Monday, February 24, 2014

Monday morsel: "All the Diamonds" (from Bruce Cockburn)

Saturday night Richard and I went to a concert by one of our favourite musicians, Bruce Cockburn.  We've attended every concert he's put on in Kingston for the past 20+ years, and at 67 he is singing and playing better than ever.

He ended the concert with "All the Diamonds" -- saving the best for last.  The words are so beautiful, I thought I'd share them here today.  (To hear the song, see the video at end of this post.)

photo credit:

All the diamonds in this world
That mean anything to me
Are conjured up by wind and sunlight
Sparkling on the sea

I ran aground in a harbour town
Lost the taste for being free
Thank God He sent some gull-chased ship
To carry me to sea

Two thousand years and half a world away
Dying trees still grow greener when you pray

  Silver scales flash bright and fade
In reeds along the shore
Like a pearl in a sea of liquid jade
His ship comes shining
Like a crystal swan in a sky of suns
His ship comes shining. 


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Following the prompts to the hardware store, the train station, and wherever else they lead

For the last few years I've been part of a writers' group that meets biweekly.  There are five women in the group, and we each try to bring 3-4 pages of writing which we can read aloud and receive constructive feedback on.  I can say without hesitation that this group has made me a better and more productive writer than I would ever have been just working away on my own.

Lately we've been trying to incorporate more writing exercises into our meetings:  we take a prompt (like a word or phrase), set a timer for ten minutes, and just write whatever that prompt brings to mind.  It's interesting, and often  amusing, to see how the same prompt can take all of us in such different directions.  

Sometimes when I do these exercises, I feel that after ten minutes I've only been meandering and barely have a handle on what I'm trying to write about; other times, even though I only manage 200 words or so, the piece somehow feels complete.  Either way, it's nice to have these pieces in my notebook as possible fodder for something longer that I might write another time.

I thought that today, just for interest's sake, I'd share two short pieces that I wrote in recent writers' group exercises.  Note:  they're both unedited, and they're both fictional.


Prompt:  "In the hardware store"

I was in the plumbing aisle, looking at faucet fixtures, when he spoke to me.

"Are those taps on sale?"

I looked at him -- big sweatshirted belly sticking out from his unzipped ski jacket, Tim Hortons toque, scraggly red beard -- and then back at the display of, oh, 2-3 dozen bathroom faucets, any one of which may or may not have been on sale.  "Uh, sorry, I'm not sure."

"I need to replace my mom's faucet," he said.

"Oh yeah?" I said.

"It's been dripping nonstop," he said.

"Might just be a washer," I said.  "Might not have to replace the whole thing."

"Well, the handle falls off too," he said.

"There you go, then," I said.  "Might as well go for a whole new one while you're at it."  I took a box with a Moen 3-hole 4-inch off the shelf and examined the contents.

"That's a nice one," he said.  "Does it got the spray?"

"I think only the kitchen ones have the spray," I said.  "These are for bathrooms."

"Oh, so I need a kitchen one?" he said.

"Is the broken one in the kitchen?" I asked.


"Then -- yeah."

"Are any of the kitchen ones on sale?" he asked.


Prompt:  "Fleeting glimpse"

In Union Station, while she was waiting for the 5:10 train from Toronto to London, Martha saw her brother Brian.  She could have sworn it was him:  a tall, dark-haired man with a beard, wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs leather jacket, heading up the stairs toward the taxi stands.  Brian had won that jacket in a fundraising raffle -- they said Darryl Sittler had donated it, but that could've been just talk.  But Brian loved that jacket -- he was such a Leafs fan.  Martha would tease him that it was fortunate July and August were too hot to wear it -- it would give him a chance to get it cleaned.

She looked at the big clock on the wall:  it was 5:00.  She should be heading downstairs to catch her train, but instead she sprinted up the stairway that Brian -- she was so sure it was him -- had gone.  She looked around -- no sign of the blue and white jacket among the  rushing crowds.  She pushed open one of the big doors and looked up and down the sidewalk where the cabs and limos and buses were pulling in and out.  Way, way down to her right she saw a glimpse of blue near a bus.  Stepping around luggage and people, she hurried down the sidewalk and stepped up on the bus, looking at the impassive faces of the passengers.  The man in blue was halfway back.  He didn't have a beard at all and his face was rounded, not angular like Brian's.

