Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Dairy Queen Debacle

I have discovered that the road to high drama or comedy often starts out as an innocuous trail of breadcrumbs.

Such was the case recently, when in the middle of cleaning her kitchen cupboards my friend Susan texted me with the wry declaration that she was married to a condiments hoarder.

“Dozens and dozens of packets of soy-sauce, ketchup, and sundry containers of salad dressing, vinegar, etc.,” she wrote. She thanked God for small mercies--at least Ron didn’t save the packets of salt and pepper, but she said that she could not suggest throwing any of the collection out.

Ron had said defensively that the last time the kids were over, he had given them all little ketchup packs to put on their French fries. 

“At that rate,” wrote Susan, “there’s no way we will be able to use them up before the end of the next decade! Then there are all the other little packets…And every time he gets takeout…there are MORE!”

“Oh, dear,” I texted back, adding that I had used up my own ketchup hoard by snipping the ends off the sachets and emptying them into my large ketchup bottle. Strangely, Susan didn't seem impressed by that.  

“Squeeze them into big bottles hey?” she  replied, “Ron suggested that, but I told him that was his job…that’s when he said I should throw them out.”

Ron’s hoard would have come in handy when Paul and I stopped to pick up supper from the Dairy Queen a few days later. He had been ill, and had lost his appetite for a couple of weeks, so I was relieved when he had the sudden urge for a DQ Crispy Chicken Salad with his favourite Honey Mustard dressing. Things began to unravel quickly when the server brought out the salad and told him that she was sorry, but they were out of Honey Mustard dressing. Paul was disappointed. The young server was poised with a cooked Crispy Chicken Salad, but without the Honey Mustard dressing, Paul did not want it. 

Childhood family dynamics made me a Rescuer of Awkward Moments and this one triggered me. I instantly remembered a leftover sachet of Honey Mustard Dressing that was waiting in the door of our fridge at home. Disappointment was unnecessary! All would be well.

As soon as the car stopped in our driveway, I rushed inside, an invisible red rescue cape flapping in the wind behind me. I skidded to a halt in front of the fridge, and flung open the door--but there was no dressing! In my own round of purging zeal, I had thrown it away. Next I ran to the pantry, where I was sure I had an unopened bottle of honey mustard dressing. I searched in vain before remembering it had gone the way of the sachet when I had noticed that the “Best Before” date was several years in the past.

Paul was eating his melting ice-cream first, but it was going fast. I felt like a contestant on a cooking show trying to beat the clock. I ransacked my cookbooks for recipes for Honey Mustard dressing—no luck. Undeterred, I ran upstairs and printed off the first honey mustard recipe I could find on the internet.

I gathered the ingredients quickly: Dijon mustard, honey, cider vinegar, salt and oil, and started measuring them out. The print on the recipe was small and I had to squint—my reading glasses weren’t handy but I didn’t want to waste time searching.

1 ¼ cups of Dijon mustard did seem like rather a lot, followed by 2 ¼ cups of honey and 3 ¼ cups of cider vinegar. I was just thankful that I had these things on hand in such quantity. I underestimated the size of bowl I would need and had to find a bigger one to transfer the mixture into. This must be a commercial recipe, I thought, but by now I was committed. 

Then I paused to take a calming breath and looked closely at the next ingredient. I saw to my dismay that what seemed at quick glance to read, “41½ teaspoons of salt,” was actually, step number 4--1½ teaspoons of salt, and that what seemed to be ever-increasing ingredient quantities were the result of my including the step numbers in the measurements. The last one would have been step 5. ¼ cup plus two tablespoons, of oil. The practice of thanking God for small mercies was heartily applied as I contemplated the amount of oil that would have swelled the growing concoction on my counter had I not pressed the pause button before adding that.

I pushed the overflowing bowl to one side and began again with the right amounts this time--and triumphantly carried in the hard-won dressing just as Paul was opening his chicken salad.

Afterwards I asked him how it was.

“Not the same,” he said—Paul is nothing if not truthful. He had no idea of the behind-the-scenes drama that had gone into its production.

