Posted tagged ‘reading’

What Miracle?

December 20, 2016
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Future Santa in his sleigh?

Here we go, lying to our children. Again. About a jolly, ageless man in a red suit, miraculously popping down a billion chimneys or magically passing through walls to deliver gifts to all the youngsters of the world in a single night. Then, we’re drawn along as though by some magnetic power and forced to buy! buy! buy!

Things.

Why?

To step back from the frenzy is a) to see how ridiculous it is, or, more hopefully, b) to search for the deeper meaning in this, the last month of the year…in children’s Christmas concerts at school, in the music we only listen to in December, or in the opportunities at every turn, church, grocery store, street corner, to give to those less fortunate.

I was in a shop downtown with my six-year-old buying a present for a family member. Suddenly my son looked up at me and said, “Santa isn’t real. Magic reindeer? How does that work?”

I should have patted him on the back and sighed with relief. I should have told him the truth. After all, when the tooth fairy forgot to come the other night, and there were no questions about “real” versus “fairy” I had to wonder, are my children naive? Stupid? Gullible?

One of the books I bought for my daughter this season was A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. I couldn’t resist taking a peek. In one scene, Smith’s main character has just delivered her first baby at age 18. She solicits her mother’s advice about how to give her daughter a better life than she has had. Her mother says:

“And you must tell the child the legends I told you—as my mother told them to me and her mother to her. You must tell the fairy tales of the old country. You must tell of those not of the earth who live forever in the hearts of people—fairies, elves, dwarves and such…. and you must not forget the Kris Kringle. The child must believe in him until she reaches the age of six.”

“Mother, I know there are no ghosts or fairies. I would be teaching the child foolish lies.”

Mary [her mother] spoke sharply. “You do not know whether there are not ghosts on earth or angels in heaven.”

“I know there is no Santa Claus.”

“Yet you must teach the child that these things are so.”

“Why? When I, myself, do not believe?”

“Because,” explained Mary Rommely, simply, “the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe. She must start out by believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination. I, myself, even in this day and at my age, have great need of recalling the miraculous lives of the Saints and the great miracles that have come to pass on earth. Only by having these things in my mind can I live beyond what I have to live for.”

Instead of responding to my son’s queries in that downtown shop, I allowed him the candy cane the clerk offered. I remembered the images I had as a child of a jolly Santa hurrying through the air behind his team of reindeer.

I can still hear those bells.

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Brutal winter magic

March 29, 2014

It started with the flu and a power outage. It developed into a cold, a cough, bronchitis. Weekly storms brought winds that nearly blew me off my feet. Someone threw up. Someone else got an ear infection. Cold sweats and hot chills, and he we go with the flu again.

This winter has been less than kind to the general health of my family.

There were four PD days to manage in February, snow days and sick days from work and school. Several times I said aloud, I did not go back to work to be stuck at home with kids! Then I’d get sick again, for punishment.

Still, there’s been magic. The tooth fairy visited us with Santa Christmas Eve. I’d forgotten about this until my daughter lost her first molar last week.

The next day, after she’d stashed her four dollars, she said she had something to ask me. I didn’t know it at the time, but my body was brewing another bout of flu. So maybe I wasn’t feeling much like keeping the magic alive, which made it easier, when my daughter asked if it is, in fact, parents who leave money for teeth, to ignore the angel on my one shoulder for the devil on the other. I told her the truth. Then, when she asked about the Easter bunny, I believe I used the word ridiculous.

Now I might have the angel and devil mixed up. Because what I will never forget, despite my haze of cold sweats, is how grateful she was that I didn’t lie to her direct question. And what I hope my daughter never forgets about this conversation, was the advice I gave her to move forward with this new information: how, when you are no longer told what to believe, you are free to discover your own magic in the world.

It’s taken a certain amount of magic to get through this brutal winter. I found plenty between the covers of books. Quite literally, in The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, what a cool idea! Very much an impossible love story, where real magic is almost believable against a backdrop of realism, with so much great detail. I have re-read some of my favourite authors, Jane Urquhart, Anita Rau Badami, Barbara Gowdy, Michael Ondaatje, Susan Musgrave.

Did I mention I am going to Iceland? I can hardly believe it, it seems so unreal, but I’ll be there in just over a week. My preparation for the Iceland Writers Retreat has open several doorways to new discoveries, including Sjon (I read The Blue Fox in an afternoon, and it summoned ancient storytelling methods in a modern setting, very different from anything I’ve read lately). Another book that was on my list but I got to it sooner because of this trip, was The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden (which won Canada Reads this year!). This is a very important book, one I feel like I’ve been waiting for, for a long time, for its very honest depiction of Canada’s beginnings, a story we don’t talk about often enough.

And finally, I discovered Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book. I haven’t been able to pick up another new book since putting this one down. This is the most incredible work of historical fiction I could ever imagine. This one makes me squeeze my eyes shut tight and imagine I can time travel to the places Brooks brought to life on the page, several different time periods, all drawn so clearly it makes my fingers itch to touch the dirt, the rocks, and clothing of the people there.

