Saturday, December 31, 2005

Ice Delight

As I have already posted, the ice on the trees and branches was rather magical yesterday. When we went out for our snowshoe walk in the middle of the afternoon, we could often catch colours shining from light refracting from the ice. I probably exaggerate only slightly when I say that it was as if nature was gifting us with Christmas lights in the middle of the day.

icy branch

Of course, I wasn't able to capture this in a photo. Perhaps it's only something that the eye can see, or perhaps I simply don't have the skill. However, in the above photo, you should at least be able to see points of glittering, albeit non-coloured, light and possibly grant that I am not making all of this up.

For whatever reason there is a fence around the homestead area. I've a feeling that it's original purpose may have been to keep animals out. I have found old, rotting fences in places in the woods around here, and I surmise that at one time, they tried to raise livestock of some sort on this extremely poor soil. In any event, the following is a photo of a portion of that icy fence.

frozen river


Winter Makeover

I have decided that a fresh winter template is in order, so here it is. Don't let the odd title fool you. The blog is still called Raindrops, but I'm hiding the real title in order to be cutesy. I have posted it at the top of the sidebar to try to avoid confusion, but I don't suppose that will work all that well to newcomers or regulars who happen to miss this message. Maybe I should leave this at the top for a few days?

We're off to Riverwood in the morning: Riverwood being the name that our inlaws have given to their forested property on the Canadian Shield. A small river runs along one boundary: forest + river = Riverwood. We're only going for a few days this time, but we hope to spend up to a month there during the winter. We enjoy snowshoeing through the woods and on the frozen river. The photo background in the header above was taken there last winter.

If I don't post again between now and then, I officially wish you a Happy New Year. But I might post something because we do have internet access there — albeit incredibly slow access.


Friday, December 30, 2005

Not So Ill After All

They say that it's an ill wind that blows no good, or bodes no good, or something to that effect.

Whatever the exact saying, I couldn't help but think of it today. You see, we've had miserable weather lately: drizzle, freezing rain, that sort of thing. I don't think anybody looks forward to freezing rain, but the results can be quite fetching.

We couldn't help but be impressed by the picturesque beauty of ice on the branches as we drove to the cottage today. Cuppa tried, in vain, to snap pictures from the moving car. This was a difficult challenge for her little camera, so when we stopped for coffee, I hauled mine out of the depths and handed it to her.

This is one result.

icy road

She took this as began to near the cottage, perhaps about twenty to twenty-five minutes out. The branches look more snow covered than ice covered right here, but I suspect that it's a bit of snow over top of a bit of ice. I really like the photo with the winding road, the vehicle up ahead, and the snow/ice on the trees.

We arrived a shortly after noon and the wood stove, about six or seven hours later, now has the cottage up to a relatively comfortable 60°F/15°C. When we arrived it was closer to 45°F/7°C, but we were bustling in and out, unloading the car and cleaning up, so we were fine. Later, we went out for a little snowshoe walk, and that kept us warm too.

On our walk, I took the following photo. It peers through icy branches towards the cottage/house where we stay. Doesn't the cottage look inviting framed within the icy branches?

riverwood cottage

Now, I tell myself to be patient with my slow connection while I upload this. Our relatives, the owners of the estate, will be coming tomorrow, but perhaps I'll be able to find the time to post another pic or two regardless. I'm sure that you await with bated breath.

PS: I know that Cuppa will be also posting some photos, so do check out Brown Betty Brew.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Small Steps

Cuppa and I began to read a new book last night because we finished The Lord of the Rings trilogy the night before. We have been to Tolkien's marvellous Middle Earth before, both separately and together, but LOTR is one of those tomes that you can read again and again. At least we can.

When I say that we read them, what I mean is that I read them aloud to Cuppa at bedtime. It is I who does the reading and she who does the listening, not because I am the better reader but because I am less sleepy at bedtime.

We started this routine quite a while ago now and have read many books in this fashion. For a while, it was somewhat of a hit and miss proposition, but it has long since become an integral part of our nightly routine, so much so that we don't miss too many nights, even on the road or in strange beds.

Our version of LOTR is 1037 pages long. We began sometime last June, nearer the end of the month than the beginning as I recall. Because we read only a few pages per night, we tend to think that it will go on forever, but, approximately six months later, we are done.

Somehow, that seems very significant to me. It reminds me of the old proverb: The longest journey starts with a single step. It makes me wonder how many journeys are never begun simply because the destination seems too distant and the effort too daunting? For most of us, however, the notion of taking a few small steps is not terribly dismaying.

This season is a time of fresh beginnings for many, the season of new resolves, a time for change. Consider the importance of small steps, however. Sometimes, it's not even crucial to have a grand and lofty goal in mind; sometimes, we simply need to take a few tentative small steps. Having begun to move, we may eventually surprise and delight ourselves with how how much distance we have covered.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Poignant Posts 3

fence posts

Perhaps my favourite post since the second issue of Poignant Posts is Fumbling for Word's, Eating bread with the Bishop. I have also appreciated Joyful Woman's, Tradition, Rainey Pete's, Finding Christmas, and Wondering's, Gravity, Cacti, Pottery and Responsibility.

Perhaps because we watch A Christmas Carol every Christmas, except for this year so far, I was interested to read Flitzy Phoebie's three informative posts about Charles Dickens. I think the best way to get there is to go into her December Archives; scroll down to "A Christmas Carol" - Charles Dickens on December 19 and then scroll up to the two posts above that one: The Marshalsea Debtor's Prison - London and Mile End Terrace - Birthplace of Dickens.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Breakfast and Narnia

We've said goodbye to Ladybug and Powerpuff. They came by for a big breakfast this morning. For six people, we do two pounds of bacon, a very cheesy dozen eggs, biscuits, and caramelized onions. Since we don't get together and do this very often, it's okay; our bodies will recover. Butterfly and The Boy are dropping them off in Ottawa to grab the bus back to Toronto. While Greyhound deposited them off right in town, but the only way to be sure of getting on for the ride home was to go to the big terminus in the city.

A few of you mentioned Narnia in your comments to the previous post. I am somewhat ambivalent in my feelings; I enjoyed it to a significant degree, and I'm definitely glad that I saw it, but I do have some reservations.

From what I remember, the movie is quite true to the book. They set the background well by showing how the kids got into Narnia, which looked very much like the near north of Ontario (and much of Canada) in winter. The girl who played Lucy was quite charming and delightful in my opinion, while Peter (in the photo) possibly seemed a little weak, or perhaps stilted, to me.

Aslan in the movie could not quite capture the Aslan of my imagination, but I was pleased that the film remained true to the Christian mythology of the book: death and resurrection; the sacrificial lamb (or lion); forgiveness and restoration; the conflict (both inner and outer) between good and evil — all presented in subdued and inoffensive sort of fashion.

Unlike Lord of the Rings, it's a kids movie. I'm glad that I saw it, but I wasn't blown away by it. I did not experience a reprise of the same sense of wonder that the books brought to me. Of course, I am a different person now; I did read the series as an adult but as a younger and much more credulous one.

By all means, go and see it. I feel fairly certain that most of you will enjoy it to a greater or lesser degree — probably greater. I can't think that many would actively dislike Narnia.


Monday, December 26, 2005

For Dale

As I have mentioned before, Butterfly goes all out for Christmas, hanging seasonal decorations wherever possible. Whenever, I have noticed this wall-hanging in the past few weeks, I have thought to myself (as if I would think to anyone else) that I should take a picture and post it for Dale at Musings and Meanderings From Mimico. This saying is Dale's trademark —— the signature that he uses in his emails.

Although I post it specifically for Dale, I'm pretty darn sure that we can all use this reminder from time to time. I know that I need relearn the lesson with great regularity.