I did briefly consider how I might rescue the original bowl of ingredients, but to do so would have meant adding 2 more cups of Dijon Mustard and another cup of honey to balance out the volume of cider vinegar--which was 13 times the correct amount of just a ¼ cup. There would have been enough dressing nobody really liked, to last a lifetime. You have to know when to cut your losses.

I’m trying to decide if the moral of this story is “haste makes waste” or “penny wise—pound foolish.” Maybe I should ask Ron.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Of Cupboards and Cornflake Boxes

I had spent Wednesday upstairs, emptying, cleaning and organizing cupboards, while from the kitchen below the distant whine of an electric screwdriver drifted up--new cupboard doors were being attached to our still sturdy, old cupboard frames.The bathroom cupboards were next to be renewed once the kitchen was finished.

Without thinking, I emptied the contents of a clear plastic jewelry organizer onto the bathroom counter-top, so that I could wash and dry it--and instantly the chains of four necklaces formed a pile that became tangled around each other and two red coral earrings. More haste, less speed, I thought, with a sigh.

I tried letting the chains loosely fall apart in my fingers, as much as they would without tugging. Mum had taught me how to do this when I was a child, and I remembered how no matter how tight the knot in a thread, or how hopelessly knotted a chain was, somehow, she was always able to undo it; just one of her special talents! I managed to disengage one of the earrings, but I didn't have the time right then to continue, and one of the chains had woven itself intractably around the remaining earring. It looked as though I would have to undo the chains before the earring could be freed. I laid the jumble on the lamp table beside my reading chair, to be worked on later.

The kitchen cupboards were finished by early afternoon, and looked beautiful. Instead of golden oak colonial, the doors were now a more modern dark chocolate brown, with simple, clean lines and elegant brushed silver T bar handles.

On my way up to bed in the evening, before turning out the lights, I paused to admire them one more time, and again, Mum came to mind. How she would have loved the new cupboards! She always longed for a nice home, but it was a dream that evaded her. Instead, she took great pleasure in ours. I felt a pang of sadness. I would have so much loved to share this joy with her. Instead, I whispered, "Aren't they beautiful Mum? I'm enjoying them for both of us."

Upstairs I sat down in my reading chair to check my phone for messages and then reached for the chains, intending to work on them a little longer before bed. To my surprise, the coral earring, which I had been sure was so firmly entangled, lay by the chains, but no longer attached.

Had I untangled it and forgotten? I was sure that I would have put it away with the matching earring in the jewelry organizer if I had. 

On Saturday, my brother Rob called from England and I told him about the new cupboards and how they'd made me think of Mum. 

He interrupted me before I could finish, "Belinda, you won't believe this, but in the middle of the week, I was thinking about Mum too. I was in my kitchen, and thought of how she was always filling out the contests on the Cornflakes boxes."

"Win Your Dream Home!" he said, "That's what the caption always said, and there would be a smiling housewife standing in front of a beautiful modern home, half brick and half white cladding. She always used to say, 'I don't want anything special, just reasonable.'"

I remembered that too, and could hardly wait to tell him the rest of my story--about the tangled chains--ending with the earring inexplicably lying apart from them. 

He laughed, "Oh, my Belinda--and the chains were in the shape of M-U-M," he embellished, "and there was a piping hot cup of tea on the table, just like Mum used to make." Now we were both laughing.

"How lucky we were to have Mum, and Mum's love. Not everybody has that," said Rob.

And, I thought, such love lasts forever.

Monday, January 16, 2017


Words--they can be regretted; explained; justified; or apologized for, but never retrieved—and that’s the very thing we often long to do.

Once careless, hurtful words are expressed, like homing missiles, they find their mark with terrifying precision and devastation.  And there is no tenderer landing place than a human heart or soul.

A sure signal of the need for silence is anger. “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you’ll ever regret,” wrote Ambrose Bierce, a 19th century journalist, who ironically often stirred up a storm of hostile reaction through his writings. Perhaps he spoke from bitter experience. Unfortunately, anger is exactly when words tend to come--“fast and furious".

