Monday, July 31, 2006

death etc.

Presently in God-School I am taking the course called ‘Death’ or better named ‘Death Etc.’

The first semester was in spring, when my mother-in-law died. I audited that course.

I have now nearly finished (I think) another semester. This one came complete with work experience and a practicum as I accompanied my mom, just a month ago, through the Valley of Death.

The last month has taken me through a series of lessons some of which are ‘What is worthwhile in life,’‘The value of things,’ and ‘What it means to be vapor, grass, a shadow.’ Even Pastor’s sermons have been part of the curriculum. In the past two Sundays he has delivered a sermon series on Heaven (I, II).

One of my textbooks has been Mark Buchanan’s Things Unseen, which I finished reading yesterday afternoon. Here are some points – cram notes, if you will – from one of the last chapters: ‘Big Deal.’

“Don’t let an event as important as death take you by surprise” (a quote by Margaret Kim Peterson, commenting on a consensus of Christian thinkers from Basil the Great in the 4th century to Jeremy Taylor in the 17th) (p.202).

To prepare for a good death doesn’t mean that you live for death. It is not a death wish – a longing for or fascination with morbidity. Rather it means to live life so that death comes as a completion, not for life, for life to the full (p. 203).

Being aware of death makes us more aware of life. It keeps our appetites healthy, our wonderment sharp. It winnows clutter from our life.

A numbered day (Psalm 90:12) is one lived in attentiveness and thankfulness, one we’ve named, received, entered....We learn to number our days aright by thinking about our death....Only a steady gaze at the brevity and frailty of our own existence can snap us out of the monotony of unnumbered days (p. 204).

News of our mortality helps us see things in their right proportion, their real shape, their true meaning. Shattering defeats, spectacular triumphs – neither is quite what it seems when viewed from the graveyard. And the often staggering but mostly hidden value of ordinary things – food, light, warmth, life – shines through....

Here’s the gist: Death, carefully pondered, resolutely faced, actually looses its grip on us, its deadlock on our imaginations. It can wholly reawaken holy wonder (p. 205).

– Mark Buchanan - Things Unseen

It’s important, I think, to pay attention to and keep up with these lessons. I need to review the notes, learn the principles, and put them into practice in my life. For I do not know when the final exam will come for me, if it will be posted so that I know its probable date ahead of time, or if it will be sprung on me as unexpectedly as a pop quiz.

Photo: Serpentine River and the King George Highway bridge - from the path at Ducks Unlimited.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Give what you have; to someone it may be better than you dare to think.
- Longfellow

Thursday, July 27, 2006

garden moments - fourth week of July

After a week of heat and uninterrupted sunshine, blooms are the order of the day.

This week saw the first dahlia.

The dahlia patch now looks like this.

It was also the week the stargazer lily began to bloom.

And here is the hydrangea bush which, this year, doesn’t seem to know when to stop!


Other gardens we're watching:

Rebecca's Yukon Garden

Kim from Hireath

Mrs. North of Sixty

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

a beach story

We took the day off Monday and went with our friends J. and M. to Harrison Lake (the lake with the sand castle competitions.) To have our picnic we found a small shady spot between two paths just big enough for the four of us (on the panorama it’s just beyond the bluff of trees on the right). M. unpacked her fancy cigarette-lighter-plug-in cooler with its pita breads, cold cuts, cheese, eggplant dip, salad, dressing and cold drinks, and we feasted.

We were passing around the second course -- yellow plums and pecan chip cookies -- and about to make tea when a man with a couple of little kids in tow plunked his blanket and some picnic things onto the tiny patch of shaded grass right beside us, at the same time flashing us a smile, as if to say, ‘I’m sure you won’t mind.’

While the kids buzzed around the things he’d left – he having gone for more we guessed – we discussed that surely he and his gang were only using our bit of grass as a staging place to collect their things before going on to find their own shady spot.

But no. It soon became obvious that this group was fully intending to share that shady spot with us, no matter that it would necessarily be cheek by jowl. And it soon also became perfectly obvious that they were not only a handful. More and more came to join them, their numbers swelling from four to maybe fifteen adults, teens and kids. Their spread-out blankets practically touched our chairs and they jabbered and laughed while the kids ran back and forth to and from the water. The original man connected his portable barbeque to a little propane tank and was soon roasting wieners, chicken and hamburger patties and the lot of them were milling around with buns and ketchup and mustard and mayo.

All the while the four of us sat there trying to carry on our conversation but hardly able to ignore the bustle right beside us and also hardly able to hide our scowls. How dare they just come in and invade ‘our’ tiny space like that!

As time wore on, the tension eased somewhat. I’m sure they sensed our disapproval as they glanced over from time to time. Once one of the Mamas asked us to keep an eye on their things and we said, yes, of course we would.

But this was not a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon. And though I, for one, was tempted to hang out there indefinitely to make the point that moving in on people was not the way to go about getting a picnic site, the need to do something on this beautiful day, plus the shrinking of our own bit of shade as the afternon wore on, soon had M. and me leaving to explore the shops. About twenty minutes later we bumped into the guys as we exited an antique shop. They too had tired of the scene and packed everything into the car. Of course the minute they’d left, the other party had moved in!

So what was that all about?

Rudeness on their part, and selfishness on ours?

Or perhaps it was a cultural clash. Because these people were of a different race, obvious by the color of their skin and the way some of them chattered in their mother tongue or in heavily accented English. Maybe they were simply accustomed to living in crowded conditions and weren’t even aware that we home-born Canadians like lots of room and don’t take kindly to our space being invaded.

Whatever it was, I couldn’t shake the thought, as the day wore on, that here we had also missed an opportunity. We could have been more welcoming, perhaps struck up a bit of a conversation, even just demonstrated by our body language and facial expressions hospitality, generosity, compassion and love. All four of us call ourselves Christians. We could have shown that we've been with Jesus.

There is a test question I sometimes ask myself when tempted to behave badly toward people. It is, 'What if I run into these people again, say in my neighborhood or in church? Will I regret anything I did or said?' I didn't think of that yesterday, until it was too late.

Perhaps if I’d really paid attention to this segment from Monday morning's reading in Streams in the Desert, I’d have done better:

“In the present day there are those who live intermittent Christian lives because they have become occupied with the outward, and center in circumstances in place of centering in God. God wants us more and more to see Him in everything, and to call nothing small...” C.H.P.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

beach beauties

Despite the uncommon heat, we got in a walk today. The breeze coming off the ocean was just brisk enough to keep us comfortable. Along the way we passed this natural arrangement of Tansy (yellow), Pearly Everlasting (white) and Steeplebrush (pink). I don’t think even a florist could have arranged these beauties better.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

book review - Letter Perfect

Title: Letter Perfect
Author: Cathy Marie Hake
Publisher: Bethany House
Genre: Fiction - Historical Romance
ISBN: 0764202588

Start with a klutzy and reluctant deb named Ruth. Add an ill mother, a mysterious letter, a charming rancher with an impressionable daughter and handsome son, and you have Cathy Marie Hake’s historic romance, Letter Perfect.

This light read has us accompanying heroine Ruth Caldwell from a finishing school in Missouri (Jefferson City, 1859), to her home in St. Louis, and then to the Broken P Ranch in Folsom, California, which is the book’s main setting. There she becomes a companion to ranch owner McCain’s pampered daughter Laney. She is also a thorn in the side of his dependable son Josh when her presence as potential heiress calls into dispute the McCains’ ownership of the Broken P. True to the genre, a romance ensues. This is beefed up with elements of mystery and characters who surprise us with their villainy and heroism.

Free-spirited Ruth provides the perfect vehicle for Hake to address the role of women, one of the book’s main themes. Ruth challenges the ‘woman as ornament’ perception of mid-19th century America by keeping on top of current affairs, pursuing an interest in physics, teaching Laney to read, insisting she pull her own weight by working around the ranch, and taking charge of her finances.

Other themes addressed are family, loyalty, friendship, tolerance of others’ foibles and dealing with death.

Of course a Christian world view is foundational to the story. Hake does a good job of showing through her characters how God’s presence is experienced and His direction followed day to day.

The narrative is mostly efficient and fast-paced with Ruth’s bumbling ways giving just the right amount of humor as she trips and smudges, bumps and spills her way through the story. However, several elements of Hake’s story-telling style irritated me.

I found her frequent use of dialogue tags (versus the practically invisible ‘he/she said’) not only unnecessary but sometimes almost laughable: “Josh nickered softly...”(Chap. 5), “‘We need more everyday dresses,’ Laney chirped,” and, “‘What’re you doing here?’ he barked...” (Chap. 6).

Another style thing that jarred is Hake’s manner of reporting the point-of-view characters’ thoughts (signaled by italic font) often in longish paragraphs of complete sentences. These interior almost-monologue-length bits didn't seem natural as thoughts and resulted in the characters coming across as stiff and self-conscious.

Those stylistic quibbles aside, Letter Perfect has well-developed main characters, a cast of believable extras, an engaging plot, flashes of humor, a positive message and a happy ending. Look for it to be released in August, just in time to take on your last holiday of the summer.

Thank you to Bethany House for providing a copy of this book for review.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

curb appeal? not sure: garden moments, third week of July

Each year my garden’s trim – the annuals I pick to fill in the spaces between the perennials – is a little different. This year I went for petunias and impatiens.

The color scheme was inspired by the planter that I got for my birthday way back in May. (Here's what it looked like on June 12th.)

Besides the watermelon-colored geraniums, purple daisy-type blooms and deep rose mini-petunias, it also has pale green and green-with-red-vein foliage plants, and an orange shasta daisy in there somewhere which has bloomed twice. As you can tell, it’s hardly a planter with a color theme.

(This is the planter today.)

The all-over-the-wheel color scheme of that planter is why this year I chose variegated everything. I bought flats of ‘assorted’ and didn’t know when I planted most of them, what colors they would be.

Thus it’s been a lot of fun to see the curb come to life as the red, fuchsia, salmon, pink and pinwheel blossoms cover the spreading clumps, flowers clashing happily side by side.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

packing etc.

It’s already July 19th – where is the month going? It’s summer, and a lovely one at that but for all I’m paying attention it could be any season.

Again we’re in the thick of downsizing and packing up someone else’s stuff. We’ve spent two long afternoons at Mom’s suite in the villa. Good thing we went through this process last fall – because I’m nearly done, or I thought I was.

We came home last night bone weary after working from 1:00 - 6:30 then eating out, and I remarked to E. – Doesn’t this feel familiar? I fell asleep way too early, then woke at about 3:00 a.m. and tossed for a couple of hours. During that time I reconsidered my earlier packing decisions and decided unless I deal still more drastically with things, I’ll need to go through this exercise yet again, only in a storage locker not a pleasant apartment. And so today I undo some of those boxes and put more into bags for the thrift store, then pack cartons for families nearby and just put stuff in – and they can decide whether they want it or not.

Besides growing in the skill of getting ruthless with memorabilia (and my husband would argue I still have a long way to go!) I’ve gained another gem of wisdom during this process of tidying up the ends of someone’s life. It is that it pays to be completely knowledgeable about how one’s bank or credit union deals with the death of an account holder. We’ve found that it differs from institution to institution.

When one is joint on an account with someone who dies, and the bank is told of that death, one bank did nothing until we brought in the death certificate. Then they limited transactions on our part to bank drafts and threatened to return any cheques that came in after that (though they’d told us earlier we’d be able to use it for a year). Their custom is to never take a name off an account. Instead, people still alive and joint on the original account must open a new one.

In another institution, we were told that as soon as they get word of the death of one of the account holders, they freeze the account (no transactions of any kind). Then, when the death certificate is brought in, they take the name of the deceased person off the account, set up a separate estate account and the person or people remaining on the original account can use it as before.

All that to say, find out from your institution what happens when an account-holder (joint or not) dies. You might be surprised – but better surprised now than later!

(For Canadians who live in British Columbia, I found the blog of an estate lawyer who practices in Kelowna, and this entry about bank accounts.)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

a week ago today

A week ago today, after the sad formalities of the weekend had been attended to, we partied on the farm – where it all began.

(Out of a possible 58 people in our immediate family, 49 gathered in Saskatchewan for at least part of the weekend.)

Cousins got reacquainted.


and Grandpas

kibitized with grandkids.


and Mommies shared the babies.

Some kids drove big machines

while others went along for the ride.

There was eating

and celebrating

And of course there was our family’s traditional schmalzing tournament.

Schmalzing is running beside a metal tire rim with a stick to help guide it over a course. It’s a ‘sport’ my younger siblings made up after I left home - so I never learned how to do it.

We partied until dark!

Friday, July 14, 2006

garden moments - second week of July

The daisies (white flowers on the left) are in bloom now. And barely visible against the dark fence, the first wine dahlia is about to pop open.

(The blue line going across the photo is the clothesline. Also, clicking on the picture enlarges it - fortunately not enough to see all the weeds I missed pulling today)

On the right is the pink rose bush we got from friends to plant in memory of Ernie's Mom. It is a floribunda, smallish flowers of the most delicate pink. (I'm thinking the tiny pink buds, dried, would add a lovely touch to old-fashioned everlasting arrangements or potpourri.)

More gardens!

In growing - Islandsparrow shares her lovely garden.

In Flowers - Jeanine shows off hubby Vince's green thumb. (Hat tip: Islandsparrow)

In My Yukon Garden July 10th - Rebecca's garden is taking off!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

bittersweet weekend

The last week was action-packed as we made memorial service arrangements for here, then drove Thursday and Friday to get to Saskatchewan and the funeral on Saturday.

Gilbert and Anne hosted us for a family meal in their garage Friday evening before a viewing at the funeral home. Plans to eat in the back yard were dashed by a violent prairie storm that blew in a little while after we arrived. (It twisted the poles of the tent Gilbert and Anne were meaning to sleep in, drenched a bed or two where we forgot to close windows but we got away lightly compared to farmers with hailed out fields in the country.)

Next day we gathered for a group picture of our huge family before lunch, which was hosted by the church ladies. (And what hospitality we enjoyed from them all weekend; those prairie people sure know how to lay out the red carpet.) Two o’clock saw all us following the coffin into the church.

The service was beautiful, with glowing tributes to Mom all around. I read the obituary (and my voice didn’t waver till the last line), brother Ken did a great job of the eulogy, there were tributes by the grandkids from Camille and Chris, a solo by cousin Marilyn, an amazing PowerPoint presentation put together by Doris, and a comforting talk about heaven by Pastor Gary.

After the service, Mom’s body took its last journey. There was something very moving about driving down those gravel prairie roads to the cemetery (which is in eyeshot of the farm where we grew up.)

The big cloud-dashed sky, the sweet smell of wet earth and grass, the silence with only the sighing of the wind, mixed with the knowledge of how final this all was, brought a choke to the throat, tears to the eye. After we recited the Twenty Third Psalm, the funeral director plucked the nine pink roses out of the coffin spray, handed them to me and I, as the oldest, handed one to each brother and sister.

We drove back to town shortly after that for the reception. That was a fabulous time, meeting family – cousins mostly and one uncle – from all over.

But Sunday afternoon, before our family dinner at the farm, we went to the cemetery again and saw what had been done in our absence.

And so Mom and Dad are reunited once more on the other side. But that reunion has certainly left a big hole on this one.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

oblivious garden - first week of July

Oh my - death is a lot of work! I’ve been living by lists in the last few days. Yesterday was certainly the climax as all the various dates and times were finally set, which put in motion the need for more and more phone calls and emails. But I think now most of the planning for memorial services in both locations has been done.

Meanwhile my garden, oblivious to all the kafuffle, grows serenely on. These are the days of lilies - daylilies – and my one yellow lily. Like life, they fade too quickly. This yellow bloom is in a tangle of astilbe, one of my favorite shade plants.

But my hydrangea has come back to life. Last year hubby gave it such an ambitious pruning it didn’t yield even one flower. I am relieved to see that it has come back all prolific (after I didn’t let him come near it with the shears this spring).

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


When poet friend Darlene Moore-Berg and I made plans to meet for lunch on July 9th after a long internet acquaintance, I had no idea personal events would so thoroughly sabotage things. However, she and her husband Mike were able to fit us in this last Sunday instead of next.

We met them in their hotel room. (Would you believe the penthouse of the Empire Landmark? Don’t tell me it doesn’t pay to be allergic to the residue of smoke in the room originally assigned to you!)

After enjoying this amazing view (click to enlarge) and snapping pictures of everything in sight, we went for lunch at the Red Robin, and hung out on Robson Street for a bit. Then we took them and their luggage to the Cruise Ship Terminal in Canada Place in time for their 5:45 departure for Alaska.

What a wonderful interlude in a bleak time! Thank you, Darlene and Mike, for fitting us into your glam vacation.

A sampling of poems by Darlene:

Earth Dance


Wind Chill

Buon Natale

The Making of a Man

Welcome to Shy Road


Oh yes, and to our U.S. neighbors, a very happy Fourth of July!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

the opened-up way

Now comes the time of planning -- and traveling. Mom lived most of her life in Saskatchewan. She will be buried there beside Daddy. But she also lived here, half a country away, for the last twenty years. This means that we will do two services - a funeral service in Saskatchewan and a memorial service here.

Mom thoughtfully made and paid for all her funeral arrangements years ago. We don’t have to concern ourselves with many details. But there are some. My responsibility is to plan the memorial service on this end. This must be coordinated with a trip to Saskatchewan and the funeral there. There are lots of decisions to make, like should we do this before that event or after, where will we hold it, who will do the music, etc. Mom expressed her wishes as to who should officiate but already I’ve run up against snags, like no answer when I phone, the general shutting down of things that happens over a holiday weekend and questions that I can’t answer till I meet with the funeral director.

I am not an event planner and I easily stress out about stuff like this. That’s why today’s reading in Streams in the Desert is especially apropos:

When thou goest thy way shall be opened up before thee step by step - Proverbs 4:12 - free translation.

The Lord never builds a bridge of faith except under the feet of the faith-filled traveler. If He builds the bridge a rod ahead, it would not be a bridge of faith. That which is of sight is not of faith.

