Sunday, October 1, 2017


"Do you know that woman?"  I ask the lady sitting next to me.  "The one with the thin brown hair combed back off her face?"

"I think her name is J.," she replies.  J.  mesmerizes me. I can’t look away.  A beatific smile transforms her face, seems to erase any lines of age.   It reaches into her eyes, which are riveted on my husband.  She is luminous.    Midway through The Girl in the Garden Waltz, I notice, she has inched forward.   Now, she doesn’t have to strain around the other wheelchairs aligned in rows in the common room of the nursing home for the afternoon’s entertainment my husband and his sidekick are providing.  She claps her hands in time.  The smile stays even when the song ends.  It’s etched into her face, I think, her default expression at rest.  I’m envious.

They change it up with Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.  Now, people are singing along.   When they launch into I Come to the Garden Alone,  the chorus swells to not only residents but also visitors who have come to hear Elmer and Charlie play. 

With The Happy Go Lucky Polka, feet swing, mostly in time, and any mobile limbs sway, clap, and tap.   On her feet with the support of her walker, a woman in an orange shirt with matching necklace moves to the music. A visiting couple dances through the labyrinth of wheelchairs, armchairs and card tables.  The resident budgies and the cockatiel chirp along in accompaniment.

Enough with the old time stuff.  Now, some Latin American rhythms with Yellow Bird.  They find the right pieces, says L., in corroboration of the program selections for the hour.  Elmer is always prepared.  He picks a theme, and thinks about the songs that will resonate with people.

An attendant kisses one of the residents on the cheek.  There’s something about a Sunday afternoon that can make a body feel alone.    At the moment, though, they’re not in the common room any more.  They’re twenty again, or thirty-five, at a dance in the local school or barn or community hall.  The music has beamed them to that beloved remembered world for a brief hour.   I hear the strains of the Seven Step, my favorite dance, and wonder yet again why they play a pattern dance for this audience, when no one dances.  I realize that, in this other dimension to which they have been teleported, they are indeed on the dance floor.

Next, Charlie takes over with a perennial favorite, Walk the Line, by Johnny Cash.  He has some fun with the lyrics at the end:
I keep my pants tied up with binder twine.
I keep my fly wide open all the time.
I keep my spirits up with a bottle of wine,
Because you’re mine, please pull the twine.
The applause, guffaws, and chortles from the almost eighty people gathered in that room fuse with the fading strains of "twine".  The naughtiness takes them back, too.  Elmer and Charlie are having fun, and their enthusiasm and joy are contagious.    In that environment, my husband is quintessentially himself.  He knows the subliminal power of music to transform moments in life, and he’s good at making those moments happen.

The strains of Sentimental Journey remind people all too soon that the hour is over.  The sincere applause, the smiles, the joy, the conversations over coffee and goodies afterward dispel the stiffness in the musicians’ fingers and wrists  from three gigs in as many days.  But it’s the misty glaze Elmer and Charlie notice in the eyes of many of the residents still between dimensions that stay with them, and the reason they’ll be back here in a few months. 

J., L., and the residents wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Friday, September 22, 2017


Yes, when we travel, the sites and the experiences stay with us.  The truly transformational aspects of our journeys, though, grow out of the personal encounters with people, some planned, most coincidental and spontaneous.  It’s time to say thank you to the people whose openness to conversation brightened up our trip to Northern British Columbia, Haida Gwaii, and a few points south.

"I have some galoshes you can use for the trip," my daugher-in-law offers, the day before we leave.  Up the stairs she comes, with black and white polka dot galoshes with a saucy black bow.   A little youngish for this Memère, I think at the time, but why not? Their edge only enhanced their usefulness,  beginning in Prince Rupert, when the serious rain began.   I thought I could continue using the galoshes incidentally—night trips to the bathroom, hikes along damp trails. The day I stowed my runners and adopted the galoshes as my go-to footwear on Haida Gwaii, though, I turned a corner.  Not because everywhere I went, someone complimented me on the boots and I was able to acknowledge my daughter-in-law’s generosity (and her great fashion sense!).  At that moment, I embraced the essence of the rain forest I was visiting.  It’s as if I became one with what’s done there, what the climate obliges in outerwear included.  The galoshes have become the quintessential symbol of awareness by osmosis.  
Haida Carver Leo Gagnon

Leo Gagnon
In Old Masset, many Haida carvers work out of their homes.  They hang their shingle, and welcome visitors.  We happened upon Leo at work in his shop, and were delighted that he engaged with us on his career, his carving, his work with the next generation of Haida carvers.

