Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Luxury of Time

Yesterday I wrote a bleak essay about losing the luxury of time ... about exchanging it for something of lesser value.  I decided not to post it and made up my mind to simply enjoy my weekend of freedom from teaching.  I love teaching ... the people ... the intellectual excitement it generates ... but I have been missing my long days and the peace that comes from being on top of things in my life.

So ... here is my Saturday recollected ... plus a photo of me taken on the first day of teaching last week ...

.. . the view as evening sets in ...

.... the satisfaction of a table finally cleared of hours of work
... a glass of wine to celebrate
... a bed made up fresh with air dried linens waiting for me
... a new bathing suit after being christened in a kayak and in the waters of the lake with Kenya by my side
... a tub filling for a relaxing bath

It has been a good day ... hope yours was too.  And just think ... there is still one more weekend day left before life begins to spin by again, and the luxury of time disappears.

Friday, 27 August 2010

I Couldn't Resist ...

This lovely little tale arrived in my mailbox this morning ... and rather than respond to a comment on an earlier post, I decided to post it for you to read.

Arthur and the Witch

Young King Arthur was ambushed and imprisoned by the monarch of a neighboring kingdom. The monarch could have killed him but was moved by Arthur's youth and ideals. So, the monarch offered him his freedom, as long as he could answer a very difficult question. Arthur would have a year to figure out the answer and, if after a year, he still had no answer, he would be put to death.

The question...? What do women really want? Such a question would perplex even the most knowledgeable man, and to young Arthur, it seemed an impossible query. But, since it was better than death, he accepted the monarch's proposition to have an answer by year's end.

He returned to his kingdom and began to poll everyone: the princess, the priests, the wise men and even the court jester. He spoke with everyone, but no one could give him a satisfactory answer.

Many people advised him to consult the old witch, for only she would have the answer.

But the price would be high; as the witch was famous throughout the kingdom for the exorbitant prices she charged.

The last day of the year arrived and Arthur had no choice but to talk to the witch. She agreed to answer the question, but he would have to agree to her price first.

The old witch wanted to marry Sir Lancelot, the most noble of the Knights of the Round Table and Arthur's closest friend!

Young Arthur was horrified. She was hunchbacked and hideous, had only one tooth, smelled like sewage, made obscene noises, etc. He had never encountered such a repugnant creature in all his life.

He refused to force his friend to marry her and endure such a terrible burden; but Lancelot, learning of the proposal, spoke with Arthur.

He said nothing was too big of a sacrifice compared to Arthur's life and the preservation of the Round Table.

Hence, a wedding was proclaimed and the witch answered Arthur's question thus:

What a woman really wants, she to be in charge of her own life.

Everyone in the kingdom instantly knew that the witch had uttered a great truth and that Arthur's life would be spared.

And so it was, the neighboring monarch granted Arthur his freedom and Lancelot and the witch had a wonderful wedding.

The honeymoon hour approached and Lancelot, steeling himself for a horrific experience, entered the bedroom. But, what a sight awaited him. The most beautiful woman he had ever seen lay before him on the bed. The astounded Lancelot asked what had happened.

The beauty replied that since he had been so kind to her when she appeared as a witch, she
would henceforth, be her horrible deformed self only half the time and the beautiful maiden the other half.

Which would he prefer? Beautiful during the day....or night?

Lancelot pondered the predicament. During the day, a beautiful woman to show off to his friends, but at night, in the privacy of his castle, an old witch? Or, would he prefer having a hideous witch during the day, but by night, a beautiful woman for him to enjoy wondrous intimate moments?

What would YOU do?

What Lancelot chose is below.

BUT....make YOUR choice before you scroll down below.

Noble Lancelot said that he would allow HER to make the choice herself.

Upon hearing this, she announced that she would be beautiful all the time because he had respected her enough to let her be in charge of her own life.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

On sitting in judgment

I read a blog post the other day that saddened me. The author is a highly intelligent person whose writing style is impeccable. She is an eclectic thinker and writer, and I like the way she pulls ideas together and reflects on life.

But whenever she writes about mothers her writing deteriorates into what seems to be loathing for her own mother. The tone becomes ugly, the perspective distorted. I can almost imagine her face twisting as she writes. And yet when I have read what she has actually written about her childhood, she seems to have been raised by a hardworking woman who did her best. Maybe I am missing something.

