Category Archives: Writing

Pandemic celebration of life events


Today’s post shares an additional way to celebrate when having a traditional party would violate public health orders. I plan to keep this resource in mind, even for times when gatherings and travel are considered safe.

Recently, the minister of music at my church decided to leave his post to pursue his passion for arranging and composing music. Pre-pandemic, we would have had a big cake at coffee time after church. People would have lined up to thank him, wish him well, and tell him what they appreciated about his work with us. No doubt, the memory would have become a blur quite quickly.


Someone in the congregation came up with the idea of asking people to record on their phone what they wanted to say to him and send it to VidDay. For a nominal fee, the company spliced all the messages together and created a video we all saw and that he can keep.

A couple of months later, my sister and brother-in-law celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. I suggested VidDay to my niece, and she invited a broad swath of their friends and family to record a greeting.
In preparing what I would say in my short video, I processed much emotion. I recalled the excitement in the farmhouse when my now brother-in-law’s car pulled into our driveway for their first date in 1953. I remembered many experiences that ensued, leading to their day of celebration.


It felt miraculous that I could record my thoughts and feelings on my balcony in Vancouver one day, and they could experience them the next in their sunroom in Ontario. Phones and moving picture technology have come a long way. So have I. So have they.


I chuckled when I realized that one of the few things, besides their relationship, that endures from 1953 is that Queen Elizabeth is still on the throne.

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Pandemic celebration of a life

As I mulled the future of my blog recently, it dawned on me that I had limited my scope by thinking I needed to include humour in most of the entries to elicit smiles.

When I started to observe what makes me smile, the list of blog-worthy topics expands significantly. Stories that illustrate beauty, creativity, and whimsy are a few that come to mind off the top. Today’s post reflects all three.

I want to share with you a recent body of work by Guelph-based artist Barbara Bryce. The family of a woman, Esther, who died during the pandemic, wanted to create a way of honouring her life since a traditional memorial service would be unsafe.

Esther had an extensive collection of jewellery. Rather than sending it off to an auction or dividing it up to languish in boxes in the homes of her heirs, they decided to send the whole lot to Barbara and ask her to make sun catchers for relatives who wanted something to remember Esther by. And, they asked Barbara to share the work through her website and Facebook presence so that people who had never met Esther (such as me and now you) would learn something about her.

When you are in the mood to experience something beautiful and creative, I invite you to scroll through the gallery Barbara created.

I enjoy my jewellery collection. I’ve made several attempts to pare it down with minimal success. What it lacks in material value, it makes up for in the memories associated with each piece.

I will invite my family to think outside the box around what to do with it when I’m gone like Esther’s family did.

P.S. Barbara is open to commissions. I plan to put a copy of this post in the instructions for my family in case she doesn’t retire before I expire.

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Easter Parade remade

“In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,” got stuck in my head after I scratched it for ideas. I tapped my foot to the rhythm, eight years old again at heart.

My choir is staying connected during the pandemic by meeting every other week over Zoom. Someone suggested an Easter-themed shareoke – like karaoke but online. People share a favourite – a poem, a story, a song. The delivery doesn’t have to be polished. The point is to appreciate what each person contributes and build our relationships.

I had volunteered to do a standup routine before the organizers requested more participants. I circulated the suggestion that someone else could lead a singalong to “Easter Parade”.

Bob, an enthusiastic and openly gay fellow all of us love, immediately offered to do it and provided the lyrics.

Gender stereotypes leapt off the page.

Easter Parade by Irving Berlin

In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,
You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade.
I’ll be all in clover and when they look you over,
I’ll be the proudest fellow in the Easter parade.
On the avenue, Fifth Avenue, the photographers will snap us,
And you’ll find that you’re in the rotogravure.
Oh, I could write a sonnet about your Easter bonnet,
And of the girl I’m taking to the Easter parade.”

Growing up in the ‘50s, I used to aspire to be that woman. I now appreciate how my over-reliance on the passive female stereotype hindered my development as a whole person. I imagined how excluded a young gay male raised in the same era must have felt when heterosexual attraction was all the media portrayed.

Message to Bob:

“Sorry, I hadn’t noticed how sexist the lyrics are. I plan to poke fun at the song in my standup set.”