"ExCUSE me," a woman said.

Martha stepped off the bus, her eyes full of tears.  She knew Brian was still in the psych hospital -- the schizophrenia had taken its toll on him -- but just for a moment, she'd let herself hope.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday morsel: "winter and sunlight" (from Jerry Sittser)

I've been reading an excellent little book called A Grace Disguised:  How the Soul Grows Through Loss by Jerry Sittser.  In 1991 his family was involved in a car accident caused by a drunk driver.  The author's wife, mother, and four-year-old daughter were killed, and he was left to raise his three other young children alone.  

In the book he reflects on loss and suffering -- and related issues like forgiveness, randomness, the existence of God -- in a very honest, thoughtful, and powerful way.  This was a passage that I found especially striking.  (Here he is referring to Victor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning and its discussion of people who survived Nazi death camps.)

It was this power to choose that kept the prisoners alive, Frankl noted.  They directed their energies inwardly and paid attention to what was happening in their souls.  They learned that tragedy can increase the soul's capacity for darkness and light, for pleasure as well as for pain, for hope as well as for dejection.  The soul contains a capacity to know and love God, to become virtuous, to learn truth, and to live by moral conviction.  The soul is elastic, like a balloon.  It can grow larger through suffering.  Loss can enlarge its capacity for anger, depression, despair, and anguish, all natural and legitimate emotions whenever we experience loss.  Once enlarged, the soul is also capable of experiencing greater joy, strength, peace, and love.  What we consider opposites -- east and west, night and light, sorrow and joy, weakness and strength, anger and love, despair and hope, death and life -- are no more mutually exclusive than winter and sunlight.  The soul has the capacity to experience these opposites, even at the same time.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

In the bleak mid-winter ... it's a great time to read!

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly "Twitterature" post to share what I've been reading.

Incidentally, I actually did join Twitter this week; I wanted to see what it was all about.  I can't say I exactly "get" it yet, but I do get the difficulty of putting my book reviews in 140 characters or less.  That's just not me -- I'm wordy!  But here goes....


The Spark:  A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius by Kristine Barnett

Barnett defied the experts and pursued "muchness" for her autistic, nonverbal son Jake, encouraging his passions and his need for a normal childhood.  Now he is a happy teen who also happens to be a world-class mathematician, astronomer, and physicist.  Fascinating book about an amazing boy and mom.


Home:  A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews.  Takes us from her difficult childhood and her introduction to music and theatre, right up to the early 60's when she married and had her first child.  I liked it, but ending in mid-career made it feel unfinished.


A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser.  In 1991 Sittser lost his wife, mother, and four-year-old daughter in a car accident.  This book offers thoughtful reflections on suffering, faith, forgiveness, and the growth of the soul.  No cliches, just honest grappling with life's hardest questions.


Hope you've enjoyed these mini-reviews.  Have you read any of these?  What's been on your reading list this past month?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day rerun: "Let us love one another"

Today I'm re-running last year's Valentine's Day post because it is just as applicable today as it was then!

to my family.

Lest you think this is going to be a rose-coloured description of our family's Waltons-esque perfection, I should confess that the picture below is closer to what we look like at times:
... like at Sunday lunch, when Jonathan was snooping around the hot pots on the stove instead of going to wash his hands like I'd asked him to do five times already, and Allison was complaining about something chocolate-milk-related (and I believe I actually said, with no ironic intent, the words "What is this -- the Spanish Inquisition?"  Ouch.).  We ended up saying grace through gritted teeth. 
But I do love my family:

Richard, my #1 Valentine.  To the world Richard is a talented athlete, a dedicated volunteer, and a skilled nurse and nursing instructor.  To me he's a great friend and to the kids he's a great dad.  He and I do things together, but we also have our separate interests and pursuits. I walk, he runs.  I write and blog, he collects stamps.  I cook, he eats.  :-)  We enjoy one another's company.  I can't imagine being married to anyone else.  Happy Valentine's Day, hon!  xo xo

Allison, my sweet daughter:  avid reader, excellent writer, super game-player, and infectious giggler.

And Jonathan:  yellow-blue-red champion, jigsaw-puzzle master, great cuddler, proud owner of world's cutest smile (dimples included).

