Monday, December 31, 2012

Metamorphosis

By Belinda

Mum made it safely through the night, and once I was up myself, I helped her through a wash and getting dressed in "real" clothes!

As she took off the pink, cotton hospital gown that she had come home in, Mum said, "I won't be wearing that any more!"

I gave her a bowl of warm soapy water to soak her feet in properly before putting on her pantyhose as I was sure she hadn't been able to do that for a while.

There was a special seat to aid in getting dressed, which I learned was called a perching stool. It was a great help as Mum could sit while semi-standing.

Once dressed, and enveloped in a spray of perfume too, I gave Mum her face cream and powder compact. She gave a little laugh and said, "Oh!" as if surprised by this perhaps forgotten ritual. Those were the final touches to Mum's toilette!

Although I longed to wash her hair, getting washed and dressed was a big enough event for the first day.

I gathered up two loads of laundry and washed them, changing Mum's bed and putting on a fresh sheet and duvet cover. Everything, including Mum, looked clean and fresh.

The District nurse popped in and was so helpful. It was apparent that there was a great system of support in the village. She said that she knew most of the carers and that they flagged her down in the street if they thought she needed to drop in and visit someone--even though that wasn't strictly going by the book.

Later on, when Rob came home from work, we went out together to get groceries and some more things to make Mum more comfortable. While we were out, Margaret the social worker dropped off a revised care plan that included a midday check and med administration as well as a morning and evening visit to get Mum up and help her get ready for bed. If Mum ended up not needing quite that much, it would be evident and the support could be faded, but for now it felt reassuring to have that much help.

On the way home, Rob and I picked up fish and chips for supper and we had just finished tidying up and putting away the groceries when our friends Chris and Eileen Ashton arrived to visit, with bunches of beautiful golden daffodils.

It was 11.30 when Mum finally went to bed that night--later than we planned because we were waiting for her cat, Sam, to come back inside. We both agreed that it had been a very good first day home, and I was amazed at the world of difference in Mum since I first saw her on Friday the week before.

In a week she had gone from depression to determination and in the previous 24 hours she had come from the hospital with a plastic bag of belongings wearing slippers, gown and blanket, to sleeping in her own bed, wearing real clothes, and wearing perfume, face cream and powder--small, important reminders of her humanity. 

To be continued...

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mum's Recovery Story Continued

By Belinda

I had arrived in England on January 29th, 2004, and found mum disheartened and depressed after a stroke in the fall of the previous year. The stroke had been followed by several gastrointestinal infections, which had sent her back to the hospital where she had remained through her 77th birthday in December; Christmas; and the whole of January. 

She knew that she had to accept the physical and neurological losses that resulted from the stroke but she seemed to be in a dark place with no hope for the future.

But a spark had come back as we began plans for her return home. On Wednesday the 4th of February, I spoke to the social worker working on her discharge, which was planned, complete with "package of care," for the following Monday. I had asked if she could come home sooner, since I was there and could support her. It didn't make sense for her to be in the hospital when she was no longer sick. It felt strange to have to ask to have our mother back from a system that "had" her. The social worker said that I would know the next day and that she would also be coming out to do a health and safety inspection of Mum's home.

When the call I was waiting for came, to my surprise, it was to say that Mum was on her way home, by ambulance. A short while later, the ambulance pulled up and opened its doors outside 42 Snake Lane, and through the lace curtains I saw Mum, wearing a pink cotton hospital gown and her cardigan, swathed in a white hospital blanket and walking in her slippers up the garden path, accompanied by two ambulance attendants. They carried a plastic bag, which they handed to me at the front door, labeled, "Patient's Belongings."

Shortly after Mum arrived, Margaret the social worker arrived to discuss Mum's ongoing needs and to do the inspection. Bit by bit I was finding my way through a new world of District Nurses, Social Services.

Mum was HOME!!! How profoundly simple, but how wonderful that was. No more trips to the hospital to see her. She was with us. From this point on, we were together again as a family.

I cooked a meal--the first one since arriving just over a week before, and Rob and my nephew Tim joined us for it. Taking command of Mum's kitchen was something I had not done in the past. She had particular ways of doing things and it was easier to step back whenever I was there and let Mum take care of the cooking. She had cooked her last meal over three months before and would never have any interest in preparing food again. It felt good to do it for her.

That night I helped her get ready for bed, and I tucked her in, arranging things close at hand that she might need in the night. I left her with a prayer that angels would be around her bed.

I went to bed with gratitude for the opportunity to love Mum in a way that would make a difference. I drifted off thinking of plans  for the next day--a new beginning for all of us.
To be continued....

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Parcel

By Belinda

One day last week I stood in the post office, with my parcels wrapped at last, the night before. I knew that it was too late to hope that they would get to England for Christmas but I also knew that I had done my best to do, one by one, the many things that are labour intensive but which mean "Christmas" to me.

I didn't stress over them, and left the accomplishing of them in God's hands, but I did keep going until they were done. 

I don't do baking any more. I learned long ago that no one eats as much of it as I do, especially the left overs. I don't kid myself anymore that I'm doing it for others! Besides, baking flows to this house like iron filings to a magnet, and my cupboards overflow right now with other people's yummy baking.

Sending a parcel to my brother, a little surprise for him, was on my list of important things to do though. The contents were an odd assortment of items. Here is what was in it. There was a packet of six rawhide "bagels" for Bruce, my brother's dog. They were in different meaty flavours and different colours, too, which is ridiculous really because dogs are supposed to be colour blind. But we all know who the colours are for, and it obviously worked because I bought them!

There were 5 chocolate letters, imported to Canada from Holland, and now going to England. These much traveled letters were, "R" for Rob, "T" for Tim, "J" for John, "C" for Claire; John's partner; and "J" for her little girl Jayda, whom John adores.

Lastly, there was a fat envelope full of photographs. 

One of my projects this past fall, not yet complete, was emptying my photo albums into boxes designed to hold photos. My albums took up too much space, and were packed away in bankers boxes anyway. In the photo boxes I will be able to easily access any year's photos, up until the mid 2000's, when I started taking digital photographs.

As I went through the albums I found many photos that Mum had sent to me of Rob's boys when little, and of Rob and Jayne. There were also photos that were doubles of ones I had already, of Rob's first dog, Boss, who was such a character and very much loved, and of Mum and Dad. There was quite a collection and I thought of sending them, but didn't get around to it. The Christmas parcel was the perfect opportunity.