This skewed perception also comes through when she writes about old people generally, but I recognize this as  typical of young people who have not yet experienced the infirmity of aging. In fact I remember my own smugness and squirm.

When I was younger and had all my faculties and strength, I too sneered at the incompetence of teachers on the cusp of retirement, at the stale smells of older women who used public toilets ahead of me, at the even staler anecdotes told by old people who were remembering the years when they were competent, attractive and sometimes powerful or sexy, stories that showed them in a good light.

I too vowed never to become old in the ways they had.

But the reality is that we do. All of us. Even those of us who are intelligent, beautiful and powerful.

Infirmities of various kinds begin to take over.   Incontinence becomes chronic, and hormones dissolve leaving women decidedly unsexy, and men weaker and less virile.

There comes a day when most of us are not getting enough sleep, when it becomes harder to leap straight from bed to  shower, and when we do get up we sometimes forget one or more of the daily routines.

Sometimes it is the blood pressure pills.  Other times it is the shower.

It isn't often breakfast.

We reach a stage when we know that we are invisible  and we don't have anywhere important to go, anyway, so we don’t worry as much about appearance.  Does it really matter  whether our hair style is actually a style?  Somehow it seems less important to spend money on the impossible task of making ourselves attractive.

First we lose the youthful energy, and then the confidence that comes with it, so we are no longer as good at what we do (or did) for a living. Our minds are no longer as elastic as they once were, and our synapses begin to fray and snap.

Our short term memories deteriorate, leaving us with the longer term memories of better times.

So, yes, our conversations often take the form of truncated wisps of thought, meandering threads of back story, and remembered glory days.

It isn’t terribly attractive, but the alternative is worse, so unless dying at fifty is a choice we make, we will all get older ... and most of us will also become poorer at the same time.

The other day I met a lovely older woman who was missing two front teeth. My own father died with a gap in the front of his mouth. They probably both made their decisions to forego dental work based at least partly on the expense involved. I need $1500 worth of dental work myself, and I am having a tough time making the decision to go into debt for a partial plate I expect to hate wearing, especially since I am at that invisible age anyway.  Will Kenya really care whether I have a mouth full of teeth or whether I am nicely dressed and coiffed?

I have read posts recently in which young people have mentioned with some disdain that old Ontarians pay very little for their prescriptions. I sure wish I were an old Ontarian instead of an old Quebecer. Us old folks need more prescriptions than those younger folks. And those young folks are going to be old one day themselves. Bet then they’ll be glad that they are being given a break on prescription drugs!

And I bet that old Ontario woman with the missing teeth wishes she had a dental plan that would help her out.

Sorry about the lapses in grammar here ... just realized I was beginning to sound like a toothless old woman.

At any rate, income level does matter to the old. It helps determine whether they will try to keep themselves attractive.

Every time I step on a scale I remember feeling superior to my seventyish grandmother who weighed then what I do now. Every time I catch a whiff of urine, morning breath, or stale sweat, I squirm, thinking about my youthful distaste for the smell of old age. Every time I find myself telling a stale tale of long ago and see the boredom, or in one case, the distaste that spread over the face of someone who once loved me, I close my mouth and wish that it were either twenty years earlier or later than it is right now.

I love some things about aging. I am more reflective than I ever was as a young person. I am becoming more empathetic. I am also more courageous in some ways, more willing to take chances, less afraid of making a fool of myself.

But I am also heavier, weaker, more tired, and less mentally agile than I would like to be.

Yesterday I met a legally blind man who wears an insulin injecting device. He is active in three organizations which attempt to educate people about blindness and disabilities generally. His work spills over to concerns about poverty and the health system and to political action. He is almost ten years younger than I am, and still has most of his marbles, but he has far less freedom and mobility than I have.

He told me about an annual dinner that one of his associations puts on for business people called "Dinner in the Dark".   When people arrive they are blindfolded, seated, and served dinner. They are told where things are located on the table and on their plates, and then they eat blindly. Most people, as they grapple with knives and forks and food they cannot see, begin to understand blindness.

Maybe the young need to be given opportunities to experience the diminution that occurs in aging before they will be able to understand.