We are home for a few hours after spending two nights at Butterfly's s, but we'll soon be heading back for turkey leftovers (yum) and a night at the movies. That's right; we're all going to see Narnia tonight. All in our family have read and enjoyed The Narnia Chronicles, especially Butterfly who has read it many times. I even remember reading it (the very first book in the series, I think) to the kids at the cottage one summer when they were little.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Fine Turkey, Greasy Burgers, and Best Wishes

When we were first married, and until the oldest was almost ten years old, give or take, we would always be out of town for Christmas. Generally, we would spend Christmas Day and perhaps the day or two prior with my parents. Then, we'd be off to celebrate Cuppa's family.

When my parents moved to be near us, our place became the new Christmas Day venue although for about another ten years, we would still trek to Toronto on Boxing Day or the day after that to celebrate the season with Cuppa's much larger clan. Nevertheless, we have had Christmas in our own house since then and up until last year when the celebratory site shifted to Butterfly's place.

We will gather there, at my daughter's house, on Christmas Eve, and she will put out snack foods of all sorts. We'll probably play at least one game of Trivial Pursuit, and, in all likelihood, we'll also watch Scrooge, or A Christmas Carol, if you prefer. We have watched one version or other for many, many years. The two favourites are the old Alistair Simm version and the somewhat newer George C Scott productions. There are others, but we gravitate to those two. Sometimes, we watch both but not usually, and we sometimes watch on Christmas Day rather than Christmas Eve.

Once we did start having Christmas at our place, it wasn't long before Cuppa decided that, in order to have more peaceful and less harried Christmas Day, she should cook the turkey a day ahead of time. It has worked well, and the turkey tastes just as good, believe me. Because the cooking of the bird becomes the primary focus of the day of Christmas Eve, we are not always attuned to preparing other meals.

And so, another tradition, or semi tradition, began to emerge — for me to bring in a fast food meal at lunch time. For whatever reason, perhaps because it was the restaurant (if that's not too strong a word) closest to us in Sarnia, I usually chose Burger King. Well, this is a small town; there is no Burger King, no Wendy's, no McDonalds, not even a Pizza Hut. Unfortunately, there is a KFC; fortunately, there is a Harvey's. Harvey's is a Canadian burger chain which, as far as I know, predates all of the others in this country. So, that's where I obtained our seasonal greasy burger today.

We had let this tradition fall by the wayside in recent few years because the family seemed to have been gathered around on turkey-cooking-day, and we probably had cold meats and fresh rolls at hand and in abundance. Today, however, Cuppa and I were alone again on turkey-cooking-day, and we felt it high time to revive this semi-tradition. It was rather pleasant revisitation. We hardly ever go to burger joints anymore, but it's it's still a bit of a treat on rare occasions.

Yes, I know that it isn't Christmas Eve today, but the younger daughter and her friend will be arriving from Toronto this evening, so we'd like to get the bird done in order to spend as much time as possible with family tomorrow.

And so, with all of that palaver behind me, let me wish you a final Merry Christmas by posting another card, unanimated this time, below. I used this one two years ago. I notice that after a slow-down for the past few days that the blogs are busy today. I assume that many are making their final pre-Christmas post — as am I — so perhaps you will find time to stop by.

Best wishes to all. May you find a goodly measure of cheer and joy over the next few days. If you are fortunate enough to find yourself surrounded by dear family and/or friends, may you treasure each moment. If not, may you still find the warmth and goodwill of the season glowing within your heart.

Whatever else be lost among the years,

Let us keep Christmas still a shining thing.

Whatever doubts assail us, or what fears,

Let us hold close one day,

remembering its poignant meaning for the hearts of men.

Let us get back our childlike faith again.

Grace N Crowell


Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Christmas Card

For many years now, up until this year, I have been making my own Christmas cards. I normally use one of my own photos and print it in card format complete with inside message on my own printer. For a number of years, I even printed the envelopes with fancy dancy graphics. Some people remarked that they kept the envelopes. I don't suppose that they meant in perpetuity but that they didn't toss them out immediately on opening.

For a number of years I would also send out an email version, and then I got to the point where I just put it online and sent an email message with a link. As a result, I have a few old cards in storage here and there, and I thought that I would post one of these on each of the next few days.

In most cases or at least some, I no longer have the inside message, but I'm sure that you can imagine my sentiments pretty well by now. When Christmas rolled around last year, I was learning a few things about Dreamweaver, and one of the was how to do a simple bit of animation. Now, a year later, I would have no clue how to do it, but I can send you to last year's card. Just be a little patient for it to finish doing it's funny little thing — until you see "Merry Christmas." This is one case where the online experience was richer because the snail mail people just got the final, static product.


Oh, in case you are wondering about the picture, we had been snowshoeing and Cuppa had got herself stuck in the deep snow by the river bank. Now, I didn't really have a shovel handy at the time; I just hauled her out by hand. What might appear to be a shovel was actually a broom handle that I had been using to pry frozen wood from an outdoor pile when the furnace at the cottage broke down, and that was on another day. Well, it's a long story, and I may refer you to it later — in January, perhaps, when we hope to be there again.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Pretty Darn Nervy ...

... that's all I can say.

One of our neighbours turned sixty on the weekend, and her family had a big party for her. So it was, that Saturday evening found Me and My Cuppa at a lodge by the lake. While lodge can sound pretty highfalutin, this was a pretty ordinary place although it does overlook the water, one that I would happily visit again sometime, perhaps for a good breakfast and a great view. However, this occasion was in the evening. We arrived rather late, after dinner ... and, somewhat surprisingly to us, just in time for karaoke.

I suppose that Me and My Cuppa have led pretty sheltered lives, but we had never before been exposed to karaoke. Cuppa's got a decent voice, and, while I don't, I can at least carry a tune — more or less — so we thought we'd give it a go.

We thumbed and fumbled through the song title catalogue, back and forth, forth and back, searching, in vain as it turns out, for a song that we might know and that we might be able to sing. I dunno, but among the thousand of songs listed, we didn't seem to know many. Oh, we knew bits of tunes here and fragments of lyrics there, but that was it for the most part. We should have given up, I suppose, but, in the interest of being good sports, we were determined to find something. We really shouldn't have. Really!

It must have been in a moment of insanity that we picked the old Sonny and Cher classic, I Got You Babe. I mean to say, we all know that one, sort of. Well, that's what we thought, Me and My Cuppa, but we were wrong. We started behind, sang intermittently as we kept losing our way. Sometimes, we even found ourselves ahead. It was rather funny when Cuppa looked at me in relief that it was all over, only to have me point to the screen to tell her that the song was still going on. To put it mildly: we stunk! Perhaps you can ascertain the look of puzzlement my face in the shot below.

Now, there was a time when I might have been mortified, but I didn't really mind the other night. We joined in rather than hang back, and I don't believe that anybody thinks any less of us for our sorry performance. They are unlikely to ever ask us for an encore, however, but I can live with that.

Apparently, it would be best for all if I continue to confine my singing to my own house — which I do with regularity. Make a joyful noise and all that.


Our Christmas Baby

It's my Little One's birthday today, yesterday now: the one whom we call Butterfly on this blog. Back then, her mother had been in labour for two days, and I can tell you that it was mighty hard on me! Cuppa was high on drugs for most of the time while I held a day and night vigil amidst much care and angst. In fact, there came a point when the nurses were more concerned about me than either mother or baby-to-be. They were so concerned that they put me to bed in a room across the hall sometime after lunch on the second day of the marathon.

Possibly an hour or so later, I awoke to screams in the hall and emerged from my room, just in time to see Cuppa being wheeled toward the delivery room on a stretcher. I got a final pre-birth hug before they took her in. During the hug, she had another contraction and just about strangled the life out of me in an incredibly powerful headlock.

