Thursday, July 16, 2015


The cushion of thoughtfulness that permeated my birthday yesterday eases me through today as well.  I’m astounded that so many people took the time to email or text kind wishes, or post them on Facebook.  Maryanne, a harp sister, reminds me in an Oprah videolink she sends that birthdays are about celebrating blessings and accomplishments during the year that has passed, rather than a count-down to one’s inevitable destiny.  I couldn’t agree more.  

Teleported back to Sunday evening, I am in a different chair, this one around a dining room table in our son’s home.  Daniel, his wife and their nine-month-old son are there as well, and my husband.   Our daughter has joined us through the magic of FaceTime.  It’s almost time for bed for our nine-month-old son grandson.   

“The family is assembled, so we’ll do the birthday presentation now,” Dan announces.  My birthday is in three days.  Being together is gift enough, but it seems they’ve done more.  I look down to spy an image of a football field projected on the ipad. 

“Do you know where this is?” he asks.  Football.  Me.  Must be Mosaic.  Game tickets?  Wouldn’t that be great?

“Not Mosaic.  Look again.”  I do. 

“It’s Investors’ Field,” I self-correct.   Game tickets in Winnipeg?  I’m good with that.

“The game is later in the season,” he specifies.  Wow.  The Banjo Bowl in September.  That would be fantastic!

“Later than that,” he prods.  Later than that . . . . Oh!  The Grey Cup!  In Winnipeg in 2015.  At Investor’s Field.  The family has purchased Grey Cup tickets for me??!!  No!!!

By the time I have exclaimed my thanks and hugged everyone, the reality has set in.  My family, not at all a sports family, has indulged my passion for football.  My husband will make the ultimate sacrifice and attend the game with me.  At the end of November.  In Winnipeg.  I’m overwhelmed.  To be known and loved for who you are is the greatest gift ever.

Overcome with gratitude, I bask in the glow for days.   In my quiet moments, I reflect on the year that has passed, the momentous changes in my life and the comforting consistencies.

I am a grandmother.  I know the joy a smile from a baby can ignite in my heart, the soft smoothness of his cheek as he snuggles in a for a kiss, the vaporization of time as he sleeps in my arms, the child in me that resurrects when we play.
I have a son-in-law, the only one I will ever have.  A gem—steadfast, capable, accepting, with a wicked sense of humour to boot.

I can play the harp.  A year ago, I had no idea I would ever be a harpist.  In fact, it was in Cardiff, Wales, on my 2014 birthday, in a medieval pub, listening to a harpist and chatting with her, that the seed germinated, to explode a month later, an uncontrollable beanstalk.  Now, I lose myself in the challenge, find solace in the music and the sense of accomplishment, and value the network of harpists my new passion has uncovered.

I relive every minute of a family holiday in Palm Springs, the first family holiday since 2003, grateful for the additions—a daughter-in-law, a grandson, a son-in-law, and his parents. 

I continue to enjoy:
time, for now;
my remarkable family;
significant work;
inspiring colleagues;
opportunities for discovery and fulfillment;

Around another table now, stilled in reverie, I imbide the warmth of my neighbors, next door and across the street.  Over pizza, beer, and wine in the park my husband has created out of our backyard, we mark another milestone, this one in my own life, catch up on our children and our visitors, our travel plans, the highs and lows of our current projects, the news from the city.  We’ve watched our children grow, mourned our parents and spouses, celebrated anniversaries, weddings, graduations, and births.  We gather for no reason at all, and we watch over each other’s homes when we’re away.   The bond is indestructible.

I can’t explain why I am so lucky.    I can smile, though, freeze-frame the day, post it in my brain’s Instagram to recall when I feel down, and to remind me that birthdays are about gratitude, and to continue to rejoice for the right reasons in however many might be left.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


Some people might consider me a stupid person.  I speak and write French and English at a professional level.  I have two university degrees.  I play the piano and the harp.  I consider myself well-read.  I have been a university faculty member and a ministry of education consultant.  I facilitate professional learning, and I conduct choirs.  Yet, to some people, I appear stupid.

