Tag Archives: Ottawa Valley

The up and down journey through tasks

For this week’s post, I thumb my nose at a piece of writing advice. (Well, two pieces actually, since I just used a cliché.) Good writers, they say, opt for the word “said” during dialogue so as to avoid scenes like:

"Let's go to the movies," he posited. 
"I disagree," she demurred.

Herewith, consider my nose thumbed.

Task

“I want to climb that mountain,” she says.
   The foothill lures her spirit,
   Beckoning wide paths seduce her.
      Flooded with energy, she skips.  

“The path gets narrower,” she notices. 
   A switchback challenges her footsteps, 
   Scribbling tree roots trip her.
      Worried but still powerful, she continues. 

“Should I carry on?” she puffs.
   The incline steals her breath,
   Aching muscles betray her.
      Depleted of oxygen, she schlepps.

“I can’t do this,” she whines. 
   An obstacle blocks her progress, 
   Darkening skies shadow her. 
      Deprived of hope, she sleeps. 

“But . . . my goal is just there,” she awakens.
   The dawn illuminates her next steps,
   Daunting barriers dissolve before her. 
      Reinvigorated by inspiration, she climbs.

“What a view!” she cries.
   A summit reveals her success, 
   Haunting memories flee from her.   
      Satiated with completeness, she savours. 

“Now what?” she wonders.
   The downward path answers,
   Waning desire to remain prompts her.    
      Evolved for a new task, she descends.       

“If I go down, I can climb a higher mountain,” she says.  
      

Irish-ish and vaccinated

My family is so many generations deep in Canada that I don’t really feel Irish. A little Irish-ish, maybe.

Enough that tomorrow I will drink Irish beer and eat Guinness Stew sopped up with Irish Soda Bread.

I do it to honour my ancestors who immigrated and suffered—really suffered—so that I can sit in my warm house and eat plentiful food in good health. They lived in a remote log cabin. No plumbing. No furnace. No Mac’s Milk on the corner or butchery down the street.

It is especially fitting to do so this year, during a pandemic, because in 1866 my ancestors lost three children in one week to a diphtheria epidemic.

Children aged 13, 11 and 9 just . . . gone . . . in the space of a week.

Three children in one week lost to a disease that we never have to think about because WE HAVE VACCINES.

Time has made some people complacent. North Americans born after 1920 don’t know how death used to brush up close in daily life. Our generation has never seen with our own eyes an entire family wiped out in a week, because WE HAVE VACCINES.

Cheers and Éirinn go Brách!

And when it’s your turn, get the vaccine.

Shamrock cookies
Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

I am out of thyme! A Christmas lament with a happy ending

Empty spice bottle with Thyme label

Weeks ago we coordinated the schedules of six busy family members to find a day that worked for everyone to go to the Cedar Hill Christmas Tree Farm. We set the date for December 14 with visions of bright sun glinting off snow-covered fields and our boots crunching in and around rows of perfect trees. We’d picked the perfect fat tree, we’d return to a big dinner, and we’d make eggnog or mulled wine.

It would be perfect.

Then Saturday morning came along. The sun rose, but we couldn’t see it through heavy cloud.

Misty rain fell.

We’ve been renovating our front hall, so all morning my husband and our neighbour laboured at laying tile, grouting and fixing plumbing. All the clothing, and shoes, and boots, and umbrellas, and hats, and scarves, and toilet paper rolls, and surprising other things that normally reside in our bathroom and front hall closet were scattered all over our home. They mixed in with the boxes containing the new toilet and bathroom vanity in our living room.

Messy living room with a toilet in a box and paint rollers, etc.
Our living room: half Christmas, half renovations

We’re dog sitting, and he got loose and ran through the tile glue, leaving doggy glue prints on some of the new tiles.

dog prints on tile

While all that was going on, I set about making the marinade for the crown roast of pork I planned for dinner. The dry rub recipe called for, among other things, thyme. I opened my spice drawer and pulled out the bottle. Empty.

“I’m out of thyme!” I called out.

My husband, panicked, appeared at the kitchen door. “For what?”

I held up the empty bottle, and we both fell apart laughing.

Christmas tree farm in the rain
Not the weather we would have picked for our Christmas Tree excursion.

The six of us trooped through increasingly heavy rainfall. We found a tree that wasn’t quite as fat as we like, but was lovely nonetheless. We made the annual stop at the Pakenham General Store and enjoyed their amazing baked goods. (Date squares for me. A perfect ratio of oatmeal to date filling.) The crown roast was delicious—even without the thyme—and the boys made eggnog and played guitar, and all was well.