They didn't let fathers into the delivery room back then, not in our town anyway. In that moment, I was glad of it because I was emotionally wrung out, especially given the screams or bellows (take your pick) that I had just heard coming from my delicate little flower. Being male, I turned myself towards tasks and busied myself by gathering up all of the oddments that we had accumulated over two days in the labour room. It took several trips to the car to evacuate the room, and then I settled into the waiting room: an emotional and nervous heap.

It didn't take long, however. They soon brought mother and daughter down from the delivery floor to the maternity ward. Mother was fine and ecstatic, but I followed baby to watch the proceedings from the window. I fell in love in those few moments as I gazed in wonderment at that little pink bundle that I share with you in the photo below. She stole my heart in ... well ... in a heartbeat, I guess.

She is very much Our Christmas Baby. Not only was she born in that season, but she came home on right on cue — right on Christmas Day. Since then, by fluke or by angelic design, Christmas has always been precious and special to Butterfly. Now that she is grown, she decorates her house early and much. She has two large trees, abundant ornaments, and a love of the season. Joy fairly sparkles off her pretty face in December.

We made a card for her. We usually make our own cards in this house. I do the computer part; Cuppa usually finds a quote; and, then we try to make a personal note that uses the quote in some way.

This is the picture that we put on this year's card. The quote follows.

Great hearts steadily send forth the secret forces that incessantly draw great events.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

She does have a great heart, that daughter of mine. She is a compassionate and caring human being who does me proud. Just as she drew the deer to her in the picture, I believe that other great events will be drawn to her. I cannot predict what these events will be but I do predict that they will be.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas Cats

I just received this in an email attachment and can't resist sharing this little bit of whimsy with you. May it bring a tiny dash or pleasure your way. Enough little delights help to make the whole season delightful.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Poignant Posts (Vol. 2)

fence posts

Comments seemed to be positive last week, so let's try another edition of Poignant Posts. In passing, let me mention that I happened to note twelve titles this week, and I'm sure that I mentally noted and forgot about a few more when I didn't have my notepad handy.

I am always quite impressed with what Paul at Wondering has to say. He is regularly able to write essays that demonstrate wisdom and clarity. Two, among others, this week were: Touch and Fear.

If you haven't already done so, you might also like to read Spiritual Power by Warrior Geezer.

For a little humour, read Tampon Tilly at gemmak's BLOGS. If you like cats and cat photos, take a look around her blog. She has been posting a lot of pictures and accounts of her new kitten, Tilly.

Now what? Many more possibilities — one more space. Okay, try To What Extent Are We Truly Able to Forgive? at Human Nature Nuggets.

Having prepared the above, I found that my daughter has just posted Hope is a side road. As you will be able to gather from her words, Butterfly's path has lately been strewn with pebbles small and boulders large. And so it warms this dad's heart to read Hope is a side road.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

National Aboriginal Veterans Monument

While roaming around Ottawa in the cold taking pictures of Christmas lights the other night, I came across this monument which I hadn't noticed before — perhaps because I hadn't been in that spot before. Perhaps.

National Aboriginal Veterans Monument

It's the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument although I'm almost sure that the wording on the monument said First Nations rather than Aboriginal. I snapped a picture and rather like the way that it turned out.

Here is a little more information from the Saskatchewan Sage News and Headlines for June, 1998 (scroll down the page if you go there).

The monument depicts four representative Aboriginal people - a woman, a First Nations person, a M├ętis person and an Inuit person.

As well, animals are incorporated into the design to show the traits valued in Aboriginal societies which may show up as spirit guides: a bear for strength, a wolf for family values, a cougar for stealth and an elk for sharp senses.

Above all else on the monument flies an eagle, known as the thunderbird, which is symbolic of the Creator.


Friday, December 16, 2005

Just for the Record ...

... and just in case anyone might, for some strange reason, give a hoot, we had our first significant snowfall last night. In fact, it is still falling slightly, and it is almost noon. The major drawback is that people have to get to work through it all, as did our daughter whose normal half hour journey tripled in time. I think we should all get a snow day on these occasions, but my thinking matters little.

Above is out the back door and below is from a front window.

A Question and a Photo

My question

... has to do with font-size because I had a new reader observe that it is small for him. This is a tricky issue to which I try to be sensitive, for I am forever adjusting font-size when I am reading blogs. Because I use a high res monitor, fonts that appear right to some are a tad on the diminutive side for me. Fortunately, changing the font size on the fly is very easy in Firefox. Therefore, I don't mind terribly much, but I am quite aware of the issue.

The problem is this: what might seem big on an older 800x600 monitor might be rather smallish on my 1440x900 resolution screen. So, what I tried to do was to set a size that was just barely correct on my monitor. Happily, it seemed bigger but not too big on Cuppa's 1024x768 monitor. I have also chosen what is supposed to be a readable sans serif font — Verdana. (A sans serif font doesn't have curls on the letters and is supposedly easier to read on a monitor than a serif font.) I have also padded the space between lines and also the letters to a slight degree in order to improve readability.

Finally to the question: how does the font (text size) on this blog work for you?

Lights in the Park

When I took the house pictures (seen on the previous blog) the other night, I tried a few others too. Because night photos are tricky, especially in the biting cold, and sans tripod, none were particularly noteworthy: not even this one which I offer to you regardless ... in the spirit of the season.

ottawa christmas lights


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Lighting the Season

decorated house

The kids took us around to see some of the Christmas lights last night. I suppose that makes us sound old. It does to me because I can remember driving my own tottering parents around to see the lights. The difference is that it was our car, and The Boy was doing the driving because he knows the area best. He does that everyday in his job — drive hither, thither and yon — so he knows his way around remarkably well.

Our main visitation was to the incredible house shown in the photo above. I suppose that every town has one; I know that Sarnia did, but not like this — not even close really. It's not a mansion, but it sure is decorated like one. It's the front that you see in the photo, but all parts are resplendent with yuletide colour — side, alcoves and the back.

The next photo is within the carport (open garage) where the blue arrow points (and while you're at it take note of the red arrow too, for I'll mention it later). You can see angels, the magi, and a village, and that is only part of what is in the carport. Then, around the side of the house there is breezeway which has multiple electric trains and even more villages, but you'll have to trust me on some of this because I balk at taking the necessary bandwidth to reveal all. From the breezeway, you can peer inside the house where there are numerous Christmas trees and a big screen tv with Miracle on 34th Street playing.

santa train

The above photo is a close-up of the train that the red arrow in the first photo was pointing to.

These were but three of the twenty photos that I took, but I thought they might help to get one and all in the holiday spirit although I don't suppose that many of you fine folk require much assistance.

One more seasonal WHOPEE! The first big snow is scheduled to arrive tonight and continue into tomorrow.


Last Year At This Time ...

... we travelled to the cottage where Cuppa and I would pass Christmas before travelling here, to Ottawa, to spend a slightly delayed celebration with the kids.

When we left still green Sarnia for the six hour drive to the Riverwood cottage, we were hoping that there would be some snow up there in cottage country. However, as we got within an hour of the cottage, a wondrous sight began to unfold: quantities of snow began to accumulate, and the closer we got to our destination, the deeper the snow became. By the time we pulled into the Riverwood gate , we were in a veritable Christmas Card. That's the way that we described in then, and that's the way that I describe it now.

The boughs of the woods were indeed all hung with snow, and we did go about in a state of wonderment and appreciation for the unexpected gift that had been bestowed upon us.

To see the loveliness for yourself, check out these posts and their photos: Still in a Christmas Card, Morning Light, and Rambling in the Cold.