Valentine's Day isn't about flowers or chocolate.  Correction: maybe it is kind of about chocolate.  But mostly it's about love.  

"Dear friends [and family!]:  
let us love one another, for love comes from God."
I John 4:7

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Checkout-line encounter 2: first impressions

The young couple ahead of me had already caught my attention even before we reached the checkout line.  They were both very large, and he was wearing an orange reflective vest.  In fact, I had almost mistaken him for a No Frills employee; fortunately I realized in time that he wasn't, so I didn't embarrass us both by asking him to help me get a box of Shreddies off a high shelf.

When I got to the checkout, the two of them were negotiating with the cashier; they'd brought a flyer from another store which supposedly had cheaper bacon, and they were trying to get the lower price.  The cashier pointed out that the ad they were referring to was for a different-sized package, hence the cheaper cost, so they weren't entitled to any discount.  I was a little irritated and wondered why they hadn't made sure beforehand that they had the right information rather than wasting everyone's time. 

I promptly forgot all about them, though -- until we went to Extend-a-Family's Christmas bazaar the following Saturday.  I was wandering around looking at the various booths with crafts and baking.  I stopped at a table with homemade jewelery:  dozens of pairs of inexpensive bead earrings -- no two sets the same -- all spread out across the table in tiny plastic bags.  And there, behind the table, placidly knitting, was the same young woman I'd seen at the grocery store only a few days earlier.

"These are nice," I said.  "Do you make them?"

"My son does," she said, motioning toward the small boy who sat slightly behind her, engrossed in a book.  "He's eight, and he has Asperger's.  It's his business and he does it all himself."

We talked for another minute or two; I don't remember anything else specific that she said, but I do remember how matter-of-fact she was about her son's situation, how laid-back and comfortable she seemed, and especially how proud she was of her son and his work.

I liked the earrings, so I bought three pairs.  When I put one pair on this past Sunday before church, I thought of her again.  You know that cliche, "You don't get a second chance to make a first impression"?  In this case I was the one who got the second chance.  First time round, I dismissed her impatiently.  But next time I saw her as a proud mom who was helping and supporting her son ... and I admired her.


For a previous "Checkout-line encounter" post, click here.  You never know:  this may be a series in the making!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monday morsel: "something better, something beautiful, something more" (from Julie Andrews)

I've been reading Home:  A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews.  It's a very interesting book detailing her difficult childhood and her introduction into the world of music and theatre.  In this section of the book, Julie is a teenager and has just heard from her mother some unsettling news about her family's past.

Not long after the revelation from my mother, I was gazing out of my bedroom window one day, feeling a little sorry for myself.  I stared at the garden, watching the birds swoop down and around the rosebushes....It mattered deeply to me that [the garden] not sink back into disarray, but it had.  The tennis court was overgrown, the roses had become wild, the gladioli were spindly, and everything was generally a mess.  It seemed symbolic of the condition of our family.

It was a hot summer afternoon, still and perfect.  It began to rain, lightly at first, but soon becoming fat, heavy drops.  I thought, " Someone send me a sign that there is something better in the world, something beautiful and worthwhile, something more to life than this."

I was gazing at a particularly large, full-blown rose, when all of a sudden one extra raindrop was just too much for it.  All its petals cascaded to the ground at once.  It was startling, and oddly comforting.

I subsequently wrote a poem about it:

A rose lay open in full bloom
and, looking from my garden room,
I watched the sun-baked flower fill with rain.
It seemed so fragile, resting there,
and such a silence filled the air,
the beauty of the moment caused me pain.
"What more?"  I thought.  "There must be more."
As if in answer then, I saw
one weighty drop that caused my rose to fall.
It trembled, then cascaded down
to earth just staining gentle brown
and, since then, I've felt different.
That's all.

- Julie Andrews, Home

Monday, February 03, 2014

Monday morsel: "Nothing" (from Winnie-the-Pooh)

“What I like doing best is Nothing."

"How do you do Nothing," asked Pooh after he had wondered for a long time.

"Well, it's when people call out at you just as you're going off to do it, 'What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?' and you say, 'Oh, Nothing,' and then you go and do it.  It means just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering."

"Oh!" said Pooh.” 

― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh