Thursday, March 21, 2013

Weedy Vacant Lot

I read this poem last week, after a friend shared it.  
It called to me from deep places.


It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

~ Mary Oliver ~

I live in the weedy, vacant lot.
It's not pretty.

I am learning, ever so slowly, 
to not be in a hurry to transform my lot of weeds into a bunch of blue irises.
That is my first inclination.  
Hide.  Fix.  Cover. 
Dust off the weeds, even.   
(However futile that might be.)

Then talk and talk and talk so there is no space for silence.
This is true when I am alone or with many.

I am at home in the weedy vacant lot.
I fit there because I am surrounded by dust and grit and brokenness.
Broken things have cracks that leave space...
And what's that line from Leonard Cohen?
"There is a crack in everything.  That's how the light gets in".

I must not be in a hurry to trade in my place of residence.
That is where the truth gets spoken, because it sounds just like who I am....
...and not like someone I'm pretending to be.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Random Round Up (Endless Winter Edition)

I'm a self professed winter-hater.  I hate winter the minute the snow flies until the second it's gone.  Today, in lieu of a crazy winter blizzard in MARCH, I'm even hearing  deliriously optimistic winter-lovers rage against it.  Then you know it's bad.

It's so bad, that when Jian Ghomeshi's "Happy Monday" came to me over the airwaves this morning, I wanted to scream, "You think so, Jian?".  Usually the immediate sound of Jian's voice brings me peace and solitude but today it took until his opening essay was finished.  It's that bad.

In case you still aren't sure how I feel about today's weather, let me tell you that seeing friends from BC posting pictures of trees heavy with pink cherry blossoms, luscious green grass, and tulips and daffodils in bloom only add insult to injury.  I miss BC.  I miss it for reasons that are more varied and complex than the weather.  I'd do just about anything to be going for a run today, around the track in Confederation Park, in just a tshirt, looking over at the North Shore mountains and smelling life and newness in every breath.

Let's move on, shall we?

In the interest of bragging just a little:

I'm more than a little proud of Ellie.  Her Heritage Fair project on Indian Residential Schools was chosen to go on to the Provincial Heritage Fair happening at the U of M in May.

Hannah rocked her Science Fair project on Fonts and memory.   She put in hours and hours and hours of work and challenged her comfort zone boundaries by administering a test to over 70 grade 7 students at her school.   It's the comfort zone barrier crossing that makes me the happiest.

I'm nearly finished my second semester of my Master's program.   I've got one more term paper due on my last class, which is next week Tuesday.  I've registered for two courses for the Spring term in an effort to get a few more of my requirements complete so that I can apply for my first practicum which would begin in January.  I'm whittling away at it, a few credit hours at a time.  It's an exercise in patience.

Most people don't recognize the difference between gender and sex.  I'm convinced of this.

Mike really wanted me to watch The Godfather with him.  We finished it last week.  I'll admit to loving it.  It makes me want to watch the entire Sopranos series from beginning to end.

I really want Mike to watch Terms of Endearment with me.  I can't believe we've been together so long and he's never watched it.  It's in my top 5 of favorite movies of all time.

I've got two great nights to look forward to this week.  One is the chance to be in the stands for my very first Winnipeg Jets game on Thursday night.  Can't wait.

The second is a concert at the West End Cultural Centre on Friday night.  I've loved The Duhks for years - their music has played through my life like a soundtrack.  The band has gone through some transitions and changes over the past decade or so, but the original band members have just recently reunited and they're kicking things off with a reunion show.   What a way to kick off spring break.

Our family soundtrack is always changing and evolving.   Mike and I feel strongly about music exposure and appreciation.   Lately it's been "All Elton John, All the Time" in our van on the drive to and from school.  And no, I'm not talking about new Elton John.  We're talking old-school classics like "Crocodile Rock" and "Tiny Dancer" and "Rocketman".   The girls love it.  The biggest surprise has been how much Ellie loves it.  Her favorite song is "I'm Still Standing".  She knows every word and belts it out like it's her life anthem.  Not a bad choice for a life anthem, actually.

At home it's a different story.  Mike has fallen hard for Rush in the past year.  Every Saturday it's "Rush Day".  It starts early and goes all day long.  I've listened to more Rush in the past year than in the time I dated the world's biggest Rush fan EVER back in grade nine.  That's a lot of Rush.

The bookshelf is sagging under the weight of all of the books I'm waiting to read right now.  My book club is meeting on Wednesday night and discussing Richard C. Morais', The Hundred Food Journey.  I just finished reading Patricia Harman's second book, Arms Wide Open.  It's the background story to her first book called Blue Cotton Gown.  I adored that book.  This one, I liked.   Just before that one I finished Paul Coelho's Veronika Decides to Die.  That book impacted me greatly.  It's described as a story of redemption and I agree.   I can't believe I waited so long to read it.

I wish I could read books for a living.  Read books and nap intermittently.

Mike recently discovered how much he loves raw broccoli.  This is profound considering he's been convincing me and the rest of the world how much he hates raw broccoli since the beginning of time.

I will have more to write and say about Bill 18 this week.  I can't stop.