We aren't getting that kind of weather here yet this year, and neither are they at Riverwood. Oh, we have some snow, and we're weathering a pretty icy blast right now as temperatures hover around 0°F, but we're not experiencing the magic of boughs bowing reverently under the weight of their dense yet fluffy burden. With more than a week and half remaining before the jolly red-clad elf comes calling, we remain hopeful that a significant snowfall might yet occur; but if it doesn't happen, we'll content ourselves with counting our many other blessings.


Monday, December 12, 2005

It Turned Out Well

Today, Cuppa and I were asked to join some neighbours for a Christmas concert at a casino, if you please. Doesn't seem like an unfortunate juxtaposition — casino and Christmas concert? The casino is about a 45 minute drive from here, across the Ottawa River into the province of Quebec. Well, it's 45 minutes if you don't get lost, but we needed an extra 15. It wasn't my fault, you know? I wasn't the lead car and can't be blamed — this time!

As soon as you cross into Quebec, you can't help but be aware of the differences. It's French over there. But as long as you have a good map and can read signs, you're okay. I mean to say, 5 reads the same in both languages, even if they call it an autoroute instead of a highway. And Saint Raymond Boulevard is still pretty recognizable as Boulevard St-Raymond.

Besides, two ladies of our small group of six speak French as their first language. So, when we did get lost and were forced to stop for directions, language was no barrier. It probably wouldn't have been in any case because the majority of Francophones of that region also speak English. There are certainly parts of Quebec where that isn't so, but most in these parts are bilingual. Would that you could say the same for us Anglos.

I seem to be making a short story long again, n'est ce pas (roughly translated: is that not so)? You see, I wasn't very enthused about going to a Christmas concert at a casino. But you know, it tuned out to be a very positive experience. Much of it was exuberant and cabaret style flamboyant, but O Holy Night now ... well, what more is there to say than to mention the title. We all recognize the majesty of the piece, and you can't sing it in anything but reverence wherever you are and whomever you might be.

In deference to the location, songs were sung in each language: several English songs followed by several French ones. Believe it or not, I generally liked the French songs better. Most of the English ones were what one might call, American Commercial. You know the type: White Christmas, Rudolph, Jingle Bells etc. While those might not all be great examples, what I frequently heard were the type of songs that were designed to be sung to audiences. To me, the French songs seemed to be the type that made you want to join in and sing along.

I appreciate listening to good music, but perhaps because I was brought up in hymn-singin' churches, I also like music of the spirit, music that beckons you to open yourself, join in, and belt it out. Maybe that's why I favour East Coast music. To me, much of it is infused with that same kind of spirit.

The long and the short of it is that I had a good time. I was dubious and hesitant, but I went, me and five women (the other guy chickened out), and I am glad of it.

I wonder how often we short-shrift ourselves by prejudging. I was tending to prejudge the occasion by the venue.

I wonder how often I have denied myself pleasure by not taking just a little bit of a risk. I put myself out there today when I was more than somewhat inclined to demur, but I am far from sorry that I decided to be neighbourly and to put myslef out there.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Poignant Posts (Vol. 1)

fence posts

So, what's this, eh?

Today, I am going to list some links to good posts (get it?) that I've read in the past week or so.

In a sense, I hesitate to do this. How does one choose? Will this offend those who don't make the short list? But this past week, of all weeks, it would have been easy for you to miss these. We're all getting busier than usual, and Blogger has been having its hiccoughs (or hiccups).

Well, I trust that no one will be offended if their wonderful post was omiited because it's not necessarily best posts, just good posts — posts that I might have happened to pay more attention to than others, perhaps simply because I was more alert or less harried at that juncture than at other times. And it doesn't mean that tons of other posts weren't good. In fact, there are others that I noted this week, but, in the end, you have to choose because you simply can't make these lists too very long.

Why call it Poignant Posts? Simply because I wanted to be alliterative. Poignant can mean the following: (i) profoundly moving; touching; (ii) neat, skillful, and to the point; (iii) astute and pertinent; and, (iv) agreeably intense or stimulating. The word also has other shades of meaning, but these are the appropriate definitions.

I have put a "(Vol. 1)" after the title, just in case I decide to make this a regular feature. Not sure that I will, but I may as well be prepared.

Here we go, without comment: just a list.

Well, I strove to limit the list to five from a starting point of eleven and was eventually able to pare it to six.

Is this sort of thing of any use to anybody? Is it something to continue doing from time to time, or is it simply a waste of bandwidth and your/my time?


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Deer Friends

Before I leave this series, let me post two final photos of my deer friends. Taken in rapid succession, they show two deer trying to deal with apples. The one is still trying to grab hers, while the other is trying to figure out what to do with hers. Apparently, this necessitates a lot of leg action.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Deerly Beloved

I'd be very surprised if anyone were to say they were very surprised that I was publishing more deer photos today. I mean to say, you knew that I would, right? Particularly those who were with me through the plethora of chickadee postings last winter. I'll post fewer photos today, however, and I'll post them larger — for your viewing pleasure, naturally. I'll just toss them in here and there while I try to think of important things to say. Like now ...

What I can iterate is this: that having critter encounters in the wild can be terribly delightful! I'm sure that some encounters could prove to be otherwise, but, as you understand, I'm babbling within a certain context, so I know that you'll not be overly precise with me.

In any event , I have seen deer in the zoo and tend to look past them to the more exotic creatures, but here I find the deer, themselves, exotic. In a zoo, the animals have to be there; they have no choice. Here, they have made choices of sorts: the choice to be curious, the choice to accept our offerings. But they're limited too, for if they were to wander from the park, which is large enough for ample roaming by the way, they would be lost in suburbia and severely endangered in heavy traffic.

Like us, they have ended up where they have ended up. It isn't what they or what nature planned, but they have adapted, just as we have. Like us, they are not totally footloose and fancy free. They can't run the unending forest as they were meant to do, but they can still run through their sizeable allotment.

None of us have complete control of our destinies, just of our inner selves — our attitudes. We can make the best of where we are with what we are given, or we can bemoan our lots by longing to dwell in a warmer climate, or pining to be more affluent, or desiring to have more time or more money or both to travel to exotic locations. Oh, we're all human and subject to envy and discontent, but, because we are human, we also have the wherewithal to direct our thoughts to a great degree. Most of us can, most of the time, choose to direct our moods towards happiness, contentment, and joy

The end ... so to speak. Cute ends too, eh?


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Deer Me!

deerAfter hearing yet another triumphant report of Butterfly's deer encounters, Cuppa and I couldn't resist the trip into the city to meet the deer. That sounds funny, doesn't it? Go to the city to see the deer. Well, there's a big park on the fringes of the city. Somehow, the deer got there and, in doing so, found a safe haven from hunters. In the event, they have become pretty darn tame.

Nature has enabled them to blend into their surroundings pretty well, but Butterfly can spot them really well now. It took some practice because on her first visit to the park, she was simply taking pictures of the snowy boughs and such. After a while she saw the deer, but when she looked carefully at her photos, one was actually there, in her very first photo, being very still and blending in ever so well.

deerSo it was that she spotted them first yesterday. We changed paths to be closer, but they were still somewhat distant as seen in the first photo (above — please note that I am keeping photos small for this post because I am posting so many — six — but they are all clickable — in fact, they're too small, and you almost need to click them). It didn't take them long, however, to start wandering down to visit us (see photo right) — just in case we were packing provender, you know. And we were: apples and lettuce.

deerSo, as the photo indicates, Cuppa offered apples, and the beasts were pretty darn interested. They never took from her hand though — they're not that tame yet — although one did touch her hand a few times. So, Cuppa fed apples, and Butterfly fed lettuce, and I stood back and watched and took pictures. Mind you, Butterfly and Cuppa took pictures too, all sorts of them.

deerSoon, another little group joined the first two. In this photo (right), Butterfly leans forward to offer lettuce to one, but you can now see three more deer in the background.



deerEventually, we counted nine of them. Nine! At least two were quite young. You can see one of the young ones very cutely nuzzling its mother (photo left). Well, I guess the deer on the other side looks youngish too.



deerI have thought of deer as gentle creatures, and, while I still think that, something of the primal wild remains in them. When I saw them up close, and they did get very close, I was surprised at both their size and strength. I could see the strength oozing out of their sleek but well-muscled bodies.

