Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Birthday Girl ...

A celebration of and for our own Brenda!

It started on the morning of February 22. I phoned Brenda to say that I needed to deliver something to her. She said she was on her way out and would pop by the TH to pick it up.

Paul, Bronwyn, Elliot and Oliver had ordered a bouquet of flowers to be delivered on the morning of Wed-nesday, February 22, in honour of the 70th birthday of their mom / mom-in-law / granny!

On Thursday, February 23, Brenda's dear friend Jan took her to Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe concert in Red Deer.

Then on Friday, February 24, at 5:30 p.m., about 40 of her close personal friends descended on the TH. We were there to celebrate the life and birthday of this woman we all love and admire so much.

After everyone had had enough to eat and drink, Brenda's daughter Helen made a few remarks in tribute to her mother; she mentioned that she was the only one of Brenda's four children able to be here that night, so she would do her best to represent them. She put down her thoughts in an acrostic:

B - beautiful, brilliant, because ... it is because of Brenda that Helen was able to hold on to her faith and it is because of Brenda that she has been able to keep going.

R - reliable, resilient ... through all that life has thrown at her

E - energetic

N - naughty ... [I'm sorry I was in the kitchen and missed this one!!] and taught Helen that God's promises are New every morning

D - dependable

A - amazing ... a Proverbs 31 woman whose children rise up and call her blessed

Here are some pictures of the evening. No names will be revealed, to protect the innocence - of the TH, that is! - but you know who you are ...
Serving the butternut
squash bisque ...

The hors d'oeuvres buffet

The first people to RSVP - now THAT
is the definition of a good grandson!

When it was time to cut the cake, there was a special delivery for Brenda:

Here's a glimpse of Brenda watching her video b-day card:

  Then the cake was brought out - and wouldn't you know it? The boys were absolutely prescient in the video: there was NOTHING we could do to get the "7 0" sparklers to light!
Dessert buffet with candle-less cake ...
Everyone singing "Happy Birthday." Maybe we also
should have sung "May You Live To Be a Hundred"
 but why limit you?!
As the evening came to a close, and after Helen had spoken to and about her mother, Brenda said a few words, thanking everyone for coming and for their friendship ...

Are they in trouble or is she taking a bow?!

Even 70th birthday parties must come to an end, I guess; so as the guests were leaving I went to the kitchen to get organized.

And, much to my surprise and great gratitude, there was my dear Tiff and my dear Don, deep in the suds already, having a whale of a time together!

 Thank you, all of you, for coming out to honour a woman all of us who have anything to do with the TH have come to respect, admire and love.

And thank you, Brenda, for everything you mean to us all. You are a gift to the TH and to each of us. May the next seventy be filled with joy and blessing and light and love!
(When we want a cake for a very special occasion,
we go to Cakeworks, of course!)

Monday, February 27, 2012

My Aunt Mary

The first time I watched The Sound of Music was at my Aunt Mary's home in Florida. We ate popcorn and freely talked any time we wanted to during the movie, which she said came on TV every Thanksgiving. We sang along with the songs. We loved Julie Andrews.

It was Thanksgiving weekend my first year away at University. I had been feeling kind of low and wondering what I was going to do for Thanksgiving and Christmas that year, when I got a call: "Karyn? It's your Aunt Mary. I want you to come here for Thanksgiving."

I tried to explain about the rules that prohibited me from leaving campus without express permission from my parents unless it was my parents who were taking me off campus; somehow she managed to get permission even though my parents were in India. She sent me a plane ticket and said she would be at the airport in Jacksonville, Florida, to meet me.

I had met her maybe twice or three times before in my life.

When she saw me she gave me a big hug and we whirled off together in her car - she wanted to show me one of her favourite places. It turned out to be a beach, and in the waning light we walked together and she asked me questions about my life. She didn't treat me as some odd curiosity who had recently stepped off the boat; she didn't patronize me; she didn't compare me to anyone else. I was just 18 but she made me feel like I was her equal and that my opinions and observations mattered to her. She listened intently and with a complete absence of judgmentalism that left its mark on me all these years later.