The post office clerk weighed the parcel and I braced myself for the astronomical price--it was very heavy. She told me two prices--for surface mail and air mail. It took me a only a split second to opt for air mail thinking that you just can't put a price on some things. It made me happy to think of the doggie bagels, chocolate letters and photos being on their way to Rob as fast as possible.

This morning the phone rang and it was Rob calling to tell me the parcel had arrived!

And he went on to tell me how much it all meant, especially the photos, some for deeply personal reasons. He said how he had gone through them all, describing them to me as he did, Dad's big hands on Tim; seeing Mum; and Boss. He said they brought a tear to his eyes...I could imagine it so perfectly.

I wanted to know if Bruce had enjoyed a bagel yet and Rob said he hadn't had one yet, because he had been sick the day before due to eating too much! He said he wanted him to have an empty stomach before he gave him anything more, so he had put them away in the storage cupboard.

"But he knows they are in there Belinda," he said, "Every time I come out of there he has to check my hands!"

I've discovered that there is no such thing as an unselfish gift because you get so much more back for every one you give.

A few pieces of rawhide and  a few of chocolate, with some old photos thrown in--equal two happy siblings and one happy dog.

Computer Accessories and Other Such Items

By Belinda

The day ends as it began, in the peace and quiet of my small sitting room, the clock measuring the heartbeat of the hours in between with its tireless metronome rhythm.

 We celebrated Christmas with family today; Boxing Day. 

Pete and Sue had planned to arrive with their 4 children at 10.00 but at 10.00 the phone rang and it was Pete's deep voice on the other end.

"Hello, you aren't here," I observed.

Pete laughed, "I know," he said, "the kids are sluggish. We wanted to let you know we'll be there soon."

When daughter and daughter-in-law came they were bearing platters of their baking to add to our feast: haystack cookies, shortbread, ginger cookies, sugar cookies and fudge. Our house was soon full of more sugar than an army of sugar mice.

We started the opening of gifts by attempting the orderly one at a time method, where each gift is duly admired before the next one is opened, but with 12 humans of various ages around the tree that didn't last long and soon the handing out and opening sped up to where we all marveled at how at least two days of hard wrapping could be undone and the paper gathered up in less than half an hour.

The older teen cousins hung out together while the younger ones watched movies and the preparations in the kitchen came to a crescendo from which issued a  fine turkey dinner.

Afterwards, with the dinner eaten and cleared away, at last there was time to just relax and to ask Pete for help with some technical support with my new laptop. Son-in-law Kevin had already paid his dues yesterday with round one.

My five year old Dell laptop which was barely croaking along anymore I passed on to Pete afterwards. He was convinced that he could do something with it and asked if I had the original discs. I went and got the bankers box into which I stow things like the MP3 player I bought, promptly locked and which I meant to get around to unlocking but never did, along with everything else of a technical nature that I don't know what to do with. The discs, if I had them, would be in that box.

Sue, our daughter-in-law, read out my identifying inscription on the box, written in black marker: "Computer Accessories and Other Such Items," and laughed.

"What?" I said.

"Nothing," she said, "it's just you."

The price of support is being the subject of laughter, but it's a price I don't mind paying because in truth the laughter is justified.

Pete worked on the old laptop for some time, emptying it of the many toolbars I had unwittingly loaded onto it, along with unwanted software that I said had, "jumped on," but in reality I had welcomed by not un-checking boxes over the years. Why IS the default un-checking to say "no," rather than checking to say, "yes," you want something?

Pete did me the big favour of taking everything out of the bankers box and sorting it out into piles of things to throw away (including several big floppy discs!) things he could use but which I no longer needed and the very few things that I needed to keep. In the process of so doing, he looked at the mysteriously locked MP3 player and noticed a small switch on the side that said, "Lock." 

"Could this be why it is locked, Mom?" he said, handing it to me and sliding the switch in the other direction.

"This laptop looks like it's going to be of good use," he said, noting that it was now working a lot faster than it had been for some time.

"I'm so glad," I said, feeling happy that he had inherited something that could help in his household of 4 children always needing one to work on for homework.

Finally the family dispersed again to the highway home and apartment downstairs; and the quantities of leftovers--an abundance of riches, were all put away.

And I think that this is the best time of all, the grateful reflecting time; on love, and relationship, and home.



Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Thanks be to God for his Indescribable Gift 2 Cor.9:15

Thanking God today for the gifts that no money can buy: for family and friends.

Most of all, thanking God for the gift of Christ; for the hope wrapped up in that gift and for the freedom and redemption that comes from unwrapping it.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hosanna in the Highest!

By Belinda

I feel like a stranger! I have missed being here to chat--to share thoughts and laughter and awe. I've been down with a really bad cold--but woke up thankful this morning for returning energy and a voice that is croaking less with every minute.

I will be returning to the story of Mum's stroke, which I was part way through. Thank you for hanging in with me in my circuitous story telling. I so appreciate you being there to listen, and I promise a brief re-cap, to remind you where we were when I start again.

But tonight I'm thinking of those who are Home for the holidays; Mum is one of those and I know other blog readers also lost loved ones this year. I'm thinking of them too, knowing that our first Christmas without them we are aware of an empty place at the table; or in our bed; or a phone call we'll miss having to make. 

I spoke to Rob on Saturday, just checking in. I know that he must miss her. Oh, he is still noticing the things he doesn't have to do to be sure; things that were hard work for him; like making sure that each of Mum's carers received a box of chocolates. 

"There were so many of them Belinda," he said, and there were. They were all special women who genuinely cared, bringing Mum the sweetly perfumed gifts of talcum powder, shower gel and body lotion that I would find on her bathroom window sill when I came for my visits. I knew that they did not come from Rob! :) 

And last Sunday, just a week ago today, we got the news that someone we supported at work; a woman I was just about to describe as "elderly," but caught myself as she was probably only 10 years older than me; had been given only 24-48 hours to live.

I went to the hospital on Sunday after church, and there met two other staff who had come, and one of her friends. I am not sure what I expected, but I found her sitting up in a wheelchair, singing loudly, and making up the funniest couplets, which unfailingly rhymed for the full two hours I was there! 