Here’s how I boiled it down:

“Man flatters attractive woman he plans to wear on his arm to get his picture taken.”

Cultural conditioning runs deep. A part of me I’d rather not own still aspires to be that woman.

A different part invited me to stroll along some residential streets on Easter Sunday afternoon. I was on the watch for signs of new growth.

(Cue birds chirping)

“In a toque and not a bonnet, with breeze and sun upon it, I saw exquisite blossoms on my Easter parade…”

I felt grand, took lots of pictures.

Mission accomplished.

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Spam Surprise

After my last blog entry went out to my subscribers, I eagerly watched my writing-related inbox for feedback. There was none. Not even from my loyal, long-suffering sister who almost always posts a reply. Did she disown me for the salty joke at the end?

On a whim, I checked the spam folder on Saturday and got a shock. It revealed several recent messages that were valuable, including a reply from my beloved sister on my latest entry. I needed to approve her comment before it would appear on my website.

When I talked to her on Sunday, she admitted worrying that she had not entered her reply correctly when it hadn’t shown up.

It appears both of us inherited the “second-guess yourself” gene.

Something had gone haywire with the filter on my writing account, directing everything sent to my website to spam. And spam is automatically deleted if one doesn’t take action on it within 30 days.

I trust the filter on my personal e-mail account, as the subject lines in the spam file there would lead me to believe I’m the luckiest person on earth. Congratulations! You’ve been selected! I’m not that naïve.

It hadn’t occurred to me to check the spam file on my writing e-mail account, even though I haven’t received any mail in the inbox for months. After this experience, I’m becoming less naïve.

I vow to establish a new habit. Every four weeks, I plan to scan both spam folders in case a nugget was misdirected there.

If you sent me a message more than 30 days ago, I hope you will accept my apology for not responding. Please resend it. I promise to reply this time.

I love hearing from readers. The social connection is a big reason the blog is a life-giving activity for me.

Now, I promise to take a few weeks’ break from blogging. I don’t want the frequency of my blog to make it feel like spam to you.

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Literary grandma gets real

Like the velveteen rabbit, I’m becoming more real as I age. This post uses the same photograph as my first one back in 2016. Except I flipped it to display the mirror image. I write with my left hand but posed for the photograph with the pen in my right hand because I didn’t want to appear awkward. How awkward!

If I were to re-enact the scene, you might spot a couple more differences. I have replaced the granny glasses with a jazzier pair, more reflective of my zest for life. I’ve quit trying to use full bangs to hide my cowlick and high forehead.

I’ve faced my truth about my blog, too. Preparing it is a healthy, life-affirming activity for me. It took my contemplating its demise to realize how much I love entertaining people and sharing insights. I’m not ready to hang up my apron.

In the first post, I mused about whether I might become a literary Grandma Moses. Like the photo, this concept embarrasses me now. As long as my writing nourishes me and my readers, I’m happy.

The SoulGuiding program is replenishing my pantry and increasing my willingness to experiment with flavours. Even with my desire to balance my life with other activities, I think it will be feasible to add a new post at least once a month. And not just feasible. Enjoyable!

Basically, I want to keep serving up metaphorical slices of fresh, warm, apple pie.

Fresh. Subjects I deem blog-worthy are recent experiences that made me smile, often with an aha moment. I hope each offering makes you smile and stimulates your own ahas.

Warm. I want to create a welcoming atmosphere, in my blog as in my life.

Apple pie. The Merriam-Webster dictionary says this expression can serve as a metaphor for excellence or wholesomeness. I have perfectionistic traits and try to follow a holistically healthy lifestyle.

The metaphor feels apt.

And I love the guilt-free aspect. This kind of apple pie has zero calories!

Psst. Want some salt?

I laughed from my belly when the saw the urban dictionary definition of apple pie – a slang term for a woman’s vagina. In case anyone is in doubt, that is not what I intend to serve up, fresh and warm, in this forum.

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Incubation

I know. It’s been a while. My most recent blog entry date is May 22, 2020. All the babies conceived that day have been born by now.

So, what am I incubating? Before I answer that, I want to thank artist, Kim McCarthy, for allowing me to use her work, “Incubation,” featuring its evocative pregnant seed, to illustrate this post. Here’s a link to the previous entry where I used it.