I remember shivering suddenly as a breeze hit me while we walked. She immediately took off her jacket and placed it around my shoulders. "It's getting colder," she mused. "Time to think about getting my fur coat out of storage."

I remember that I burst out laughing at the thought of needing a fur coat in Florida; and I remember that she looked at me very soberly and said words to this effect: "Honey, sometimes you feel a cold that has nothing to do with the temperature. At times like that it's nice to have something to wrap around yourself and make you feel warm all the way through."

It wasn't until several years later, when my Dad told me some more of the story of Mary, that those windswept words took on added significance to me. My brave, gallant aunt had done everything she could to raise her three children and to give them a good life through some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. She worked hard and industriously at everything she set her mind to. And she was cheerful and thoughtful throughout.

My first US Thanksgiving weekend was wonderful - I was Cinderella to her fairy godmother. She sent me off with her daughter, my cousin, Penny to get me more practical dress shoes for winter than the high-heeled sandals I had worn because they were my only dress shoes at university. I still remember them: 3-1/2" black stiletto pumps with a strap over the arch part of my foot. Very sophisticated. I treasured them all through college.

But it was more than playing Cinderella. She was the first of my Canadian relatives to make an effort to know me and to open parts of herself up to me, showing how it was done.

She took me to her church on Sunday. It was an Episcopalian church and I remember feeling both relieved that I was in church on Sunday and terrified that someone from college would find out what kind of church I had attended and write me up for discipline! 

It was a beautiful, joyous service.

It was a wonderful weekend.

She also came to my wedding a few years later, along with her eldest daughter, Patty. They were the only relatives outside my immediate family who, along with my mother's Cousin Elizabeth, could make it - it turned out that my cousin was getting married that same day! My Aunt Mary chose me. She gave me a tiny porcelain hand-painted Villeroy and Bosch wedding box. How did she know what I would love? I often asked myself as I looked at it.

My beautiful Aunt Mary passed away this morning. She is my Dad's elder sister, the filling between my Uncle Gordon and my Dad. She is now with Gordon and with her parents in heaven, because she trusted the Lord Jesus Christ to take away her sin and take over her life. She trusted Him to protect her, care for her, wrap Himself around her in a way that no fur coat could come close.

She had been in poor health; but her passing seems so sudden. Dad was told that her son, Howard, told her a day or so before she drew her last breath, "You've done everything for us that you ever possibly could ... Now it's time to rest. It's time to go Home." 

Dad remarked, between reminiscences of this beloved elder sister, "Knowing that she is with God takes away some of the sting of her death ..." And for the rest of the afternoon he hummed or sang Going Home, that hymn of comfort set to the timeless melody of the Largo movement of Dvorak's New World Symphony.  

How I wish I had known her better! How thankful I am that some day I'll be given that chance.

And I wish I had told her that now I understand what she meant about the comfort of her fur coat ...

Mary Ironside Jordan
February 13, 1931 - February 26, 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

February 22, 1937

Five years ago today he brought you three dozen red roses and the version of his memoirs created just for you. His voice was shot that morning, the results of a cold both of you were labouring under, so he put Jim Reeves on the CD player to serenade you for him: "Have I told you lately that I love you?"

Today is the celebration of your 75th birthday. How he loves and misses you!

How we all do ...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness

I knew last Monday was going to be a tough day - the son of a friend of mine was to be buried, a life snuffed out far too soon. I had tons of work to do for Carswell because I had booked off Tuesday as a vacation day. I had to run in to Calgary after work to get the last fresh groceries for our Valentine's celebration in the TH. And I had to be back by 7 p.m. as I wanted to hear my Dad's talk entitled "How Random Acts of Kindness Enhance Health," a topic he had been asked to address with the local Good Health club.

Driving to the city was just beautiful. The sky was clear and the roads were dry. When I reached Costco a few flakes had started to drift indecisively down.

When I left Costco my car was covered in snow. I made my way to Superstore and rushed through it as quickly as I could. But still my car was weighted by the amount of snow that had fallen in the short time I was shopping.