Some of the words I regret the most were spoken to my father. They were true, and it’s not hard to justify them, but they caused him pain. Three months afterwards he died. I would give much to take them back.

He was 81 and very deaf due to the effects of war and factory work--but unfortunately for me, could hear better over the phone. I had not long returned from a three week visit to England, where he lived in fraught relationship with my brother and mother. It had been a difficult visit in which it was hard to watch the dynamics, and I shocked myself with thoughts I could only admit to my brother. 

I said to him one day as we walked around a hardware store together, “I thought last night of how much easier life would be if Dad died. That's a terrible thing to think about isn't it?” He didn’t say a word. I didn’t expect him to—I think he understood that I needed to say the dark thought out loud to someone, as if doing so would exorcise it. 

I had tried to make Dad see how much he hurt my brother, when he focused on what he perceived to be his faults, which really weren't and if they were, were weak echoes of his own, but it had been hard to get through the barrier of a deafness that could have been eased if only he’d put the batteries in his hearing aid, and if there hadn’t been the alcoholic haze which he induced each day from mid-morning on.

I was deeply thankful for the inner-healing and different perspective that I found on that vacation through reading Philip Yancey’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, but when Dad said to me over the phone, “I wish we’d had more time to talk while you were here, darling, I had no grace.

I said, “Well, Dad, I was there for three weeks, but you were well oiled (British slang for drunk) for much of the time.”

He didn’t react, didn’t flame with anger--if he had, it might have eased my guilt, but instantly I felt that I had hurt him—I just wasn’t sure enough to apologize immediately. I hoped that I was wrong, that as many things did, my careless words had gone over his head. But I feared they hadn't. He was always so proud of me—his only daughter, so like him in many ways—and to him, vulnerable in his love, the wound went deep. I felt his distance in the weeks that followed.

When he was hospitalized a few months later, I flew back, and through our daily visits to the intensive care unit, surrounded by the constant doleful beeping of machinery,
I hope he knew that we loved him, no matter what. He could no longer speak to us because of the breathing tube in his throat, but in his weakness and helplessness, we saw a glimpse of the person he really was, and the father and husband he might have been, without the ghosts that he used alcohol to numb. 

In his final week of life, after I had returned to Canada, the life support apparatus was removed, and during that week, my dad's mind clear, he gave my brother the priceless gift of affection, in words and touch--his blessing—we’ve talked of those precious moments many times since.

It’s been 14 years since I spoke those words to Dad. I’ve learned since then to listen better to what lies behind words than to the words themselves. Now, I hear in his words a longing for intimacy, connection and communication, and across time and space, I say, late, but from my heart, “Me too, Dad…me too.” 

Thursday, January 05, 2017

The Ticking Clock

I've often felt out of step with our time-pressured, outcome-measuring society, and never more than now. 

I find myself at the end of cashier's lines, as the next person's items start piling up before I've packed and removed my bags. I feel slow as I put away my receipts, while quickly around me the world speeds on.

Today I went through a Tim Horton's drive-through and the Tim's card I had loaded with $20 the week before, registered no cash, due to some kind of issue that I will resolve, but in the meantime I needed to pay for the tea I had ordered. After only a few seconds of searching, since I carry and use little cash anymore, the cashier waved me through without having to pay. I have a feeling that had to do with the fact that I was holding up the line behind me. 

Later on I went to pick up some colour swatches from our local paint store as we are painting our kitchen and bathroom. I had a list of colour numbers, as I had done some homework on the store's website, and was doing fine in finding swatches I'd chosen. I had been there less than a minute, I am sure, when a middle-aged man approached me with an intense and intrusive gaze saying, "I can help you find what you're looking for a lot faster."

I politely declined his help, but he persisted, "If you just call out the numbers I can get them." 

Why? I thought to myself, but, "They are all right here," I said, gesturing towards the display in front of me, as if I needed to explain. Thankfully he backed away.

I left the store with my selection, wondering why the whole world seems to be in such a hurry. 