All in all, it was a fine way to spend a half hour, perhaps more, for time passed very quickly although it was a cold day, made all the colder because we were simply standing about and not walking. Butterfly was required back at work, and we had other errands to run, so we took our leave. But one deer, the most trusting and curious of the lot (photo above), followed us for a while before turning back.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Best Laid Plans

I had quite a fabulous photo op the other night. The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train made a brief stop in town. This festive train rolls right across the country, making stops, giving little concerts, accepting donations which they return to local charities. Because the tracks roll right across Main Street, right where the Santa parade ended last week, they shut down the street once more, and hundreds gathered for the event.

Of course, I was there with camera in tow, my fingers itching to press the release button. I left Cuppa's side and, more to the point, escaped the distracting press of the crowd to amble along the tracks in hopes of getting a clear shot of the train's approach in all its lighted splendour. And I found it, a solitary spot with no bodies and heads between me and the tracks ... until the word passed that the concert would take place on my side of the tracks.

That began a stampede, and, yet again, I found myself amidst a sea of picture-spoiling heads. After staring about in startled stupefaction for a few moments, I realized that I could just as easily cross over to the now empty other side, for I was more interested in pictures than the concert anyway. Besides, the train would not be a long one, and after getting my photos, I would be able to easily cross back over to rejoin the crowds and the concert.

I found the perfect spot and got myself all set. A light began approaching in the distance. Yes, the train was coming, beautifully lit too. Snap. Not! Nyet! No snappy, no piccy! The battery was totally exhausted from the previous week's tree decorating party and parade.

Fortunately, I have a spare battery. Unfortunately, it was at home. Not one snap did I snap although Cuppa got a few that I'm sure she will post.

The crowds prevented me from getting back to Cuppa, but I did get close enough to hear and see most of the concert. They roll down the sides of a railway car which becomes a stage. And although the performers do face one way most of the time, the stage is visible form both sides, and they do make an effort to turn around from time to time, so the wild stampede had not been necessary.

However, I'm not terribly miffed about the missed photos, for it makes a better story this way. Adversity, if that's not too strong a word for such a mild tribulation, often does that — sharpens our perceptions and give us unforgettable memory-links and, sometimes, even amusing anecdotes. Besides, it's not about photos but about the seasonal spirit, about the effort that people make as we near the solstice, the effort to shine light, the effort to make music in the dark and cold nights, the effort to open our hearts a little wider. And this makes us feel warm inside, even when it when it is frosty outside.

According to the website, their are two trains, one in Canada and one in in the USA — in some of the northern reaches — and there are different performers in different regions.

Inspired by the event and the website, I have borrowed some of their photos (legally, I believe) to make a few adjustments to the template. I hope that you like this version too.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

More of the Sacred

deer in the woods

Another deer picture: this one by my daughter, Butterfly.

Late last week, she had a rather marvellous encounter with a deer. One lunch hour, she left her work place to go for a little, spirit-replenishing walk in some nearby woods. It was a snowy day, and Butterfly busied herself taking pictures of "the boughs all hung with snow." (Dickinson)

She turned a corner, cast her glance sideways and spied this deer gazing intently on her. Living within city limits and out of hunting territory, this deer was quite obviously habituated. She and Butterfly both stood their ground, each staring intently into the other's window to the soul. Behold, if a a second deer didn't come along to join the inspection.

While this second deer soon moved along, the first stayed and even moved-in closer while Butterfly stood in thrall. Eventually, my daughter had to be the one to break this contact, for work beckoned, and she had already made herself late. As she walked away, Butterfly kept glancing back, and beheld as the deer's eyes followed every inch of her progress until the line of sight was broken.

The moment that Butterfly got to work, she phoned here and excitedly described her encounter to Cuppa; she was clearly over the moon. When she dropped by that evening, she told it all to me too. Although my wife had already recounted the story, there's nothing like hearing it in the enthused and awestruck voice of one who had so recently been blessed by the serendipitous hand of nature.

To quote Doris from her deer poem, The Sacred:

It touches a place in me where wildness dwells -
A long forgotten, hidden place that shivers in sudden resonance.

I'm sure that's how Butterfly felt. Thank god for poets like Doris who are able to inform us of our own feelings.

I wrote this before Butterfly posted her account and more pictures on her somewhat neglected blog: Butterfly Wings.


Monday, December 05, 2005

When I Was Small

Yesterday, I told you about my childhood friends, Nelson and Doris, and I linked you to a photo and poem that Doris was honoured to have published online. Of course, I became greedy and requested that she send me a photo-poem to specifically publish on my blog. She complied promptly by sending me "When I Was Small", and the photo of a small damsel fly.

In her own words: Not having moved away from the area I grew up in, I have the opportunity to practically retrace my childhood wanderings. Although much has changed and once untouched fields are now parking lots and shopping malls, I still can find grassy areas where I walked as a child. One time while walking, I came to wonder whether the thoughts I have now (forty some odd years later) are any wiser than those I had as a child. It is with that in mind that I wrote the poem.

Thank you Doris.


damsel flies



When I was small and just a child

I wandered 'long these grassy trails -

Observed the milkweed and mullein

And saw life's tiniest details.


It seemed that then the plants and I

Were almost equal in our size -

And this afforded me a view

Of monarch eggs and damsel flies.


And now so many years have passed

Since once I wandered through this grass.


My height is more a hindrance now

And eyes - less keen - preclude the sight

Of all the tiny precious life

That once provided great delight.


When eyes and mind are of a child,

They are more kindly blessed

Than present eyes - set high but dulled -

And mind worn down by stress.


Have years made wise the thoughts that pass

As now I wander through this grass?


Can not as deep a truth be known

From contemplation of a stone

At a mountain's base


Than from ascending t'wards the sky

To such exalted view on high

Of grandeur and of space?


Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Past, The Present, The Poet

A long time ago (trust me on this), I had a great boyhood chum. For the best part of seven or eight years, until I moved far way, we were almost inseparable. Then, about ten years ago, a fellow teacher brought a most marvellous CD to a professional development session. It was a CD that contained all, or at least most, of the phone numbers in Canada. In these days, approximately ten years later, when all of these things are so readily available on the internet, it no longer seems remarkable, but it sure as heck was then.

I knew that Nelson was living somewhere in Alberta and from that CD was able to find his address and phone number. I wrote, and he wrote — snail mail, mind you. Several years later, we spent several days with him and his wife in Jasper National Park and in Edmonton. After more than thirty years of separate experience and growth, we managed to get along quite well, and I'd like to spend more time with him before another three decades or even our lives elapse.

Anvilcloud and Nelson

Nelson and I are on top of the world at Whistlers Mountain in Jasper National Park. He's on the top of the rock. I, mostly bare-legged in my shorts, decided that I had ventured high enough on this hard and jaggedy-edged rock.

Nelson and I stay in sporadic touch. He is busy and finds writing to be a chore, so the emails are few and far between, but that is fine, for I still feel connected in some odd way.

That's my preamble to telling you about his sister, Doris. Although we have yet to renew acquaintance in the flesh, she does enjoy computers, and writing, and photography. Does she sound like a bit of a kindred spirit to the guy you know as AC? Well, that's being kind to me, for although we share some interests, her talents far surpass mine, and I don't say that in false modesty. She treats me to photos in her emails from time to time, and I am in awe ... at least when I am not in a jealous funk (just kidding).

