The Zen of Housepainting

12 Aug

IMG_PuttyMy putty knife and I have become good friends recently. It’s part of the healing process of my house from suffering years of abuse. But it’s that wonderful kind of abuse from really living in a home, not just showing.

The spots have become too much for me to ignore so my putty knife and I have been making the rounds in preparation for a new beginning. A fresh coat of paint.

When our boys were little, we always fostered a Kitchen of the Mind home. This means that our house was always a little upside-down. Our thought was that if we had creative toys out, the boys were more likely to play with them. Nurturing their creativity and all that good-sounding parenting stuff.

So bins became our best friends. The Lego, the crayons and paint, the puzzles and the dinky cars all had bins.  The big empty appliance boxes IMG_Boxwere forts during the day, and then were folded up and neatly tucked aside in the evening. And at the end of each day we would reclaim some order in our house.

Good thing the Queen never visited us.

Today, the Lego has been replaced with gadgets. The paint has been replaced with paintballs. The cardboard boxes have been replaced with an Xbox. The bins are now gone.

See also: Boys, guns and my best efforts

But somewhere in between, my walls have taken a beating.

Whether from hockey bags making their way to the basement, or mini-stick tournaments or building forts, the scratches and gashes remain as a visual history of the suburban battleground we call home.

It’s not too often that our hallway holds only our shoes. It’s been quite a ride watching the pile of varying Nikes and Reeboks grow as our boys and their friends have grown. More boys usually means more scars.

IMG_fingerprintThe fingerprints have been wiped too many times to come clean. It’s time for a fresh coat. And its glorious how each glide of the roller transforms the remains of our many overflowing days, strip by strip, into a bright, clean, beginning.

I know it won’t last long; so today I will linger and admire my work. For tomorrow it starts again.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Our home may not be the prettiest, or even the tidiest at any given time, but it is usually lively with laughter and chatter and love.

And gashes.

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Ahhh. Cottage Life

6 Aug

IMG_RunThe sun was hot – even this early in the morning. But we had to keep our pace to try and outsmart the deer flies.

I’m sure he enjoyed running with me only because I was always too out of breath to speak. As a consolation for slowing his pace considerably, my husband was rewarded with being able to talk uninterrupted about whatever he wanted while I could only listen. I had to concentrate on breathing.

Otherwise it was quiet except for the gravel under our feet, the jingling of my bear bells, and the odd thumping of a farmer’s pet emus.

Mango_rushesAnd there was nothing like jumping into the tea-coloured river after a run. Feeling the cold water spill over me was instant refreshment. Our dog would greet us like we were celebrities then continue to curiously hunt for frogs that were lurking in the long reeds.

The running was not because I am an athlete. It was simply a way to justify the rest of the luxurious cottage pace of reading, fishing, painting with the kids, and the occasional spirited game of bocce.

I don’t think I wore shoes for almost two weeks straight – except for running.

Cramping her Style
My friend told me of her summers at her trailer with her kids. They would leave on the last day of school and wouldn’t return until late on Labour Day Monday.  Her husband would travel up on the occasional weekend when he could get away from work.

And while they enjoyed his company, she explained how he would cramp their style a little. Instead of eating sandwiches whenever they were hungry, she felt they had to prepare proper meals at proper meal times or organize family activities. At the time I thought that was a little odd but now that my kids are a little older, I understand.

hammockOur worlds get pretty busy – all by choice. But there is something so wonderful in the simplicity of cottage life. Some of our favourite memories are of friends and generations of family at the cottage.

We loved every minute. The games we made up. The happy hour snacks we created. And the bottomless craft box that started off strong but became increasing less interesting as the boys grew older. Each day was packed with fun.

See also: Crayons in the Cemetery

Last week our boys were invited to their friend’s cottage up north in Muskoka. For kids who love their technology, they couldn’t wait to swim and fish and build campfires. Simple cottage life.