Sarah, Jane, Marilyn
The server at the Island Sunrise Café in Masset Sunday morning indicated a half hour or so wait for a table for brunch.  Not problem, we had loads of time.  We could wait.   Books and devices in hand, we made ourselves comfortable on the bench in the entrance.  Just as we two were escorted to a table for four, two ladies in for brunch as well prepared to wait.  "You’re welcome to join us, if you like," we offered. 
"There are three of us," the woman we later came to know as Sarah said.  "Can we pull up a chair? We're actually three." 
"You bet."  
We exchanged stories and plans,  like old friends.  On our last day, at supper in Queen Charlotte Village, we waved at them through the restaurant window, and had a chance to trade more stories about our experiences.

Grant and Jane
In Spirit Square, a conversation that began over a car my husband noticed grew into a two hour discussion.  Again, fate intervened.  We saw them once more at supper on our last day.  That’s right—in the same restaurant as Sarah, Marilyn and Jane.  What are the odds?

Bunkhouse Campground Great Room
The owner of the Bunkhouse Campground in Queen Charlotte Village has invested a lot of time and ingenuity in replicating a backcountry experience.  The campground greatroom conjured up what my vision of a prospector’s cabin or a lumber camp might be.   Thanks to Sid, more discussion to churn the reflections.

We stopped at the Visitor Information  Centre and Museum in Port Clements to locate relatives of relatives that my husband wished to see.  Bridget, the receptionist, not only knew exactly who we wanted to see, but engaged in a delightful discussion that we will never forget.

Ted and Donna
Relatives of relatives in Port Clements, Ted and Donna made a leap of faith and decided to talk to people who knew people they knew.  What followed for us was a rich hour and a half  exchange.

George and Corinne
At Kleanza Creek Provincial Park, where we turned in to wait out the projected three hour highway closure, we met George and Corinne, who were there for the same reason.  With these seasoned travelers who were on a cross Canada journey, we compared travel experiences, made mental notes of tips they offered, and simply enjoyed their company.  This time, a drizzle turning into rain prompted us to trade addresses and say goodbye.

At her gallery in Old Masset, Sarah could have simply rung through my purchase with a smile and without comment.  She, too, engaged, and we are the richer for the time she gave us that day.

Jasper, Antonia, Oliver
At the park in Oliver, BC, we stopped for a rest before a visit with my cousin.  Next to our old van was its older blue and white cousin.   As I enjoyed the sunshine and the heat after almost two weeks of rain, one of the van occupants, a trio in their early twenties, I would say,  asked me what year our van was.  That initiated another exchange about travel with the entire trio.

Mea culpa, I didn’t get your name, although I know you’re originally from Onion Lake SK.    I did share my grapes and cherries, and I’m grateful that you stopped for a moment to talk.  Thank you for the smile and wave good-bye.   

Vic and Aruna
I hadn't seen my cousin and his wife,  owner of Gravelbourg vineyard in Oliver, BC,  for more than fifteen years.  He accompanied us to Church & State Wines, across the way, who transform his Gravelbourg chardonnay grapes into wine that flies off the shelf.
Sandra and Rick
My husband had never met his cousins, children of his mother’s brother.  That happens when life takes siblings on different paths in faraway places.  Still, Sandra and Rick welcomed us, shared stories and photos, accompanied us to dinner.  I felt my mother-in-law’s spirit at the table, as we chatted. 