I know this because people have told me.   Case in point.   I receive an email about my parking.  It’s messing up the entire order of things.  I am leaving too much room between cars.  Can’t I park within the lines? This during winter when layers of snow and ice mask those same life-saving yellow lines in that parking lot.  The email leaves no room for rationale.  In fact, I want to allow my car-neighbours enough room to exit and enter their vehicles without worrying about door crashing or figuring how they will stash their stuff. 

In response to that email,  I initiate a conversation with its author.  My parking is problematic? I ask.  The individual describes my habits in vivid detail, and ends with an offer to show me how to park.  “Thank you, but I don’t need parking lessons,” I comment.  “My intention here is to indicate that I would have appreciated your coming to see me about the issue rather than sending an email.”  I want to say, hide behind an email, but relent in the interests of diplomacy and the high road.  Since then, I am paranoid about parking.  The odd time, I even park badly, on purpose, out of spite, and because I can, something I never used to do.

Although I am an educated person, I often get things wrong.  I once made a double batch of custard using salt instead of sugar.  I washed dress pants that were to be dry-cleaned only; didn’t look at the tag.  I’ve missed key turns on the road, or misinterpreted signs.  Only in retrospect have I realized that I’ve also ignored interpersonal cues that seem self-evident.  These missteps do not occur out of stupidity.  They arise from fatigue or brain-byte overload or stress or preoccupation or lack of awareness. 

I am not the only one who faces these stressors.  Everyone’s actions spring from some motivation, conscious or subconscious.  We may not always know what those motivations are nor understand them, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.  “There are things in heaven and earth,” Shakespeare said through Horatio in Hamlet, “that are not dreamt of in your philosophy.”  We need to accept that behavior we find problematic occurs for a reason, even if we can’t understand it or accept it.

All three image are
copied from Facebook.
Let’s not be smug, either.  If the actions of others appear stupid to us, we can be sure that others attribute stupidity to things we do as well, and are busy posting Stupidity posters on social media with us in mind.  My mother had it right when she censored the word stupid at home.  We were severely reprimanded if it  ever escaped our lips.  I am so grateful.  Her actions stemmed from one of her favorite aphorisms: Quand tu craches en l’air, ça te retombe sur le nez, translated literally as:  Anything you spit up in the air will land on your own nose.  Karma, in other words.  What you offer out to the universe will come back to you.

Instead of chronicling each other’s missteps, let’s cut each other some slack.  Refuse either to post or endorse any references to stupidity.  Accept that sometimes people park badly,  make untoward comments, misinterpret signs or statements, litter, ruin garments, send emails without sufficient reflection, add some challenge to the day.  Not out of stupidity.  Just because we are human.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


I sign my name on the dotted line beside the 1:30 p.m. slot.  Why not?  The only thing I can lose is fifteen minutes of my time, and what I might learn in that time is certainly worth the risk.  I am about to find out about the effects of the healing sounds of the harp, and a crack in the window of knowledge of music therapy might open.

Besides, I’m at a harp retreat at St. Michael’s Retreat House perched on the hillside of the magnificent Qu’Appelle Valley.  Maryanne, Marguerite and Cécile have already created a calm, welcoming atmosphere for the harpists attending today.  One of the monks has greeted me at the main entrance with a huge smile, and Irish accent, and a tale about being the cousin of a legendary Irish harpist.  Blarney from beginning to end, but it takes me a while, as it usually does, to confirm my suspicions.  Still, he tells me to leave my harp and my bags at the door, not to worry.  Maryanne massages my hands to prepare them for the day’s workout, and invites me to select a necklace from the collection on the table.  I’ve only been here five minutes, and I feel pampered already.  I’ve parachuted into another world for the day.