Doris also writes poetry, very good poetry in my untutored opinion. She loves animals — always has. I can remember when she, Nelson, and I would attend kids meetings at the SPCA in Montreal. She sometimes combines her three passions: animals, poetry, and photography.

To the point, then: the other night, she sent me a link to a photo and a poem of hers that was published online by the Defenders of Wildlife. I presume that the name of the organization speaks for itself, so I will not explain further, and you have the link. If I can follow the lines here, the same organization has produced a child website, so to speak: Help Save Our Endangered Species. Their current concern is revealed right on the home page:

House Votes to Gut Endangered Species Act, Is the Senate Next?

Rep. Pombo's bill undermining many key protections of the ESA passed the House last September. The bill virtually eliminates the Act's habitat protection requirements, cuts wildlife experts out of the loop on key decisions, weakens the role of science, and makes it easier for greedy developers to dodge the Act's protections. The bill marks the first time the nation has retreated on its commitment to protect endangered plants and animals for future generations.

Beyond what the website says, because I am neither American nor particularly informed about the situation, I offer no political comment of my own, but it may be relevant information that some of you may wish to explore.

What I am getting to in my roundabout way is that Defenders of Wildlife has chosen to publish some of Doris'es work, a photo and a poem, on their site, and I want to share that with you and hope that you will go, have a look, and have a read. Perhaps, once you've read it you might consider returning here and posting an encouraging comment that Doris might just stop by to read.


Friday, December 02, 2005

The Wonderment of Blogging

While by times, I feel ready to toss the whole blogging thing, there are other times that I marvel at its uniqueness and of the sorts of bonds that it forges.

Apparently, early this morning, Lynn at State Street, published a terse post that indicated that he was, indeed, going through a black night of the soul. My compassionate Cuppa, had recently been reading a poem, "Last Night As I Was Sleeping," by Antonio Machado and a commentary by Roger Housden as found in the book, ten poems to change you life. I won't repeat the substance here, for that is either Lynn's or Cuppa's account to reveal ... or not. What I will say, however, is that by the time that I had navigated to Lynn's blog, he had removed his post of despair and had published a note of thanks to Cuppa plus another uplifting poem by Wallace Stevens.

According to Google, we and Lynn live more than 600 miles or 16 hours apart, yet the one blogger was able to impact the other in the blink of an eye as it were. We have never met, and, in all probability we never will, yet, in some ways, I wonder if in some very real sense we, who read each other's real thoughts and feelings and comment back and forth, don't know one other more intimately than we know those around us, for the written word is immensely powerful and can be powerfully intimate. In our writings, we have at least some time to reflect upon what we say, and, so, our innerness is frequently laid more bare and open than it might be in our daily physical walks.

That's all: just an observation.

PS: When I say that I sometimes desire to "toss the whole blogging thing," I speak of passing moods and of times when I have nothing to say. Now, you, dear reader might opine, quite justly, that "this poor plod never really has anything to say," but I speak from my perspective, and I quite appreciate my thoughts — they're all that I have after all.


A Christmas Hug

... at the tree decorating party

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Celebrating Our Frailties

When we write our little blogs, most of us probably have no idea what passing phrase might stick out to others in some meaningful way.

Yesterday, I was shocked to read Life's Laundry, and it wasn't because it was risqué, titillating, provocative, or particularly probing. She somewhat casually mentioned how her husband thought up the melody of a song that he was commissioned to write: "it came to him clearly last night right before he drifted off to sleep."

How that could happen to anyone is totally beyond my comprehension. I believe that a similar thing happened to JK Rowlings who began, if I recall this correctly, to envision the Harry Potter series while sitting in a train station. This poor blogger's brain doesn't work like that ... when it works at all, that is. Even when I do get an idea for a post, like this one, it's pretty ill-formed, and I don't really know what I'm going to write when my hands first touch the keys. Even now, I'm not sure what I'm going to say next.

Yes, I am! I want to speak in praise of our differences, our unique gifts and talents. While I find it astounding that someone could compose music in his head, he might find it hard to fathom how I could design a web page, or how you could knit a bonnet or run a marathon or paint a picture. Those people who can do the things that we cannot do enrich our lives. I can't paint, but I can be enraptured by a painting. I can't play an instrument or make music, but I can become entranced by the harmonies of others.

We need to celebrate not only our talents but our shortcomings as well, for it is the tension between those two forces that causes us to need each other and, therefore, to build human relationships. I reflected on this a little bit last week as Cuppa and I drove into town, and she struggled mightily with streets and directions, trying so very hard to remember places and routes in the event that she might sometime have to drive herself. That's easy for me, but those dadblasted dance steps are incredibly difficult and foreign to me. She picks up dance after dance in a trice while I struggle mightily to learn just one routine. And so, we have become a team, each helping the other along life's pathways, the innate abilities of each supporting the weaknesses in the other. We're not even conscious of it most of the time.

That's why there are a quadrillion different occupations out there: something for everyone. Each job fulfills a need. We are all needed, and we are all in need of the services and support of others in many ways. It's the unique abilities of ourselves and others that, in part at least, draw us together, and that is why we must celebrate ourselves — even our frailties and imperfections.


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Our Small Town Parade

It's been quite a long time since we last went to a Santa Claus Parade, but since our new town was holding theirs on the same day as our tree decorating party, we decided that it was time to remedy that oversight. Apparently, for the past few years, they have been holding the annual parade at night, and I must say that it helps to set a nice mood. Lots of people attended, and a high spirits filled the air. I took this shot of Cuppa before it began. Behind her, you can see the lights on Main Street. Although they look mighty festive, they are actually left up all year round, and I think they're a great touch.

As you can see, minutes before the parade, cars were still driving the street, but the oddest thing was that they were allowed to park on one side of the street during the parade. Indeed, a few chose to watch from that vantage point. I found that to be very strange, indeed.

For a small town, the parade was surprisingly long. Of course, there were no spectacular floats. A lot of trucks went by pulling trailers of people trying to assume Christmasy poses. There were a lot of walk-bys, like the Girl Guides in the photo to the left, and many participants were dressed in old-fashioned, Dickens-like garb. There were three small highland bands with bagpipes and drums, but no real marching bands as such.

My American friends may not realize that marching bands are pretty much an American phenomenon. We have some in Canada at the community level, but as far as I know, no Canadian high school offers a marching band program. Of course, we have high school bands but of an orchestral and/or jazzy nature.

Sarnia, where we lived until recently, was a border town (with Michigan, 60 miles north of Detroit). Due to that location and it being a larger centre, they were always able to attract several big American marching bands, and they were always impressively terrific.

But all in all, I liked this small town parade very much. No one expected huge, fancy floats. They expected spirit and fun, and they were not disappointed. And that includes me.

(See Cuppa's blog for more photos and observations.)


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Unexpected Emotions

Tis the season to be jolly; that's what they say. Jolly is not the word that I would necessarily choose to describe the good feelings that I tend to experience at this time of year. It's more like a deep sense of well-being and contentment.

The other night at Butterfly's tree decorating party for our little clan of four (there are really six, but two were too far away to attend), I experienced these usual positive emotions, but I also experienced a sense of sadness and loss. You see, my mother made the smocked balls in the photo above, once per Christmas for much of the eighties and nineties. She made two each year: gave one to Cuppa and me and kept one for herself.

She was also planning for the future, for we have two daughters. When we all were to pass on, each girl would be left with one set of grandma's smocked balls. She enjoyed doing it and took a lot of pride in her work. In many ways, she did not seem to be a terribly giving person, but she enjoyed giving these crafts to us each year, and she enjoyed the idea that they would one day be given to her grandchildren. And I'm sure that deep in her heart, she was hoping that they wouldn't forget her, that they might remember grandma with some fondness.