I had last seen my cousin in 2010, at my father’s centenary celebration.  He had come all the way from Kelowna.  As we chatted over lunch, we recalled that celebration, as well as the bond that our fathers shared during their life and the stories of their wild youthful escapades.

People, then are the third element of the collage on the découpage that represents my experience in this most recent journey.  Thank you is all I can say to a host of special people for sharing of themselves in a variety of ways.  Through the gift of your time and your words, and probably without even being aware, you presented me with more pieces to my personal puzzle.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


One third of the area of my découpage canvas assembled after a trip to northern British Columbia and Haida Gwaii  features examples of spectacular natural beauty as I described in my last post.  This second third will highlight often obscure, little-known places that I will always remember poignantly because they impacted my world view.

Museum of Northern British Columbia, Prince Rupert

 Our visit to the Museum of Northern British Columbia in Prince Rupert, just up the street from Cow Bay, began in double practicality:  refuge from an incessant deluge of rain, and an activity to stroke off the must-see list.   Lucky for us, another couple showed up for the tour at two, meeting the minimum requirement for a go.  The guide was wonderful.  Not only did she show us bentwood boxes and clothing woven from cedar, she explained how those processes worked.  She oriented us to the Haida world view and emphasized the importance of generosity in Haida society.  In fact, she said, the only reason to acquire wealth in that culture is to give it all away and start again.  A chief holds a potlatch feast for that very purpose.  I kept thinking, The world needs more Haida.  Thanks to her, and to the rain, we began our visit in Haida Gwaii the next day well-grounded in the history and culture of the Haida.

Haida Heritage Centre, Skidigate, Haida Gwaii

Totem carving at HHC
The HHC, as the locals refer to it, is a magnificent longhouse-inspired structure that houses a museum, meeting places, grounds with breathtaking views, and a totem pole carving area.  August 19, the day we visited, marked not only its ninth anniversary, but also a celebration of a solar energy project.  People from government and the community gathered to inaugurate a transition in the centre from diesel power to solar energy.  As impressive as that project is, it’s the small things that usually stick with me.  On this occasion, the form of address speakers used impressed me:  Chiefs, Matriarchs, Women Held in High Esteem, Good People.   Throughout our stay in Haida Gwaii, we heard those phrases:  good people, precious friends.

HHC was also a stop on our last day in Haida Gwaii.  We participated in an intertidal walk facilitated by Parks Canada resource people.  After an hour, this landlubber could find gueyducs poking out of the sand and dungeness crabs burrowed among the grasses on the beach.  I got a look at sea cucumbers and various kinds of anemones. 

The bus bakery
Perfect rainy day hideout!
A few kilometers northeast of Masset on Tow Hill Road, we stopped at this treasure, a bakery housed in an retrofitted school bus.    The perfume of fresh cinnamon buns, muffins, and cookies that wafted through the door on another cold, rainy morning provided instant comfort.  The photos tell the rest of the story.  On the left side of the bus, a few tables and chairs to complement those in the exterior pergola, unusable at the time.  On the right, the preparation area, with gas stove, sink,  counter tops, and shelves for the goodies.  The hospitality is as warm as the baking.  Although we arrived an hour before opening, we were still able to get a day’s supply of coffee, cinnamon buns and cookies to take out,  served up with a smile.

Driftech Mechanical Services, Masset
Our camper van comes through!
By the time we arrived in Houston, BC, for the night, on Day 2, our 1978 camper van was complaining rather loudly about something.  Trouble is, no one could pinpoint the cause of the ailment and it wasn’t telling.  Worried not only about making our ferry booking, but about our visit on Haida Gwaii and getting home after that, we crawled to Prince Rupert, and, once on the island, hobbled around as far north as Masset.  Here, Lawrence at Driftech noticed that the belt on our dead air conditionner continued to turn, causing the racket.  Why not snip the belt, he suggested.  It wasn’t connected to anything else.  Well, a pocket knife did the trick—no more noise, and, even better,  no more worries. 

