Monday, August 22, 2011

Standing with the Dreamers

I was planting my fall crops today in my garden - arugula, peas and lettuce. The sun beat down warmly on my back and I was making rows between lush tomato plants, full with ripening fruit. Believe me, I did not want to think about the fact that fall approaches, that if I don't plant now, I won't have a fall harvest.

I was also thinking about the sorrowful news of Jack Layton's early death and all the comments I've read from people who deeply admired Layton and yet disagreed with his politics. Today is a day for grieving, I told myself, not politics. But the lessons of the garden - the need to acknowledge that the end will come - intruded into my political thoughts too.

Jack Layton was a bright man. Elizabeth May is similarly admired and has a keen intelligence. Both of them are or were aware of other political possibilities -- and yet chose to focus their political careers and work in what many would dismiss as idealism. And yet, as we watch dictatorship after dictatorship fall from a deep desire for human rights and equality, and as we see clear evidence for climate change mount, why is it that we continue to smile pleasantly at the good intentions of leaders like May and Layton, and cast our votes elsewhere, shoring up our own resources and leaving the climate and the poor to fend for themselves?

The end comes, whether sooner or later. In a world where multimillion dollar celebrity weddings dominate the news, there are still true heroes, good men and women who strive to affect profound change in the world. I guess the question I would raise today is whether your political party, your place of worship, your family, your life -- and mine -- are making a positive difference in the world, particularly for those who can't help themselves? Is what you choose something that is ultimately admirable when the end comes, or something merely expedient, prudent, and reasonable?

One of my favourite book series is CS Lewis' Narnia books. In one - The Silver Chair - a dismal and aptly named character Puddleglum responds to a cynical challenge about the existence of hope and a saviour, with this: "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things.... Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

So, I cast my lot with the dreamers and I hope you do too. I hope if you admire Jack Layton (or Elizabeth May or Aslan or Jesus) that you try on their dreams, even just a little bit. See how they fit.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Things We Hold Close

In the bath tonight, I was thinking about this blog and about our trip last week and whether I was eager to describe it or eager to hold it in my heart. And, I'm a bit torn. Sometimes the telling of a true story diminishes the experience to the words used to tell it, takes the whole sights and sounds and smells and tastes and feelings of an experience and reduces them to sound bytes. (It's funny that fiction often does the opposite - unfolds a world with only words.) I really would hate to do that to such a nice holiday.

I will say that it really was nice. That I just love spending time with my own little family, unplugged from technology, exploring brand new places. That our puppy was brilliant on long car drives and steep hikes up mountainsides and along highway roads and in power failures and a train caboose. That perhaps the funniest moment was when we found a gluten- and dairy-free pudding-like dessert for our daughter, in a hippy-dippy co-op grocery store, and she later declared that its coconut milk/orange water/rice milk/roasted coconut flavour and texture was pretty much that of sunscreen. I had tasted it before and tasted it again after - and cracked up laughing because it was exactly sunscreen. A close second for funny was our visit to the state fair's demolition derby. Oh, and there was incredible beauty. And it was pretty much as good as going to Quebec (and if you know me, you know that's saying a lot).

I was thinking about things that should be held close, pondered in the heart, not spilled out for public consumption. I have a few ideas -- anything that happens in a master bedroom, undeveloped story ideas, other people's secrets, for instance -- but I'd like to hear your ideas. What do you hold close? What improves in the telling? What is diminished by sharing?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wedding Songs

Twenty years ago today was our wedding. It was back in the day, kids, before bridezillas and only-strapless wedding dresses. There are things I would do differently today, things that went wrong that day - but as we walked for coffee this morning, we remembered that the chief feelings of the day were joy and delight.

Not every day since has been so light-filled, and the last year in particular has had its hardships, but it's still a great life and I'm very thankful to share and create it with Dave.