And most of them will.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


Here are several views of Claire Hogenkamp's  sculpture, Grief.  It was part of a series at her show this spring, and, although I really couldn't afford it, I knew I needed to have it close to me.  I love sculpture better than any other art form because it reveals something new each time you look at it.  I like multi-dimensionality in art as well as people.  (Is that a word?)

Waxing Moons and Waning Hopes

Tonight at 1 a.m. the August moon will be full.  I think I will try to get out there to see it ... either in my kayak on the lake or on the bridge over the Gatineau River.  I am glad I live in a safe place where such ventures are not madness ... and I am glad I am still up for such hijinks.

Which brings me to the waning hopes ...

I guess the preamble to all this should be the disclaimer that I don't really move through life hoping to "find someone" I have found a lot of someones over the years, some wonderful, some not so ... and I have now reached a stage in life that is very comfortable ... I have found/discovered/learned that the only person who will always be with me is right here now ... and I finally like being with her.  So I am not really looking for someone any more.

But ... that said ... there is always the niggling doubt ... the one that says, "You are not truly complete alone.  It would be nice to share meals with someone you love.  It would be nice to shake him awake at 1 a.m. and say, ‘Let's get dressed and look at the moon.'"

However, the chances that I will find a partner I can love are becoming slimmer all the time.   For one thing sex is no longer making demands in that insistent way it did when I was younger.  Now it takes time to show its face, and then it merely flirts with the idea.  I have to like the person before I even notice him that way. And I finally understand what all that fuss was ... you know the one where women said, "I'd rather be cuddled."  Me ... I'd rather share laughter and conversation ... ideas and adventures ... and yes ... cuddles and kisses too.

The problem is that men my age are falling apart. I  met a very nice man about a year ago but he has so many disabilities that I can't imagine us spending much time together.  It is exhausting being with him.  I would rather exchange emails.  I am going to meet another man this week, but he too has physical and linguistic limitations that make it unlikely that he will be the one.

And then there are the men who are younger ... who are likely looking for women younger, slimmer and more athletic than I am now.

One day bodies will be superfluous and there will only be meetings of minds.  When that particular rapture comes, age and infirmity will be a thing of the past.  But until then I need to find someone who is just right for me.  Not too smart ... not too stupid ... not too silly ... not too serious ... not too active ... not too infirm.  Someone who can climb 39 steps, shovel snow, and get up at 1 a.m. to see the full moon, but who has no desire to crack a whip behind me asking me to ride faster or ski further.  I am past wanting anything to do with a man who sees women as projects to get into shape.

I suspect  tonight my moon-gazing companion will be a black furry friend who also likes to nap between adventures ... if we wake up in time ... a friend who loves me just as I am.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

After the Hiatus

I have been busy teaching, entertaining and visiting ... and now I am home.  Before I start preparations for next week's lessons, I will fill in some of the blanks.

My friend Erma is just back from a visit to Kenya so we had a great gossipy visit last weekend.  Layla, who sent money off with Erma on this trip, joined us for dinner on Saturday.  Layla is 20 and has been raising money for disadvantaged kids to help them get an education since she was a young teenager.  I met her when she was fifteen.  She has helped to build kitchens and dormitories at the Daisy Centre for kids with disabilities, sent a crippled girl off to have a necessary operation so that she could attend high school as a CHES scholarship girl, and used her funds for a myriad of other small projects.  Erma taught in Western Kenya from 2001 - 2003.  She made it her business to discover where help was needed, and has been raising money and awareness in her Canadian church and high school ever since her return.  She has been back three or four times, each time discovering more projects to help, and so her Kenyan work continues to grow.

Dan, Sarah, Lucas and Remi spent a few days here while I visited Techwood and Scootz.  We all enjoyed shaking up our lives a little, and I came home to a clean house, fewer weeds and a mowed lawn, to a stream free of a tree that threatened to block it, and to a clothesline that works like a charm again..

While they worked and played here at the lake, I went off on missions in the Lanark area, and managed to fill my three days in interesting ways. 

I walked every day a few times with Kenya and old Charlie and discovered just how friendly Lanark is ... and how beautiful the gardens and river are.  Charlie loved his walks and hip-hopped along beside Kenya despite his arthritis.