Meanwhile, back at home …
And for us? We lived like empty nesters for those three lovely days, feeling only slightly guilty of how enjoyable it was. While we love our kids, our house was far quieter and cleaner with a little less stress. Knowing they would be home soon let us enjoy it all the more.

See also: The Zen of Housepainting

It was like the reverse of my friend with the trailer. We didn’t have to rush anyone off to baseball practice or pick anyone up at a certain time. It was our own pace.

Something tells me the boys were feeling a little of the same away from mom and dad for a few days. Their own pace. All while enjoying the beautiful summer days at the cottage.

Our Three-Legged Therapy Dog

30 Jul

Mang02It was this time last year that we lost our 15 year old yellow Labrador Retriever, Mango. She was a sweet girl.

She had struggled through injuries, numerous surgeries but continued to work, clocking over 200 volunteer hours as a St. John’s Therapy Dog before her retirement.

The Benefits of Pet Therapy
Happily our community recognizes the benefits of dog therapy. Connections with pets help to calm retirement home residents, stimulate wonderful conversations and allow them to enjoy the unconditional love. Mango was dedicated to her friends at the retirement home, especially one very special resident.

Earl is a Second World War vet who stowed away on a ship at age 17 to fight overseas. He lives in the retirement home that Mango serviced and always marked his special visits on his calendar.

His three children live out of town and he doesn’t get out much. That’s why these visits are so important.

DogsA Sports Injury
Like many residents of the retirement home, Mango had her share of health troubles. Several years ago she tore a ligament in her leg while chasing a squirrel. She contracted a nasty infection that she could not shake. After three surgeries tried unsuccessfully to clear the infection, we had to have her leg amputated. Finally she was out of pain and as good as new.

So good that I would  smile when people suggested that our dog was limping a little. Often people wouldn’t notice her missing leg. She cleverly held her tail to one side for better balance.

Her disability did not affect her volunteering; in fact, the other seniors would commiserate with her on her struggles, having something in common.

Mango would become a different dog when she was at work. While a champion sofa dog at home, she changed into a star therapy dog once she was at the retirement home. She became gentler and more docile, loving the attention and sensed that she was there to help. Our special three-legged girl.

Time to Retire
We knew when she was ready to retire. Somehow she communicated that with us. She was tired. Her gentle amber face had become light blond with age. Everyone understood. Shortly thereafter she died peacefully. I’m sure that working kept her younger than her years.

But what about Earl?

MillyMeEarl is now 92 and enjoys his weekly visits with our sweet puppy Milly, who, incidentally brings along my amazing husband.  She is a far more exuberant player in the dog therapy game and unofficially visits this very special war veteran.

Earl calls her “The Comedian” and she makes him laugh. Just as she makes us laugh.

Someday Milly will make a great therapy dog – when she’s ready. And she’ll have very big paws to fill.

Rain. Then sun. Then some very Talented Youths.

11 Jul

IMG_CloudIt was another grey morning. I have had enough of the rain and the clouds already. The grey heat has kept me inside with the stale of air conditioning too long and it was starting to affect my mood. I was feeling like summer was slipping away before me.

I could see the clouds were starting to lift, so this morning I drove downtown with all my windows open and the radio off. I breathed in the rushing morning air heavy and deep.

The Beautiful Skyway
Looking down the mountain the Skyway Bridge looked beautiful, for the clouds in the distance had lifted and the sun was glistening on the lake. I felt better already.

Traffic was heavy at 6:30am like not enough people were getting away for summer holidays. Maybe they were waiting for some sunshine too.

Zombie Alert
When I got into the city, I saw some young people walking like zombies with backpacks strapped on. Maybe on their way to summer school. Maybe on their way to counsel at camp. You could tell they would have loved another few minutes of precious sleep this morning.

And I wondered how the kids would be feeling this morning at breakfast. Maybe the wet heat has affected their moods too.

IMG_BreakfastBut the kids seemed to be lively this morning. The sun was now out and splashed into the breakfast area. The hum of the air conditioning kept everyone comfortable. The radio played classic rock and the kids were in good spirits.