It sounded like a mixture of Dr. Suess, Alice in Wonderland and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. She cheered us up no end, and one of the other patients said that she was proselytizing, she sang so much about God and Jesus (as well as monkeys and other more earthly things.)

There were days that followed where she was in a darker and more painful place, but finally, having made it many more than the 48 hours that were supposed to be her limit, she arrived at the end of this week at peace, in a private room, with her favourite music softy playing. 

She left for home last night just before midnight. The manager of her group home, in an email this morning, gave an update and said that, "She is having a very good day today." And we know that she is. She; with her best friend who died in March this year; and my mum; and other moms and loved ones, are having their first Christmas in heaven.Oh, I think that surely they must celebrate it there, too.

As I sat this evening at my kitchen table, surrounded by rolls of wrapping paper and ribbon and the chaos that wrapping as an event is for me--I was listening to a CD that my friend Irene gave me for Christmas because she knows that I love some of the music of Israel Houghton and New Breed. I say "some," because it is his slower worship music that moves me most deeply, like the simple but profoundly beautiful Alpha and Omega

But tonight as I listened, a song that sounded like the angels around the throne of God came through my ear buds. I closed my eyes and I imagined it so, even though I know that anything here can only be a pale shadow of the reality. As I heard the beautiful song, I saw the  crowds around his throne; I knew that among them was Mum, and a friend freshly arrived just today. I walked the crowd slowly, as they worshiped, looking for those familiar faces. And I wept.

Dear friends, take a few minutes and listen. Imagine those you love who are there already and join your hearts with them in praise of our Saviour and Lord. Hosanna in the Highest!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Another Friend Hits 60! Happy Birthday Dave!

By Belinda

29 years ago one of our big life transitions was happening. We had spent the past 9 years, from August 1974 to December 1983, raising our children, living in a farmhouse between Aurora and Newmarket and supporting 12 men with developmental disabilities. Paul was also working in upper management in an institution and was now helping the final few people left there, to move to the community as it closed.

It was a big transition for the people moving into the community, but my transition was from living with people as a house parent, supported by a multidisciplinary team of professionals at the institution, to moving out of the house we had shared with them, and working for the community agency that took on the care of the people we had lived with.

From mid December to early in 1984, I hired staff for the team I would manage as a program director, a role at which, for all my years of experience with people with disabilities, I was a greenhorn.  I had never led a team of people before.

One by one the team grew, and one day, a tall behaviour therapist with a deep voice came to consult with us on some of the more challenging behaviours we were encountering.

He said he loved the fact that there was so much laughter on the team and he unknowingly instilled confidence in a wobbly kneed program director who was learning the ropes of a completely new dynamic of working with and leading people.

His name was Dave Hingsburger, and he was just 31 to my 33 years. Today he turns 60; the second of my very dear friends to do so this week.

Throughout the 1980's we worked together, and in the 1990's stayed in touch. I deeply respected and appreciated his honesty and independent thought. What he wrote often stretched our minds, challenged us, or resonated.

Along the way he became widely known and respected in the world of developmental services as a fearless fighter for freedom from abuse and someone who has made the world a safer place for people with disabilities.

He became someone I trusted as an accepting friend who would care and pray when I needed support. I never needed to say exactly what the problem was, but if I needed to, I would trust him with my deepest vulnerabilities and be sure that they would be safe with him; that he would not judge.

In the past decade our friendship has only deepened. He is one of the master encouragers of my writing life. A brilliant writer himself, he has helped me believe that I can write by his generous endorsement and support! :)

I still love his honesty and heart and treasure his friendship and these few words are the tip of an iceberg of deep caring. 
Happy birthday dear friend. It may be all downhill from 60--but the ride is exhilarating! :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Happy Birthday to Susan (December 18)

By Belinda

We gathered last Friday evening to celebrate--just a few of the people who know and love Susan; my friend, and a mother of nine; with a rapidly increasing flock of grandchildren.

All she wanted to do to celebrate her milestone birthday--60 years on December 18, was to have dinner with a few of her girlfriends--so that's what we did, we gathered at The Whistle Stop in Beeton and we just hung out for a few hours laughing and enjoying one another's company.

Susan and I have known one another for a long time; she would know exactly how long--but I just know that in 1997 we met again after being out of touch for a gap of several years, and have been very close friends for the past 15. 

"Close friends" means knowing  each other extremely well. As with spouses, so in friendship, often opposites attract. We have had our share of crazy times, when the opposite parts poked our tender spots, but mostly we fit together like puzzle pieces meant to be together, making one another complete in ways that we wouldn't be without the other.

Susan is the best of grandmothers. I don't know how she manages to give so much individual quality time to her grandchildren when she has so many (over 16,) but she does! This little one is Ivy, her daughter Abby's little girl.

Her children are all amazing human beings whom I love, and her husband, Ron, is a dear person who loves her and makes her coffee every morning before she gets up, and comes to her rescue like a knight in shining armour, whenever she is in a scrape.

She has changed me for the better by challenging me whenever I am wrong, and forcing me to look at my blind spots. I am so grateful for her friendship.

Here are a few photos from the evening at the Whistle Stop. 


On the left is Christy, Susan's daughter.



This is Heather, a daughter-in-law, and next to her is Emily, with Jorie on the end.

Down below, Frances is playing with Ivy!



The photo above left, is Jorie; Susan's youngest daughter. And below is Abby, who is Ivy's mother.

Here are two of Susan's dear friends: Cindy, who is studying carpentry, and Paivi, who is a writer and artist!
My daughter Brenda with Ivy!


Cindy, Paivi, and Velma, another dear friend.
Emily and Jorie
It is called the "whistle stop" for a reason!

Abby and Christy above, with Frances below. Ivy was cuddled by many of us around the table like a little living doll--when Frances was willing to surrender her!

Susan thank you for being "you." We celebrate you and wish you a happy, happy, day!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Old So Fast, Smart So Slow

By Belinda

I was driving to a Christmas party yesterday morning. In the bright winter sunlight I stared at my hands on the steering wheel. Seriously, I thought, what has happened to these appendages at the end of my arms? They have turned into "old lady hands!" The skin has that shiny, slightly wrinkly look that tells me what my mind and body try to forget. My body is aging--okay, "I" am aging-- and there is no denying it! 

Later in the day as I puttered in the kitchen with friends, getting ready for another Christmas party while relating the story of my realization, my friend Magda tried to console me. "At least you don't have these brown age spots," she said, holding out one of her spot dotted hands.

I wryly held out one of my hands; the one with a big brown spot.

"And you know," I said, "it is too bad! I feel as though I'm only just getting some things right. It has taken me so long to learn the important things, and now I'm getting old!"

"Old so fast, smart so slow!" said Magda.

"That's it--exactly!" I said. I had never heard that expression before, but it hit the nail on the head perfectly--old so fast, smart so slow!

And all day today I've been thinking of that. Whatever time I have left, long or short, I don't want to waste it. Time is running out, even if you are young.

I am absolutely sure that God is not finished with the lessons I have yet to learn, but please God don't let them be repeats. Please let me apply the lessons learned so that I can be a better source of blessing to the people around me.

I do have hope. I saw the effects today of some hard won lessons. Someone grew a little taller because I resisted taking over quickly, and instead tried to infuse confidence--"You can do this." 

And I am learning to be a better teacher; showing, not telling so much--but I have far to go before I will feel happy with where I am. 

I feel like a senior on training wheels too much of the time!

I have often wondered why humans mature so slowly compared to other creatures who seem to get up and walk almost from birth, and are up and out of the nest in no time. We seem to need a lifetime to learn all that is important. Perhaps God slows us down in order to do so.

How about you? What lessons have you learned late in life that you wish you had learned earlier? Please tell me I'm not alone! :)

Treasure

By Belinda


 The house waits; spruced up in the  finery of the season. Christmas lights twinkle and admire their reflections in window panes and shining floor.


Fragrant candles scent the air with cinnamon, allspice, apples and vanilla; blending with the delicious aroma of turkey, and sage and onion dressing. 

The Christmas cake's aroma is deep and rich with fruity goodness. Baked into it is the love with which it was made by a dear friend who insisted on making it in England in July, so that we could bring it home with us and she could keep her tradition of baking our cake.

The turkey; dressing; potato casserole and coffee; my contributions to tonight's feast are made; the food ready in the warming oven.

At 6pm the first friends arrive; Magda and Debbie; with cold drinks, and casseroles filled with squash and plump, green beans.

Magda hands me a bag containing mysterious frozen lumps. "These are for you, to go in the freezer, but first you must open it," she says. Inside I find 12 frozen cabbage rolls! Is this the start of a new Christmas carol? :)

"So that you can have a night when you won't have to cook. Just thaw, add tomato sauce and bake!"she says. Such a thoughtful and appreciated gift!

A little later Vena and Brenda arrive bearing tender shortbread; coconut loaf and a decadent dessert made of ice cream sandwiches, cool whip, chocolate sauce and peanuts. All of my favourite things in one dessert. Come to think of it the DQ Peanut Buster Parfait matches the flavour combination perfectly. Brenda also brought chocolate--lots of chocolate!

Susan Starrett (not to be confused with Susan Stewart) arrives, with a generous quantity of tarts filled with mincemeat that she had made from the fruits of her garden, including green tomatoes! They are the most delicious mince tarts I have ever tasted. 

Two more friends arrive a little later: Susan Stewart with wine and Tracy with buns; eight of us in all, enjoyed a feast of fine food and friendship. Others couldn't make it due to the busyness of the season or illness, but we, the representative writers of Writers Nest, fill the room with laughter and conversation and later, reading out loud.

Susan (Stewart, this time) hands me a mysterious envelope with a cherubic angel on the front. Within are several slips of paper and another golden envelope. The slips of paper contain notes from the writers present (a plot hatched by Susan,) and which I am to read out loud. Each contains words carefully chosen by word lovers. I will cherish them always, I think to myself. In the golden envelope is a gift of money to spend on something of my choice. Each dollar so lovingly given will go towards the precious new laptop on which I am typing this blog post and which I am gathering resources to pay for!

To Nesters and other writers near and far, may Christ be glorified in all that you write, and may God bless your pens and keyboards in the year ahead


Monday, December 10, 2012

Snow in Heaven

By Belinda 
(Friends, this is another post from the past, but one I love myself because as the story unfolded, I truly felt a Divine whisper in my ear. This grandson is now much older. I wonder if he remembers his question of Miss Cheryl, so many years ago! :))

"Miss Cheryl,” asked Stephen “is there snow in heaven?"

Stephen’s question took his school bus driver by surprise. Her young passenger, whose short, dark hair was as hard to tame as his spirit, looked up expectantly. His brown eyes, normally dancing with mischief, were serious and shining with curiosity.

Stephen; named for one of the saints of the Christmas season; knew that Miss Cheryl could be counted on as a source of reliable information. This warm, kind hearted woman, had the biggest of gentle, blue eyes that twinkled with good humour. She had forged a special relationship with the children on her bus. This question though, was out of her league.

"I don't know, Stephen. You could ask your dad--he's a pastor after all."

"He hasn't been to heaven," stated Stephen, with all the logic of a 6 year old.

Miss Cheryl had to laugh and agree that he was right.

Neither of them was aware of the rustle of angel wings around them, and of ears bending close to listen to this private conversation. “The child wants to know if there is snow in heaven," said one of the angels--the angel named Gabriel; angel ears are always keenly tuned to children's voices and even more so at Christmas time.

"Yes, Stephen, there is snow in heaven;" whispered Gabriel, "for snow reminds us of all that heaven is. Each snow flake in its perfection carries within it a tiny image of the star of Bethlehem, if only you look closely enough. White fields of them look like diamonds glittering in the sun."

Gabriel continued, "Wherever snow falls and covers the good warm soil of earth, children lie down and make snow angels just as real angels appeared against the blanket of the skies on a long ago Christmas Eve."

Gabriel's eyes had a far away look as he remembered how, just as snow falls from heaven, as gentle as a feather, so it was, one Christmas long ago, that God sent down to earth his most precious gift of all, Jesus.

Although Stephen hadn't heard the angel's voice audibly, he suddenly felt that he knew the answer to his question. He couldn't explain it, but he knew, as sure as he knew anything; the answer was, yes...there is snow in heaven.

Leaving Sally

By Belinda

I am surrounded by tape, boxes of Christmas cards and general Christmas mayhem. It will save my sanity tonight to share a post from the past that I hope makes you smile. I soon will be getting together with Irene again to celebrate Christmas; this is a window into our 2010 supper together: 

One night after work last week I drove into Newmarket for one of my Christmas rituals, dinner with my zany friend Irene.

I circled the parking lot of the plaza. It was packed full with cars belonging to the Christmas shoppers. I was thankful to find a space not too far away from the restaurant.

Irene was there already, waiting at a table. I slid into the booth, unbuttoning my coat and unloading my purse and bags onto the seat beside me.

As the server handed us menus, Irene, who'd had the day off, mentioned that she'd had her hair trimmed that afternoon.

"Sally (not her real name) was asking for you," she said.

I groaned. Sally and me, we have history. Sally is my old hairdresser. I haven't sat in her chair for a good five years, but she won't stop asking after me. "Just let go," I feel like saying. but she won't. If Brenda pops in to have her girls' hair cut, she comes home saying, "Sally was asking for you," and my shoulders slump. I don't want her to ask for me; I want her to forget about me.

Irene went on, "She said, 'Do you ever see Belinda?' and I said, 'As a matter of fact I'm seeing her this evening,' and she said, 'Tell her I was asking after her.'"

I felt a now familiar guilt.

"She likes you," said Irene. She was smiling impishly.

"Well, that's all right for you to say," I said, "You come out looking okay. Your hair doesn't even look like you've been to the hairdressers today."

"That's because I go right home and wash it," said Irene cheerfully, "Really I should tell her just to cut it, that's all I needed, just a cut. I should ask her to cut it and then just let me use one of the stations to dry my hair."

But we both understood that Irene wouldn't do that. It would hurt Sally's feelings.

"If Sally was to walk in here right now," she said, "She'd look at my hair and wonder what happened to it."

I thought of one of my previous hairdos by Sally, when I had immediately undone her hard work outside in the parking lot before going on to do some shopping. About half an hour later I turned the corner of an aisle in a store and spotted Sally, who was now also there shopping. I quickly retreated back into the aisle I had been exiting like a tortoise into its shell, and found a way to creep out of the store unseen.

I could have lived with that spy-like existence, but it was the day that there was obviously something wrong with my hair colour (which had been mixed by Sally) that was the impetus for my change of hairdresser. And you don't just change hairdressers--you break off a relationship.

That day, my hair had a distinctly purple cast when the colour was washed off, but when I mentioned it to the girl shampooing my hair, she said, "Well, you tell Sally."

That struck me as odd. Purple is purple and I couldn't pretend it wasn't. This was something I couldn't comb out in the parking lot. So I did tell Sally, and she fixed it by some hairdresser magical corrective hocus pocus, but not before trying to convince me that it really didn't look purple. I stuck to my guns; it was purple all right, no denying it, but having to argue the point was "our" death knell.

By now Irene and I were laughing so hard that our stomachs hurt. I said that if I could be just friends with Sally, without having her touch my hair, that would be all right, but I could never see that happening. She would be bound to ask awkward questions, and even if she didn't ask, it would hang there in the air, "Why don't  you come in to get your hair done any more?" I mean, what do you do with that? Yes, I know, I can hear you saying, "Just tell her." But I can't.

We laughed on and on. The last vestiges of any stress vanished as we considered the humour in the complexity of  relationships and the ridiculous knots we tie ourselves in sometimes. I admit to being such a wimp about this one that I won't even go to the clothing store beside my old hairdresser's in case I bump into her.

So now you know what a jelly belly I am. Welcome to Belindaland.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Viral Kindness

By Belinda

One of my granddaughters posted this on her Facebook profile. Today's post on my friend Dave's blog, was titled At the Heart of Kindness. He wrote about patience being at the heart of kindness, and I think that so often it is. This video shows how infectious a small act of kindness can be, spreading good will and pulling out of us our best selves. At this season when impatience can prevail due to the added stress of crowded parking lots and malls, honking car horns and the pressure of pages that seem to fly rapidly off the calendar leading up to December 25th; I appreciate this reminder that small things make a big difference in the world. 

Thursday, December 06, 2012

That Awkward Moment When...

By Belinda

The current meme, "that awkward moment when," is a great device for those universally hilarious moments we can relate to.

It has set me thinking about some of my own "awkward moments" and laughing out loud as I do.

One tradition in our Christmas party gatherings is reading a funny story out loud as a group. Even though we know the story well, (Dave Cooks the Turkey, by Stuart MacLean is a favourite, and you can listen to it here,) we laugh at them over and over again.

So tonight I am retelling one of my funny "awkward moment" stories.


I was on my way back to the office from a morning meeting; a trip that went right past a Jones of New York store at lunch time. What could I do?

The lure of the January sale was strong, so I pulled into the large parking lot of the strip mall, deep in melting slushy snow left over from the morning's snow fall. I parked my car as close as I could to the store, and splooshed my way across the parking lot with all speed.


I can power shop with the best, and less than half an hour later, having tried on about ten tops, I emerged with a zippy little black and white top that I liked, for only $14.99!


I fished in my purse for the automatic car starter, pointed it in the direction in which I had left my car and pressed the buttons that start the car and unlock the doors. Then I started the hunt for a car with a running engine. I spotted it. The engine wasn't running but the doors were unlocked. I need to buy new batteries because the starter doesn't always work first time.


As I got in, I noticed that the hand brake was on. I never use the handbrake, so I had a strange feeling that someone had been in the car. My snow brush was still down on the floor on the passenger side, but I glanced around the car quickly to make sure my briefcase was there.


As I released the handbrake I simultaneously noticed three things: the gloves on the back seat were blue, and mine are black; I realized that this was a standard shift car and mine is not; and I perceived that the car had been left in neutral, because it was rolling forward into the lane between the rows of parked cars! As the realization dawned that I was in someone else's car, I desperately hit the brakes to stop it going any further.

The car  stopped halfway across the lane that ran between the rows of parked cars. I had no way of getting it back to its original position and absolutely no way of knowing where the owner of the car was.

I didn't know what else to do, so I sheepishly put the handbrake back on, got out, carefully closed the door, and went back to innocently looking for my own car as though I had nothing to do with the car that had been moved from its parking spot. I imagined how puzzled the owner would be when he came back and found that his car had moved forward by several feet. I was so embarrassed that I didn't think until later that I could have left a note on the windshield.

