Sunday, May 30, 2010

Time Out

Thank you to all of you who have contacted me to make sure I was okay - I am doing well, but I have just had too few hours in the day lately ...

I have stories to tell, though, and so I will try to get back to talking with you as soon as I can.

Meanwhile, there's snow on the ground in Three Hills and two nests outside my back door and last night, just before midnight, as I said goodnight to Don and Norma I saw the adult sparrow of one nest sitting there, motionless, glaring at me. I had turned on the back light and had disturbed his rest. But he wasn't about to let me disturb his charges' rest as well by beaking off as he is wont to do during the day.

The snow will go, as will the sparrows. As will some of "my" kids, very soon. 

This season of transition is a hard time of year, both for birds and for humans.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Can It Really Be One Year?!

Happy, happy anniversary to two of the sweetest people I know ...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Friend Harvey

I first met Harvey and his beloved Mae at the TH one Sunday evening. They were with their daughter Connie and their son Kevin, and they were moving into the Chateau, the seniors' residence a block away from me.

Harvey let it slip that he liked banana cream pie; so I made one and Dad and I took it over to them the very next evening to say welcome to the neighbourhood. They talked about wanting to get into a good Bible study, and Dad invited them to the one at the TH on Wednesday evenings.

That Wednesday, Harvey and Mae were among the first to arrive.

Mae sparkled and glowed, drawing each of us into her warmth and joy. And Harvey ... Harvey sat there watching her, beaming quietly, unable to quite believe that he was the person that this girl loved; after over 50 years, he still couldn't quite believe that she had married him.

They had moved to Three Hills from their beloved farmstead in Boyle because Harvey had had to have hip surgery and was frailer than could support working the farm, and Three Hills was closer to some of their kids. I would visit them from time to time at the Chateau, and Mae told me that while she was so grateful that they were comfortable, she mourned the loss of her farm home, of the only real home Harvey had lived in for his whole life. She loved to entertain and have young people around her. She was a popular speaker at local women's meetings, sometimes effecting the wardrobe and mannerisms of Minnie Pearl. But she loved her Harvey and loved that though his hip and his heart ached on occasion, he was so good to her and he loved God and enjoyed nothing more than time spent studying his Bible.

They came to our Wednesday studies as often as they could and I got to know them quite well. Winter found them heading down to Texas, as they had done for several years, to help out in whatever way they could at a missionary camp. When they arrived back to Three Hills in the spring, Mae was bubbling over with tales from their latest adventure.

And then the next Wednesday she wasn't there. Harvey came still and gave us updates: she wasn't feeling well ... the doctors thought maybe pneumonia and she was in the Three Hills hospital ... now they weren't sure what it was, but they were admitting her to Red Deer for tests ... she had some fluid in the area of her lungs, but she was back in the Three Hills hospital ... she had taken a turn for the worse and was back in Red Deer ... could Dad give him a ride to Red Deer to visit his girl? It was cancer, and it was bad.

And on July 1, 2009, Dominion Day came for Mae. Illness and pain and suffering were ended, and she said goodbye to Harvey and her children and hello to the One who had dominion over death, the only One who loved her more than her Harvey did.

The funeral was up north in Boyle; Harvey returned to the Chateau without his queen. And he tried to pick up the threads of his life - threads that had lost much of the bright colours and rich textures - and he started to weave them together as best he could. He returned to the Wednesday evenings at the TH, and he started walking down town as often as possible. But she had been his memory and his voice and his companion, and he was so lonely.

I was sitting in a purple chair one morning when he trundled by with his walker. I went outside and told him that if he was so inclined, he could stop by the TH for a visit on his way back from town. He was so inclined. We sipped cranberry juice (his favourite!) and had a little egg salad sandwich, and we talked about life and Mae and his kids and about how good God was to him. I invited him back any time I was around, and he came by quite a bit.

I loved to hear his stories. One of my favourites - and one that he enjoyed  sharing, albeit with great humility and a sense of awe - was of how he and Mae got together. She was a teacher and was supposed to be teaching in the area he lived. But due to one thing and another, she couldn't make it to the school that year. "And that was in the mercy of God," Harvey would marvel. "If she had come there that year, she wouldn't have looked at me; I was not a nice fellow back then."

But in that year Harvey gave his heart to God and cleaned up his act. The very next year, Mae did end up coming out to the Boyle area and met Harvey. "I didn't deserve it, but somehow she liked me!" he would exclaim. They were married and had four girls and two boys.