At the annual Balderson sale I picked up bathing suits that will last me for another few years.  In Perth I found a wine cup that smooths out rough wine, and a bar of natural soap that smells good enough to eat.  I also attended a great outdoor concert in the rain with a new friend. 

Before I left, the boys and I went off to McDonald's Corners where I discovered the nicest Saturday Market I've ever been to.  Listening to conversations around me while I drank fair trade coffee, I was reminded of a recent trip to London when I marched against the Iraq War with hordes of little old grey haired ladies and men ... all from the peace protest era.  I bought quiches and fudge from little girls raising money for autism, and, when I asked why they were so interested, was told by the younger one that her older sister looked after a little girl who was on the spectrum. I don't think I have ever met nicer kids, and when I told their camera-toting grandfather, he said that it had to be his wife's influence because he was a bad actor.  Then I wandered over to talk to a goat lady ... and was reminded of my own experiences with goats ... another tale from the depths of memory.

After eating our way around the market, we drove to the dump where I found books and blouses at the recycling centre, and then visited the woman who bought Techwood's old place.  I like her ... and her dogs.  She too has a Charlie with the oddest colouring imaginable.  He looks ferocious but hides behind her skirts as soon as you speak to him.  It took Scootz a few minutes of gentle stroking to convince him to come out from under the desk once we were inside.  A friend of his owner described him as a cut and paste dog because his cross breeding has not created a harmonious blend at all.  Rather he has a shepherd size and shape, a pit bullish head, some dalmation freckles, a spectacular grey diamond on a white forehead, and his front half is white, the back half dark.

I was glad to get home, but I am very glad I spent a few days with my boys.  And it was nice to meet a new friend with whom I have so much in common.  Maybe next time I visit he will give me a ride on his Harley.

Last night I made the mistake of retreating from the steady rain into a movie.  Have you seen "The Weatherman"?  I found it terribly depressing ... good ... but hard to watch the protagonist's repeated failures and unremitting sadness ...

And now I must start work on my lessons for next week.  I am teaching Monday, Thursday and Friday this week.  Roger, the young Swiss carpenter, will be joined by a handicraft teacher in her early fifties and another younger Swiss woman.  I want to work with their common interests and the things they can teach one another.  I picked up some second hand books on handicrafts in Lanark ... so I think I will start there.

Have a great week ... and I will try to make more regular appearances than I have lately.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

For Barbara Carlson ... who gets this ...

    Like September Women

In September the world turns beige.
Do you know how many shades
Of brown exist?

Toasted wheat gold.  Dusty grass dun.
Greenish milkweed pod bronze.
Speckled fern ginger.

Rusty dried blood of old sumac.
Tan burrs explode, scattering
Pale creamy down.

The strongest colours now are seen
In fruit.  Scarlet berries.
Purple clusters.

Some September weeds still blossom
With dusty blue flowers
Or dull greyed mauves.

But by September, past their prime,
Mere husks for next year's seeds,
Most weeds are dull.

But only in comparison
To summer's lively shades.
Seen on their own,

There is great variety,
Considerable beauty,
As seed cases

Burst, sending forth winged messengers,
And textures grow softer,
More touchable.

Some are prickly in the autumn.
Most are more fragile.
But still lovely.

Like September women.

On seeing that forests are made of trees ...

This morning Kenya, Tango and I set out at 6:30 and walked for a mile or so along Mountain Road before turning to return home.  It was a lovely cool morning ... not even a hint of the enervating heat and humidity that have drained me of my essence lately.  As I walked I followed Alain deBotton's advice ... I paid attention.  And I discovered once again that those who pay attention reap rewards.

On one side of the road are farmers' fields; on the other,  bush that slopes sharply down to a stream.  We could hear it far below us and the dogs would like to have been free to explore it and get a drink, but Mountain Road is not Pike Lake Road.   There is traffic occasionally on Mountain Road and people drive fast and carelessly, usually making the assumption that they won't meet another soul.

Mixed forest or scrub brush grey with road dust doesn't usually merit much of my attention, but today I noticed the different trees ... oaks, sumac, poplars shivering in every breath of wind,  some enormous cedars, their branches drooping with the weight of seed pods, a tree whose branches were completely festooned with what looked like grape vine.  I picked one of the fruits in order to examine it later to see whether it was an unripe plum or a crab apple.