Shady Rest RV Park and Campground, Houston, BC
Best campground ever—wonderful hosts, and eight separate self-contained bathrooms.  Yes, that’s right—four for women, four for men: toilet, sink, shower, shelves, everything you need in separate units!  The laundry was just as pristine—new machines, no rust, lots of room.  What a find!!

QueenB’s Café, Queen Charlotte Village, Haida Gwaii

Queen B's, Queen Charlotte Village
Hidden in the heart of downtown Queen Charlotte, a stone’s throw from the Visitor Information Bureau, this great café serves up homemade everything.  I had hearty soup and a warm biscuit, perfect for another rainy day.

BC Ferries at Skidigate, Haida Gwaii
Hats off to the employees of BC Ferries at Skidigate, who direct people onto the ship with a smile, as if those vehicles are the only ones they’ve had to place all day.  At this terminal, Elmer had to back in onto the ship deck from the dock—a challenge he was up for.  As the attendants guided him in place, they congratulated him on his expert driving.   There’s a lesson here on the effect having fun at work has on everyone we meet.

Steakhouse on Main, Smithers, BC
We pull in to Smithers around 7 pm.  We’ve been up since the ferry docked us safely again in Prince Rupert at 5 am.  We’ve visited Kitselas canyon, soaked in the primeval energy of the Skeena River bursting out of the gorge, and seized the opportunity a three hour  highway closure created to discover Kleanza Creek and make new friends. We’re tired, and we’re hungry, and we don’t want fast food.  Like most of northern British Columbia, this steakhouse is not pretentious.  It has a buffet bar, plain tables and chairs, and servers with a smile.  It’s full when we get there, still, at 7 pm, a good sign.  People are enjoying the buffet and the regular Friday night prime rib dinner.  I order chicken quesadilla, with salad instead of fries.  My meal is perfect, just what I need.  The salad is crisp, fresh, overflowing with freshly grated carrots, tomato, cucumber, and celery.  Not one rusty or slimy bit of lettuce, like you find in some restaurants where they get their salad greens in giant bags, and no one sorts through it before it his the plate.  The quesadilla has real chicken, just enough cheese,  and no taste of oil.  This plate has been prepared with TLC.  I convey my gratitude to the server, the chefs, anyone who will listen.

Medici’s, Oliver, BC
On the way to my cousin’s vineyard just outside Oliver, we find a wonderful Italian café that serves paninis, homemade sorbetto and gelato, and specialty coffees for any taste.  This renovated church replicates a corner of Italy in a southern British Columbia wine town.  What a delight!

Of course, in all these locations, we have encountered affable, congenial people who graced our days.  They have a prominent place in the découpage and in its cumulative effect.  Stay tuned for Post 3.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


An artist I know works in découpage.  On canvas, she layers cutouts that she covers with a think layer of glue.  She will add a photograph, or part of a photograph, and then extend that image with paint or watercolour.    The work of art she creates is an amalgam of those three techniques, and its effect is dependent on their interplay.

My experience of Haida Gwaii resembles that découpage.  Rather than cutouts, photograph, and painted forms, however, my canvas is the product of in-your-face macro nature,  particular locales, and, of course, inevitably, interactions with people. The reflections that have ensued ground me and challenge me.  Here’s my canas, shared over three posts.

Remember, I am neither an outdoors person nor a travel writer.   I am just a retired person, a teacher, a reader, a musician, a writer.   On those islands, I didn’t fish, scoop up crabs on the beach and cook them over a fire, or make it out to locations where an 1978 camper van couldn’t go.   I bird-watched,  did accessible hikes, and let the sea mesmerize me.  What I did experience during those weeks brought me joy, connection, and truth.  Including the road trip on Yellowhead Highway 16 from Prince George, British Columbia, to Prince Rupert, these are the macro natural highlights for me.