There is a self-opening gate which is sometimes used in country roads. It stands fast and firm across the road as a traveler approaches it. If he stops before he gets to it, it will not open. But if he will drive right at it, his wagon wheels press the springs below the roadway, and the gate swings back to let him through. He must push right on at the closed gate, or it will continue to be closed.

This illustrates the way to pass every barrier on the road of duty. Whether it is a river, a gate or a mountain, all the child of Jesus has to do is to go for it. If it is a river, it will dry up when you put your feet in its waters. If it is a gate, pit will fly open when you are near enough to it, and are still pushing on. If it is a mountain, it will be lifted up and cast into a sea when you come squarely up, without flinching, to where you thought it was.

Is there a great barrier across your path of duty just now? Just go for it, in the name of the Lord, and it won’t be there.

– Henry Clay Trumbull

... Okay Mr. Trumbull – I’ll go for it!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Canada Day 2006

The surreality from Wednesday continued Thursday. When I went to the hospital, Mom was lying there, breathing through her mouth with her eyes open but there was no recognition in them at all. She was entirely unresponsive. I took up my post beside her bed again, sometimes held her hand, talked to her, put a CD in the walkman and hoped she could hear it through the headphones close to her ears.

After I got back from having pizza in the hospital cafeteria, the hospice lady called me to a sunny side room to have a chat. Of course any sign of sympathy cracks my shell of composure and I blubbered all over the place. She has probably seen this repeated times and just heard me out. Her piece was that she felt Mom was so near the end, it didn’t make sense to move her to a hospice at this point and there wasn’t room in the Surrey Hospital Hospice now in any case. (Of course I was relieved that they won’t be moving her again.)

After our talk I went back to mom’s room and did more of the above. A couple of nephews and their families came by to visit and looking after the kids was a nice distraction. Ernie finally came around 4:30.

I dithered about whether to stay the night but decided, in the end, not to. A nurse promised to phone as soon as there were any developments. We went home about 8:00 p.m.

After no phone call all night we returned to the hospital about 9:30 Friday morning. And there was our dear valiant Mom, looking the same way as on Thursday, still unresponsive, but breathing albeit her breath was very rattley now and the nurses were suctioning her regularly.

And so we passed another day – holding her hand, playing her music, talking to her a bit, singing a bit, knitting, reading the paper, doing another Sudoku puzzle while she soldiered on through the Valley of Death.

We left the hospital about 5:45 after praying over her again, kissing her goodbye and telling her one last time that we loved her.

We stopped at the Lido (Chinese) for supper, then back home to send another update email to my list and veg in front of the TV where I got engrossed in a British production of a Miss Marple story.

That was just done when the phone rang again. It was Tessie from Palliative Care. She said, “Your mom just passed away. It was peaceful.” So I sent off yet another email to my family list and then we went to the hospital one more time to gather her things and sign the morgue release.

They’d drawn the curtain around her bed, and there was a butterfly pinned to it. Behind the curtain there she was, her color a lot paler, her skin already looking waxy – but quiet and at peace.

And so her first full day in heaven will be Canada Day.

Mom was a real Canadian patriot and Canada Day was always very special to her. In fact she was quite famous in her condo in Abbotsford for her Canada Day brunches. On each Canada Day for years she would invite twelve people, one for each province and territory (thirteen when Nunavut became a territory) for brunch. I was invited to two or three of these and they were a lot of fun.

She would set the table with her provincial placemats, her floral emblem glasses and cups and saucers. Then she would cook up a meal, serving food like Canadian bacon and Abbotsford strawberries. After eating we would go around the table with each person reading what their placemat said about their province. We also did things like tell about the places in Canada that we’d lived or visited, and played Canada trivia.

This year, though, Mom will spend Canada Day in heaven. I love how my sister-in-law Dawn put it to her daughter Rosie in an email a few days ago:

I think, for grandma, maybe God will have a Canada Day Celebration party for her in heaven... for the best "quilting/quilling/never-quits-creating" Mother/Grandmother/ Great-grandmother... think of all those who are already there who would be around her at that table...maybe He'll send for her floral emblem glassware and He'll make her a very special cocktail from all the fruit juices He's saved up in His fridge, maybe He'll put in an order for Krause /bros. berries 'just picked' by Jane, and Canadian back bacon, ah yes, and add Russian pancakes (Big pancakes for Big Grandma) to the menu. Maybe we should put in an order for her?! What great memories she has created for everyone, eh?? We will so miss her but we can carry her in our hearts forever and we have the hope of joining her someday!!*

To that I have only one word to add – AMEN!!

*Thanks, Dawn, for permission to use this.

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