The years were not always easy. He had to take jobs way up north, away from the family, leaving Mae to fend for them all at home while he tried to earn enough to keep them going through the winter. Crops failed. Livestock died. Kids moved away. But Mae loved him through it all. And he adored her.
Sometimes other people would be visiting me at the TH when Harvey would come by, and everyone who had the chance to meet this sweet, funny, gentle man quickly came to love him too. In the Wednesday group he never said too much but he was valued by each of us there. When he couldn't make it, his absence was felt keenly.

And then there was talk of him moving to Pincher Creek where a daughter lived not too far away. And then there was talk of May. And then last week, Errol called me and said that it would be the following Thursday.

On Saturday evening Harvey, Connie and two of the other daughters came to the TH for supper one more time. I told the girls how Harvey had come to visit me on the previous Monday and not only had he eaten his own pie ("I can't decide between apple and cherry - maybe half of each?!") but he had also polished off the half piece on my plate that I couldn't finish. And he took the other two halves home with him for later .. he confided that they don't get much pie at the Chateau and he loved sweet things ...

And now it was Wednesday and we were going to have to say goodbye to our dear friend. Connie dropped him off and hugged me tight in the kitchen area. She had planned to stay for the study, but just couldn't. We shared a few tears together as we hugged each other and she asked, "Do you still think about your Mum too?" "Every day," I confirmed. "This is so hard," she whispered as she slipped out of the door into the driving rain and the whipping wind.

Our study this evening was from I Peter 4:12-19 and its heading was "Going Through Fiery Trials". Dad had written on our study sheet: "Trials are not an 'if' in the Christian life; they are a 'when' and 'how'." He compared how James and Peter both wrote their letters to people who were "strangers and aliens in a foreign land." I couldn't help but think that this was going to be our Harvey tomorrow; however, for the first time in half a century he wouldn't have his Mae to ease the path for him and draw new friends to them.

But Dad was continuing on: another instruction Peter and James gave was this: Don't just have a spirit of resignation or stoicism in times of trial and difficulty, but rather rejoice. Our times are in God's hands and He will arrange for the best, the most fitting time for the events of our lives.

Our refreshment time was bittersweet this evening: I had made a cake for Harvey ("What kind of cake do you like?" I had asked him earlier. "One with lots of icing!" he joked, and so I made a rich chocolate cake with raspberry jam and chocolate butter cream filling, and chocolate buttercream icing. "Give me that corner piece," Harvey cajoled Jenny.)

No one was in a hurry to leave. But even the rain and the thunder finally, reluctantly, came to an end and as I ran upstairs to try to find my camera I was wishing that Mae and Mum were here. Either of those two ladies would have known the exact right things to say to this dear man who had, moments earlier, told us in his little farewell speech that the verse "To be absent from the body means to be present with the Lord" had become so very precious to him since July 1. And that as he moved on from here and this circle of friends that had meant so much to Mae and him, if we didn't see each other again on this earth we would be reunited some day in heaven.

I spied BethAnne outside and went to join her. There, directly over the Chateau, was a clear strong shaft of rainbow - God's promise that He would never leave Harvey nor forsake him. God's reminder through Mum's favourite symbol that though she was absent from us she was present with Him.

My dear friend shook Dad's hand and gave me a big hug and said, "I'm going to miss this place"; and then he set his walker on its last trip from the TH to the Chateau and slowly made his way, between the puddles and rivulets of water, away from us.

At the bottom of the study notes Dad had reproduced a poem by Annie Johnson Flint, What God Hath Promised:

God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labour, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.

And so we sang him on his way:

Goodnight, our God is watching o'er you,
Goodnight, His mercies go before you,
Goodnight, and we'll be praying for you,
So goodnight, may God bless you.

Monday, May 10, 2010


And just in time for the first big snowstorm of April! It is uncanny how they time their reemergence into our world. We know that if Don and Norma are on their way, so is the bad weather, defying them to try to escape it with impunity ...

How we miss them over the winter months! Norma and I have already had a sleepover, the night Don was in Red Deer and that crazy storm whipped the wind into a frenzy.

Don has started fixing everything that needs to be fixed around the TH; taking control; showing me that I am one of his girls. And Norma has peeled potatoes, washed dishes, kept me company; showing me that I am one of her girls.

Who could help but love these two?!
Mother-less Day

This is the third celebration of Motherless Day for me (don't tell Hallmark, or they'll be creating a new line of cards ...).