(formerly Fort Kitwanga)
Located between Hazelton and Terrace on Highway 16, Battle Hill National Historic Site entrance looks like a rest stop on the side of the highway.  Be sure to turn in, and if you can manage an impressive set of stairs, go down to explore the path of an ancient trading route as well as the hilltop location of the fort built by the warrior Nekt  as a strategic defensive site to control the local trade.  Your reward is twofold: the longhouse placements etched on the hilltop, and a magnificent view of the Kitwanga river.  On the way back, you will notice a path leading away from the hill.  Follow it right to the end.  The rope that stretches across the path betwen two trees is not a barrier, but an aid to lower yourself down the embankment, through the tree roots, to the river bank and another spectacular view.

As you travel highway 16 from Prince George through Prince Rupert, remember that this is the Highway of Tears, along which more than forty indigenous women have been reported missing or murdered.  I noticed two billboards (only two?) along the 720 km route to remind me of the sorrow along the road I traveled in peace.   The last stretch from Terrace through Prince Rupert ribboned through the mountains along the Skeena River, every kilometer just as breathtaking, even in a light mist.

Spirit Square
·  Spirit Square, Queen Charlotte Village, Haida Gwaii

This peaceful spot on the bank of the inlet next to the Visitor Information Office provides a gathering place and a rest stop for travelers and locals alike.


Agate Beach, Haida Gwaii

Agates on the beach
Follow Old Masset Road east to Agate Beach.   Stroll the beach to select your collection of smooth stones nestled in the sand.  Admire the workmanship of the sea over infinite tidal surges.  In the provincial park, find a campsite overlooking the sea, and wake to its roar.  Sit on the felled logs strewn along the beach to watch the eagles and the waves, to read and write, or just to be.  

Tow Hill, Haida Gwaii

When you’re finished at Agate Beach, it’s just a short jaunt to the Tow Hill trail head.  A boardwalk makes the trail wheelchair accessible to the first viewing platform.  It continues up through the tidal bore and on to the summit, which offers a spectacular view of Rose Spit, and, in the distance, a few islands in the Alaskan panhandle.   A rarity in our time on the islands, more than five consecutive hours of sunshine allowed us to soak in all the heaven of Agate Beach and Tow Hill.

Kitselas Canyon at Gitau

It took two tries and a visitor information worker in Terrace to find this treasure about twenty kilometres east of Terrace, and even then we almost missed it.  Look for the Gitau sign to turn north, and then take the gravel road when it appears down to the canyon and the national historic site under construction.  The four longhouses of the Gitselasu (People of the Canyon) and totem poles are beautiful.  Enjoy the outstanding accoustics of that bowl-like area.
A trailhead near the maintenance building leads through the forest.  If you persevere right to the end, you will get to examine a mounted Haida canoe,  and study four totem poles.  A boardwalk on the left leads down some stairs to the lookout overlooking the canyon and the turbulent Skeena River.  So worth it.

Kleanza Creek Provincial Park

It took two drive-pasts and a vehicle rollover that stopped traffic on the 16 for more than three hours to get us to this hidden treasure.  Although this provincial park was mentioned in the literature, its vistas and design are, in my view, vastly underrated.    An innocuous sign announces its presence about a kilometre west of Gitau, on the south side of the highway.  Campsites dot the gravel road, as you drive in; nothing unusual or even particularly beautiful in a land that normalizes stunning vistas.  I wasn’t prepared, however, further down the gravel road,  for the extraordinary opportunity of the the day visitor site.  The creek spews out of a forested gorge a  Picnic tables line the bank, and a bench is tucked into a corner in front of a tree on the edge of the creek.  Imagine hours on that bench, to read, dream, and contemplate.
nd gurgles parallel to the road, but hidden behind the high banks.

These places are one third of the cut-out base layer of the découpage, to be covered over with a think layer of reflection.  The photographed image is my self, and the painted lines the resultant extension of that self.    The next post applies to the base the snippets of unforgettable experiences in unique locations.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


The Fraser River’s inexorable and, today, measured, flow to the sea mesmerizes me.  Across the opposite bank, the Cariboo Mountains oversee its progress, and a small white glacier surveils the area.  The surface of the water is glass, to this unpracticed eye; the forest along the riverbank finds its twin in the stillness.  Were I more of a student of nature, I would know whether the almost imperceptible blemishes on the surface that betray the serene river are fish (and what kind) or insects or even undercurrents.  The reality is I think of the bumps as eggwhite clumps that might mar a smooth sponge cake.