On the farmer's side of the road an apple tree long gone wild yielded a bounty of almost ripe fruit.  The dogs remained still in the culvert, fooled into thinking they were prisoners because I had looped their leashes over a twig that could never have held them back had they decided to test it, but maybe they were just happy to stay close to me.

Tango is like most of the dogs I look after; he stays very close, as if afraid I too will abandon him.  While they waited patiently, I gathered enough apples to make applesauce, and carried them home in one of the bags all dog walkers carry.

Golden rod, chicory, and the blood red of the sumac provided the only respite from the green of the vegetation and the dust of the dirt  road, but even the greys and greens showed a range of  hues.  I almost picked up another rock for Teddy's cairn. It was beautifully shaped and  pink mottled the grey, but it was too heavy to carry back.  By now I was carrying the bag of apples and holding the leashes of  two large dogs who outweigh me, and it was likely that the visiting greyhound would be awake by now.  His appearance always startles the dogs.  I have a feeling that they can't quite figure out what kind of animal he is.  At any rate I was not sure I could manage to hold them back if I carried anything else, so I  left the rock for another day.

It was a lovely walk ... and  ... for a change, I was able to see the trees in the forest .  Almost made me want to spend a few weeks traveling the northern route to Thunder Bay again ... a route that takes you past endless miles of northern Ontario scrub brush ... this time paying attention to the details.


Friday, 6 August 2010

Doggone it

My day began at 5:30 a.m. with a dog's wet nose next to mine.  I had slept soundly since 7:30 the night before exhausted by teaching and the humidity.  I like moderation ... especially now that I am older.  I dislike intense heat and sopping wet humidity, but I am not a great fan of frigid temperatures or winter-dry air either.  I like having something to keep me alive intellectually but I become stressed by too many demands on my time.  I hate crowds but like people in small doses; value privacy but like to have the silences broken occasionally.  This morning at 5:30 I realized that we were being granted a reprieve from the rain forest climate we have been enduring this summer.  I headed off with the dogs for the first walk I have actually enjoyed for ages. Kenya bounced for the first time in a while, and the two dogs, Kenya and Tango, dashed ahead in typical doggy fashion zigzagging from woods to lake all along the road. I chatted with a friend I had hardly seen all summer while the dogs rooted about in his garden for mice and feinted with one another.

Roger arrived a little late to class yesterday.  He had slowed down to accommodate Kiwi who was exhausted by her very long run in the humid air.

On a much sadder note:  This afternoon we will be burying Teddy in a lovely spot near the gravel pit owned by friends.  He always loved this lake so it is fitting that he will rest here forever. I will post photos of Teddy and the spot later.

Teddy was always one of those special dogs ... the sweet natured ones who wanted nothing more than love and the occasional cookie.  He walked with a spine twisted by a car accident when he was a puppy, and lived with pain from all kinds of probably related health conditions for nine years. 

All of us who loved him will miss his smile.  Yes, Teddy smiled, and wagged his whole body  even when he was suffering.  And he loved blonde female dogs right up till the end.

My father's grave marker says simply, " At rest in the mountains he loved" ... I am glad that Teddy too will be at rest in the hills that he loved.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Lessons My Students Teach Me ...

One of the things I love about teaching is that teachers are always learning from their students. 

This year I have had more adult students than I had last year and they have taught me different lessons than the ones taught by adolescents.

Sybille and Roger have taught me a great deal about a basic Swiss characteristic that is ingrained because there is such a deliberate effort to ensure that children and later adults adopt the idea that consensus is far better than conflict in solving problems  It makes sense that a neutral country would  be non-confrontational, of course, but Sybille and Roger made me really understand this.

Sybille says that one of the problems with always having to resolve conflicts consensually at home or in business is that meetings run by the Swiss are very very long.  Sometimes it is a relief to have a German chair a meeting  -- more efficient -- and everyone gets home to dinner on time.

Roger was doing some improv in class the other day, simulating an argument between two men at a market.  Very abruptly the smaller man ended the argument by giving in, and giving up his right to the location for his stall.  Roger said, "There is a Swiss proverb that says that in a tug-of-war, the intelligent person gives in; the stubborn mule or ass refuses to."