I’ve had at least one sick day with each of my children this winter. With my three-year-old, I made train tracks and caught up on some Kids’ CBC episodes. With my middle son, I played Uno, Monopoly, and enjoyed his favourite Disney movies. My daughter and I watched two seasons of The Dance Academy on Netflix. I’ve hardly had time to think about how stuck I was feeling last year before I found a job. Things are ticking along, just as they should.

 

 

Epic Journeys

April 23, 2012

I have a note above my writing desk at the moment that says: stories I grew up with were about love and survival, tragedy and death, and always, always REBIRTH. I put this note there, next to a few pictures of my kids, to remind me of something I’m working towards.

It may seem obvious, we’re all working towards goals, aren’t we? But we can loose our momentum, stumble along the way. We’re human, and stumbling is as much a part of our nature as dreaming. Hitting low points can make us tender, extra sensitive to the bruises we’ll encounter. But that only makes the highs all the more sweeter.

The weather here on the Rock is often a struggle to deal with, the damp that offers so few breaks from snow and fog (two and a half days in a row last week of sunshine that melted what we hope is the last of the snow, then an entire weekend of sun actually left me feeling a bit breathless, it’s so rare to see that much light here!). So we do the best we can. My husband and I joined the Family Y, and we’ve been using the heck out of it, mostly in the way it’s designed to be used: as a family. It’s great, we walk there a few evenings each week, put the kids in the “baby room” as our older two call it, then hubby and I can go work out together, which I don’t think we’ve ever done before in a gym. He found out the other night there was a kickboxing class about to begin, so we thought we’d check it out. By the end I was laughing deliriously, it was so challenging! And super fun.

We’ve also been out of town together a few times in the last couple months — Cuba, just he and I, which was, wow, so sweet. The kids did great with my parents for the week we were gone, and I found the right balance between missing them, and…..um, actually, I didn’t miss them, it was so great to get away for a week, but excruciatingly lovely to squeeze them again when we returned. Then, my hubby took one more entire week off (pure bliss to have him for a stay-cation!) and we went out of town for two nights, to Terra Nova Park. We stayed in a cabin, but did a soggy hike one day, half of which was in knee-deep snow. It felt great to get out there with the kids, to be somewhere alone, just us, in the trees, listening to the birds, and to see our 7 and 5-year-old live up to the challenge of having to walk in the couple kilometres on the road, since it was still closed for the season, then do the 3 km hike around the lake and all the way back up the road to the truck. We were super proud of them. It was like an initiation  that they all three passed (the baby was in the backpack for most of it, but we let him down to scuttle the last hundred metres or so in the pouring rain). That day was my birthday, and on the hike, our five-year-old lost his first tooth! The motivation to have his first visit from the tooth fairy probably helped his little legs to keep moving through all that heavy snow.

In keeping with some of the things I’ve promised myself (and my mother!) to do this year, I also applied for a job recently (which was already filled by the time I made my follow-up call, but still, it felt good to stretch those job-searching muscles again, to see on paper, ie, my resume, all the things I’m still proud of). I have, as I set out to do in my resolutions for 2012, been writing more, more and more, and reading as much as possible, too.

During my latest visit to the library, in search of a book to get lost in, I discovered something I didn’t think I was looking for at all. I’d thought about finding something in the fantasy genre, something otherwordly, completely fantastical and full of action. Instead, I was drawn to a non-fiction book I can hardly put down (The Golden Thread, a reader’s journey through the great books, by Bruce Meyer), one that has given me the boost I needed to get back to work on the novel I’m determined to have a complete first draft of by the end of this year (not so amazing, really, since I’ve had it in the works for more than a decade now, in one form or another). See, this book got me thinking about all the classic epic journeys that take place in all my favourite books, from childhood to now….and beyond.

Meyer has reminded me of what I enjoyed in Tolkein, Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis, Milton, Homer, and so many more writers. That the classics follow a standard set in the Bible, that ideas and words should reach into our imaginations and grasp hold of something vital in the human spirit. What I’m working towards is a story of hope, survival and rebirth. I don’t stop to think about whether or not my own epic journey will make it to publication. I do stop to relish the support and the enjoyment of creation along the way. My husband made my birthday cake into the shape of a book, with it’s title, and By Carrie, written on it. It was like a tangible endorsement for me to keep going, even when writing is nothing but a hobby for me at the moment, even when I sometimes find it hard to justify working at something that has no monetary value. But hey, I have to keep believing, it’s not about the destination. Life is in the journey.

To Do. Repeat. Everything twice.

May 4, 2011

I’m treading water in the space between what pulls me down (chores, disciplining children, loneliness of having no close friends yet in the city we now call home) and what lifts me up (a threshold to cross where every day is a new adventure).