Workers these days in all kinds of industries seem to have quotas that are measured. The motions with which they work are studied and analysed because time equals money. You can see the subtle cues everywhere in the smooth methodical ways every process in commercial businesses run, which isn't completely a bad thing except maybe the underlying premise is.

Should money be the prime value driving our society? Care for the elderly, is carried out by workers who have only time to do essential care tasks but have no time to interact--no time to listen or converse for they are being watched and pressured to do more in less time. No wonder they find this stressful as they chose that field because they care for the people they work with on a human level. People need more than food and bathing in order to survive. We cannot forget this.

Years ago when I began working with people with disabilities, they taught me that rushing was counter-productive--and would often result in much more time spent than if I had been patient and supported someone at their own pace in the first place. One of the gifts in my continuing friendships with people with disabilities is the slower pace with which they regulate the world around them, to good effect.

After years of trying to do more in less time, my time related goals now include trying to be more "in the moment" and to do one thing at a time, rather than multi-tasking. 

Let's go counter-culture, be okay with slowing down--write a real letter or note to someone instead of an email; lose track of time with a friend; really listen to that voice at the end of the phone--and have patience with the world around you if things aren't going as fast as you'd like. 


Being rich is having money; being wealthy is having time. 
Margaret Bonnano 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

There's Always More Ink

December 31st...a day to look back before looking ahead; at where I didn't do as well as hoped, and where I have changed for the better (in my experience, with God's help.) 

I opened the small pink patterned note book in which I chronicled this year's challenges and victories, its pages secured by a knot, promising confidences kept.

I found on the fly-leaf, a conversation I recorded because it encouraged me, and I share it here because it is perfect for this day above all:

It was September, and our granddaughter Tippy was living out her dream--an art student at Sheridan College. She and her class-mates were instructed to draw a picture that represented themselves. Then, anonymously, the drawings were made into a slideshow for the class to view and analyse. 

When Tippy's drawing came up, some of the students commented on the strokes, saying that they indicated that the artist was confident and strong.

As Tippy recounted this to our daughter Brenda later, she said, "Mom, if you make a mistake, there's always more ink."

When I told Tippy later how her words affected me, I don't think she understood their power, but I pray that she, and others will. Fear of failure shows up in so many ways. In me it has frequently stopped me from even trying, to do something of importance to me.

Let this be the year to shake off the shackles of fear, to steward gifts--to try, knowing that failure is the path to any success worth achieving.

"There is Always More Ink"

Tippy Adams, 2016

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Mittens

About two weeks before Christmas, a call for help came from Daisy, a friend and respected member of the community of Mishkeegogamang, a reserve 2000 kilometers north west of Toronto. She told us that many of the 200 children who attend Missabay School in the growing community, needed mittens. Since the temperature up there that day was -27 F, the need was obvious.

As soon as the need was made known, initially via Facebook, the response was swift. People's hearts were touched by the need and bags of mittens and other donations began to be dropped off for the children. 

The next thing was getting the items to the faraway community. Our friends Holly McCleary and Susan Stewart decided that they would drive the precious cargo themselves between Christmas and New Years. They set out early the Thursday morning after Christmas and made the distance in an unbelievably short length of time, driving in shifts through the night--2,000 kilometers north, arriving on Friday! Bags and bags of warm gloves, mittens, scarves and toques--and even 50 bright red, warm blankets made it safely to Mish and were distributed to all who needed them.

I thought of the brave travelers as I watched snowflakes fall relentless past my window, and in my mind's eye went back, past the flaming fire of autumn's falling leaves, to the sultry heat of an August evening in Mish. It was the evening of the great feast at the community centre. Our little group had prepared baked potatoes with butter, boiled sweet corn, and, helped by Gordie, a community elder, barbecued smokie sausages for the community. As the smoke rose and the barbecue sizzled, the tantalizing aroma of the sausage filled the air. We expected at least a hundred people.

Inside, on long tables in the gym, we unpacked boxes of new and gently used clothing. Every item had been carefully sorted by volunteers at our churches in the south and packaged by age and sex, while making sure that everything was of good quality and in good repair.