As I loaded the groceries into Josephine's trunk and back seat the snow swirled from the sky and, getting caught on the wind, drummed into my eyes and tangled with my hair.

I noticed as I got onto the highway which takes me the first part of the way home that my engine light flashed on briefly. But it was really too late to turn back to Calgary at this point, not to mention no way to get back across the divided highway from where I was; and if the snow were to get worse, I reasoned, I could be stuck with a car load of groceries and people lined up outside the TH!

However, 12 kms onto Hwy 72, my dashboard lights gently but unequivocally faded into blackness. Josephine is nothing if not a lady! My signal lights didn't signal, and my hazard lights didn't turn on. My headlights were getting dimmer and I managed to slide over to the side of the road - in a valley - before the engine cut out.

The valley is important because as I tried to dial AMA, I discovered that there was no cell phone reception in this particular valley. I still had my headlights, though, so I flashed them on and off as a car approached me, hoping that someone would stop.

No one did. 

I wondered if I was going to have to walk to a nearby Hutterite colony. I decided the next vehicle would be the last one at which I flashed my lights and I prayed that God would get it to stop.

And ... it stopped! Out got the driver and walked across the road, the blistering tiny needles of icy snow flicking his face. "What's the trouble?" he asked. I told him. "I've got jumper cables. Let's try to charge the battery ..." he said and with that he turned his truck around and now I could see that the vehicle was full of people. He gave me his cell phone to try to dial AMA, but he too had no reception. A girl jumped out from the back seat of the truck to help him, and the lady in the front seat beckoned me back to the truck and told me to climb in out of the cold and we would try their cell phones until something worked.

I had hit the mother-daughterlode of helpfulness! The lady in the front seat was Sharon, wife of Kevin who was at that moment trying to charge my battery. They had been in Beiseker with their daughter Meghan and three of her friends as the girls participated in a basketball tournament (not good results, sadly ...!). And they were on their way home to Cochrane.

Each one of them except for Sharon had her cell phone with her. And one cell phone actually managed to pick up a faint signal, in about a 10-square-inch window of receptivity in the dead centre of the truck's console! She let me use it, and in a few minutes I got to an AMA agent who quickly took down details. The connection kept getting dropped, but each agent I talked to built on the notes of the previous one until all details were recorded and the AMA contractor out of Beiseker could find me and Josephine on the side of the road. It would be about an hour and a half before they could reach me, though, as they were actually in Three Hills on another call ...

That's when Kevin intervened. "We're not leaving you on the side of the road," he decreed. "Tell them that you'll meet them in Beiseker - we'll drive you back."

I tried to protest that it was too much, that they had already done enough, that the round trip would add 44 extra kilometres to their already long drive for the evening. Sharon added her voice to Kevin's: "You'll freeze out here. It's not a bad drive. The girls can call their parents and let them know we're going to be late. We're happy to do this for you."

The four girls sardined themselves into the back seat and I rode in utter comfort and warmth with Sharon and Kevin in the front seat. They made me feel like I was one of their friends, that this was just a little drive around the block on a sunny day. We talked and laughed the whole way back to the Esso gas station in Beiseker, where I had arranged to meet the AMA driver. And when we arrived they tumbled out of the truck and into the gas station to make sure I was going to be okay. 

Kevin gave me his card. "Be sure you call us when you get home," he said. 

"It'll be late," I tried to protest again. "What about if I text you so that I don't disturb you?"

Silly me - I should have known that this would be unacceptable to these people with the enormous hearts. "It won't be too late," assured Sharon. "We just want to know you're safe. Call us."

And with that and a hug they vanished back into the truck and the night closed around them.

The kind-hearted cashier at the Esso station informed me that the cafe was closed. "But you're going to have a bit of a wait for AMA; why don't you just go on in there and sit down and be comfortable?" I took my hot chocolate and found a booth. I asked if they sold magazines and the answer was no. However, she got me a copy of the newspaper to read, and she herself came and kept me company in between customers. 

We talked about music and tattoos and hopes for the future; and before I had a chance to start worrying about the lettuce freezing in Josephine's trunk, there was a woman's voice calling out, "Is there a Karyn here?"