See also: Breakfast at Living Rock

One of the youths left the room and came back with a guitar and started strumming a little. Another saddled up to the keyboard and started playing a killer version of P!nk’s Just Give me a Reason. I was impressed by the talent.

And I am always thinking …

What’s their story?
I wonder what their stories are. Some of these kids are so bright and talented. What brings them here to the breakfast program. What has happened in their world?

I don’t wonder because I’m nosey. Maybe I’m a sociologist at heart and wonder how these kids may have slipped through the cracks. Or maybe I think about them because I’m a mom.

But I would never ask. Sometimes they talk to me about their stories but I would never ask. Because I can’t help them. Today all I can do is welcome them and cook for them and serve them with a warm smile.

And that has to be enough for today.

The Importance of Storytelling (or at least CGI)

2 Jul

Lego_Color_Bricks[1]My boys are budding filmmakers.

It was a natural progression from building things with Lego, then animating Lego with stop motion video, then onto live action shorts and instructional videos for gaming.

They have all the whistles and bells available to them: go pros, digital cameras, powerful editing software, mood music, and special effects.

What about the story?
But in all that excitement, they often leave out a good story – or at least it gets overshadowed. Maybe they’re impatient. Maybe it’s not as fun to edit. Maybe they are just young. With teenage boys it’s all about the explosions and getting whacked somewhere.

I try to suggest this to them without curbing their creative freedom. But I fear that they are secretly rolling their eyes at my well-meaning, albeit seemingly misdirected guidance.

What sets you apart?
It happens with writing all the time. We have unlimited access to information – enough to pour onto our readers. But anyone can do that. What makes us stand out?

light-effects-backgrounds-powerpoint[1]In presentations for business we can get carried away with our access to technology. But even with all the gadgets and tools we use, it doesn’t mean our presentation is good. It doesn’t mean that people will care. Not enough to tune in again, or hire our service or even remember what we communicated.

A more powerful way to communicate is to combine ideas with our senses and emotions. The best way to do that is by telling a compelling story. Our attitudes are strongly influenced by a good story and will affect the choices we make.

cavesStorytelling through history
We are constantly inundated with information and lists and tasks. In our attempt to understand and remember, our minds try to piece together the parts into a story.

So it’s no wonder that storytelling goes back several thousand years to cave paintings and oral communication. Throughout the ages, storytelling has played an integral part in culture, passing down our history.

Some of the best presentations I have seen have involved little or no visuals, but the presenters have been great storytellers. By weaving their message into a story, they connected with me on an emotional level or coloured their information enough for me to remember their message and influence.

Super8[1]Back in the day …
When I was growing up I was a budding filmmaker too. Armed only with a second hand super eight camera, a wide imagination and a resourcefulness that only comes from not having any tools at your disposal, my friends and I would spend an entire weekend scouting locations, and figuring out ways to get certain special effects using soap or talc or the like. We couldn’t overshadow our story with effects simply because we did not have any.

My boys will learn that too, especially since they learned how to monetize their video shorts through amazing vehicles like Google AdSense and partnerships. The proof of good storytelling will be in the money.

Or, maybe they know their community better than anyone else. Maybe the explosions and computer generated images (CGI) are exactly what their audience wants to see. Look no further than the films that are screened at movie theatres targeting the young male segment. There is often no fear of great storytelling there. I suppose that’s the difference – you have to know your audience.

Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut.

Crayons in the Cemetery

17 Jun

White_Church

Summers at the cottage
When the boys were little we used to rent a cottage up in northern Ontario every summer. We would enjoy our adventures up a gravel road, over the rusty bridge, and across to the century old graveyard.

The white, well worn church was still open to friends like us, but was no longer in regular service on Sundays. Not for some time.

The singing, the preaching and the gossip
The door was creaky and heavy. Inside was dark except for the of streams of sun beams from four cobwebbed windows.

It smelled musty and old and we always tried to imagine this tiny church on a Sunday morning, many years ago. The chatter, the singing, the gossip and the teachings of God. A big old wood stove stood in the corner by the organ, taking up way too much room.