The owner of the vehicle that was parked across from it decided to leave just then. I noticed that they had great difficulty backing out through the tiny space now available.

So that was mine--that awkward moment when I realized that the car I had just got into and moved; was someone else's. I'd love to hear yours.

To Celebrate the Season!

By Belinda

A wonderful Christmas Flash Mob that was shared by my friend Brave Raven on Facebook and which I had to share here. I know many will have seen it but it is so uplifting and wonderful that in case even one person hasn't, they won't miss it ! :)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Spark

By Belinda

Monday, February 2nd, 2004--only day 4 of my trip to England to help Mum get her life back her stroke on October 20th, but it felt as though I had been there so much longer. 

When I first saw Mum in the hospital, changed on the outside: depressed; resigned; disheartened; slowed and limited in communication and physical abilities, it had been very hard.

I agonized over encouraging her to make the trip to Canada that I suspected had compromised her health. Had the risks been worth the wonderful memories we had made together over our four precious weeks together? Had my selfish desire to have her with us, exacted a terrible price that she had to pay?


I prayed that in the four weeks I now had to spend with Mum, I could make a difference for her. 

Already a first sign of life--a Cadbury's Flake bar eaten--the whole thing! With enjoyment. Such a small thing--how could that be significant? But it meant a step back from depression.

Rob had to work, so in the afternoon I caught a  bus to the hospital. The journey that would have taken less than half an hour by car, took two hours as the bus lumbered along, but I was not in a rush. Suddenly removed from the busy pace of my life at home in Canada, I had all the time in the world.

Before leaving I had called the Social Worker at the hospital, and we planned to meet over the next few days.

Mum was in better spirits. We had the treasure of an hour and a half together, munching on cheese and onion crisps (chips.) Mum needed only a little persuasion this time, to have a party!

We reminisced about many things in her past, and I read the Daily Light to her, and a short letter from The People's Friend, one of the magazines which her friend Trudy Cluderay had dropped off. Mum used to sit on the same hard, polished pew beside Trudy every week when she attended Alvechurch Baptist Church.

She told me she didn't read anymore but didn't mind when I read to her. We looked at photos of our home and the completed renovations that had been underway during her visit with us. Mum said it looked lovely.

The next day I found Mum sitting up and wearing her glasses. She had not wanted Rob to leave them before, but had agreed to wearing them on one of our visits and let him leave them that time.

I had taken in an enormous bunch of bright flowers; orange tiger lilies, yellow carnations, and white chrysanthemums; which her friend Trudy Cluderay had brought around early that morning from the church. 

Mum said, "They must think an awful lot of me." 

Suddenly she asked, "How old am I?"

When I said, "Seventy seven," she said, "Oh? I thought I was much older."

It was strange that it didn't feel odd to be having that conversation with Mum.

She told me, "I felt like giving up, but knowing that you are here has given me a spark." I tucked those words away in my heart, a treasure to cherish, and told her that it only took a spark to get a fire going!

As wonderful as the visit was, I hoped that Mum would be home soon, although I wondered how it would feel to have caregivers coming into the home to put Mum to bed and get her up. It felt like opening up our private world to strangers. Yet she needed what was called a "package of care," for when I would not be there to help.

The next day Mum was not as clear mentally or as clear of speech when I arrived, but I brought a little note book in which she could write, as I wondered if that might help with her communication when she was unable to retrieve a word verbally. In it she wrote "Mrs. Diana" and a last name beginning with W that I could not decipher. I teased her and we laughed together about her "going incognito."

She was so anxious to come  home, and just as we were talking about it, Margaret, the Social Worker that I had spoken to, arrived!

She was a kindly woman of around my own age, and it was she who was putting together a plan for Mum's support system which she said was to start the following Monday, four days away.

I asked if we could have Mum home before then, since I was there and could care for her. Margaret said that would be the domain of the medical team caring for Mum, but they would call on Thursday, the next day, to let me know. It felt as though our lives were in the hands of so many "others," kind though they were. Meanwhile Margaret would be coming to do a health and safety inspection in preparation for the caregivers starting on Monday. 

The week I would leave, Meals on Wheels were also to start.

I was so grateful to be there and to be able to help smooth the path home, both for Mum's sake and to support Rob, who had been alone up until now.

I looked forward to the news promised the next day, of Mum's return!

To be continued...

Monday, December 03, 2012

THANK YOU!!!

By Belinda

I arrived home late tonight after a long but awesome day, and collapsed in a happy heap, promptly dozing off in front of the television. It had been our wonderful Christmas party--the one I love so much each year, at which 80 or so people supported by our agency gather to celebrate. There is so much intense, unbridled JOY at this event; enough pairs of shining eyes to light up the night sky and smiles that would warm the world.

When I woke up from my doze, I checked email and found an excited email from my friend Dave, congratulating me on Whatever He Says winning first place in the Canadian Blog Awards in the Best Religion Philosophy Blog category. Dave's blog Rolling Around in My Head won first place in the Best Personal Blog category and tied for third place in the Best Health Blog category.

I also congratulate Lynn Dove of Lynne Dove's Journey Thoughts who came in second in the Best Religion and Philosophy category. It was a close race and her blog is marked as a favourite in my side bar.


Thank you for taking the time and trouble to vote. This is so exciting!

I will do my utmost to earn the honour throughout the coming year.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Ere Zij God--Glory to God in the Highest! A Dutch Carol

By Belinda

This beautiful Dutch carol was shared today by a friend of Dutch ancestry, on Facebook. I had never heard it before but absolutely loved it. It moved me deeply, especially at the end after the crowd leaves the church and then breaks into spontaneous singing again around a brazier, with the sound of chiming church bells in the background. Listen to it with headphones or a good speaker to get the full effect of the harmonies. And happy first Sunday in Advent!

Saturday, December 01, 2012

The Real Truth About Housework

By Belinda

Mum belonged to the generation of women, which after keeping the country running while the men were away at war, continued to work outside the home when they came back.

When I think back now, I don't know how she managed, without even a washing machine, let alone a dryer! One way was by having an after-work routine that she did not deviate from: 

Every evening the grate in the kitchen, which held the coal fire that heated the house, had to be cleaned out. The grate would be shaken vigorously with a poker and the ashes that fell through the iron bars would be swept out with a brush into a dustpan and a new fire built. The red flagstone kitchen floor, dusty with all of the ash floating around, would be swept and mopped daily.

