Thursday, November 8, 2012

Secret Colours

Magpie 91
Secret Colours

In lavender mist where shadows creep
A young girl's dreams green and weep.
Her yearning glances can't fill the chairs
with flesh and purple and curtain prayers.
But hope cannot be contained, so
ashen grey sings a rose red glow.
Immortality, a summer blue
enrobes her heart with silver dew.
And faintly golden chairs now gleam
for passion in rainbow buds unseen.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Waning Summer

I have read that the song cycle of the nightingale lasts three minutes whilst that of the whale lasts twenty-four hours. Once slowed down and sped up respectively, they are apparently very similar. Maybe as human beings we are simply on varying frequencies of song. Perhaps the way we use language ... to speak, to write, to dream, to think ... is like a sonic map of our personalities. I am a woman who needs solitude at times.

As summer wanes and the drowsy, full-blown ripeness of August comes to an end, I look forward to crisp the September days.

(My grandson J, contemplates a butterfly.)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Canada Day Celebrations

Full bellies and daylong feasting, sipping iced lemonade, a study in red and white, the boundless, permanent summer of Canadian multiculturalism. Today we celebrated our first Canada Day here in our new home. Gem and I meandered through Riverside Park ... thronged with hundreds of people absorbing the food and colour and music which erupted in a kaleidoscope of scents and sights and sounds.

I indulged in a henna hand tattoo.

Gem bought an original watercolour from the Art Fair.

Living here in Canada, I am thankful for so much ....

Thankful for the ebb and flow of so many cultural traditions which cover this country like a blessed wave.

For the elegant women wearing jewelled saris.

I am thankful for the giggling, exuberant First nations children dancing to the plangent sound of the drums.

For the Asian men and women I saw gracefully engaged in Tai Chi by the river’s edge.

Thankful for the voices and laughter I heard today in English and French and Cantonese and Ukrainian and Italian and Afrikaans and Greek and Hindu.

Thankful for the connections that let me know the kindred in human beings who are different from me.

Later, candlelight anointed the table as Gem and I ate our barbecued salmon dinner and the homemade pavlova I made for dessert.

I am thankful, too, for the sense of belonging given in the ritual of celebration.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Gem and I love to while away hours poking around thrift stores and garage sales. This weekend we went on one of our treasure hunts. Some objects reach down to the marrow of my bones. I trace my fingers along them and something in me responds. They are endearing, inexplicably comforting. There is a meaning, an indwelling of connection which enhances my sense of belonging.

This week’s finds:

A Crown Clarence Staffordshire sauce boat - $1.50.
I love its summery, shimmery blue, just the colour of a Robin's egg.

A retro, hinged tin - 50 cents.
I’m going to keep my collection of teaspoons in it.

A Japanese calligraphy set - $3.00.

This was Gem’s find. He has long dabbled in the art of pen and ink drawing and sketching, and plans to use it.

And perhaps my favourite find, this 1970’s knitting book in immaculate condition - $1.
Although I did a fair bit of knitting when my children were small, I haven’t had much time in recent years. Now, though, I have a few knitting projects planned and hope to make good use of this book. My granddaughter, Ariana, who will be nine in August, will be the first beneficiary. She is very excited and has requested a purple poncho and a pink sparkly sweater. After speaking with her, I was reminded of the year my mother-in-law knit my three children sweaters for Christmas. They were all beautifully made, but I still remember the look on my eldest son’s face when he opened his gift. His expression momentarily reflected his thoughts: No eleven year old boy would be caught dead wearing a sweater with a huge yellow image of Sesame Street’s Big Bird on the front of it! His eyes flew to mine, startled, unsure of what to say. Thankfully, he swallowed his chagrin and thanked his Oma nicely.

Objects can be saturated with spirit, imbued with the layers of life from the places where they rest, the people they touch. They are remnants, the bearers of our fragile being, our mortality.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bikes, Bikes and More Bikes!

I knew before we went to Holland that bicycles are very popular there, but no one could have prepared me for the sheer scope and number of them! 85 percent of the population own at least one bicycle. They use it regularly, most on a daily basis. There are about 16 million bicycles in Holland, slightly more than one for every man, woman and child in the country. It's cradle to grave biking; Whole families with the youngest child in a seat in front of the rider, and another child (or two!) in seats at the back. Business men and women in smart suits. Teenagers. The elderly.

From the first day of our holiday, I was fascinated and started taking pictures of bikes.

The multi-tiered bike parking garage near the train station in downtown Amsterdam. Never, in a million years, would I find my bike again if I were parked there!

Mother and children out on the family bike. This was a common sight in Holland.

There’s the wheelbarrow approach as well: a big bucket in the front. Great for hauling shopping and children.

Often we saw bikes decked out with a personal sense of style. We came across these on various walks in 'our' neighbourhood. My granddaughter thought they were very cool.

Mum perches at the back behind Dad.

I didn't see anyone, old or young, wearing a bike helmet the entire time we were in Holland. The laws there are very strictly in favour of the biker. In all cases the law says that if a vehicle is involved in an accident with a bike, it is ALWAYS the vehicle's fault for insurance purposes. Thus, drivers in Holland are extremely careful of the masses of bicycles around them. Also, there are numerous safe biking paths everywhere. We found that it's the pedestrians, who share the narrow streets with the bikes, who need to be especially careful. The first few days it was quite daunting. I clutched A to me tightly at every step. Later, though, we became more comfortable and learned to nimbly and swiftly step out of the path of passing bicycles without a second thought.