I also remembered my dad that afternoon. He was a shy little fellow who sat in the background at our tree decorating parties. But every year, he would be prompted to adorn the tree with at least one Christmas ball when the tree-decorating was almost completed. Although he stayed in the background most of the time, I know that he enjoyed being included in our gatherings and adding his little contribution to the occasion.

My parents lived long lives, so I haven't been given to mourning their passing terribly much. I haven't felt lonely or empty very often, but I did feel some pangs of loss for a while Saturday afternoon when we were, once again, decorating the tree.


Monday, November 28, 2005

The Season Hath Begun

The season is upon us; good feelings are in the air; spirits are rejoicing. Although the snow cover will soon likely disappear in the warmer and rainier weather that is being predicted for the next few days, there is no denying that the festive season is upon us. Many, if not most, houses now have their outdoor lights up. We have done ours: hung some lights both outside and inside, and put up a small tree. The Christmas dishes are out, and various and sundry decorations festoon corners here and there.

On the weekend, after a hiatus of several years, we resumed a family tradition: the ceremonial and festive decorating of the main family tree. I won't repeat Cuppa's fuller version, but I will reiterate that at one time we'd have grandma and grandpa and aunt Val over to help with decorating, eat platefuls of goodies, and have dinner together. We started that when the kids were still young, and then they moved away. Grandma and grandpa passed on, and poor aunt Val was felled by a debilitating stroke. Cuppa and I carried on by still making it an occasion of sorts, but we missed the family.

Now that we live near Butterfly, she has resumed the tradition. She was a Christmas baby and loves the season. She had us over to decorate both of her trees, one of which you see in the picture, and we munched our goodies, and supped together, and even went to the town Santa Claus parade afterwards.

Yes, the season is upon us, and in the event, I hereby roll out my Christmas template. Although I can code web pages, Blogger's templates just about drives me starkers, and there likely remains things to fix and tweak. I'm not yet sure how bad some of the previous posts, with styles adapted to those colours, will look, but I don't suppose there is much deep examination of old posts anyway, and most of them will probably survive the transition relatively well.

Merry Christmas Season


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Window on Winter

On a whim, I have decided to share this early and little touch of winter with you.

This scene greeted me a few minutes ago when I came upstairs. This schoolyard is our view from the bedroom window. Children playing in the snow at recess seems quintessentially Canadian, almost as Canadian as skating on a frozen pond, so I couldn't resist.

If I am counting right, this is the fourth morning when we have awaken to a smattering of snow, but there is a little more today, and it was still falling lightly in the picture. The roads were slick this morning, and a number of accidents occurred. They always do in the first snowfall. We were going to go into town today, but tomorrow is supposed to be clear and sunny, and we can wait.

Meanwhile, I trust that not too many Americans are experiencing bad weather on Thanksgiving when some of you tend to travel many miles to be with family. Good weather or bad, I bid you ...

Happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Not Exactly Lord of the Dance ...

... But Dancing Anyway

Let me confess to being a whole lot happier this Tuesday night than last. While I wasn't exactly Lord of the Line Dance, I did a whole lot better tonight.

It was almost two weeks ago that we invited our neighbours over for lunch. It was time to break the ice, and it seemed up to us to do it. Cuppa offers a fuller account in Steppin' Outside The Box if you wish, but the short version is that they took us to a country dance that night and promoted the line dance a few nights later, exactly one week ago as a matter of fact. The regular country dance had been fine: a small but friendly group and a surprisingly good band. In keeping with my new zeal, we had got up and stumbled around to the slow tunes. That's what I ask her: "Would you like to stumble around with me?" However, Cuppa was especially intrigued with the possibility of line dancing. Years ago we used to catch it on TNN periodically while channel hopping, and it seemed to call Cuppa, but we never got around to trying it ourselves. We were busy at the time, and then it seemed to fade from view — most likely because we didn't have access to TNN any more. D'ya think?

Now, she finally had her chance and was determined to seize it: our chance really because I am forced to admit that it had piqued my interest too. Come last Tuesday we were there: Cuppa, me, about two dozen women, and one and only one other male. That would bother some, but for whatever reason I'm cool with it. In fact, there was a time, a number of years ago now, when Cuppa sometimes led an exercise class in the park on certain summer morns. I was the solitary representative of the male gender at those sessions but, for whatever reason, never felt awkward or conspicuous. Others would, and I wouldn't blame them, but I didn't. I can't explain why because I'm not exactly an out there on the fringes 'look at me' extrovertish kind of guy .

So, come last Tuesday, I was ready to give line dancing a whirl (so to speak). Given my past, which I have discussed at length in the past two blogs — I Was Ten ... and On Missing Out — I was leery, however. For whether by nature or neglect, dancing definitely doesn't come easily to me. I knew that I would find it hard to get the steps. Boy, was I ever wrong! It wasn't hard; it was impossible! For me at least.

It started by the nice teacher taking the newbies, all two of us — Cuppa and me — aside and showing us the steps — to their first and easiest dance: The Electric Slide. Yes, it was supposed to be easy, but I certainly had trouble getting it. However, I didn't know just how much trouble I was in until they actually started the music and everyone gathered on the floor and we started dancing full tilt. I became lost on the very first turn, not on the first group of steps at least, but on the first turn for sure: hopelessly and helplessly lost. I was so confused and befuddled that I was forced to slink off the floor and retire to an obscure corner in an attempt to regain my equanimity and to lick my wounds.

In fact, I felt so befuddled that I had to give up for the night. If I couldn't do the first and simplest routine after much patient instruction, it would be beyond the pale for me to conceive that I could pick up the other routines on the ... well, on the hop, so to speak. So, while, Cuppa took to line dancing like an eagle to the air, easily adapting herself to the routines as she went, I cowered abjectly in my obscure corner.

It wasn't that I was ready to quit although it probably seemed like it at the time; I simply had to lick my wounds and find another path. I can't learn like that. "Here are the steps: one, two, three. Now dance to the music." I need to build brick by steady slow brick: learn the first set of steps, add the second, and practise again and again and again. Fortunately, I'm an online kind of guy. I downloaded the song from iTunes, loaded it onto my iPod, and spent hours in the basement, my iPod in my ear and my feet shuffling on the carpet.

The steps don't come naturally or easily to me, but I persevered. I did that a lot for two days following last Tuesday night — spending many hours in the basement through Wednesday and Thursday. By Thursday night, I more or less had it. That number happened to be danced at the regular country dance that night, and I more or less got it right although dancing amongst others after learning on my own was a bit disconcerting at first.

Tonight, I danced it again, even better this time. And I also danced Changes which I added to my repertoire over the past few days through more and long diligent practise. That one is a little harder, and I made some missteps, but at least I always managed to find my way back into the beat. On line dancing night, they usually both start and end with The Electric Slide, so I got to do that one twice, and it's becoming familiar enough to me that I really enjoyed it. In fact I'm quite pleased with myself. (I thought I'd throw that in, just in case you couldn't tell.)

I still sat out most of the songs, but at least I wasn't smoldering in the corner. With enough practice I might learn the other dances too, but it will take a lot of practise and patience, and with, perhaps, only twenty more years left to live, there may not be enough time for a slow plodder such as I.

We have all heard it more than once. You can't just leave things to the people who are really good at them — if only the best lovers made love, where would you be? We all move in our own directions and at our own pace. For example: while I typed my one blog yesterday, Cuppa made five starts and gave up on hers in frustration. The lady writes well, really well as a matter of fact, but it's harder work for her than me, and sometimes she finds it difficult to concisely articulate her thoughts. Well, I understand that because I'm like that with lots of things, and dancing is one of them. It's hard for me; it takes me much practice, and even then I make wrong steps and don't exactly glide with elf-like fluidity across the floor.

But, for now, I will persist. I will spend time in the basement with my iPod in my ears, practising my steps.