Here are the two songs we had sung at our wedding:

Lord of light, oh come to this wedding
Take the doubt and darkness away
Turn the water of lifeless living
To the wine of gladness we pray

Mother Mary's gently requesting
That you might do whatever you can
Though she may be impatient she loves you
And so she asks what she can't understand

Lord of light, oh come to this wedding
Take the doubt and darkness away
Turn the water of lifeless living
To the wine of gladness we pray

So amidst the laughter and feasting
There sits Jesus full with the fun
He has made them wine because He is longing
For a wedding that's yet to come.


There is a joy in the journey
There's a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey

And all those who seek it shall find it
A pardon for all who believe
Hope for the hopeless and sight for the blind

To all who've been born in the Spirit
And who share incarnation with Him
Who belong to eternity stranded in time
And weary of struggling with sin

Forget not the hope that's before you
And never stop counting the cost
Remember the hopelessness when you were lost

There is a joy in the journey
There's a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey

And freedom for those who obey...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Cooking for One

You may recall that our daughter had a wretched flu this winter, followed by months of stomach pains and vomiting. (And, incidentally, that aside from poking her to determine it wasn't appendicitis, the medical system failed her utterly and that we ended up in the care of a naturopath.)

Blood allergy tests done by the naturopath determined that a variety of foods were causing significant inflammation in her system. We were told to avoid these foods for a three month period, without being obsessive about it.

She went off wheat, dairy, sugar, eggs and peanuts.

A lot of people have been aghast at this diet. "What CAN she eat?" they say. A doctor in our life pooh-poohed the diet as unnecessary. But here's what I know: she missed a total of a month of school before we changed her diet, and now she feels like a million bucks.

We're through the initial three month period now, so we're at the point of reintroducing foods gradually. As we do this, I've been reflecting on the entire experience.

The new diet honestly hasn't been very hard for me to do. I have a huge jug of maple syrup in the fridge and I substitute it for sugar in baking. I've learned to eyeball recipes for moistness, as obviously syrup is wetter than sugar, and to adapt on the fly. There are more than decent flour substitutes out there. We've tested out different nut butters and her favourite is an almond-hazelnut butter. She was mostly off dairy before this started. We buy gallons of rice milk, which is tastier than cow milk and is fortified with vitamins and minerals to have the same good effects as dairy. We haven't found a decent cheese substitute (they all kind of taste like margarine and melt like plastic) but a sprinkle of parmesan has not thrown her off her diet. I still use eggs in baking, but she doesn't eat omelets or anything egg based. We eat pad thai, rice-based dishes, potatoes. She has a red lentil pasta which, if prepared correctly, actually tastes better than wheat pasta (something I can't say for rice or corn pasta). There's more she can eat than can't eat. While she was away at camp recently, we decided to eat everything we couldn't eat when she's here - and we ran out of ideas after four days.

All takes is a bit of a bigger food budget and mindfulness.

I realized this a couple of weeks ago when we were at someone else's house and were served wheat and dairy at every turn, even though this person knew of her diet's needs. That was a sparse meal for my girlie. And the other day I stood in line at Starbucks and realized there wasn't one thing available, other than possibly juice, on their menu that she could have. I have to think ahead. I sent her to camp with three full grocery bags of food.

I've been proud of my daughter in all of this. The kid has an intense sweet tooth and was accustomed to having peanut butter on toast for breakfast. She's adapted without self-pity or complaint -- because she feels great! I've tried really hard to normalize the experience for her too - finding treats she can have, cooking the same meal for all of us so she doesn't have to ask whether the food is okay for her. But the biggest part is how good she feels.

So, it's with both trepidation and a bit of a shrug that I'm reintroducing the foods that caused the problems. I don't relish the idea of her missing more school and us missing more sleep as we help her - especially when it hasn't been that hard to adapt. Our goal is just to know where she can cheat - can she participate in pizza day at school? does she need to be vigilant at parties? do I have to bring substitute foods? can we go through the Tim Hortons drive-thru?

