooves me to recognize that this season of transition I am in is a gift; to treasure the people who are in my life now; to glory in the deer bravely returning when they can; to appreciate my neighbours and to love my enemies while they are both still with me; to make that batch of cinnamon rolls or call someone up for coffee; to have the time and the perception to appreciate my life.

To be still and know.

And in Victoria, at a hot Thursday afternoon farmer's market late in August, the proprietor of an antiques shop pulled from his personal storage room the end-of-summer-coloured teacup that I offered to Ed, the pattern criss-crossing like the fields surrounding the TH at this time of year, golden like harvest and green like hope.

The end of one era; the beginning of a new one!

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Week's Worth of Hugs

I read some years ago that humans need human physical contact -- four hugs a day to maintain the health and well-being you have, and eight hugs or more to increase your well-being and improve your health.

This early morning, waiting for sleep to overtake me, instead of counting sheep I decided to try to count the hugs I gave and/or received (how does one differentiate, and should it matter, really?) on Saturday and Sunday in the TH. Saturday gave me 32 hugs, and Sunday blessed me with 27 more. And these are the ones I can clearly remember! (If there were a competition for best hugger, Richard would win on Saturday and Sarah on Sunday ...) You do the math -- should I not be the healthiest non-exercising, undisciplined eater you have ever met?

It's no wonder I love this place ...

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Virtuous Woman

Who can find a virtuous woman?
She is worth far more than rubies.

Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.

She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.

She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.

She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigourously -
her arms are strong for her tasks;
she sees that her trading is profitable
and her lamp does not go out at night.

In her hands she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.

When it snows she has no fear for her household,
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

Her husband is respected at the city gate
where he takes his seat with the elders of the land.

She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her children arise and call her blessed,
her husband also, and he praises her:
"Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all."

Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Give her the reward she has earned
and let her works praise her at the city gate.

Patricia Christeen O'Halloran Ironside
February 22, 1937 - September 18, 2007

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Recipe For Joy

Okay, I confess: I have seen the movie Julie & Julia five times now and plan on going again this coming week, if I can persuade the last of my long-suffering sisters who has not seen it with me to go ...

The thing I LOVE about this movie is not the cooking --although it does makes me want to close the TH as a business and cook only for people who truly love to eat! -- or the creating of the classic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking (or the sidebar story of Julie who seeks and finds temporary direction for her life, not to mention a book deal, by cooking through the tome in a year and blogging about it) ; but it's the enormous joie de vivre Julia Child, as portrayed by the incomparable Meryl Streep, experiences. It's about a buoyant spirit rising to the challenges and living to the fullest despite changes, set-backs and disappointments. It's truly a paean to the love story of life.

And it's not that Julia merely stands by and waits for life to come to her; she anticipates it and plans for it and generates it. She starts by thinking about what it is she's good at, what she would like "to DOOOO."

She then goes about getting trained; but even during the formal education phase she is setting goals, practising, challenging herself to excel (her joy when she whips the perfect meringue or flips the frothy omelette is contagious: you want to applaud with her as you sit in the theatre!). When preparing a dish for her husband Paul or her guests she exerts great care in selecting the ingredients, examining them, sniffing them, tasting them, discussing them with the vendors in the market -- and in the process charming those characteristically crusty Gallic merchants with her unselfconscious delight! She assembles the proper tools that enable her to get the job done efficiently and thoroughly. And at last, finally in the kitchen, she sets out to create and test and sample and relish the results with those she loves. She gets everyone she encounters involved and enthusiastic -- although she is the driving force behind the cookbook, I never get the feeling that it's all about her. She embraces her Paul and her friends Simca and Avis, and even her TV audience, as co-conspirators in the grand adventure.

She perseveres for years in what becomes her passion; and the result? On August 30, 2009, for the first time in its 48-year history and five years after Julia Child passed away, Mastering the Art of French Cooking sat atop the New York Times best-seller list!

At 6'2", gangly, swooping, awkward, gregarious Julia -- rejected from military service because of her height -- accepted that she could not squeeze herself into the mould of the post-war petite, subdued, traditional wives of the diplomatic service (although one of the many bon bons the movie serves us for our delectation is when she towers over the two tiny startled French women she has just met in the powder room of a diplomatic soiree and proclaims, "I am VERRRY conventional!"). Two moments in the movie that crystallise this non-belonging are in funny, tender vignettes with Julia and her even-taller sister, played with ebullient vulnerability by Jane Lynch: Julia asks her sister why it was that they couldn't settle down, marry Republicans and have packs of children like their father had wanted, and Dorothy replies succinctly, "Too tall ... From the beginning, you just don't fit -- literally -- so then you don't." Later, as the two women stand side by side in their party frocks before the full-length mirror, Julia's wry comment to their reflection is,"Pretty good!! ... ... ... ... ... But not great!"

