Friday, December 26, 2014


This is not the post I expected to be publishing next.  In fact, I’ve had an article stowed in a folder for more than a week.  It was patient at first, confident, it seemed, in the message it had to communicate.  Lately, however, over the last few days, that draft post has become more vocal, calling me while I am packaging gifts, preparing food, practicing the harp, organzing the music for the Christmas Eve mass, cleaning the bathroom, doing laundry.  I haven’t ignored its insistent reminders.  Like the patient and regular pulse of the bright yellow flashing lights  around a construction zone, I know it’s there.  Life, however, has intervened. In the ultimate irony, that intervention, more than the unremitting jobs, has ensured that the holding pattern around that post will remain, at least for a day or two.

During that entire time, I was about to write when . . .
the husband of Elmer’s cousin passed away.  Of course, we would attend the prayers and the funeral, to celebrate a life and support the family.

I was about to write when . . .
a friend reminded me of a two-year old Christmas tradition.  On the day our son arrives from California, we meet her and her husband for supper, and then head to the airport.  Did we have plans to meet again this year?  The fight was landing in the afternoon; maybe lunch?  Of course, the tradition had to continue.

I was about to write when . . .
friends came for supper, a no fuss  homemade pizza with salad and leftover dessert.  Of course, we would get together to nurture a  long–standing friendship.

I was about to write when . . .
the daughter of a fellow superannuate phoned to invite us to an impromptu December 23 birthday celebration for her mother.  Would we come?  There was cake and lots of wine, she expostulated.  Those inducements, however attractive, were hardly necessary.  Of course, we would attend.

I was about to write when . . .
friends asked us for supper.  Could we come?  Of course, we would be delighted.

So writing, a priority in my world, took a back seat this Christmas.  Not to gifts that must be purchased, or a house begging for decoration, or traditional and desired foods to be whipped up, or music crying for attention.  Writing took a back seat to people, of course.

After all, Christmas is all about people, and, in my experience, only about people.  Gifts, decorations, good food, and exquisite music mean nothing unless they enhance people.  Thoughtful gifts  communicate to their recipients that others care for them, and know them well; a beautiful tree creates a festive and reflective atmosphere  that enhances celebration; delectable dishes enable people to reconnect with nostalgic experiences; music layers joy throughout a  liturgy.   Refusing an invitation in order to pack an extra gift or prepare another treat or make things a little shinier, those are misplaced priorities.  Christmas, and the feelings and mood we associate with it, come only from people.

Without you, generous readers, this blog is a tree falling in a forest.  Thank you for reading.  A merry Christmas season to all of you.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


The flames that flicker in the wood stove in the living room of our son’s home warm the entire space.  Outside, oblique lines of snow coat everything they touch with the inevitability and intensity of a  glaze raining on the raised doughnuts at Tim Hortons.  Vehicles, patio tables, porch rails, and sidewalks all show off several inches of white padding as delicate and firm as the tulle on the skirt of a bride’s dress.  Cocooned inside, I sink back into the couch cushions and bask in the tranquility of the moment.

The house is silent.  My husband snoozes curled up beside me.  Our son is at work, and his wife catches up on some sleep.  Their ten-week-old son has fallen asleep in my arms, his fingers curled around my pinkie, his long body stretched out on my lap.  I allow myself to caress the soft round of his cheek, and memorize the details of his face—the dimpled mouth, the long eyelashes, the perfect nose and small, flat ears.  I want his mother to be able to rest as long as possible, so I place him in his swing chair, and cover him with a blanket.  He has surrendered to sleep.  His breathing deepens, a soft but noticeable baby snore that even piques the dog’s curiosity.  Always on guard for the family, Sammie must investigate.  He jumps down from his cushion in front of the window, and sniffs at the baby’s feet to make sure he’s okay.  Worried lest the baby awaken, I whisper Sammie’s name, and he resumes his watch.  This moment is my window into Paradise.

I use the quiet time to relive the joys of the past few days with our son and his family.  I feel the baby’s weight in my arms, hear the coos and squeals of his conversation, the play during the diaper changes, and the comfort of feeding time.  Overwhelmed with gratitude to them for responding to my grandmother’s need for time with the baby, I savour the calm and peace that penetrate every cell of my being.