Not perfect, but well.

Thyme-less and well.

Pot with homemade egg
Homemade eggnog

Music that brings chills, or tears

What music makes you stop whatever you’re doing and listen? What songs make you cry?

I’d love to know. Leave me a comment at the end of the post.

One song that undoes me every time is “Silent Night” by candlelight on Christmas Eve. My family knows that I’m a puddle during that hymn, every time. It takes me back to childhood services in a small town church, and to the birth of my daughter on Christmas Eve, and to my father who died shortly before Christmas twenty years ago. The simple hymn ties everything together from my past and gives me hope for the future.

Some songs move us because they remind us of someone we love — a father, mother, grandparent, child or friend.

 “You’ve Got a Friend” James Taylor, written by Carole King

Songs that are haunting and sad and then optimistic and hopeful, acknowledge the lows and highs and tells us to look for the triumph after the despair.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” Simon and Garfunkel

“Nights in White Satin” The Moody Blues

The music of our youth can instantly transport us back to a certain time and place. Where were you when you were listening to The Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles . . .? This Loggins and Messina song takes me back to my days working for Wilderness Tours Whitewater Rafting.

“Watching the River Run” Loggins & Messina

A couple of friends of mine are opera fans. Listen to this selection from Dialogues des Carmélites and see if the metallic slice of the guillotine makes your hair stand on end.

Dialogues des Carmélites (final scene – Salve Regina)

Music moves us when it gives us something to believe in even if we don’t want to. Music connects us with something greater than ourselves. I’ll leave you with this combination of “Scotland the Brave” and “Amazing Grace.” It gives me chills AND brings me to tears.

“Scotland the Brave” and “Amazing Grace” at an Andre Rieu performance

Modern tree stumps

Pioneer woman in long dress moving a tree stump.

Meet my great-grandmother.

I’m told I have her chin.

There are many things to love about this picture—the long dress, the apron (!), the hat that looks like something Charlie Chaplin might have sat upon, the natural grass untouched by any lawn mower, and the corner of a barn that was probably raised on a good old-fashioned barn-raising day.

And, of course, the tree stump she’s wrestling into submission.

The thing I love the most is that she doesn’t look unhappy. There might even be the hint of a smile.

The woman is digging tree stumps in a long skirts and she doesn’t seem to mind.

In some ways her challenges were greater than mine. She probably sewed that dress that she had no choice but to wear. She had to clear the land where they grew the food they ate, she had to bake from scratch every single cookie and loaf of bread she consumed, and she had to can her green beans and tomatoes. She was driven to do those things because otherwise her family would go hungry. She worked hard—physically—from dawn to dusk.

In other ways her life was simple. She had food, faith and family. She never had to suffer the irritation of four-way stops, she never had to receive emails from hackers trying to scam her, and she never had anyone in the next cubicle eating curry for lunch.

The modern “tree stumps” I have to wrestle into submission are quite different, and I don’t have to do it while wearing a long dress. (Although I can if I choose.) My tree stumps challenge my mind, my emotions and my spiritual equilibrium more than my body, but they still challenge me from dawn to dusk.

But, from what I hear, I inherited another thing from my great-grandmother—the calm joy of moment.

No matter what’s happening—no matter what—there’s joy to be found, even if it’s the flip-side of sorrow.

Pussy willows in the wild

Do you buy yourself flowers?

I don’t. The frugal former farmgirl part of me is uncomfortable with impractical spending. Why spend money on a luxury that will die in a few days?

Praises be, I raised a city daughter who thinks differently. She willingly spends money on touches of beauty: plants with character, fresh flowers and unique throw pillows. (Frugal former farmgirl says, Throw pillows? Useless!)

three throw pillows, one with a Harry Potter Marauders' Map
Useless?

Last week my daughter brought home pussy willows.

Boom! She transported me back to my childhood farm near a wooded area where pussy willows grew wild. In my barn-chore gum rubber boots, I’d walk through the soggy marshland in the spring and run my fingers over the soft pussy willow buds.

I wondered how many people in our oh-so-urban society are lucky enough to have such a beautiful memory. I felt privileged and full of gratitude.

My daughter, spending her money so willingly, bought more than fresh flowers. She bought a long-forgotten cherished memory, an appreciation for my carefree childhood, and gratitude for how her different approach to life makes mine richer.

Those aren’t luxuries, and they won’t die in a few days.

Pussy willow buds

Pussy willows in the wild: Ontario Trees