Incubation

During my nine month sabbatical, I have ruminated about the future of my blog. It has been on a back burner, waiting for me to make up my mind. Should I add fresh ingredients, i.e. more posts, or take it off the stove and preserve it as is?

I decided recently that I needed to make a clean break. New activities, especially frequent projects I am asked to submit as part of the SoulGuiding program with Pacific Jubilee I started last October, excite me and use similar skills. For balance, I need to get off my duff and garden, walk, or get out my vacuum.

Preparing the draft, explaining to my readers why I no longer plan to add to the blog, had the flavour of breaking up with a lover because I was already into a relationship with someone else. I felt like a heel and put the question aside.  

After spending an evening perusing the 90 entries to date, I wondered if the intent, to offer a smile or perhaps a new idea, had become too narrow.

Here’s an excerpt from my second draft. “The body of work reminds me of fresh, warm, apple pie. A wonderful thing. But making variations on the same recipe, year after year, can sap a chef’s creative energy.”

The piece read like a eulogy, celebrating a life well lived but oh-ver. I felt sad and put the question aside, again.

As I let my mind wander in my chiropractor’s waiting room a few days later, ideas started to bubble around how I could extend the blog’s life without draining mine. My sadness gave way to excitement.  

I’m learning the value of patience. Of staying open to different outcomes until I’ve found my truth.

I’m still refining the new ideas.

Stay tuned…

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Mystery solved

You may have wondered why I haven’t posted a blog for a few weeks. Here’s the scoop.

Our weather warmed by mid-April. Our provincial officer of health has promoted outdoor exercise throughout the pandemic. Gardening has become my not-guilty pleasure.

This blog is about a different mystery, also with a happy resolution.

Regular readers may recall a story about my offering to take care of a traffic circle garden in my neighbourhood and a later update. Here’s a related experience that warms my heart.

Late in the fall of 2018, a small brass knob appeared in one of the open spaces that feel vast in a newly planted garden. It seemed right at home and made me smile. My friend, Debbie, who helps with the garden, said it reminded her of a little Buddha head. All last year, we quietly wondered who had left the “gift”.

The answer came this spring.

“Do you take care of this garden?” a 50-something woman with a yoga mat slung over her shoulder asked as she greeted me.

“Yes, with help from a friend.”

“I just wanted to thank you for leaving that.”

“Leaving what?”

“That little brass knob. I placed it there for you because I was happy to see a new garden go in here. I’m so glad you didn’t throw it away.”

“I think it really adds and I’m glad no one has taken it. Thanks for donating it. Do you live in the area?”

“No, I live in the West End, but I come over here for my yoga classes. When I saw that this garden was available a while back, I asked my neighbour if she wanted to sponsor it with me. She thought it would be too far away for us to take care of it.” (Lucky for me, I thought.)

She went on to say that she had bought the little brass knob for a dollar to help out a fellow who was selling odds and ends because he was down on his luck. She wondered what the heck she would do with one knob and threw it into her pocket. When she saw the new garden, she decided this would be good spot for it.

I love the knob. Even more so because I now know the story behind it.

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Tale of two artists

Like most grandparents in Canada this year, I’ve given up seeing my grandchildren, Nathan, 9, and Avery, 7, in person since mid-March to reduce my odds of getting COVID-19.  

As a way to stay connected and feel useful, I’ve agreed to help with their learning while they cannot attend school. Each week, my son picks out an educational activity for each of them that lends itself to FaceTime conversation.

One week, Avery and I each undertook to make hearts to hang in our respective windows to say “Thank you” to essential workers.

Before the session, we collected art materials and a screen device to see each other and our respective works as they evolved. Avery set out a big sheet of plain paper and her markers at her kitchen table. I amassed coloured paper, scissors, magazines, and glue on my living room floor.

Avery decided to make a heart-shaped face. Every time she completed a section – a rainbow eyebrow, a heart-shaped eye, a flower nose, or a two-toned hair bow, she would show it to me.

Ah, I like the colour you chose for that!”

“Thank you.”

Every time I cut out a heart of a different colour, Avery would ask to see it.

“I like this one better than the one you just showed me.”