An hour had passed already! The cashier and I said our goodbyes and I hopped into the truck with Jean, who introduced me to her husband Frank. My trip would be their third call for Three Hills that evening ...

We headed into the snow and down the road to pick up Josephine. While Frank loaded her up, Jean and I got acquainted. I discovered that she and Frank own a little sandwich counter and pie shop in Beiseker, so we immediately had much in common! The miles to Three Hills disappeared as we compared notes. 

They drove me right to Richard Automotive in Three Hills. There I was met by my wonderful sister BA, whom I had called to give the lowdown on my evening. She helped me transfer the groceries from Josephine to her car and then we drove to the TH, followed by Frank and Jean - it was now so late and I wanted to make them a hot drink for the long drive home.

BA and Frank unloaded everything and I steamed milk and drew espresso shots. Dad showed up to make sure everything was okay. I called Kevin and Sharon - and got them live, of course; no voicemail message-leaving for them!

It was now well past 11 p.m. I had missed Dad's talk. But I realized that I didn't need to hear it, because I had lived it on this haphazard, wonderful evening. Everywhere I turned I had encountered people - complete strangers with the exception of BA - who couldn't do enough to help out someone who was in need, and who gave to me with no expectation of getting anything back in return.

Thank you, Kevin and Sharon, beautiful cashier with the intriguing tattoos, Jean and Frank, BA. It might seem like random acts of kindness when each segment is taken separately; all put together, it was an evening of overwhelming care and compassion bestowed on me, and it gave me the boost I needed to be able to care for the 36 people who would come to Nilgiris' Valentine's evening less than 24 hours later!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

That's Amore!

The magic starts with this!
Back by loud demand, Karl and Dave strolled into the TH just before 5 p.m. on Valentine's Day. Coffee for Dave; water for Karl. A quick sound check, and then dinner for our two troubadours. This year they felt free to amble about the TH and come into the kitchen - I felt that FINALLY we could claim them as part of the Nilgiris family for this one day of the year!

The evening started well and went up from there. As couples arrived, they found their tables and settled into their chairs as I poured them a glass of Pellegrino.
The evening's six-course menu

Then Tiffany and Josie took over, pouring pink lemonade punch, making the guests feel comfortable, taking out the first course - Italian Wedding soup and warm ciabatta buns. A dish with butter and olives was already on each table.

I moved to the kitchen for the rest of the evening - with little peeks into the dining room when I heard Karl and Dave playing a favourite song like Two Sleepy People or World on a String. Josie and Tiff worked the dining room this particular evening.
Tiff serving chicken breast wrapped
in prosciutto with risotto and
asparagus spears

Josie with the cannelloni course

An unexpected pair of hands:
BJ from the Rosebud Country Inn
popped in to help for the afternoon.
Brenda's peeking behind her!
As a result, I never got a single picture of our guests or our musicians! Fortunately BA had grabbed my camera before we opened and took a few pictures of the room, and I had clicked a couple during prep time.
Once again Doreen came to my rescue
with the dining room - it was spectacular!

These comfy chairs were made for
Heather and Scott to enjoy the evening!
 As I served dessert - raspberry cream in Callebaut chocolate cup, mini sticky toffee pudding and petit palmier - I saw that the music had once again worked its magic: couples sat with heads close together, holding hands, whispering, smiling at each other.

Table cloths hemmed by Norma ...

Much to my surprise, I received a Valentine myself that evening: the lovely, ever-thoughtful Becky, along with her not-so-secret admirer, Mike, brought me a vase filled with beautiful tulips and an even more beautiful card, which I will cherish for a long time.

As each couple left, the lady received a single red rose, provided by the generosity of our own Oswaldo.

Later that evening, when everyone else was gone, I could still hear faint echoes of the music and the murmured laughter. Karl and I sat in front of the fireplace and shared a pot of tea and a chat. He told me, "Dave and I love playing the Tea House. Shall we book right now for next Valentine's Day?"

I thought I heard a little noise in the entry way, so I went to investigate.

Not quite everyone was gone, it turned out ...

Happy Heart Day, one and all!