Why not, then, experience the healing sounds of the harp?    As the poster on the registration table advises, I arrive five minutes before the appointed time.  I light a candle, and settle into the easy chair that faces the table.  Eyes closed, muscles fusing with the chair, I focus on my breathing, and relax my face, one element at a time:  forehead, eyes, cheeks, mouth,  and jaw.  A few breaths later, a door opens, and it’s my turn.

Lights are dim; vines of melody create filigrees in the background.  I notice a yellow mat, a harp, and a chair.  In bare feet, I stretch out on the mat, knees up, a gift to my low back, my head near the base of the harp.

Cécile tells me she will play some individual notes on the harp, and I should tell her when one of the notes resonates with me.  Okay.  My intellect kicks in at this moment.  What happens if nothing happens?  What if none of the notes resonate?  I tell myself to relax, that this experience is for information.  Cécile plays a series of bass notes, slowly.  Really, I have to pick one?  As she plays, I have an idea, but I need confirmation.  Just as I am about to ask for a repeat, Cécile begins again.  Yes, it’s the first note, the low C.  She finishes, and resumes a third time.  I raise my hand right away.  The note vibrates through my core, like it wants to start a conversation.  While I relax on the mat, Cécile improvises from that note, wandering away but always returning to it as an anchor.  I wonder why that particular note, why it’s the bass note that glues me to the floor.

It is, for sure, a reminder of a strong foundation, a solid base, that gives strength.  I need that today.   A recital for family and friends wraps up the day after supper, and I don’t feel ready.  Preparation is a sine qua non for me in all I do, especially music, where I feel most vulnerable.  Maybe the foundational qualities of the bass C anchor me, root me, provide the security that allows me to explore and take risks.  I am reminded of Matthew Fox—to be a prophet, that is, to uproot others, you have to be well-rooted yourself. 

Certainly, the resonance of the low C aligns with a presentation earlier in the day about the importance of posture, of keeping shoulders, chin, head, pelvis and pubis in the same plane.   This time, the anchor is physical, a key component of playing the harp, or any instrument.  I wonder, too, if the bass C relates to finality, to my age, now that I have lived at least two-thirds of my life.  Perhaps it connects to a feeling of completion, a process of tying up the threads I have woven throughout my life so far. 

As I leave, I ask Cécile about the notes that people select.  It varies for each person, she says.  I neglect to ask her if it might vary for me depending on the day.  If I had the same experience two weeks from now, for example, in a different place and in a different context with different baggage, would the same note sing for me?

Only another “healing sounds of the harp” session would confirm my theory.  For now, the experience itself centres me, keeps me calm, poised, and philosophical about the concert.  I focus on the energy the other harpists project, on the camaraderie that characterizes the day, and on what I have learned.  Mostly, I feel gratitude to Cécile, Marguerite and Maryanne for their time, their work and their energy on this project, and for the vision to conceptualize it in the first place.  I take the time to congratulate myself, too; after all, I responded to my intuition, and bought a harp.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


For the second time in two weeks, I am in a church as a bridal party enters for rehearsal.  The chatter crescendoes from the foyer of the complex to the church itself.  Family members and friends greet each other with palpable excitement.  Vases of white roses with blue baby’s breath sprout beside selected pews along the aisle, and programs appear in a basket at the church door.  

This time I am the pianist.  My job is to provide a processionnal, a recessional, reflective music during the signing of the register, and accompaniment for a soloist who will sing the psalm.  I tell myself I must remain focused on this wedding, on this bride and these families who have prepared a beautiful ceremony.  My brain, though, has teleported me to another wedding, two weeks before.

The cadences of group organization fade.  I am in the foyer of a different church with my husband.   Between us is our daughter, ready to enter the church on her wedding day.   She is calm, poised, regal, in an elegant fitted and waisted sleeveless satin dress with a boat neck and open back, flowing into a short train.  The wedding party is lined up before us.  The bridesmaids in short navy blue chiffon dresses paired with groomsmen in gray suits wait.  Bouquets of eggplant calla lilies and orange roses bring spring indoors, exude joy and life. 