Monday was washing night. On cold winter evenings while the washing boiled in a dolly tub, the kitchen windows and doors were open wide to the elements to let out the steam. I would shiver in our breezy house, hoping that it would all be over soon, that the doors and windows would be closed, and being "inside" would again feel different to "outside."

Our bed sheets were heavy white cotton twill; no permanent press--it would be years before that was invented. 

Mum would wrestle the sheets, steaming hot, and heavy with water, into the kitchen sink and then wash them before rinsing them. She would wring them out by hand, and I well remember how reddened and rough this made them. 

One day she bought an amazing invention called a spin dryer. This tool really helped. It was a thing of wonder and Mum cared for it lovingly! But it still required loading with the small quantities of laundry it could hold at one time and then holding on tight as it began to spin and wobble like a wildly bucking bronco, while the centrifugal force spun the water from the washing and into a carefully placed waiting bucket.

Then everything had to be hung outside or inside on lines, peg by peg!

Tuesday evening was  ironing night and all the sheets and pillowcases for our three beds, were ironed; along with the rest of the laundry.

Wednesday evening was Mum's night off, and she used to play her accordion in the kitchen when the dinner dishes were done; we also always knew what was for dinner by which night of the week it was. 

Thursday evening Mum did the bedrooms, which meant that she vacuumed and mopped the floors and I did the dusting (she hated dusting.) 

Friday evenings we watched one of the many old movie series on TV, together.

Saturday was shopping day and Mum would go to the village or into Redditch on the bus, bringing back only what she could carry in her shopping bag.

Back then a married woman was referred to as a "housewife," a term I never liked because it sounded like you were married to the house. Even worse was "the missus" which sounds like an accessory to go along with "the vacuum," (which in England we called "the hoover.")

When my Dutch Oma visited any of her daughters, she would help out with the cleaning by going over and above the normal cleaning--she was like a caped Super Hero: Super Cleaner and would do things like wash all the walls!

So I grew up knowing that keeping houses clean was a going concern, a constant occupation.

I never had as rigid a routine as Mum, and I had way more labour saving devices, but when I cleaned did clean deep.

Somewhere along the way though, maybe because I'm getting "older," I find myself struggling to keep up with the many rooms to clean and all of the shopping, laundry, finances etc. that are the stuff of everyday life after a days' work.

I often don't want to do anything else at the end of a long work day, and I don't want to spend every hour of a Saturday consumed by chores. I do what I can, but often feel that it is at a snail's pace and that I am nowhere near Mum's standard of housekeeping! 

So I wondered, how do my younger co-workers manage? They drop off and pick up children from day care or school, before and after work, and older children are enrolled in so many activities that evenings and weekends are consumed in ferrying children to hockey, ballet, music lessons and swimming lessons.



I asked the question of someone recently, after she told me what activities her daughter was enrolled in these days, and listed the exhausting sounding schedule of drop offs and pickups. 

"Whenever do you get your housework done?" I asked innocently.

She laughed at the question. "I don't," she said.

A couple of days later she said, "Belinda, I've been thinking about what you asked. I really just clean a washroom when I have a minute, or tidy a shelf when I have another minute. The whole house really never gets cleaned."

Now this; don't laugh; was a revelation to me. 

Things have changed as much from my generation to this one, as they did from Mum's generation to mine. 

I felt freed and I decided to adopt this method myself, and stop shooting for the elusive "whole clean house" idea. 

The real truth about housework is...
   ...that there are so many more important things to be done!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Next Day

By Belinda

The next day in Mum's story of 2003/04...

Rob and I had visited Mum at the hospital the day before--my first time with her since her stroke. This had been so different from all of our previous reunions. She expressed resignation and acceptance and I saw sadness in her eyes and on her face. 

Before going to see her again we went shopping for a new pillow, duvet, and sheets for Mum's bed, and then we headed for the hospital.

We found her asleep again, as she had been the day before when we arrived, but this time she was sitting up in a chair, and she woke as soon as I touched her arm. Her eyes were sunken and tired, and she said that she hadn't slept at all that night.

Even so, I was struck by how beautiful her dear face was; those beautiful eyes; looking more like her own mothers' with every passing year; and her lovely complexion, and her abundant silver gray hair, simply combed back. 

I grieved for what she and we had lost, but was so grateful for what and who we still had. I prayed that God would show me how to make her life the best it could be, with the help of Rob and Paul too.

The next day was a Sunday, and I walked through the village to Alvechurch Baptist Church, finding the small church flourishingly full with about 70 people and only a few empty pews.

After the service I stayed for a cup of coffee in the church hall, where several people were anxious for news of Mum, especially Trudy Cluderay (who you can read more about HERE), her dear friend who lived at number 30 Snake Lane. Trudy, at 89, amazed me. She was bright, energetic, and in the midst of having her house renovated.

Later, after church, Rob dropped me off at the hospital early, so that I could spend as much time as possible, visiting with Mum, and he and John, his son, would join us later.

Rob suggested that I take her glasses again; she kept sending them home with him, having no interest in wearing them. This time, she said, "Yes, I'll wear them," and was happy to keep them on when we left.

On the way to her room, I bought both of us a Cadbury's Flake, as I hadn't had breakfast or lunch yet that day.

At first Mum let it lie there on on her tray. Then I encouraged her to have a bite. She proceeded to eat the whole thing!

We enjoyed a hot drink together when the coffee wagon came around--she had hot chocolate and I had coffee.

I read the Daily Light to Mum and told her all about the morning, and passed on the loving messages from her many friends, and from one of her sisters, Tante Adrie, who had called the night before. We had a wonderful time of just "being" together. 

We began to talk about how, once she was home, there was no reason she could not still go to her Sycamore club for seniors on Mondays; the hair dresser; the coffee morning, and church. I told her that she had a lot of living yet to do, and I could see Mum "seeing" that too.

Later that evening, Mum's dear friend from Holland, Tante Mies, called. She had been beside herself, sleepless with concern for Mum and said that she prayed for her morning and night.