This vantage point materializes quite by accident.  Only when I scan the campground map to locate our site do I realize that our campsite belongs to the row that abuts the Fraser.  The foliage on our assigned site obscures the river.  Five campsites down, however, that’s not the case.  Huge bonus:  the site is empty, lonely, now that the gentleman who had been sitting on the picnic table has left.  Now, it’s my turn.  I stand, transfixed, in disbelief at my good fortune.  Nothing else needs my time.  I can stay here as long as I like.  For today, and a few precious weeks to come, I have pulled the plug on my life.  I’ve powered off—

·  obligations.  Creative ideas, reports, phone calls, plans, liturgies, meal prep, shopping, cleaning, sorting, laundry—relegated to irrelevance.  For now, I enjoy just being.

·  complexity.  Issues of social justice, politics, spirituality, connections with friends—on the back burner in this Limited Internet Service environment.   For now, I focus on those around me at any given moment.

·  convention.  To travel for three weeks in our 1978 camper van, I left anything good at home.  For now, my wardrobe choices can withstand rain, mud, wrinkles, stains, cold, heat, neglect, prolonged activity or indolence; maybe not scrutiny or a "must have" list, though.

·  sweating my appearance.  For now, I’m okay with hair that’s endured rain, hoods, hats, a few nights’ sleep, little brushing, zero washing.  Instead, when I look at the photos and want to wince, I’ll focus on the freedom and the adventure.
Restored, from being "off" and showered.

In an unexpected paradox, powering off has enabled me to charge up.  As we drive the scenic highway from Terrace to Prince Rupert, eyes wide in awe and mouth open in astonishment at the remarkable landscape, I remember that, in my old clothes, in an old vehicle, with my true self and my better half, I am content.  What happens when I reboot my life?   The calm and simplicity of my unplugged weeks will, I hope, continue to grace my days.

Sunday, August 20, 2017


In the corner of my eye,  I see a sixtyish mustached gentleman moving toward the van.  I surmise that he will ask my husband if he can help.   The hood of our campervan is up, and Elmer’s head is in the motor.   He’s checking the water pump, and anything else that might be contributing to a sound he doesn’t like.  No time like the present, in the Safeway parking lot in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, before we take the ferry to Haida Gwaii the next day.   Despite the driving rain, the football fan sports a beige ball cap, and a quilted sleeveless beige vest over a plaid flannel shirt and beige pants.   

"Someone here a Rider fan?  What happened in the BC game on Sunday?" I hear him ask my husband.    So it’s not about mechanics at all.  He must have seen our license plate and taken a shot.  Saskatchewan equals Rider Nation, right?  It’s axiomatic.

In a reflex response, my husband replies, "No idea.  My wife is the Rider fan.  She would know."

I roll down the window.   He reiterates, "Did the Riders lose?  I haven’t been able to find out."  I wonder how it’s possible not to know what happened, if you want to know, in the Internet age, four days after the game. 

"No.  In fact, they trounced the Lions 41 – 8!"  I feel thrilled to be able to say it.

"You mean they won?"  He can’t seem to get his head around the concept.

"Yes.  Ed Gainey had four interceptions."

He laughs, his eyes dance, and he claps his hands together.  He turns to leave.  After all, he’s getting soaked.   "I’ll tell my buddy," he adds, as he strolls off.  "You made my day."  Anytime.  That was easy.

Until just the next morning, that was a quaint story to file away for the next round of small talk over beer and wine at a neighborhood fire.  Two and a half hours before departure for Haida Gwaii, we arrive at the BC Ferries terminal.  It’s early, and the attendant has lots of time.  He’s feeling chatty, too.  When he finds out we’re from Saskatchewan, he brings up the game.  "The Lions just didn’t come ready to play," he mourns.

"Well," I say to console him a little, "it was revenge for the Riders.  The Lions devoured them the week before."