And I think of some of my friends who have lost their mothers in the last few years; of some whose mothers left them a number of years ago; and of some who are losing their mothers bit by bit, breath by breath, in the cruellest goodbye of all:

Bronwyn, Allan, Cathryn, BethAnne, Deborah.

Jane, my sweet Jane, who led the way for all of us.


Jackie, Diana, Ron and Rick.





Naomi, Edwin, Lydia, Rachel, Johannan, Sarah, Hepzibah, Salome, Solomon.



Connie and Kathy.


Dorothy's four children, still just babies really.



Margi, Jenny, Ryan, Lindsay.


And Alyusha, dear Alyusha, whose loss is so new that she has to remind herself to breathe, so raw that every inhalation feels like knives vivisecting her, so sudden that she still has to ask herself if it really happened.

Just this Wednesday past I was privileged to attend the funeral of Mavis Hoel, mother of three. Dad was part of the service. Her children, each of them, rose up and called her blessed. They said that the greatest thing about her was that she just "was".

She "taught [them] how to be," as Elliot said about his own dear grandmother, my mother, on the day of her funeral.

How can one person leave as great an impact in her absence as in her presence? It doesn't seem to matter if your mother and you were extremely close or if it was difficult for the two of you to be in the same room for too great a length of time; if you thought she was the last word on anything you needed to know or if you sometimes wondered when she would get a clue; if you agreed on almost everything or if you argued about many little things: when she is no longer there you feel like a traveller without a compass (okay, okay, a GPS!).

You feel like an amputee: the part of you that gave you life has been amputated.

I have never forgotten the terrible morning my Mum's mother died. I was living in Mobile and Mum and Dad called me up in the small hours to tell me. In between tears, Mum said softly, almost a whisper, almost an afterthought, "I'm an orphan."

That is what I remember from the conversation. I prayed I would never have to know what she meant.

I now know what she meant.

You don't know where you belong. You don't know how you are going to carry on when the co-author of the beginning of your life from the second of your conception is no longer keeping track of the history and the progress of your life. You wonder if anyone will ever know you like she knew you.

You suspect not.

And yet, on this Motherless Day morning my own Bronwyn - herself a mother of two boys - rose up and delivered the message; I was not able to be there, but my family told me the text was taken from Isaiah chapter 49:

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands
Your walls are ever before me ...

Not just our name is engraved, but our very self is engraved. We are always with God.

God knows us.

God, a father to the fatherless.

God, a mother to the motherless.

God. Knows. Us.

And so this evening, on our busiest Mother's Day ever at the TH, when several people thanked me for mothering them when they came to visit, I whispered a word of thanks to God my Mother for mothering through me.

And I asked Her to give my mother, Patricia Christeen O'Halloran Ironside, an especially good visit with her mother, Marjorie Grace Brown O'Halloran.

Happy Mother's Day.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

And what a weekend it was!

Closing out another year of life and opening a new one has never been difficult for me - but this year was particularly beautiful:

  • Debbie drove me home from Calgary on Friday evening because I was so exhausted after the annual National Sales Conference in Niagara-on-the-Lake
  • Before we left Calgary, Debs and I had dinner with Bronwyn, the boys and Brenda in celebration of Paul and Bronwyn's wedding anniversary. Paul was working in Turkey; but we had his presence with us in the form of a delightful little frog statue, perched on the side of a birdbath, who had his front hand (do frogs have hands?!) propped up next to his mouth just like my handsome brother-in-law often has
  • Saturday morning early, there was a phone call - Debs was outside the TH door wanting to be let in to help. It was wonderful to have a kindred spirit to talk with and laugh with as we baked and tidied and prepared for the day
  • Although we were missing Char and Brian, all the other people I love to see on a Saturday morning and lunch time came in, along with a few new faces who - who knows? - might also fit into the easy Saturday camaraderie that has evolved over the years
  • The beautiful Rebecca, back from obtaining her Masters degree. Stick around for a while, dear one: we have a lot of catching up to do!
  • Cabbage rolls and mac 'n' cheese and my favourite pear with carmelized onion and brie quiche!
  • Six of my own family in for lunch
  • Don and Norma in the evening (would they have shown if they knew how hard they were going to have to work?!)
  • And then it was Sunday and Cath's birthday. Lunch was planned and executed by Dad and Deborah Joy. The crown roast was cooked to perfection, and the accompanying side dishes complemented the meat in such a way that my taste buds wanted to sing! All was capped by the lightest orange chiffon cake that practically melted in our mouths.
  • A crazy busy afternoon and evening at the TH - thank you Krista, Brent, Kurt and Josie - followed by Ken and Bernadette helping me set up for the men's 7:00 a.m. Monday meeting
  • A slight start when I looked up from my computer just after midnight to see a face peering in the window. The dude ran off, and I saw that he was accompanied by two friends so I went outside and called out, asking them what they wanted at this time of night. The reply was that the peerer hadn't seen the TH since it opened and he apparently thought that midnight was a good time to check things out. I advised them, somewhat snarkily, that a good time would be business hours and shut the east door a little more firmly than I needed to ...
  • And then it was Monday and while the men were here, my beautiful aunt, Marilyn, called me to wish me for the day, and Brent texted me the entire Happy Birthday chorus (his new choice of performance arts studies are clearly paying off already ... Well, at least he'll have a back-up plan if he decides that 98% in premed studies is unacceptable for him!!)
  • Kent, Sarah, Derek, Ian, Lisa - all from Carswell - sent me messages or called me. The magical MBG phoned, as did the most charming dentist ever to grace the planet. I found out what it really meant to be "friended" on Facebook: I received posts on my wall and so many messages too, letting me know that my friends were thinking about me and wishing me well. The As texted and emailed as did David in Afghanistan and Cyrano and Niccolo and Molly in Calgary and Little Dawn in Edmonton and Deborah Joy and Bronwyn and the boys ...
  • Terry and Nevin popped in ("Grandma, you go get the present; I'll distract her," uttered in a stage whisper in inimitable Nevin-style) ...
  • Dad and Cathryn arrived laden with gifts, all of them to be treasured. I even got the coveted "Queen for the Day" gift bag that was originally given to Mum and now is awarded to the birthday girl of the moment from Dad.
  • One present that stands out in my mind is the evening bag Dad gave me: it had been my grandmother's and contained the gloves she wore and the handkerchief she took to M&D's wedding; and it had a note tucked in the side pocket stating that fact - along with the whimsical maple leaf and shamrock wedding favour that I had heard about for all these years and yet had never seen until today. Another was the sweet, already blooming lilac tree designated for the corner of my little lawn. Those girls never forget anything! I received so many gifts, every one chosen with care and love and all of them items I would choose for myself and will treasure. I got kitchen appliances and perfume and books from my childhood and books from even older than that and socks and soap and lotion and my favourite coffee whitener and DVDs and music and an outfit and note paper and a beautiful scarf and a glass parrot who is making friends with my Mum's picture on the piano, to name a few things!
  • One more gift to mention is the painting Cath presented me. This piece of art was inspired by Cath's attendance of Handel's Messiah last Christmas, and deserves to be written about on a separate post. But the painting will be hanging over the piano when it is framed, a magnificent reminder that "Death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more ... See, I am making all things new."
  • And Don and Norma ...
  • And Naomi ...
  • And a warm, cheerful "Happy Birthday being sung over the telephone from K &B ...
  • And permission from my manager for my reports to be tardy ...
  • And then the moment I was waiting for all day: supper at M&D's place, where Dad made me my all-time favourite dinner, "moat". I've mentioned this before; but this year it was no ordinary moat. Dad had made me an individual moat, and one side of the "wall" was the usual mashed potatoes, but the other side was made of turnips, mashed and buttered and S'n'Ped to perfection. The toast soldiers were all standing guard for me. The carrot salad was a lovely foil to the seasoned, gravied ground beef concoction with which the moat was filled. My Dad loves me!
  • And my lovely Johnny Depp look-alike nephew gave me Boggle, my favourite table game. Better yet, he even played a few rounds with BA and me, and he graciously let his old aunt win in honour of the day ...
  • A snooze on my Dad's couch (why was I tired?!) and a cup of tea for when I woke up
And now I'm back in the purple chair, sitting by the fire as the wind playfully sings to me outside. I am truly blessed beyond belief, beyond comprehension.
I was truly "Queen for the Day." Thank you, all of you dear ones, for making me feel this way.

But the clock's about to strike midnight and I find I've lost one of my slippers and so I'd better get cracking on those monthly reports ...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ten Things I Love About You

  • You love the TH recipes
  • You are ahead of the times in so many ways
  • Your exquisite writing: stories, poetry, even cards
  • Your great care for the hurting kids of the world
  • You are my favourite artist
  • You introduced me to Africa, and to Alex
  • When sea shells were important to me, you made sea shells important to you too
  • You see things that others don't
  • You have the cutest bathroom in the world!
  • You are the one birthday present I have received that carries with it a lifetime warranty ...

Happy Birthday, my most treasured B.D.P.