All in all, the troops were rallying for Mum. And I could tell, she was on her way back to "life."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Voting Almost Over in the Canadian Blog Awards


December 1st Voting is DONE! Only 4 days left to vote in the Canadian Blog Awards Canadian Blog Awards 2012


If you enjoy reading here, PLEASE click the link above to vote for this blog under the Best Religion Philosophy category.

And  please consider voting for faithful reader, fellow writer and blogger, Dave Hingsburger's blog, Rolling Around in My Head in the categories of Best Personal Blog and Best Health Blog,

You can only vote once, but do not have to be Canadian to vote.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Best Before

By Belinda

I grew up post-war Britain and rationing did not end until 4 years after I was born. I absorbed a sense of food's value, learned not to waste it and also love to cook. 

This combination of factors is my excuse for the fact that we have two fridges in our home--both usually packed to the gills with left overs from dinners I have cooked for family or friends. 

Since  I work full time, cleaning out both fridges usually only happens at crisis point, when food items begin to ambush unsuspecting people when the door is opened.

At this busy time of the year, fridge cleaning slides more than usual, but rose to the top of my To Do list on a recent Saturday morning when I could stand the food commando raids no longer.

This was just after I told a friend that there was some applesauce in the fridge that would go with the pork we were having for lunch and she asked, "Belinda did you want to serve this?" when she opened it. 

Let's just say, it must have passed its "best before" date long ago in the distant past. By the time she opened the jar it had the look of a science experiment gone horrifically wrong.

So as I emptied my fridge on the day of the massive clean out, I paid special attention to the bottled salad dressings and other sauces in jars, with "best before" dates. I have been shocked before to find that the "best before" date was years ago. How time flies in a fridge!

And this brings me to my point. What exactly does "best before" mean?

I mean it is so open to interpretation for someone like me who tends to push the boundaries of almost everything.

Just because something was "best" before a certain day, does not mean that it is inedible the next day, surely?

And therein lies my dilemma. What is a thrifty soul, who likes to use everything up to do?

My brother Rob is the exact opposite and throws food away with abandon at the slightest hint of being "off." He has helped me, but not enough, obviously.

So I am proposing that the Powers that Be in the food regulation world, get serious. People like me don't need the euphemistic suggestion of "best before." 

We need the dire warning of "ABSOLUTELY NOT TO BE EATEN AFTER," dates--perhaps with the addition of a skull and crossbones. 

Come on, how about it?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

There

By Belinda

I arrived in England for a four week stay, late on a cold January evening in 2004. After a 25 hour long journey, due to closed airports in England, when I finally got to Mum's empty house in Alvechurch, I slept deeply and woke up the next morning feeling well rested and refreshed.

Rob had to go to work, and I spent the day quietly, waiting impatiently for him to come home so that we could go to the hospital together. It felt like I had waited so long through the months since October and her stroke, and I just couldn't wait any longer to see her.

Night falls early in the winter in England and we arrived at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch in the dark.

A sense of deja vu flowed over me. A year ago to the month, I had made many visits to this very hospital as Dad lay dying of pneumonia. The beeping of life support machinery; the very hallways I had walked at that time; and the smell of the place, all were part of my memories of "then."

I had already asked Rob if Mum would be wondering where I was. She knew that I was coming and I imagined her impatience to see me, and that she must be thinking, "Where is Belinda?"  I thought of previous times of meeting over the years. How we had anticipated the moment at the airport, or the opening of the front door--that first glimpse of the beloved face. It felt so different this time.

Rob said that she didn't have the same awareness of time as she had before. But I walked on speedy winged feet once at the hospital. At last I was here. At last I was going to see her!

When we arrived at Mum's room, it was quiet. We approached her bed and found her lying on her back with her eyes closed, apparently asleep.

I didn't want to wake her, so I said to to Rob that I would just read the "patients notes" while we waited. But at the sound of my voice, Mum's eyes opened, and as we looked into each other's eyes, a new chapter in our relationship began; different, with new things to learn; but as precious to both of us as it ever was.

Rob and I spent an hour with Mum that first evening. Oh, it was hard to leave. I saw such deep sadness in Mum's eyes.

She said with utter resignation, "I just have to accept it," and those words cut deep into my heart because Mum was not one to accept anything unacceptable. I knew what place those words came from and the grief she felt for loss of independence; lost ability to express her thoughts, to speak easily and fluently; and her enjoyment of reading , watching TV or eating.

I showed her some photos I had brought. She enjoyed looking at them, and listening as I read the messages on the card my writers group had sent. She always went with me to our meetings when she was in Canada, and, like every one else, they all loved her. 

But that was enough for Mum, I could tell that we had exhausted her mental energy. Another envelope with photos in it she said she would look at tomorrow. 

Mum wanted so much to come home. She didn't like being in the hospital. There was hope that she could possibly come home the following week.

I tried to encourage her not to give up--that she could still walk and talk quite well, and she acknowledged that; but Mum seemed for the first time, to have lost her joy in life--her hope. I hoped that I could help bring that back.

I found myself wondering, not for the first time, whether it was the plane journey home that had caused the blood clot in her leg that likely led to the stroke. I would never know. The doctor who treated her said that he doubted it, because it happened a week after coming home, but I wasn't sure.

I saw all that Mum had lost and wondered if it would have happened anyway. If it wouldn't have, and she knew the price she would have had to pay for coming to Canada, would she say that it was worth it?

I looked at the photos of her four weeks with us, the many, many, happy moments we all had together; her grandchildren and great grandchildren, all so happy to to have Omie there. I remembered her joy in giving the children the four plush dogs she brought with her, and her excitement at the bargain they were in the village chemist's shop. I thought of the games of Scrabble; our Thanksgiving dinner; the fall drive to buy apples and how she had sat with me and peeled so many of them for pies--and our wonderful time in British Columbia.

She had said to Paul, with so much love and passion, "I'd go to the ends of the earth for my Belinda," and I remembered the blaze of love on her face as she sat in the pew listening to our worship team practicing her favourite hymn, "I the Lord of Sea and Sky."

I believed that all of that was meant to be; I couldn't imagine that it wasn't, and I knew that it was wrong to think that her stroke was some terrible price she had to pay for all of that, but I couldn't help it. We had taken a gamble, wanting to believe the doctor who said it was safe for her to travel even though she had been having problems with her leg. "Should we have?" It was a question I would never stop asking myself...

To be continued.