People were starting to arrive and look through the items, selecting what they needed. A woman held up a dress that shimmered in the light, and said to her friend, "Look at this!"

Holly joined me, but her eyes quickly filled with tears. Overwhelmed at the need, she slipped away as quickly as she had come--it was too much for her big and tender heart to watch.

A small boy on his own appeared at my side by a table of winter items. There, a pair of uniquely designed mittens caught his eye. He picked them up and said softly as he examined them, "I like these mittens."

"If you like them take them," I said.

But he put them gently back on the table and said, "Somebody else might need them more."

"Well, come back later," I said, "Maybe they'll still be here--you never know!"

Later, after the corn, potatoes and smokies had all been placed into the stream of waiting hands, and a great treasure--the leftovers--sent home with grateful people, I went back into the gym to help clean up the boxes and few items left.

There I met the little boy again. "I wonder if those mittens are still there, " he said. 

Together, hand in hand, we went back to the table, but it was now empty. I wondered if I should have put them on one side without him knowing, but that had not felt like the right thing to do.

The little boy simply accepted that they weren't there--someone else had needed them more, but he had three brand-new t-shirts slung over his shoulder. 

"Would you like me to fold your t-shirts?" I asked, and he nodded.

I handed them back to him with love tucked into every fold.

"You should have brought bags you know," he said, his observation breaking the tension in my heart.

"You are right!" I said, with a laugh.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Christmas Gift

I read the story over lunch a few days before Christmas, and laughed out loud alone in my kitchen, as it brought to colourful life in my imagination, the hilarious scenario played out on the page in black on white.

A day or so later, I was talking to my son, and I said, "Pete, I have a gift I'd love from you this Christmas."

"Oh?" he said, surprised, I suppose, at my unusual boldness in asking. "What is it?"

"It's a story," I said, "And the gift would be that you would read it for me and the rest of the family, when we all get together for Christmas." 

He agreed. asking only if he might get the story ahead of time to practice.

In the end, with all of the busyness before Christmas, he never did pick up the story to ahead of time, but on Boxing Day, when we all assembled to celebrate what was for some family members, "Christmas Version # 3," the bright-yellow-covered book with its coffee-stained pages was near at hand.

The house was fragrant with the aromas of Christmas dinner: roasting turkey, with a stuffing of bread, celery, onion and sage--and colourful winter vegetables: carrots, turnips and Brussels sprouts. The feast was waiting, with equally delicious options for the vegan members of the family.

But first all eyes were on the coffee table, piled with gifts wrapped lovingly into the night, in brightly covered tissue, with sparkly bows and decorations.

We did try to open the gifts one-by-one, slowly, so that each could be admired and acknowledged, but like a train leaving a station, the gifting, opening and thanking gathered speed--fed by a seemingly unstoppable force, until the flurry of flying paper, exclamations and laughter reached a sort of grand Christmas crescendo!

The careful wrappings of just moments ago were being gathered into clear plastic garbage bags, when I announced, "I have asked for a gift from Pete." 

I had everyone's attention, so I continued, "The gift is a story I have asked him to read out loud. Your part in the gift would be to listen to it with me. But I'm not sure when would be a good time."

"How about after we finish our meal?" suggested someone, and to general assent, the tidying resumed.

The meal was everything I had hoped it would be and it seemed to be enjoyed to the full. No one had room for another bite. It was time for the gift I had been looking forward to for days.

Pete was sitting beside me at the head of two long tables that had been pushed together so that all 13 of us could sit together for the meal. I handed him my book, open to the story I wanted him to read.

Our youngest grandson, Josh, left the table to work on his new Lego project, promising he'd be listening, and Pete began to read.

The story captured everyone within its first few lines. Josh returned to his seat, his eyes dancing with humour as they locked on his dad's in rapt attention. Pete's deep voice broke with laughter at several points and I looked down the table at the faces of our family laughing out loud with him, not an ear-bud in sight, and I received my gift--my very precious gift: a moment of shared laughter; a Christmas memory made; a gift honoured by all.

And my heart breathed, "Thank you."