A row of bikes, A and I by the train station in Haarlem.

We watched in fascination the ingenius method for negotiating bikes up the stairs from the station; a grooved ramp alongside the stairs.

I took this picture of bikes silhouetted against the sky from a canal boat.

Gem's cousin's son, Marius, waves to us as he arrives home from work.

One lovely evening Gem called me out to the balcony of our hotel room in Haarlem. From there we watched as a couple, a beautiful young woman in a summer dress, her hair in a blonde chignon, and a handsome young man in a suit and tie, arrived at a restaurant from two different directions. They waved at each other and then got off their bikes. He greeted her with the bouquet of flowers which had been resting in the basket at the back of his bike. Obviously a date. It was like a scene from a movie, only it was real.

"Can you believe, we're really here?" Gem and I had said to each other at various times since our arrival in Holland. The romance and beauty of that moment spilled into the fragrant night and remains etched in my heart.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


This easter was a rare occasion when all our grandchildren, from three different families and cities, were able to spend time together. The moment they saw each other love rushed from somewhere undefined and settled deep. They shared a wonderful two days with us and each other; hiking, bowling, swimming, reading, playing, sleeping, eating meals, creating the connections which are both life-giving and life-long.

On our walks, trees, their new buds swollen with the hope of new life, mirror the children, whose greening hearts leap towards spring. Chattering, giggling, sharing tidbits of each others' lives, calls of "Nana, Papa, look!", abound. The boys get show-off silly. A, physically only a month older than her considerably taller next in age cousin, grimaces indulgently at their antics.

Most of us are far better at affirming arrivals than departures. Saying goodbye is both difficult and painful. I stand waving, blowing kisses over and over again, blinking tears from my eyes. As each family drives away, my heart is pulled along with them.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

James' Dollhouse

In the children's section of the book store where I work stands a beautiful wooden dollhouse. It is painted apple green with window shutters of white. Its six rooms boast simply fashioned wood furniture and appliances. Its inhabitants; doll Mama, doll Daddy, doll Girl and doll Boy, reside within in its walls in poses placed by the many little hands which visit the book store everyday. Sometimes they are joined by a litany of small plastic sculpted animals borrowed from a nearby shelf. This dollhouse is on display, an enticement for its more pristine neighbours who wait in boxes for flesh and blood families of their own.

The children's area of my book store is a place of enchantment. Shelves filled with books of every description, spaces to lie on your belly and read, or to cuddle and be read to, and wonderful toys; some to look at and dream, some to play with and discover.

As I work almost exclusively in this section, I have come to know several children and their parents quite well. For the past few months weekly visits by a little boy named James and his mother have become pilgrimages to the dollhouse. James, nearly four, is an endearing, quirky little guy with unruly dark blonde hair and animated features. Other children play with the dollhouse intermittently as other attractions beckon them, but he spends his entire hour on his knees in front of it, engaged in an elaborate play of his own creation. One day doll Girl is banished to the roof for being naughty, two plastic penguins visit the kitchen and entertain doll Boy, doll Mama sings as she dances around the livingroom, and doll Daddy emits a series of rich burps as he jumps from the diningroom chairs. James' mother is somewhat embarrassed by this and gently admonishes him.

At the end of each visit, James always asks the same question, "Can I have my dollhouse for my birthday?" I notice that he always uses the word 'my' when he refers to it. Clearly, despite often the presence of other children, a sense of belonging dwells in his heart.

One morning his mother tells me that James will soon be four and she's mentioned the dollhouse to his father, who is not very keen on the idea.

It is a rainy day and the store is quiet, when I am approached by a man I have never seen before. He asks to see the dollhouse. He examines it with his hands as well as his eyes, smoothing the wood with workworn hands.

"It's well made", he says, but I discern a note of reluctance. "My son wants nothing else for his birthday." There is a rueful smile.

"Oh, you must be James' father", I say eagerly.

He is surprized and I tell him how much James loves the dollhouse and the wonderful, creative play which fills and engages his little being.

"I wanted to get him a train set or some lego", he says. He stands for a few moments, lips compressed, heart and brain bespoken in a silent duel.

"Okay," he says. "I'll take it."

I smile widely as he hefts the large box into his arms. "James will be so happy!", I tell him.

"Yeah", he says, and grins. "That's the main thing."

The sweetness of that moment both nourishes and elates me. In the infinite abyss of love's hunger sometimes the greatest gift of all is simply to acquiesce.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Poetics of Play

I was watching two of my grandsons play the other day. Playing … real physical play … the kind that involves muddy hands and scratched knees, and unbounded imagination. The kind of play which is becoming increasingly rare.

The strange thing about play, especially play within a wonderful landscape, is that it exists as everything … a magnitude of possibilities. That mound of dirt is a mountain. That puddle is a lake where dreams sail as small fingers float leaves and tiny twigs. Seeing my grandsons’ shining eyes as they play outdoors in the melting snowy rivulets of a newly awakening spring, something stirs in me from my own childhood. The interaction of child and environment that is an integral leap of physical and emotional joy.

This the kind of play that is the physical equivalent of music and poetry. Strangeness, wonder, paradox … the art of real play speaks its own language. It is, I believe, of immeasurable benefit to the health of the body and soul. No one can be really well in a world that continually sacrifices real play.