Success is ninety percent perspiration and only ten percent inspiration.

The only failure is in not trying.

Success is moving from failure to failure, without loss of enthusiasm.

Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.

Me? I'm perspiring freely, trying my best and hanging on enthusiastically.

There's an undeniable sense of accomplishment when we persevere to succeed in that which does not come easily to us. We need to do that, however. It's part of the path towards becoming more fully and richly human.

When you die, God and the angels will hold you accountable for all the pleasures you were allowed in life that you denied yourself.


On Missing Out

(This is a continuation of the previous post, "I Was Ten ..." Click here if you need to read it but don't see it directly below this entry.)

Over the long course, I have been able to put most of the Thou Shalt Not's where they belong — far behind me. I have even gambled once or twice: played the slots and lost about ten dollars and found it ever so silly, dull and not worth my time. I do buy a lottery ticket about once a month, or less or more, depending when it happens to cross my straying mind.

Dancing, however, has been more problematic, for I have never, or at least seldom, found myself in social situations where dancing was de rigueur. We and most of my friends got married in the church, so I didn't even need to bother with dancing then.

There was one time, way back in the shrouded mists of yesteryear, when I graduated from elementary school if you please, that I did dance. But the event was fraught with much angst. It took prayer, searching the scriptures, and much spiritual contemplation before I seemed to receive the Divine's approbation. As with everything else (that I mentioned in the previous blog), once I partook in this supposedly devilish pursuit, I couldn't see the harm in it. We sort of waltzed (or whatever) and sort of jitterbugged (or whatever), and I quite enjoyed the night.

But I never really got or made the opportunity to do it again because I went into my high-schoolish shell, not really knowing where I stood with my faith and the world. Aside from that, I have never been a groupie. I've generally had one or three good friends, and while they didn't necessarily suffer from religious proscriptions, they weren't particularly the dancing types either. So, I missed all of the sock hops and every other dance event that came along. I was barely even aware that they existed as a matter of fact.

When I say that I missed it, I don't mean it in the sense that I felt that was missing out, if you understand the distinction. There were always things to do. When you don't fill your life with events A and B, well, you busy yourself with C and D, or X and Y, or whatever. You go swimming with your best friend twice a week; you play road hockey; you play tennis; you just hang out the way that kids do. You fill your self with what presents itself; you have a good and satisfying time living life in the way that it comes to you.

I am endeavouring to say, as clearly as I can, that I never felt as though I had missed out by not going to dances, never felt cheated in any way, shape or form. Still don't. But! But ... there is a best time to learn skills in your life. I find that with cooking, for example. To a certain extent, I now enjoy cooking, but I came to it very late, and procedures tend not to stick in my head very well. Cuppa can remember how to cook something that she hasn't made for years; it's well recorded and readily accessible in her brain. But not in mine. On the other hand, I started using computers much earlier than she, and it has, therefore, become much more second nature to me than to her.

So it is with dancing. As the years went by, I got to the point that simply conjuring a fleeting vision of myself stumbling and bumbling about a dance floor sent me into cold paroxysms. Just the thought of dancing sent my body into a cadaver-like stiffness from my brain to my feet — almost a kind of rigor mortis setting in to a still-but-barely-breathing body. Hence, even when sporadic opportunities happened to present themselves, I would take all the necessary preventative steps to avoid the trauma of having to dance, for it's ruddy difficult for cadavers to dance, doncha know? It even looks awkward in the movie animations for goodness sakes!

A few years ago, however, we were attending the wedding party of a couple of my daughter's friends. The dancing commenced, and I began to regard the event with some interest. What I saw were a bunch of people just kind of moving their bodies; there weren't any pre-defined steps to follow. Everybody just got up and kind of shuffled their bodies around. I said to myself, "AC; you can do that. Get up and dance you old coot!"

I did, and I survived. Cuppa and I even plodded together through the slower dances — the waltz-like ones (except that nobody really knows the proper waltz steps any more), where you hold onto your partner and kind of sway and waddle about. Another wedding followed, my nephew's. I danced yet again and quite enjoyed myself. Then came my daughter's wedding where I managed to stumble my way through the traditional bride-father dance in front of the whole world — or at least thirty people.

I think that I have finally brought you, or brought myself really, up to present times and can next tell you about recent goings-on. I thought I would be able to do that in the previous blog and then surely in this one, but I have rambled on long enough for now. I'll catch you up real soon. Promise.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

I was ten ...

... and our little family was at the beach that day, not right on the beach at that moment, but in the park-like picnic area set back from the water and its sandy fringe. There were two slightly older girls at the table nearest to ours. Periodically, they would briefly break into some sort of dance step, just a few steps. I suppose it was the jitterbug. I regarded them curiously, for this was new stuff to me. Apparently, as I was watching them, my saintly mother was intently studying me, for at the very instant that I began to emulate these exotic creatures by audaciously daring to move my feet — just a little, mind you — my mother was right on me, like salt on potato chips: "Just remember who you are and who you belong to." (Translation for those who require one: "Remember that you are a Christian and you belong to Jesus.")

You see, we were Pentecostals, and, in those days at least, the devout were greatly influenced by the holiness movement. Heeding the words of the apostle Paul, we were supposed to be "in the world but not of the world." We were not to derive enjoyment from worldly pleasures. We weren't to smoke, even then when it was a more common and socially acceptable habit. We didn't drink, didn't gamble, didn't go to movies, didn't play cards, didn't go to amusement parks, didn't watch tv on Sunday, and didn't dance. And who knows what else we didn't do? At that age, kids believe what they are taught — it's called indoctrinaton — and since we all spend more time in the world than in the church, my beliefs began to cause me some confusion and discomfort.

I didn't quite know how to deport myself through most of my high school years. How could I be in the world but not of it? I would have to be careful of making the wrong kinds of friends, of overhearing the wrong kinds of jokes, of being in the company of people who might use the wrong kinds of language. I was forced to live my life on the fringes, relegated to hang about the periphery, constrained to be careful about becoming too involved with the wrong crowd . Difficult, painful and lonely times indeed.

At some point, I began to tenuously, very tenuously, experiment with some of these supposed vices. I wasn't being particularly rebellious, but I guess that I was beginning to think and evaluate for myself. I went to an amusement park and failed to find anything particularly unregenerate about riding the roller coaster or The Wild Mouse. Even a little more tenuously did I venture into the dank confines of a theatre to watch a movie. I came to a similar, surprising conclusion, for I discovered it to be no more grimily stainful to my soul than watching tv at home.

No, I didn't plunge headlong into the wild life, always thought that there was some virtue in moderation or even in eschewing certain activities, and I continue to think that way. Even as an adult, in my late-twenties or early-thirties, I remember getting involved in a card game with some of Cuppa's worldlier relatives. I felt sick to my spirit at having to gamble despite the fact that the grand purse consisted only of paltry pennies, nickels and dimes.

There's no scintilla of doubt that I will always be affected by those early years, for we are what we were when. For example: although I now drink a little wine or beer or put a dab of Bailey's in my Christmas coffee, I remain pretty darn moderate. I no longer hold it sinful to have a drink, but, at my core, I can't help but feel that it not a terribly moral choice to consume significant quantities of alcohol on any sort of regular basis. I'm sure that I have never been drunk although two glasses of wine can render me a trifle woozy. Hence, my daughter, somewhat jealously, deems me a cheap drunk. I say "jealously" because I'm sure that she wishes that she could be as easily affected by consuming such a paltry volume.

Pretty well the last Thou Shalt Not item on my list has been dancing. That is really what I wanted to write about today, but all of this seemingly necessary background has consumed so much of both your and my time, that I feel it incumbent upon me to put these ruminations on Pause for the nonce and advise you to stay tuned for some of the more recent developments in my journey towards some semblance of normality.