Yoshiko taught me many lessons about healthy longevity, some by example; others directly.  The Japanese tend to be longer-lived than people in the west.  I realize now after spending a week with the 84 year old Yoshiko that diet and exercise are largely responsible.  Yoshiko eats four very small meals a day, and seaweed, fish, fruit  and vegetables are her staples.  She drinks green tea and stays away from alcohol.  Last winter she spent 80 days on the ski hills..

She also leads a stress-free life surrounded by beauty and intellectual stimuli.  She is an artist so she is not bored, but she says that her life is not work-filled.

When she and Rowboat Flo discussed their healthy longevity, they talked about physical activity.  Flo gardens and used to walk miles.  Yoshiko skiis.  When they discussed keeping their minds active and alert, both women agreed that we need to exercise our minds as well as our bodies.  For Yoshiko  that means painting and travel and eating a diet rich in brain foods.  Flo uses puzzles of various kinds in the same way, and, although her diet is very different from Yoshiko's, it too is healthy, and much of what she eats she grows herself.

I am reading a superb book on travel called  The Art of Travel.    It is about why we travel, and how we can  enrich our lives through travel.  By the end of the book it becomes clear that physically going to a new place is just one way to travel.  The real secret to enriching one's life lies in learning to see with new eyes; taking the time to study nature and life in general.  Travelers, artists and writers who notice the details bring back new ideas and  experiences that they can bring to bear in their everyday lives.

Teaching travelers is just another way of learning things that can make life more interesting, and more fulfilling.

Every day I experience something wonderful and surprising.  This week Roger taught me how to make apple fritters and  how to design a Swiss roof  that will never leak.  He also reminded me that Shepherd's Pie is delicious,  so i am having that for supper tonight.  Perhaps most exciting for me is watching him figuure out some knotty language problem,.  When he gets it  I see a a light dawn.  He has once more allowed me to see how language learning takes place.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Life in the Slow Lane ...

I drove a very long way through countryside on Sunday to deposit a cheque in my account.  My bank has few branches in this part of Quebec.  I bought gas for the same price I pay in Ontario. It's not that Quebec gas got any cheaper; just that Ontarians are now paying the HST so they are being hit as hard now as Quebecers always have been.

On my way home I saw a sight that warmed the cockles of my heart, but would probably have horrified people from the generation raising children.  A grandfatherly man on a large riding mower was cutting the grass in the culvert adjoining his property.  Clutched tightly and protectively in one of his arms was a little grandson.  I suspect that both will remember that experience for the rest of their lives. 

This morning I began teaching Roger, a young Swiss carpenter with a good sense of humour and a weak grasp of English tenses.  I like him, and I suspect that we will have as good a time as Sybeille, Yoshiko and I enjoyed.  The dog from his home stay followed his bike all the way and slept under the table while we had our lesson.  Sweet dog ... a border collie called Kiwi.  Roger decided that so many Canadian pets were named after foods that perhaps we ate our dogs ...   Muffin, Pumpkin, and Tootsy Roll. were three he mentioned in addition to Kiwi ... he was kidding.

When I got home I made turkey soup broth from the leftovers from last night's dinner with Tammy and Carlos, and then Tango arrived.  Tango has been here a few times.  In appearance, he reminds me of  Chance, the dog I adopted in Eleuthera.  Kenya treats him with kid gloves unless he does something really bad.  This is because his first response to a new dog is to growl menacingly.  She has decided that he is the alpha male ...  and she even  lets him get the sticks when they both go to retrieve them in the lake, but she will not allow him to growl at me ... or at Sadie.   I think he is responding to a new situation with an attitude of "the best defence is a strong offence" ... and by tomorrow or the next day he will relax and just enjoy being at a doggies' holiday spa.  Today after a long walk with both dogs, I played in the lake with the two of them.  Part of my time was spent teaching Tango that he is not to mob me in the water.  I was just recovering from Charlie's claw marks and now I have more.  Charlie acted out of fear.  I think Tango, who is very comfortable in the water, might have been trying to save me from drowning.

So ... August is beginning to look like both a socially active and busily profitable month here at the lake.  maybe I will get that dental work covered after all!