Our soon-to-be son-in-law, handsome and dignified in his gray suit with vest, precedes us with his parents.  The buzz in the church has quieted as three o’clock rings silently.  Father Kevin joins the group at the back of the church, greets  everyone, and asks the couple two key questions.   Have they come willingly to be married? Do they intend to make a lifelong commitment to each other?

“That being the case,” he says after he hears two yeses, ”let’s celebrate!”  The music begins, “Come, Journey With Me” by David Haas.  Father Kevin leads the way, and the maid of honour and the best man follow.  We wait our turn.  Our elder son and his wife enter, followed by his brother--our younger son--and our daughter’s close friend.   I am calm.  At peace.  The groom and his parents begin their walk down the aisle.   “Breathe,” I whisper to our daughter as we move to our spot at the back of the church.  A good reminder for me, as well.  When the groom has taken his place at the front, we look at each other, smile, and take the first step.  In natural, effortless slowness, we float to the front. 

The bride gives her bouquet to her matron of honour.  She hugs me and her father.  Her future husband does the same.     All I say to them is, “Congratulations!” Anything else seems superfluous.  Their preparation for this wedding, and, more important, for the marriage, has been meticulous.  My silence seeks to honour that.

Most important, I know they will take care of each other.  They love each other as they are this day.    As a result, their shared orbit will allow them to evolve both as individuals and together.  At some point in their journey, they will realize that they are truly married.

“Yvette, we’re ready for the processionnal,” the bride says.  This bride means music, not a walk down the aisle, though, and my reverie fades.  With my daughter and her husband in my soul, I look down this aisle to this bride, this groom, and this union.  Called back to the reality of fitting the processional to the procession, I begin the long opening chords of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Each day, my good fortune mystifies me.  I can’t believe I was lucky enough to be born in Canada, and to live my life in Saskatchewan.  I have known safety, plenty, strength, liberty, peace, and opportunity.   Many today have listed the innumerable benefits that Canadians enjoy.  My contribution to our national reflection will be my wishes for Canada on her 148th birthday.

1.          Look forward.  Our ancestors built a strong foundation for us.  A lush but unforgiving environment forged a strong people who co-operated to survive, and who solved problems through negotiation.  Our role is to move those values forward, to imagine them for the 21st century, just as they did themselves for their era, as original peoples of this land or immigrants.  The legacy of our ancestors is a springboard, not a cage.

2.          Lead by example.  I have always envisioned Canada as a grand experiment in peaceful co-existence.  We show the world that peoples from every culture can retain the essence of that culture in Canada and observe at the same time the democratic values of equality and freedom that our ancestors sacrificed so much to enshrine.  Our Canadian identity is caught up in ethnicity and respect for difference.

3.          Take care of each other.  Canadians are generous.  We take care of each other.  I see my taxes as a partial fulfillment of my responsibiity to provide for people in need, no questions asked.  It’s what we do.  Let’s treasure that legacy, too, and resist any tempation to veer toward an independentist stance.  When we focus on helping each other, we work from a point of view of abundance.  We know that we have enough, and we are happy to share with others.  Individualism aligns with scarcity.

4.          Honour our aboriginal roots.  Our bent toward negotiation, consensus, and co-operation evolves from our common aboriginal heritage (see John Ralston Saul, My Fair Country).  The First Nations of Canada and our identity as a nation are inextricably linked.

5.          Practice stewardship.  As a nation, we need to safeguard the environment and practice sustainable resource development.  As individuals in that nation, we need to control our consumption, not only to protect the environment, but to ensure that future generations both here and elsewhere can enjoy a comparable lifestyle.  Just because we can doesn’t mean we must.

Happy birthday, Canada, from a proud and grateful citizen.