We signed the guestbook as so many others did before us.

Outside it was different. The sky was bright and the air was fragrant of sweet, fresh-cut grass. How lovely that the grounds were still being maintained. Barn swallows swooped overhead and a muffled crashing of a distant waterfall could barely be heard.

The grave stones leaned this way and that, shifted by the earth over the years. Most were worn and mossy but a couple were new. And a bouquet of wilted flowers rested upon a mound of newly dug earth.

We had walked through that graveyard before. With the help of our imagination, we tried to piece together the lives of these families that now rest in peace. Families rested together – some with spouses, some with siblings, some with children.

We followed their names to trace who was related and wondered how they were woven together and what their lives had been like up here in Northern Ontario, so long ago.

GravestoneCrayons never lie
We had friends with us that day and we were armed with large sheets of paper and crayons of every colour. We were hoping to capture the story of some of the gravestones that could no longer be read, having been worn down by the elements. Crayons never lie.

We held the paper over the gravestone while the children coloured it lightly revealing the secret messages of relief.

No more history lessons
I remember doing this when I was in elementary school. It was never morbid. It was just part of our history, discovering one person at a time. My friend who is a teacher said they had to stop doing this field trip in school. Some parents thought it was disrespectful and made a fuss.

Too bad, really.

Having been to two funerals this past month,  I reflected on this adventure at the old white church when my kids were little.

While some people might be appalled at bringing crayons out the cemetery, I hoped that the folks resting in peace would rather like the idea of children exploring and laughing and learning and caring enough to stop and think of them and their life. As part of their own history.

One person at a time.

Breakfast at Living Rock

23 May

It was a heavy morning this morning, but it smelled fresh and fragrant like spring. The sun barely peeked out from behind the morning clouds. Something was moving in. The fog surrounded my car as I drove down the Hamilton Mountain.

On a clear day, I can see right across to Toronto but today was different. I could barely see the car in front of me, let alone the city below me. I didn’t turn the radio on this morning. I was enjoying the silence.

IMG_muffinAlways time for coffee
Breakfast prep starts at 7am and I was running late. I still felt I needed to drive through Tim’s for a hot cup of coffee for our head cook. I know she appreciates it even though by the time she gets to drink it, it’s already cold.

I was confident that I would still make it there on time if the lights cooperated with me.

There was a warm buzz in the kitchen, very familial. We prepped potatoes, peameal bacon and eggs with laughter and ease. The fruit was cut and the English muffins were warming. There was just one loaf of bread this morning, so we made a little French toast. Lots of stomachs to fill.

See also: Rockin’ the Hair Net

Unsettled inside too
Something seemed a little unsettled with the kids this morning, as it they felt the strange weather too. I sensed a bit of tension in the breakfast room. Some of the kids here look pretty intimidating – tattoos, piercings, a little tough. If I saw them on the street, I might even be fearful. But this morning they were all gathered here at Living Rock for a hot breakfast and maybe a fresh start to a new day.

The sun came out and the tension seemed to break. Funny.

Many of these youth have probably had a rough night. I don’t know all their stories but I know some live on the street or in shelters or in less than pleasant living conditions. A few kids are always sunny. Some have families and some stay away from their families for good reason. For many, it appears like they have created their own family with others here.

It’s a safe, welcoming place.

Maybe not a lot in common
When I chat with them, I sometimes get uncomfortable that I can’t relate to their experience. I think why would one of these teens want to talk with me? But I know that’s ok. They are always polite and some are more eager to engage than others, as is true for all teenagers.

I’m sure they don’t expect much from me. After all, I’m just a familiar face they see one morning each week.

So I smile a lot and try to help whether someone needs a toothbrush or a pair of warm socks. I genuinely do care. And I speak to them with respect and affection, just like I talk to my own kids. That may be more than many are used to.

Then it’s time for me to get to work.

Today a very tall, particularly disheveled young man went out of his way to find me and thank me for breakfast before he left for the day. He probably has no idea that he made my day.

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