He nods.  "I couldn’t watch," he comments, looking dazedly into his computer.  I know the feeling.  "They’re really up and down. Some days they’re ready to play, and others, not."

"That’s why the Riders are 3 – 4.  Same problem," I add.  He hands us our photo IDs and boarding passes.  Time for us to move on. We smile and wave.

I shake my head.  Football is an instant conversation starter.  An instant relationship forger.  My knowledge of the game has taken me through parent-teacher interviews, awkward introductions in professional circles, and chats, with men, notably, when I have found myself next to a man I don’t know well around a formal dinner or a lawn chair circle at yard gathering.  I imagine it must be the same for hockey aficionados.  Can’t say.  I know enough about other sports only to comment intelligently and to ask questions, not to draw any kind of informed conclusion.

Football, though, especially in Saskatchewan, and, it seems, throughout Canada, connects people, gives them a starting point to break the ice, and, just maybe, time and opportunity dovetailing, the confidence to explore somewhat more delicate subjects. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017


What did I have to lose?  So I took the quiz, just for fun.  Not one of those Facebook quizzes to see if you can spell (I’m a crackerjack speller, but then, I’ve known that since forever, especially since Grade 11 when my English Composition teacher said he would give a quarter to any student who could spell acquiesce, but then defaulted after I spelled it correctly, an action that still seems to retain some angst), or to find out what your hemispheric dominance is, or what your last name might be in another life, how much history or literature you might know, or what historical character you most resemble.

This quiz wore legitimacy.  Sponsored by the New York Times, no less, the two-part Gail Collins quiz purported to assess what a person knew about the first 100 days of the Trump presidency.  On Part I, I scored 15 / 16.  I missed the question on the Ben Carson "listening tour": 

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson embarked on a “listening tour” around the country.  A high point came in Miami, where Carson …

1.            Took a week off to go to the beach.
2.            Got stuck in a housing project elevator.
3.            Kept pointing out that he never claimed to know anything about the federal government.

I chose three.  Wrong.  He got stuck in a housing project elevator.  Oh, the ignominities of political life.

The tally came with a comment:  You may be thinking too much about this.  (By the  way, I scored 16 / 17 on part 2 of the same quiz.  The comment there was, You know more than he does.  Well, that doesn’t take much, does it?  The bar is so low, it’s an insult.)

Seriously?  Of course I’m thinking too much about this.  To help the cause of journalism, pivotal in these dark times, I’ve subscribed to the Globe and Mail (Toronto), the New York Times, and the Washington Post.  I read Truthdig and Mother Jones.  I even gobble reports on the French election.  Le Pen, I know something about; Macron is a newbie, so I learn what I can about him, and update my knowledge of his rival.  Is the Macron victory a glimmer of hope? 

Now, days after the Comey dismissal, I still can’t understand how anyone can be played to the degree Trump continues to play his supporters.  I can’t understand how almost all of the Republican Congress can lie, shove all but the wealthiest Americans under the bus, and then self-congratulate.  How can this happen?

I have always believed that the lessons of autocracy, that insidious dissembler in its rise and in its consequences, had been learned after World War II, that the spilled blood of heroes had been shed to preserve a way of life and to teach enduring lessons.  How can a governing party be so cavalier in its dismissal of their sacrifice?  

Maybe they are busy ignoring.  As Margaret Atwood says in The Handmaid’s Tale,  "Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at it." (66)  As she recalls fond memories associated with hotel rooms of her past life, Offred, the heroine of that prescient work, realizes that she "wasted them, those rooms, that freedom from being seen . . . Careless.  I was careless, in those rooms." (60 – 61).   You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, in other words.  She didn’t realize what a treasure her former life was until everything changed.    As the society around her was being transformed, she didn’t pay attention.  She "lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print, . . . in the gaps between the stories." (67)  The events didn’t concern her in particular, so why be concerned?  She learned, though, that one command can deliver the coup the grâce to a privileged way of life whose  underpinnings have become brittle.