There’s nice enough people here in St. John’s. I see some other moms, and fewer dads, at the playgroups I frequent with my two sons while my daughter is at school. There’s one on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at the Newfoundland Sports Centre, it’s free, and the gym is MASSIVE. My wild child can run until his cheeks are flaming red, kicking and throwing balls, flipping over mats, crawling through tunnels. Several times a week I pack the baby on my back, push the stroller for the wild one (in case he ever tires), and visit various parks perched on the hills of St. John’s. I talk to people in grocery stores. At the library.

Still, I can’t help but think back to our last three moves and know that by this time, two months into it, I had at least one new best friend. Other than my husband, whose job is more demanding than ever, I find I’m very much on my own in a strange and colourful place with no close bonds yet formed.

I despise the sound of myself complaining. And so I focus my attention towards lighter facts. Like the fact that we have a doorframe next to the kitchen table where we can put the baby in his jolly jumper (one of the things we thought to pack ourselves, hence saving it from storage). The floor there is uneven, so we stuff pillows and a blanket over the knobby threshold and he bounces and squeals with delight, part of our family dinners. My kids may not have the huge backyard with play set we had at our old house in Thompson, but wherever we walk in this city, they climb, roll, balance on fences and retaining walls, and stretch their muscles in ways they never did in the flat lands we moved from.

After six weeks, we finally and officially became residents of Newfoundland. We got our driver’s licenses and MCP (medical care plan) cards for this province. Our vehicles registered. Our insurance, bills and mail organized. Sort of.

Let me know if you’ve experienced this before, because I really hope it’s not just us: having to do EVERY SINGLE THING TWICE. Go to City Hall to get a parking permit. Fail to bring one piece of paper with my name and new address on it (because I didn’t have one yet), go home, go back another day with all relevant information. Go to the vehicle registration office, they can’t get in touch with some official or other on their end, have to return another day to finish that process. Pick up forms for MCP, they are the wrong ones. Take the correct forms to the office that the website stated to go to in the Confederation Building, turns out it’s not the right place at all. Start all over again. This time, make a few phone calls (which takes at least an hour on hold) to discover that the office to get the MCP cards is actually located downtown.

The day I did finally get our MCP cards, I also got my driver’s license. It was a Friday. I could hardly believe that I’d finally have my new ID. Of course, both those things had already been attempted previously, but still, to accomplish two things in one day, all three kids in tow, it was amazing.

My husband and I celebrated with a bottle of wine and cheval noire, it’s our new favourite beer out here, Black Horse (not really called by the French name but that’s what we’ve been jokingly calling it, in honour of our daughter whose ability to translate half her English vocabulary into the other official language is growing at a surprisingly fast pace). Then we got a cold.

The weeks have been tinged with drama and drudgery. I am both amused and frustrated by the contents of this furnished rental: six ladles, four colanders, numerous pots with no lids and lids with no pots, and not a single potato peeler (I finally bought one).

And so, eight weeks after moving here, we (well actually, I) evicted us from this grand old home and embarked on a house hunt. Again. After looking at some other rentals, I got nervous.

This week, I changed my mind. I think we’ll stay put, maybe attempt to get a few more things out of storage. I know some gals who call it a “woman’s prerogative” to change her mind over and over again. I call it one of the fairer sex’s many curses. I think I slip into a bit of a depression every time I change my mind, then change it back again. What a drain of energy. I’d rather think of it as exploring all my options. All little too thoroughly.

I am grateful for the chance to live here in Newfoundland, a place I realize we may never have visited just as a vacation destination (it’s certainly not a cheap place to get to. It’s also, we realize now, the most expensive place we’ve ever lived. Everything does have to get here by ship, and apparently NL doesn’t have its own cows, because milk, for one, costs twice what it does anywhere else we’ve lived). I don’t mean to complain, really I don’t. But in keeping with the main theme of my blog, on relocation, I just want to be very very clear: moving is never easy. More to the point: being displaced is a nightmare. But we find things to enjoy along the way.

We explored some of the East Coast Trail over Easter weekend. WOW. Stunning. And we visited the lighthouse at Ferryland on a bluebird day. There’s so much hiking out here, and our family is at a stage where we can enjoy these things together, the kids running all over the craggy, moss and heather-covered rocks, the baby in a backpack.

I’m also discovering some of the most amazing writers. I’m reading Lisa Moore’s February, and I’m absolutely blown away by this haunting, touching story. This is Moore’s fictitious tale based on the very real, horrible tragedy that happened off the coast of NL in 1982 when the Ocean Ranger rig sank into the frigid depths of the Atlantic, killing all 84 people who were stationed on it that Valentine’s evening. Perhaps it is my choice of novel, but I’m starting to think that one thing that characterizes Newfoundlanders is sadness. I don’t know how anyone who is from here, could not have been touched in some way by at least one of the many many tragedies that has occurred here. Tidal waves, severe storms, and countless instances of lives being lost at sea. I can see why so many people here have a true love hate relationship with the ocean that surrounds them.

I joined the Writer’s Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador, WANL, and I’m really looking forward to tapping into that group. It seems to be a very strong, active organization here at the most eastern tip of Canada. And perhaps as I do get to meet and know other people here, I will find the humour, and not just the sadness, that I know lives here too.