Much is made in the movie of the wonder ingredient, butter. (We go through at least 8 - 10 lbs. of it each weekend at the TH, and so I heartily endorse its magical properties!) But what is truly the secret ingredient to Julia's recipe for happiness and success is revealed at a Valentine's dinner party the Childs host. Adorned with enormous red hearts pinned to their lapels, the guests demand to know how Julia and Paul met. After some bantering back and forth ("You were quite the roué ..." "I noticed your legs ..."), Stanley-Tucci-as-Paul clears his throat slightly, locks his gaze on his wife sitting at the other end of the table and says something about how they were "just friends having dinner, and ... and it turned out to be Julia; it turned out to be Julia all along."* He is clearly recounting the story as much for her benefit as for their guests'. And Meryl-as-Julia, that magnificent, exuberant, self-confident woman for whom words, both spoken and written, came as easy as breathing, who the moment before had been chirping her own embellishments to the story of their lives, falls utterly silent and still. Suddenly shy and perhaps overwhelmed by the enormous intimacy of the moment, her eyes skitter sideways a couple of times, unable to meet Paul's or anyone's gaze; and we catch a glimpse of both the depths of her vulnerability and her simple incredulity that this wonderful man has come into her life and has whisked away -- lightly and purposefully and delicately as she would one of her meringues -- a lifetime of uncertainties and insecurities and slights; and we catch a glimpse of the depth of the connection between them that underscores the very essence of her life as she flutters her red heart in a wordless "I love you" back to him.

Indeed, their mutual passon, for food and for Paris and for each other, runs so deep that their first real conversation in the movie consists of her exclaiming disjointedly and rapturously over her initial encounter with French cuisine at a restaurant in Rouen, and his responding, "I know ... I know ... I KNOW!" And you feel that he really does get it, that he really does get her -- he exults in her triumphs and supports her in her pain with those same two words conveying a depth of knowledge each time he utters them.

In closing, I also love this movie because I see it as a paean to women I know personally who are intelligent, talented, charismatic, resourceful, perhaps slightly diffident beneath their mantles of accomplishment -- and to the quietly confident men who stand behind and alongside of them, supporting them, encouraging them to shine, letting them know that it was them all along.

So here's to you Norma and Don, Char and Brian, Bronwyn and Paul, Terry and Tim, Bernadette and Ken, Mabel and Hank, Pat and Joel, Dorothy and Marlowe, Alana and Richard, Laurie and Ayub, Joan and Rick, Irma and Bruce, Mary and John, Mary and Kent, Myrna and Ken, Alison and Mike, Brenda and Don, Laurie and John, Wendy and Scott, Karen and Wayne, Diana and Bob, Sharon and Vernon, Pat and Bill, Diane and George, Alli and Allan, Rebekah and Lorne, Pat and Bob, Mary and Doug, Jan and Ron, Maria and Allan, Sarah and Steve, Jacqueline and Oswaldo.

And here's to you, Mum and Dad, my own dear Julia and Paul. Paul toasting Julia at the end of his story that evening could have been Allan toasting his Paddy: "You are the butter to my bread and the breath to my life. I love you, darling girl."


"Bon appétit!"

Friday, September 4, 2009

Ten Things I Love About You

Your faithfulness in these years of "retirement" (retirement??!!) with your Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening Bible studies, your visits to the hospital and surrounding nursing homes; taking part in so many funerals; delivering little treats to people on a weekly basis; your ministry of encouragement, rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep; your continuing to study and learn, watch and pray; all these Sundays as the "pulpit supply"-- and for letting me tag along!

How you mischeviously quiz us on the references for the verses you quote, and then sparkle triumphantly when you have to tell us ...

The lives you have impacted from even before you went to India; the countless lives you have impacted in India; the lives you impact today: an enormous legacy.

MOAT for my birthday!!

That you are never too busy or too tired for any of your kids or grandsons.

You get up early on a Sunday morning to bake me fresh bread and prepare sandwiches for my breakfast when we are going out of town to a church, and you stay up late on Friday night to help me unload and put away my groceries.

How you still play with your wedding ring ... How you love and honour Mum ... "Many waters cannot quench love."

You taught me how to make cinnamon rolls for the TH! AND you gave me the pan to make them in!!

The tone of voice in which you say, "I love you, Karyn; you're very precious."

When I look at the night sky through the corner of my eye, I see stars that I would have missed otherwise. When I look at you I see glimpses of God that I would have missed otherwise...

Happy Birthday, Dad!
I love you; you're very precious.
(Photo credit: First picture, of Allan Ironside and Martha Wunsch with some of the Tuesday morning Robertson Manor group, taken on Martha's 100th birthday by Cathryn Ironside)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Email I Sent to my Manager Today ...


Dollar value of the deal:

Emails sent back and forth SO FAR:

Time spent on trying to get an order processed:

MasterCard, take me away!!!