So, let’s not be careless with our privileged life, with truth, facts, and democracy itself.  Let’s not live in the gaps between the stories.  We have to know too much, no matter how stressful that might be.   We are strong.  We can manage the stress.  We have the inner grit to live with awareness and to act.   Atwood’s advice, back in 1985, is appropriate today:  Nolite te bastardescarborundorum. Don't let the bastards grind you down.”

Friday, May 5, 2017


This evening, I was asked to speak about ministry at our parish's Family Worship Night.  I felt honoured.  This is the text of that talk.

Good evening.  I’m honored to be asked to speak about ministry.   Why me?  Well, I’ve been a part of music ministry in this parish for more than forty years.  In the last year, I’ve  also become involved in social justice and refugee sponsorship.  So, I’ve been here a long time.  How long?  So long, I’ve been called the "church lady". 

The first time was at the Co-op.  As I chatted with the parent of a student, her four-year-old son interjected with, "Hey Mom, that’s the church lady."  The second time, though, was in Hawaii.  Yes, Hawaii.  My husband and I had just entered the gate to Diamond Head.  As we made our way to the trail head, I heard someone yell from a car window nearby.  I learned a long time ago to ignore loud sounds from car windows.  Moments later, though, a van crept up alongside us as we walked.  This time, the driver, head out of the window, yelled, "Hey, church lady, there’s someone in here that knows you and they want to give you a ride!"  Turns out that relatives of our parishioners had seen me during liturgies they had attended in our parish with their family!

This church lady’s message this evening is about stepping up.  It’s a message in five parts.

1.             Yes, you can.
You already have everything you need to get involved right now.  You don’t need special training or a particular skill of some kind.  All you need is to say, like Samuel, "Here I am."  Just show up, like you have tonight. 

2.             Think small.
You are already giving witness by being here tonight.  One action.  One decision.  You don’t have to sign away your life or be in the public eye.  You can smile and say hello to people you meet, honoring the God that is in them when you do that.  You can attend church, and give witness that time for God is a priority.  You can sing from the congregation or as part of a leader group, mow the grass, water plants,  contribute to the Food Bank, help with the MACC community meals.  Or all of the above, if you wish. 

3.             Expect some bumps.
I wish I could tell you that stepping out of your own world to lend a hand will be a smooth ride.  But that hasn’t been my experience.  When bumps occur,  step back.  Ask yourself: Do people have a point?  Could I change something?  What can I learn from this?  When you’ve extracted the take-away, chalk up the experience and keep on doing.     Service is not just something nice we can do.  It’s our duty as Christians.

4.             Yes, you must.
It’s not like stepping up is a choice, you know.  Service is a duty.  Yes, a duty.  Why?  Because we are baptized Christians.  Because we are citizens of Canada.  Because we have privilege.   Every chance she had, my mother said to me, growing up:  From those to whom more has been given, more will be expected.  Those lines from Luke are worth hearing again: From those to whom more has been given, more will be expected.  So, Yvette, she would say, "God gave you life, food, safety,  two languages, education, books, music, and love, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?"  The bar was set high and getting higher all the time.  I’m so grateful to her for instilling in me the obligation to step up, because, and this is #5,

5.             It’s worth it.
Ministry has been transformational.  I am a different person because I do ministry.  Think of it—me, a person with a small amount of musical knowledge and, according to my teachers, not much ability, got to do music with  professionals (my husband, Elmer, Len Gadica, Len Varga, Paul Winichuk, Rob Dzubas).  As a result, my own musical capability increased exponentially.  I learned so much.  Every day, the dedication and tireless efforts of people I get to work with in social justice and refugee sponsorship inspire me and keep me hopeful.   I like to think I may have made a difference over the years.  Really, though, I have learned so incredibly much more than I have given.

To conclude, let me say: The world needs you, every single one of you.  Be what you want to see in the world.  After all, as the Jewish saying goes, “If not us, who?  If not now, when?” 

And remember,

Yes, you can.
Think small.
Expect some bumps.
Yes, you must.
It’s worth it.