“Yes, me too.”

And so it went.

At the end of an hour, Avery had completed her masterpiece and was ready to hang it proudly for her mother, an essential worker, to see when she got home.

I had a lot of scraps and a pile of paper hearts of various sizes. The majority of them were green because the few magazines I could find focused on plants. I also had lot of misgivings about how I should arrange my hearts

For most of the following week, my project lingered on my living room floor. I made small tweaks each time I passed and waited for the sense it was “done”. Several musings about colour theory, experimentation with balance, and additional magazines and hearts later, I had a composition I was ready to glue into position.

I’m happy with it, but it lacks the joyfulness of Avery’s.

I’ve read a research finding that disturbs me. “The confidence of girls starts to plummet when they turn eight.”

“No-o-o-o-o-o!”

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Nostalgia junkie: Part 1

Maybe it’s only me, but this pandemic pause has created a steeply rising curve in the number of times per day I reminisce.

Here’s the first moment of nostalgia I’d like to share with you.

The pre-pandemic version of me continued to evolve as a socially- and environmentally-conscious consumer. When I needed a cleaning product, for example, I studied brand names and labels for key words like eco, green, safe, etc. If it was locally made and/or fairly traded, or sold in recycled, recyclable, and refillable containers, all the better.

All of a sudden, I’m a “grab and go” shopper.  

Last week, my grocery list included rubbing alcohol to use as a disinfectant. The store was out of stock, but my eyes landed on a bottle of Lestoil. Before I knew it, I had scrubbed my kitchen and bathroom floors with a generous solution of it. The smell transported me back to coming home from school when my mother was in the midst of her annual spring cleaning.

Basking in the clean-feeling aroma, I did a Google search on Lestoil. That brand has been around since 1933 and is currently owned by the Chlorox Company. It’s an American outfit that is committed, according to their website, to ending animal testing. They provide no update on where they are with that.

According to the “Organic Authority” website, Lestoil contains “petroleum distillates which pose high concern for cancer and damage to DNA, … pinus palustris (longleaf pine) oil, which has potential for skin irritation and allergies.”

So, in my eagerness to keep myself safe from COVID-19, I have compromised my values and may have set myself up for cancer and other threatening side effects.

But, aah, that familiar smell I associate with clean was so worth it!

Post script: I suspect I’m not the only person with a case of nostalgia. If you have found new pleasure recently in something that reminds you of your childhood, I invite you to post a comment.  

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DIY masks to the rescue

Well, it’s official. Evidence has mounted that people with no symptoms can unknowingly spread COVID-19. This week, the folks at the top shared that wearing a mask in public could reduce the risk that someone who is carrying the nasty bug will infect others in places where social distancing is difficult. Ah yes, the barrier method to counter infection.

I feel fine, but one never knows. My next grocery run is due. I’d better get with the program and equip myself to practice safe shopping.

Don’t tell anyone, but I have two surgical masks left from a package I bought before a friend who is immunocompromised came to visit a while ago. We’re supposed to leave the professional grade masks for health care workers. Best I don’t appear in public wearing contraband.

This means I need to make my own mask.

The internet has lots of patterns for home-made masks and I know how to sew. Excuses will be hard to find.

What to use? I purged my odds and ends of fabric before I moved to Vancouver. With the prohibition on non-essential trips, this means I need to make it with materials I have on hand if at all possible.

A hunt through my closets produced a torn white cotton bed sheet from the bygone era when all bed sheets, at least for simple folk like me, were white and cotton. It occasionally serves as a dust cover or drop cloth. Lots of washes have softened it. A few inches from the good side will provide enough fabric to create several multi-layer, washable, boring face masks.

I have a plan. I must stop watching every news conference and reading every post on social media so that will have time to follow through before my cupboard is completely bare.

Post script. If you, like me, have found diversion in the humour on social media, you’ve likely seen the videos of how to turn a lady’s thong…not the flip flop kind… into a face mask. Or a photo of a fetching woman modelling how one bra cup will do the job.

I had a moment of regret that I purged the psychedelic print bikini I wore for sunbathing in the early seventies. Three potential masks…gone.

I could have turned heads at the grocery store.

Post post script. I’ll leave the visual for this entry to your vivid imagination.  

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