I don’t know how many more moments like this I may have.  That is one of the realities of aging.  I do have this one, though, and for that, I am blessed and thankful.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Lessons from 2048

I smeared some almond butter on a piece of apple,  and munched, alone in early morning quiet of my kitchen,  looking at my progress in the game 2048 on my phone screen.  As I studied the tiles, I realized that I might be in a position to get to 2048.  I could win!   Then, I could tell my colleague, with whom I had shared the game and who, of course, had already reached 2048.  Three times. 

I read about the game 2048 in Educational Leadership (“Uncovering the Math Curriculum” by Marilyn Burns, in “Instruction That Works”, October, 2014), the last place I ever thought I would find remarks about an addictive phone app.  Curious, I downloaded it. 

The article insert was right—the game captured my fancy from the outset.  Even better, I could always rationalize that this mathematical contest was good for my computational skills, and my mind!  The object of the game is  to double tiles, some with the number two on them, some with the number four, to arrive at 2048.  You play on a grid of four by four tiles.  Tiles numbered 2 and 4 appear as you play, randomly,  like Tetris, but co-ordinated to your moves.   Nothing is timed.  Gradually, you accumulate doubled tiles—4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, and finally, 2048.  At the same time, your score increases.  The article used the game 2048 to underline the pleasure of learning to do something on your own—to develop the strategy yourself, as you play.  It’s more fun, and more engaging, the author maintains, than if someone shows you how to play.

At breakfast that day, I did have the satisfaction of seeing the 2048 tile pop up.   I took a few minutes to savour the moment.  During that time, I realized that the game 2048 holds some life lessons.

1.        Have patience.  Yes, my pride took a hit when my colleague reached the goal before me.  In my defense, he’s a math whiz and I have never been intuitive in math.  Still, what difference does the speed with which each of us arrived at the goal have to do with anything?  Both of us succeeded. 

2.         Slow down.  There’s no rush.  I remember my dictum:  To speed up, you have to slow down.  I found that I was sliding the tiles quickly, not pausing to reflect on my move for more than a nanosecond.  What might be the consequences?  What impact might that move have on the next few?  Which of the possible moves might be the best one?  I forced myself to slow down, to take my time.  In music, slow practice is the key to good playing.  You have to be thoughtful as you learn a piece, and you can’t be thoughtful at high speed.

3.          Establish a solid base.  I realized I had to keep the large tile on the bottom, easily accessible.  For that, I needed a solid base.  I decided to keep the bottom row filled with tiles, so that it would never move.  Then, I would have some flexibility with the other three rows.  As Scott Adams, Dilbert cartoonist, mentioned in the book I referenced in my last post, a good diet, exercise, and a system provide a solid base for success.  One could add relationships, the ability to communicate, a positive outlook, among others.  Once I had a solid base, my success was assured.

4.           To establish a solid base, install a placeholder.  In 2048, one move to double tiles will double all the adjacent numbers in all rows in the same direction.  Sometimes, then, I might have a space or two open up in the bottom row. To keep that row from moving, I have to be conscious of moving a new tile into those spaces to anchor the row.  Those tiles serve as placeholders.  Any new tile will do.  Its value will reveal itself as the game progresses.  In my own life, especially when I have a lot on my plate, it’s easy to neglect the components of my solid base.   My success depends on paying attention to those details that keep my base strong, no matter the time constraints.

5.           Success comes from compounding elements.   I need to use all of the competencies I have as a set to reach my destination.

6.           The score is irrelevant until I reach 2048.  At first, I derived some satisfaction from reaching a new high score, a personal best.  The score, though, distracted me from my goal—reaching 2048.  In fact, the increasing score lulled me into a complacency, as if attaining 2048 wasn’t possible, so why keep trying?  I could just focus on the score.  To counter that, I stopped looking at the score. Now that I have reached 2048, the score matters, because I can drive it up.  I have already won the game, after all.

7.            Help is even more valuable when you’ve explored yourself first.  When my own strategy wasn’t having the desired results, I decided to Google some advice.  Because I had played a lot already, and had some strategy in place, I could use the tricks I found online more effectively.  I already had some constructs in place that allowed me to process the information.  The filing cabinet of my brain already had drawers into which I could place the information.

The 2048 experience, that originated in a professional magazine and culminated on a dark winter morning, has grown into a metaphor for life.