We're going to BC this summer.  I cannot wait.  I'm not looking forward to the drive (again), but the people waiting at the other end will make it worth it.

All of my girls are going to camp the SAME week!  First time ever.  We're all excited.

We've got a shed renovation project to deal with this summer.  It seems some squirrels and other rodents chewed most of it apart while we were gone those two years.  Mike did a rough and tumble patch job in fall, but it needs some serious work.  I wonder if it will get done before the snow flies next winter?

I still haven't had Ellie's friend's birthday party.  We just had Sasha's this last weekend.  One month late.  Poor kid.  The mother guilt is killing me.

The lineup for the 2013 Winnipeg Folk Festival came out this weekend.  Looks like a good one.  I've got lots of research to do.   I've missed FF the last two summers and I can't wait to feel the sun on my face and close my eyes while listening to amazing music at Bird's Hill Park.   I'm sure the snow will have melted before then.

I've only been to IKEA once since it opened.

Hannah is participating in the World Vision 30 Hour Famine this week.   She starts at 1:30am on Tuesday morning.  I'm thankful her school gives her this kind of exposure and opportunity.

Hannah has been obsessed of late with the documentary The Story Of Stuff.  She watched it as part of her Social Studies class and is very passionate about the message.  I love seeing passion seep out of her.

I don't fit "in" very many places.  Parts of me do, but not all of me.

"Fitting" might be over-rated.

The world is made for people who "fit".

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Dispatches From The Sub Files Vol. 1

I wore the hat (or should I say sweats) of a middle years Phys Ed. teacher for a few days last week.  There are parts of Phys Ed. that have me feeling and likely looking very out of my element.  I'm not sporty.  I never have been.  But for the days I'm wearing my yoga pants, hoody, runners, whistle and getting paid for it, I can at least pretend the "shoe" fits.  I whoop and yell and cheer and throw open the mesh bag of dodge balls like I was born for it.  It's kind of like being an actor.  You have to commit to the role before the curtain opens and the students walk into the gym.  They don't know there isn't a sporty bone in my body and I don't have to let on.  I always assume they'll find out soon enough.

Aside from the acting components of the job that don't really fit, there were moments and even longer periods of time when the job gave me life.  You know those moments.  The ones where you feel like you're living in the place where your passion and your gifts intersect perfectly and joy is what you're left with.  I had a few of those kinds of sacred intersections last week.  It's the nature of the job -Phys Ed. teachers are afforded the luxury of being observers.... once the instructions are given and the equipment is handed out, they can watch and observe and study and contemplate.  They can even respond to what they see.  This happened to me during a grade 7 Phys. Ed. class.

All of the students were in the middle of their Badminton unit and were to just play during the hour long class.  My job was to watch and monitor and keep things under control.  After playing some Badminton with a few girls without partners for the first half hour, I noticed two girls I didn't know sitting together on the side bench.  I went and sat down with them and I started to listen and ask a few questions.  At first their answers were one or two words while looking down or at each other.   Once they started to look me in the eye I let my questions become more personal.  Their answers followed suit.  They were vulnerable and honest about the hard things and generous with who they really were.  Soon another girl joined us on the bench and our conversation continued to a place that was obviously so much more important than Badminton was.  I came alive there, on that bench.  I was born for that.  And it gave me hope.

Of course, all of the wonderful moments in the world lose their lustre quickly when grade six boys cannot control their laughter after telling them to "put your balls in the bag" at the end of a rousing game of Dr. Dodgeball.  So I said it again.  With gusto.   Just because I could.

Later in the day I had a different class come in to play some games.  They all seemed to know the games and the routine - except one.   One boy stood out to me right away.  He hung back from the action, pacing a little and looking nervous.   While everyone was in on the game he held back and held the ball in his hands not making a move.  His eyes would dart up and they'd look down again - unsure. I watched carefully, waiting for the right moment to go and talk to him to see if he understood or needed something.  But let's face it.  There's never really the "right" moment for a middle aged woman substitute teacher to come up to an adolescent boy to see if he's doing OK.  That's not what or who they need.  Just as all of these thoughts were swirling in my mind, I got to witness  the most beautiful exchange.   One of the other boys in the class walked up to the lone student and started talking in a peaceful and quiet voice.  He pointed a little, demonstrated and stood beside him.  There was at least a foot height difference between these two with the one who came to help the shorter of the two.  He looked up at his peer while he talked and offered the most mature and generous offering.  The lone and isolated student looked down at him and you could tangibly see peace returning to him.  Soon he threw the ball at the target gingerly, while his classmate stood by offering help and acceptance.

That exchange gave me goosebumps.  The intrinsic sense of responsibility for another that the shorter of the two had.  But he didn't only have it - he acted on it with respect and gentleness, instilling dignity as he went.  That lone and anxious boy didn't need me.  He needed his classmate to come alongside him.

I needed to see it happen.
It was the richest moment of my week.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Clothes for the Season

It's been over 7 years since our family was part of a "real" church.  I put the quotation marks around real for a reason.  We've had church in different places and in different spaces in those 7 years.