The biggest thing I'm realizing is where the challenge has been for us in this. Adapting our diet has been a piece of wheat-, dairy- and sugar-free cake for me -- particularly compared to the enormous stress of not knowing what was going on in her body and not having adequate medical support in the process. THAT was more difficult than I can say. This only takes creativity.

Good health is something we all take for granted, until it's compromised. And that's the value of good health care professionals: they help us achieve and maintain good health. So, to our doctor and her receptionist who blocked us: please don't do this to another family. And to the naturopath who listened and supported us: thank you from the bottom of our guts.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Where we live and work and love

We have squirrels or birds or something that chatters in our trees and sound remarkably like monkeys. Which reminds me - I have monkey mind this summer. My mind dances from one thing to another. My weeks dance from one thing to another. There are no two weeks alike this summer, when it comes to combination of people and activities.

Last Friday, Dave and I took our daughter to pick blueberries. While we picked, we overheard a conversation between the farmer and a local who was there to pick. Apparently someone had set up a vegetable stand outside a restaurant in the small blink-and-you'll-miss-it hamlet, selling vegetables that were available inside the store next door, which was owned by "Mary's son-in-law." The real kicker was that even though the vegetable seller advertised Local Corn, the seller wasn't even local -- he was from the town five kilometres away. We, who had driven twenty minutes from the city, snickered in our pails, even as we understood his concern.

Last weekend, Dave took us all into the new Perimeter Institute building and toured the kids around while I sat in the gorgeous restaurant, drinking cappucino and reading the newest New Yorker. I found a profile of Jaron Lanier. Interestingly, I had heard Lanier speak as part of a panel in the very same building, in the room next to the one I was sitting in, a couple of years before. He was the guy who popularized the idea of virtual reality and somehow he really fascinated me. The article gave me a glimpse of his peripatetic life and also informed me that he had a book out - one which really evaluated social media and the way it constricted and changed relationships. I looked the book up when I got home, and looked for ways to buy it secondhand. It was available at our local great used books store, Old Goat Books. (Cue: It's a small world...)

The next day, we hosted a wedding shower at our house. One of the guests is someone I know via the bride, but he doesn't know my family. Except that he commented during the shower that he felt he knew my son through my Facebook postings about him, the same way you might "know" a celebrity. Yesterday, walking uptown, I ran into a new Facebook friend who lives in my neighbourhood and we walked home together. We met as friends of friends on Facebook and we got talking about all that we had learned about one another through social media - even though we live only four blocks apart. Both of these encounters made me wonder exactly what will happen when I read Lanier's book, which is called You Are Not a Gadget.

I'm hoping to read the book - to savour it actually - next week when we're on holidays. Holidays! Holidays! But unlike most of our holidays over the last decade, we are not heading east past Quebec City to my beloved Gaspe. The combination of having to take a puppy on a 14-hour car ride through Montreal and my sister having enough to cope with in her immediate family meant that we have had to make other plans. We're going to explore New York state - avec le petit chien. (My family promises I'm allowed to speak French in private on this trip. But NOT in public, Mom!) The Gaspe is also where I've lived for the last eight years in my fiction. I've written three novels set in a fictional Gaspesian town. And now they are done. I would like to spend some of our holidays writing something new, but it's been extremely hard to start something new. My heart is still pretty attached to that place. I have three distinct writing ideas, all of which interest me, and none of which stand out among the rest. There are days when it feels like being drawn and quartered -- only I'm only pulled in the three directions. One day, I actually wrote the projects on three little slips of paper, folded them up and picked one at random to work on. And I did, but it takes me a while to get into a new fictional world and I miss the familiarity of being able to slide into my usual French village.

And so, monkey mind. Except, if you -- or I - look carefully at all of this, it really isn't just a jumble. There's an element to it that's a little Jackson Pollock -- and here the fractal patterns have to do with place and knowledge and where we live and work and love.