First, we found a soft place to land in the house-church we were in for a season with fellow war-weary comrades also in the midst of a detoxification process.  Those years were healing and safe and full of questions.  I learned that questions were ok and that I didn't have to try so hard.  My girls learned what it felt like to be part of a small intentional community and that their voices were important.  Sometimes we shuffled, sometimes we walked steadily, other times we stumbled, but we kept moving forward.

In BC we found church in a different place.  It was on the ski slopes on the mountains.   It was in green rain forest cathedrals with air so rich and moist it filled your soul.  It was on sandy beaches where ocean waves lapped against the shore and you couldn't speak for the beauty that surrounded you at every turn. It was on a school playground and in people's kitchens.   It was in conversations on park benches and in hearing the voice of friends asking me the right questions.  It was in being loved and accepted for who we were as we morphed and changed and found our rhythm.

This weekend we found church again.  It happened while echoes of ancient liturgy were spoken and a candle was lit.   It was when Mike picked up his fiddle and bow and I literally saw life coming back into the depths of who he is.  I felt it while I watched my girls playing in the sticky white snow for hours while Mike laughed and crashed in a crazy game of broomball.   It was in tickled feet and in a circle of Dutch Blitz being played on the floor.  It was in the conversations around  tables where I heard political conversations, scientific reasoning, literary quotations, personal stories, and differences.  It's the differences, I think, that I liked the best.  The willingness for differences to be embraced and welcomed.   Not to be feared or buried.

As we drove away from the Saint Benedict's Table family camp this afternoon, the first words out of Sasha's mouth were, "I want to do that again next year".    We all agreed.

It doesn't look like where I thought we'd be.
Not at all.

But if where I thought we'd be was a garment to be worn, it wouldn't fit anymore.
I wouldn't even be able to get the button done up.

This new garment fits pretty well.  We're still turning around and checking it out to be sure it really fits and suits us.  We're bending and stretching to see if it restricts our movement or feels all wrong.

Sometimes you have to try on something radically different to find the piece that was meant for you and the season you're in.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What If...

Ellie spent the last few months researching the legacy of Indian Residential Schools for her Heritage Fair project  at her school.   Heritage Fair is an annual event in grade four in which all of the students choose something Canadian to research and present.  Ellie was adamant that she didn't want to do a topic that "everyone else" was doing or had done.  I was selfish.  I wanted her to choose Indian Residential Schools.  Not because I had any great ideas for her presentation or her backboard.  It was a simple reason.  I just needed her to know about them.

I never did know about them.  I'll always remember being a 19 year old woman in a Native Studies course at the University of Manitoba and hearing my Professor, Emma LaRocque talk passionately about Residential Schools.

I had never heard about them before.

Here I was, a young, educated, Canadian woman who grew up in a community with what was considered a great school system, and I had never heard about Residential Schools.  How was it, that a legacy like the one left by the Residential Schools was ignored as I learned about the history of Canada?  I remember almost feeling a little bit betrayed.  Like you're hearing a dirty family secret for the first time.

I don't want to leave dark family secrets of our shared history to be uncovered by my girls years after they should have known about them.  As Ellie and I often talked about during the course of her research - not all parts of Canada's heritage are things to be proud of.  Some of the things in our past as a country are shameful, and we should all collectively feel shame in response.

Yesterday, I was sitting in Westminster United Church in Winnipeg with a grade six class I was substitute teaching.  They were singing in the music festival.  As we were sitting in the pews in that beautiful historic sanctuary, Inkster School got up to perform.  Their choir was made up of beautiful brown faces - mostly First Nations.  I watched them, as they sang.  I studied their faces and their bodies and let myself imagine what life would have been like for children just like them in the hell-holes of Residential School all those years ago.

More than that, I wondered what would be different today if Residential Schools had never happened.

What would the First Nations community look like today?  How different would their lives look?  Would substance abuse, depression, suicide, crime, and fragmented families have ever come to play such a prominent role in their lives?  What would their families look like?  How much more of their language would have been preserved?  How much more of their spirituality would have been able to remain intact?  What if.....

I wish I knew.  I wish I could see a glimpse of that.

Ellie became an expert on Indian Residential Schools.  She can tell you how the children were herded into trucks and taken against their will.  She can describe the conditions in the cold brick buildings and the abuse and horror that went on inside.  She'll tell you about TB epidemics that ran rampant through the halls and dorms, killing many children.   She could tell you what a typical day was like and what the students were allowed to eat.   She could describe what it might have felt like to have your identity stripped away from you along with your traditional clothing.  She knows all of this now.  But I wish she didn't need to.

Thankfully she also learned about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Such a minuscule drop in the bucket in an effort to make such an enormous wrong right.  She's read the survivor stories that were part of the process of reconciliation.

When she talks about all of this now, she does it with passion because she went through the process of uncovering the dirty family secret that she can't believe actually happened, and that she could not live with seeing repeated.

Sometimes it's the shameful stories that teach us the most about who we are.... and who we don't ever want to be.


One of the best pieces I've ever seen on the legacy of  Residential Schools was done by Winnipegger Wab Kinew for CBC's The National in 2010.  You can watch it here.  (contains graphic language)