Thursday, January 28, 2010

Little Green

I know I've been complaining about the lack of snow, but I've simultaneously been enjoying my plants while stuck at home the past two weeks. They are a nice reminder of life growing despite all the decay of Earth lying beneath the snow. I'm amazed at myself that they thrive at all. I used to let plants die all the time in my 20s and even into my 30s. I was horrible at maintaining the little attention they required to keep going like, well, watering. Watering was a challenge sometimes. More in the remembering, less in the doing. I think I let probably 4 goldfish die when I was a little girl before my parents accepted I was maybe a little unreliable. I never did it on purpose. Just, I think, I'd get a little distracted, staring at and talking to trees and weird stuff like that. (I'm sure at this point, you're wondering if I should have had a child on my own. But believe me, he gets all the attention he needs and then some!)

This jade plant (above, to the right) I'm quite proud of: when I first brought it home, it was the size of the tiny cactus plant shown in the same photo. I have had it going strong for over 10 years now. The tiny cactus was given me recently when my twin sister visited. I have a larger version of the same plant spiraling out of its pot in my kitchen sink window which I've grown the last four years or so. Another cactus-type plant hangs above the sink.


In the bathroom there is a plant I adore. I have no idea what it's called (maybe someone out there can help me with that), but it's blue and red-hued leaves are gorgeous and it blooms tiny, pink flowers that are very delicate and sweet.

The plant I think I love the most is one I've had to cut down to the root base for the second year in a row. And it's just begun to sprout again a small, green shoot. This plant is a vine of some sort and has the most stunning purple blossoms when it's in flower. Again, no idea of the name of it, but I love it.

My orchid, I hope, is resurrecting itself slowly again. We'll see what happens there. I've had it for a couple of years now.

Despite all the green growing under my nose in the house and even though I shouldn't have likely made the extra expense, budget-wise, I actually bought myself flowers this week: oriental lilies. Not that my ex used to buy me flowers a lot (usually once a year on my birthday), but sometimes it's just nice to treat yourself, especially when no one else is around to buy 'em for you (and besides, it was my birthday recently so I can sort of justify this 'gift to self').The scent of the lilies in my dining room where I feed Sonshine his meals is intoxicating. Spring begins less than two months away and the fragrance of these lilies makes it feel just around the corner. (Not necessarily something I relish since, in my own opinion, we've hardly had a true winter yet.)

The end of this winter will be a bit melancholy for me, my last in this farmhouse. Spring will bring such change and I know right now it will all be a blur once it's over. But I look forward to celebrating my baby's first birthday in May and the idea that that is around the corner, too, is unfathomable! No idea if the party will be here at the farmhouse or in our new home together.

What I do know is that my son is one of the many signs of new life in the house while the earth sleeps and her flora and fauna hibernate. In his jolly jumper, he is all the Spring I need for right now!

Music: Little Green, Joni Mitchell

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cabin Fever

So my car has been malfunctioning and, for the last week and a half, my little sonshine and I have been housebound. It's currently in the shop and what happens when I drive my rental home today? It gets stuck in the driveway so I'm still without the use of a car. (Merde.) And because we're a bit remote to begin with, I have begun typing, "All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl. All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl." on my laptop. Endlessly. Crazy-like...

Also, lately, I slosh out to the garage in my mukluks to gather an armful of firewood and start to scream, "Heeeeeeeere's Mommy!" as I open the door to re-enter the house, with a maniacal grin and bug-eyed glare. It's kind of scaring me. But it only makes my son giggle incessantly. I never could pull off a Jack impersonation all that well. I lean closer to a mixture of Chris Walken meets Björk, which is pretty scary in and of itself, but still only evokes snickering on the part of my baby boy.

It has been an odd month. For one thing, it's January and I see grass all over the front lawn this week as the weather begins to grow warmer. Sonshine and I watch it pierce the snow along with our hearts through the window with not a little melancholy and I think to myself, "This. This is how a snowman feels when he melts." Seeing green in the middle of Winter makes me see red. As a snow-lover, grass in January just bites a Yeti-sized arse, in my opinion. I figure if we're going to be housebound, we might as well be snowbound, too. It would provide the opportunity for us to actually leave the house and roll around in some white stuff just to relieve ourselves of this cabin fever, if nothing else. Call me Smilla, but I happen to miss terribly those fluffy, nightmarish blizzard-ridden winters of my youth. The ability to make snowangels while still standing, leaning back into great, big drifts higher than your head. Where did those winters go?

I hear Vancouver is worried about the weather for its Winter Olympics. No shit. I mean. No snow, obviously. Who plans a WINTER Olympics in Vancouver in mid-February? As Karl from Uptown Waterloo Men's Hockey Glob so wisely and astutely puts it, isn't that their Springtime out West? The only saving grace about Vancouver in the wintrytime is it reminds me so much of Ireland. Same weather, really. But I was in Vancouver two Februaries ago and massive rhododendron bushes were in full bloom everwhere! Yet, even Vancouver had snow last January (a sure sign of climate change). I recall watching a breathtaking snowfall there, December of 2008.

Only yesterday, I took my temperature and I'm pretty sure either I've come down with cabin fever or possibly Olympic fever. More likely the latter, especially since my wee laddie touched the torch when it ran through a nearby town just after Christmas. This is the very kind of circumstance which makes me question whether not having a televison in my home is the right decision, after all. Guess I'll have to feed my fever via radio and print media. (Is it 'feed a fever, starve a cold' or vice versa?)  I don't have cable so if I plug in the telly currently on the shelf in the garage, the only image I'm likely to get is some white noise. Maybe that won't make me miss the snow so much. I'm not a religious girl, but I'm praying for a snowsquall. I'm praying for snow to fall here and I'm praying for it to fall on all those gold-medal-hopeful Olympians. I'm down on my knees, baby, beggin' you please please. I'm listening to too much Otis Redding, apparently. But can one ever listen to too much Otis Redding? I think not.

Allow me to reiterate, standing on a melting lawn in January is not fun (I'll add a miserable photo or two tomorrow). I thought the one good thing about global warming, if there's any good to be had of it, is that we'd be absolutely deluged with those winters of my youth in spades. Shovels, rather. Since it has to be fairly warm to snow and since the planet has been warming a few degrees the last while, I thought for sure it would snow snow snow until we were all buried in the white stuff. And I miss it. I'm crossing my fingers for a ginormous blizzard this week or next. At least one or three before end of March. Only then will I feel satiated, snow-wise.

For now, I've put Jadis-Snow-Queen-slash-White-Witch-of-Narnia, Bing Crosby and the Snow Miser all on speed-dial so I can text some emergency personal messages to them ASAP. If one of those characters can't make it like we're all living in a snowglobe, then either I'm going to start chopping down doors instead of kindling or I'm going to don a swan dress and play russian roulette.

I'll tell you this much: if that kid so much as starts to crack a smile, least I'll be secure in the knowledge that my heart can melt right along with the front yard.

Music: The Shining, Badly Drawn Boy

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My 451

Just recently, I mentioned a book recommendation to Jeff, a truly talented writer and blogger, the other day and it's been years since I read it myself so I'm going to open my own copy again once I'm finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road (which I'm trying to read before catching the film).

I found Jeff through another talented writer-slash-blogger, Brian, and the book I recommended was Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall On Your Knees.

I first discovered Ms. MacDonald via her brilliant play, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Its theme and wit is reminiscent of Sir Tom Stoppard's masterpiece, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead.

The recommendation got me thinking about Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury which, if you haven't read it, becomes another recommendation so that you'll understand this post. Because, even though I'm an Honours English major and was required to read most all the classics out there from Dickens to both Brontë sisters to Austen and Dosteyevsky to Hemingway and James to Faulkner, the one book I would choose to memorize and recite to people were we all existing in some post-apocalyptic, Big Brother nightmare of a world that banned books, is MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees. I think it's because MacDonald speaks to the actor in me - she's an actor herself, and a playwright and author, and her writing in this novel has such a lyric quality to it, it works well aloud, for recitation.

Don't get me wrong, it's not as though I haven't read enough out there by now (and in my own opinion, I actually haven't). I've read plenty, though. I LOVE books and this one's a toughie. If I had my way, every wall in my house would be shelves of 'em and it is damned difficult to choose. For instance, this is assuming that by the time I got around to choosing other favs of mine like Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, or  J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, a special gift given me that I'm ashamed to say I first read when I was already 25, or John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany (which I'm re-reading but have placed on the backburner briefly while I digest The Road mentioned above) or Tolkien's The Hobbit, anything by Enid Blyton or Wayne Johnston or the brilliant Alice Munro or Michael Ondaatje or the wordsmith Mark Helprin, such as his Winter's Tale or his short story collection, The Pacific, that these masterpieces of fiction ('kay, admittedly, Irving and Blyton are included for added fun) would already have been snapped up by someone else out there for mind storage.

And recognizing there are other books a bit more obscure that might be, perhaps, still up for grabs, like Daniel Handler's Adverbs which was recommended to me a few years back, or Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son (another gift) or Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry, or Chet Raymo's gem, The Dork of Cork; I'm telling you, it's really difficult to choose just ONE.

Anyhow, you get the gist. There are innumerable books I've enjoyed maybe equally as much or more, perhaps. But Fall On Your Knees is the story I'd want to tell people. I'm not going to give away anything to do with the plot or characters, except to say that I relate in so many ways to Frances that I cannot begin to name them all here. She was my very favourite of all the Piper daughters and spoke to my own kooky soul the deepest, the most, the best. Every author and book I mentioned above inspires my own voice, my writing, in some way.

So, here's a question for you: what would be your "451"? Which book would you choose to memorize so that future generations would hear the tale and not miss out? It's a hard one, I know, but if you had to choose just ONE book, what would it be?

(Really, I just want people to recommend some yummy stuff back to me so I'm not missing out on anything! As Ti, another inspiring writer/blogger, so eloquently puts it in her latest post, "bring it", people. )

Happy reading, everyone!

p.s. If I bump into you and you're reciting Catcher in the Rye or, say, Wuthering Heights, just, prepared that I might fall in love with you. Fair warning.

Music: Wrapped Up in Books, Belle & Sebastian

Friday, January 22, 2010


On my fridge hangs a card one of my best friends posted to congratulate me on my pregnancy. The image is of a little boy and a baby robin discovering each other at a windowsill and, in the shot, the child's hair is all askew and stands up on end, (as does the newborn robin's).  She bought the card because I told her of the robin nesting above my side door and the curious parallel between us and our eggs. The photograph is a favourite of mine. My son has made this exact expression quite a number of times and the child in the photograph is very like him, facially. I try to picture him with a full head of hair. It's growing in a bit thicker now. Looks like it will be curly like his mommy's.

His perfect head has one distinct feature, though. And that's a cowlick, right smack dab in the centre atop his brow. One of his first books, also a gift prior to his birth, has a picture of a little baby with a cowlick in the very spot where his resides, though it's on a mirrored trajectory.

The term cowlick is noted as having been used in England (and Italy) as early as the late 1500s. It rears its curly tuft in an English translation by Richard Haydocke of Italian writer G.P. Lomazzo's painting tract which states, "The lockes or plain feakes of haire called cow-lickes, are made turning upwards." Now there's a phrase I hanker to use in everday conversation: feakes of haire. Wish I'd coined that.

Pardon me, waiter, but there's a feake of haire in my soup du jour.

The dictionary defines cowlick as a lock of hair that turns in a different direction than the rest of the hair on the head. Cows, like many mothers in the animal world, clean their young by licking them, fashioning a swirl or upright tuft in the hide. Further, there is an ancient Norse myth concerning Auðumbla, a primeval cow, who licks some salty ice blocks and, as her tongue works away, a man's head of hair appears first and slowly, eventually, the rest of him. The man is Búri, ancestor to the Norse gods. The myth is recorded by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century. I mention Snorri purely because his name rocks and had I known of it before I gave birth, my son might be carrying a different moniker altogether. Lucky for Sonshine, I was oblivious. By some strange twist of fate (or hair, rather), my baby boy's name is related to Nordic history, however. Neato.

Sonshine has had his cowlick since birth. At the back of his head, his hair swirls in one direction. Something you'll find on most babies. But at the front of his head, he has this distinct lock of hair which curls in the opposite direction. Everyone remarks on it. I adore it for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that we live rurally and his first year of his life will be spent in this 19th century farmhouse, so a cowlick, in particular, seems fitting somehow.

From the day he arrived, I have traced my finger around this soft swirl while singing him to sleep. It acts as a bullseye for endless targeted kisses. His third name relates to the stars and the wishes made upon them during a meteor shower the month of my IVF surgery. It is, thus, no small coincidence that this honey-coloured, copper-tinted tuft of hair reminds me of the stellar swirls depicted in Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night.

Granted, we are all made of stardust, but the stuff seems to cling still to this child of mine. He carries the downy whorl of the cosmos imprinted on his forehead.

I love the idea that this lock of hair travels in a direction so distinctly different from the rest of his head and wonder if it whispers of an independent spirit. Frost comes to mind; will he take the road less traveled by? I like to think his road will be a unique path, that somehow he will forge ahead, brandishing a machete to hack a new route for himself and not follow blindly the direction of the rest of the planet. Does this whirl denote perhaps some artistic streak? I like to imagine it is some hairy harbinger of a singular mind and an extraordinary heart. Certainly a curious mind with that upside down, backwards question mark hovering over his brow. Clearly not your everyday, average soul, but one with remarkable individuality: if his cowlick isn't enough to convince on its own, his eyes certainly belie the fact.

Whatever path he travels, I trust he will be guided by the stars, inspired by the wonder of the universe, confident in the exploration of all that lies ahead of him.  For now, my index finger orbits my son's lock and I kiss it with all the love I can muster in the universe.

I ain't gonna lick it, though.

Still trying to lose the prego weight and the analogy would be...udderly unwelcome. Ahem.

Music: Vincent Van Gogh, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dead Irish Writers

As aforementioned, lately I've been working my way through seasons of The West Wing on my laptop, once I put Sonshine to bed each night .

Tonight, a cozy fire crackles away as I snuggle under a blanket and watch parts of the third season. Episode 16 is entitled Dead Irish Writers and encompasses the First Lady's birthday party, the dream of a dying, eminent physicist, Donna becoming Canadian (briefly), and the request by the British government, via their Ambassador to the United States, that the White House not allow the leader of Sinn Féin to visit the President for a talk. Joyce is quoted as having written, "history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake" and Eugene O'Neill as having penned, "there is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now."

I feed another log to the fire and dwell upon my dwelling, this farmhouse, again. My home. My heart sighs.

When I was 24, I spent six weeks in Ireland prior to attending a course on 'Yeats and Irish Poets After Him' at St. Catherine's College, Cambridge University toward my degree back in Canada. I had applied for Summer Studies in English Literature and felt truly excited to study Yeats, whom I worshipped. He was my mother's favourite poet and she introduced him to me long before I would study him or any other Irish poet/writer. Growing up, our home had hung on its walls a painting of the Sacred Heart and, alongside it, a framed poem entitled, The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Naturally, there was confusion on my part as to which held the higher footing.

In 2000, my former spouse and I decide to leave Toronto for greener pastures, literally and figuratively. The day I walk into this farmhouse I know I will live here. It isn't that the house is older than Canada itself. Nor that its picturesque views from the back deck over rolling fields remind me somewhat of Ireland. The reason I know I will live in this house is because, upon entering the kitchen, I discover pages of Yeats' poetry have been glued to the wall. The owner had torn the pages from a book in her father-in-law's collection and pasted them for wallpaper. I remember standing open-mouthed, unable to speak, my heart rising into my throat, tears forming near my lashes. Apparently, what helps our bid is that the owner, a poet herself, is pleased as punch to learn we have zero intention of removing the pages of poetry once she sells the place. Ten years later, the pages have yellowed but still hang above the island where guests chop vegetables, sip wine and become enamoured of Yeats' exquisite verse.

One morning, a few Thanksgivings ago, I awake early to start the turkey. It is 6 a.m. when I sit myself at the table with a pot on my lap and a bag of potatoes and begin to peel. This simple act: the dipping of potato in water, the knife smoothly scraping back the skin, poking out the eyes, cutting them in halves, then quarters. A spud in the hand, the dirt of earth still clinging to it, is so decent and firm a thing. I recall taking a deep breath of satisfaction over this humble domestic duty. It occurs to me it is something my mother has done herself many a morning in the wee hours; something my grandmother has done and her mother before her. And hers. Talk about a 'root' vegetable. I feel their wizened hands guiding mine as the skins fall in strips into the compost bucket. Did you know that the ASL sign for Ireland is a potato? And this home was built a mere 15 years after the Great Famine began back 'home', in Eire. Just to think on that...

On my kitchen island hang three pieces of slate salvaged from the roofs of derelict cottages in Ireland, once the homes to past generations of Irish people, now dead and gone. Slate roofs replace the thatched cottages of an even older generation; the kind of cottage my mother's Uncle Jim would bicycle the countryside to photograph in the early 1900s, one of which hangs in my dining room. Shellacked to the slate are images of three dead Irish writers: James Joyce, Sean O'Casey and William Butler Yeats. My aunt sent them across the pond to me as a housewarming gift since she knows my love of Irish history and Celtic mythology, something each of these writers were well versed in themselves, no pun intended. And warm my house, they do, indeed.

I am thinking ahead to the spring when I must leave this farmhouse I love. I wonder what connection I will have to my next home. What will draw me to it? What will speak to me when I wander through its rooms, gaze out its windows? What might grab my heart? Evoke tears? I've no idea yet what will be the deciding factor for me.

But one thing I do know: as soon as I am settled, I intend to rise early one morning in that house and peel some potatoes. To feel grounded. To give a nod to my own roots. I know then I'll feel at home, again.

(Plus, I have a book or two of Yeats' poetry under my arm for wallpapering.)

This one goes out to my wee Irish mother and all the mothers before her; for my father's mother whom I never knew, who died when he was only 9 years of age. And for my wee Irish son who, somewhat miraculously, made an Irish mother out of me. For the homes we've each evolved from over generations. For the homes we and our children and our children's children will make. All the potatoes yet to be peeled. The Innisfrees yet to manifest in our deep heart's core:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

~William Butler Yeats~

Music: Troy, Sinéad O'Connor

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hair! Hair!

I want to do another shout out about my writer friend, Carrie (meant to do it when she posted the exciting news herself on her blog back in December).

Her book, Hair Hat, is among five that have been chosen for Canada Reads 2010: Independently!

Way to go, Carrie! Well deserved!

I look forward to reading it and encourage everyone out there to check it out...

Music: Lady Writer, Dire Straits

Monday, January 11, 2010

Esquimaux Kiss

The snow has been falling steadily all day. As evening closes in, I'm wishing I had a ski pulk in which to bundle my son and pull him behind me for a nighttime ski through the woods. The powder on the ground is just perfect for a wintry outing. He could fall asleep to the hoots of owls. The silence of snowfall.

I'm beating eggs. Butter in the pan. Mushrooms browning. I pour the yellow liquid over fungi and sprinkle in parmesan, sea salt, fresh ground pepper. The kettle is boiling and he bubbles over, too, in his jolly jumper. Eyes gazing at trees out the window, he blows raspberries, his face aglow with the strange mix of firelight and the blue of twilight. Little pomegranates for cheeks. My heart feels full.

I'm thinking back to when I was a kid. Winters when drifts reached up to the windows. All those snow days off school. So much white stuff, my brothers would build snowforts the size of castles, big enough to crawl through and disappear into the Arctic regions. One snowy armoury built each end of the garden and iced over. An igloo as the base and a chimney-like stack through which to stand and toss, duck and hide. We each amass our cylindrical weaponry in small piles; peek out and pummel. This is how I develop a good throwing arm.

I pour myself an Ovaltine and my thoughts drift to you and me as kids. Growing up in the same town. Mere blocks apart. Two years, eight months apart. To the day. The same snowfalls fell into our open mouths, melt against tongues, are swept by the arc of arms into wings of angels. Tonight, when I think on those snowforts, it's not war that comes to mind. Instead, I'm wishing I could take your small hand in mine and crawl into one of 'em with you as the children we once were. Huddle together in our snowsuits, look up through frosted chimneys and count stars. Watch our laughter crystallize as our breath freezes mid-air. It's not as if we haven't known the child in each of us, so clearly discernible when we finally meet in our 20s. Visible long before your beautiful mum takes out that old box. Photos spread all over the floor of a living room on Twin Oaks. He's there in his stutter, the stuffing of hands into pockets. She's there in her freckles and the biting of lips.

Tonight, the snowflakes falling so softly make me imagine leaning close, holding our breath. Knees shivering. Frozen faces hovering.  A kind of first kiss. An Inuit Cupid's harpoon flies.


The timid, tremulous touch of noses while we close our eyes, squeeze mittened hands and confuse the howl of the wind for the wolves in our beating hearts...

Music: Igloo (Where the Wild Things Are Soundtrack), Karen O and the Kids

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Force of Habitat

I explain this a bit on my photography blog. When I end my 9-year, common-law marriage 3 years ago, I hold zero inclination to sit around and mope on the couch, weeping and wafting between anger, bitterness and loneliness. The television set ends up on a shelf in the garage as I am determined not to turn into a zombie watching other people live their lives to the fullest while mine slowly stagnates into hermitsville. (Three years later, the set is still on that shelf. I highly recommend it.)

I decide to go somewhere in the world I've never been and do something while there (versus laying on some beach moping, weeping and wafting). That's when I discover Habitat for Humanity's Global Village program. Psychologically, I'm drawn to this particular organization because things had fallen apart so thoroughly in my marriage and the desire to 'build' something anew (literally and figuratively) is intense: to choose to be constructive versus follow a destructive path. I'm on a new road, a new journey for myself, starting a new decade in my life after a very sad decade. Spiraling into depression and self-pity is not an option. Getting away and being productive ends up the best decision I could have made.

Often when people split, an obsession with petty give-and-take erupts: what furniture he's taking, what CDs she insists she needs to keep. Material pettiness. Emotional childishness. Sometimes an outright battle in court ensues; the ripping apart of every last shred of dignity or morsel of love the relationship once held. It strikes me as such a horrifying way to end something that began as love. My ex and I had been through enough sorrow as it was so we choose to part as amicably as possible. We seek a mediator to help us draw up our separation agreement (already discussed and agreed upon before approaching the third party). We simply walk room to room negotiating what of our possessions will be going with whom. It's all managed somehow without too much bitterness or resentment, somehow devoid of hatred. Some tears are shed, hugs hugged. There are instances when even some laughter bursts out at the end.  Like when he farts in the kitchen and I point heavenward with my index finger, smile and say, "One thing I am not going to miss!" and our sides split.

When you pack for your first volunteer/working vacation, you may fall under the misapprehension that you will somehow be helping the people you are traveling towards. You don't necessarily imagine it will be the other way around. But this is what happens. I choose Guatemala as my destination and am assigned to build a rural home with other volunteers for a single mom of six children. What I don't expect is the bond that forms with the other volunteers, the way my heart is touched by these kids, the warmth and dignity of the local people, the barriers between language broken asunder, the absolute, breathtaking beauty of the country itself. I'm humbled. Yes, there is poverty like I've never witnessed to be sure, but the families we encounter know love and laughter and share both openly within the larger community in which they live. Families take care of families. Everyone reaches out.

Small expressions of Joy are everywhere: plastic bags hang as angel wings over doorways; planters of geraniums brighten the outside wall of homes; there is happiness expressed even in the colour of laundry that blows against the shadows of storm clouds which hang over the mountains.

I want to say how organized Habitat for Humanity is and what an amazing experience it was to discover a new country and its people while working to construct a roof over someone's head; what the organization feels is a basic human need. A human right.

It's not all hard work. A couple of days at the end of each work session are reserved for recreation and relaxation. Or don't relax: climb some volcanoes and swim in the water of long ago craters those volcanoes made.

I encourage anyone out there to visit the Canadian or International websites and check it all out, whether you wish to look into volunteering locally or travel to another spot on the globe and lend a helping hand. Kudos to Millard and Linda Fuller, the organization's founders and to Jimmy Carter for hopping on the bandwagon with such fervour back in '84. Really, the organization and all its volunteers do amazing work worldwide.

Altruism, philanthropy, social conscience, global awareness: these are all qualities I hope to instil in my son's heart. They may already be buried deep in there and will only require a little sunshine and water on my part to blossom and bloom. His hands are tiny right now, but I know he will want to lend them to help others someday. His feet are tiny, but I know they will want to walk this Earth we live upon, see what else is out there...

I can't wait until he's old enough so we can go on a trip together! Well, actually I can wait. But I look foward to it sometime down this road we're on together. Such a great way to see the rest of the planet and truly experience how people live and breathe, away from the resorts and high-tourist areas.

To see some more of my photography from the whole experience, click on the slideshow of the sister blog to this blog and peruse my Flickr slideshow. (I'm still uploading for this trip, so there is more to come, I promise!)

Music: De Cara a la pared, Lhasa de Sela
(R.I.P. September 27, 1972 ~ January 1, 2010 - Lhasa, you live on in your voice)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Something Borrowed, Something Blue

We dance a slow waltz to Tom Waits' Closing Time on the iPod in the dining room before I take him upstairs and lay him down in his crib. He cries a little lately since I'm no longer nursing him first in order to place him asleep in the crib. Instead, he is placed in the crib awake so he can learn to self-soothe. Since we only have each other, it's my attempt to help him gain a little independence from me during his day. After five minutes of crying, I visit him and touch his face, caress the top of his head and sing his favourite song, My Bonny. This makes him smile, giggle up at me and turn on his side to snuggle with his bunny. He generally only requires a couple of weepy sessions followed by brief check-ins from me before he falls asleep, contented that I am near, secure that I love him and haven't forgotten about him. I am blessed. He sleeps now, on average, a good six to eight hours overnight.

In the early morning, when he wakes, I take him into my bed and nurse him his morning feed and we watch the dawn illuminate each corner of the room together while he practices sounds and talks, coos up at me. I can't tell if the room brightens more because of my son rising or the sun rising. It's a toss up.

When I decided to pursue In vitro fertilization surgery alone a year ago last summer, the one thing that made me hesitant for a good, long while was the fact that my child would not have a daddy. I wasn't sure if my own longing to be a mum, to experience pregnancy, childbirth and parenting would be a good enough reason to sentence my child to a one-parent existence and the lack of a father in his life. My choice, not his. Was it hugely selfish on my part?

What surprised me when I started seeking a donor was the fact that a Mutual ID Consent program existed. It meant there were actual donors out there who were willing to be contacted at some point in their lives by the offspring resulting from their sperm donation. That gave me such hope. Consequently, I only considered men from this group. It was a much smaller pool from which to choose, but worth it to me. It also said something to me about the donors themselves: they recognized that growing up and not knowing one's biological parent/history can leave somewhat of a hole in one's life (an understatement). I knew there might be questions I could not answer down the road. I also knew that my son would have good male role models in his life. Via my brothers, my brothers-in-law, his 8 male cousins, my own father, my male friends. This further aided my decision to ultimately move forward on my own and pursue surgery.

The day I found the donor I would go with brought immense relief. Sonshine's biological father is only 25 years old at the time he donates. He is caucasian. He's 5', 10". Has straight, black hair and hazel eyes, the same colour as mine. I was thus expecting a baby with a thick head of dark hair to burst forth from my womb. A baby with dark eyes.

My entire pregnancy, everyone (and I mean everyone save for one friend) insists I am going to have a girl. The week before I give birth, however, I dream I have a blond, blue-eyed boy. Still, I do not consider this very portentous as I am still imagining a dark haired/dark eyed child.

But whom do I end up having? A blond, blue-eyed boy. With a lot of copper hints to his blond locks. He has my mother's colouring. I had auburn hair when I was a little girl. There is A LOT of red in my brown hair. This denotes an Irish temper (something I've also had and which yoga has reigned in for the most part). But this fair, blond/coppery hair. These blue, BLUE eyes, I admit, I did not expect!

It's a recessive gene on my mother's side. The odd part is that I do not take after my mother for looks. My sisters do. And one of my brother's. My twin sister is apparently the spitting image of my mother's maternal grandmother. She has a longer face than mine. It's thinner. My face and eyes are wide like my dad's side of the family. Higher cheekbones. I take after my father.

For a while following his birth I keep thinking, because his eyes are such a dark blue, that they might still change to hazel. But no, they are becoming bluer with each day. Sometimes a dark, denim blue and other times a brighter blue, but I believe they will remain blue now.

I examine the photo of us taken by my brother last week at my family's Christmas gathering and I wonder what is it he carries from his biological father, the anonymous donor, whose photos I have seen, but whom I only know as the number he was assigned by the donor clinic? I think it is his long limbs. He has long arms and long legs. Certainly, as he seems destined to have height, he won't have inherited that from me.

What else? He is one calm, curious soul. His even temperament makes me think of the paragraph the donor wrote in his profile (the ultimate deciding factor that led to my choice). My son seems to carry the same wisdom for one so young and a gentle, happy countenance. A definite old soul. My mother says he is like me when I was a baby. I was apparently very content and laid back. (At some point, this turned out not to be the case for a bit. Just ask my first love.) But I think I've come full circle now. For the most part, life makes me very happy and I smile more often than not. It takes a lot for me to get ruffled by anything nowadays. I've found some inner peace over the years. And my boy has brought me greater inner peace than I've ever known heretofore.

I steal another peek in at the crib. His blondish locks have begun to darken a little. They are more caramel-coloured now than his first few months of life. And he certainly has the shape of my eyes. He has my nose. He definitely follows my father's side of the family for looks. But his colouring: that is from my mother.

When he turns 18, he will be given access to the last known contact information of his biological father. He can then decide to attempt to make contact at that point or not. I will support whatever choice he makes.

Until then, I wonder what else he has inherited from the donor I chose. I look forward to discovering more that might hint at the other half of his heritage. He is such a content baby. I obviously made a solid choice. I went with my gut; my intuition. A sweeter child I could not have asked for; he's a dream come true in so many ways.

What a gift this anonymous man has given me. He has no idea how many years I've longed for this particular Joy in my life. I feel so indebted to this young man out there in the world somewhere. I knew he was special when I read his profile, when I first saw the depth of soul behind his eyes in the photograph of him as a child.

That is also what my son inherits.

Blue irises. Irises (my favourite flower) are for Hope. Tears fill my own as I pull his bedroom door ajar and retreat back into the hallway and down the stairs. I swallow the lump in my throat, pray that he forgives my decision to go this alone and make a silent whisper of thanks.

How very lucky I am. To finally be a mommy. To be his mommy.
How amazed! How ecstatic!
And how deeply, enormously and eternally grateful...

Little Wooden Mer-boy: Artwork by KuKu CaJu
Music: Blue Eyes, Elton John

Monday, January 4, 2010

Old Flame (Part Deux)

I wrote about an old flame in Part I last week. Here's Part Deux...

My grandparents were born in Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century. They got married in the late 1920s, I believe. And somewhere along the way, my grandmother, Lily, purchased a ceramic bowl for something like 10 pence at Clery's in Dublin. Ten pence would equate to about a dime or a quarter nowadays, but back then it would have been a little more, I imagine. Every Christmas, from the 1930s on, my grandmother made her Christmas pudding in this bowl.

Flash forward to the late 1950s. My father emigrates from Ireland, the first in a family of 10 kids to leave his homeland. He flies to Montreal in the dead of winter. Just imagine you've never experienced snow and you land in Montreal in the fucking winter. Canadian winters, in general, are cold, but Montreal winters are really cold. It can't have been a good first impression of Canada. He must have been thinking, "What the hell am I doing here?" 'Cept my father doesn't really swear at all. He's very devout.  He tells the story of how he flies out to Canada with five bucks in his pocket and spends his first night at the YMCA, feeling all sorry for himself, as he always says when he tells the story. (I bet in Montreal, they refer to it as "le ee", as in 'eegreck', the phonetic pronunciation for the letter 'Y' en Français. It's not "the why" in Quebec, it's maybe "le ee". 'Course, I may be completely wrong, but I just like the idea and hope I'm not offending any French Canadians out there, my friends among them.)

The next morning he is leaving "le ee" to meet a man about the job he's flown out to take when he sees some guy begging on the street with no legs.  In the middle of winter. That's when my Dad stops feeling sorry for himself. The year is 1957.

The day he leaves Ireland, his entire extended family sees him off at the train station in Dublin. (My Dad's father drove trains all around Ireland and so we carry a gene for loving train travel in our blood.) They all think, as he does, that it's probably the last time they'll ever see each other unless any of them ever fly to Canada themselves. How do you do that? You're in your early 20s and you've got two kids and a third one on the way and you find a job in Canada and so you leave your siblings and your parents, thinking you'll never see them again. You leave your wife for a YEAR. Your little kids. You won't see your new baby until she's six months old. That's the sacrifice you choose to make so that your kids will maybe have a better life, better chances growing up than you had. I can't imagine leaving everything you ever knew behind, never mind your homeland (though sometimes I dream about it.) And you have to have visited Ireland to experience its very intense tidal pull. Seriously, it's an island but it should be its own ocean. I wasn't even born there and I feel it pulling me back everyday.

A funny aside is that my Uncle Robbie is supposed to go with my Dad yet changes his mind at the last minute. But the cake still says, "Bon Voyage, Pat and Robbie". They actually crossed out the "and Robbie" with icing. So as a joke, thirty years later, I order a cake for my father's emigration anniversary that says, "Congrats on 30 years in Canada, Pat and Robbie" and I ask the bakery to cross out the "and Robbie" with icing. That's just 'cause I'm pretty goofy. I've mentioned my quirky sense of humour before.

Anyhow, I'm getting off topic a little (as I am wont to do). A year after my father emigrates to Canada, he makes enough to bring my mum and my three eldest siblings over from Dublin. She arrives in 1958. And the next year, her brother Eamonn follows. He arrives in the winter, too. Close to Christmastime. (You'd think my dad might have suggested the summer instead.) And what he brings with him is this 10 pence bowl with a Christmas pudding in it for my mother from hers, with love.

That was 50 years ago. And every Christmas since, my mother has followed her mother's footsteps and made Christmas pudding from scratch in this bowl. The bowl has been stained by 50 years of fruit. Half a century of plums, figs, raisins, currants, orange peel, and mince, among other ingredients. More than that, since the bowl itself is older than my mum. And each year, when she removes the pudding upside down from the bowl, it's our family's Christmas tradition to light that pudding on fire before it gets served with homemade custard. We pour a little brandy over it, turn out the lights and set it aflame. Then we all sing We Wish You A Merry Christmas and dig in, like wolves.

And after 50 years, that's one pretty old flame.

My wee Irish mum makes the best pudding in the world. She did it again this Christmas, in her late 70s. I've asked her for the recipe. And for the bowl, someday.

But I think my twin sister has dibs or something.

Music: We Wish You A Merry Christmas, The Muppets

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Be It Resolved

I haven't thought about New Year's resolutions for quite a few years, actually. But this year, I felt the need to sit down and put some real consideration into them. So many things are new at the beginning of this year, so much change. I need me some focus and I've made a list, finally.

Naturally, one is my intent to write more, and more often. One involves hoping to publish something I've written. A whole bunch of them have to do with my son and with mothering. And of course, losing weight/getting fit/toned so I can return to pre-prego condition (still working on this). A few women told me it's nearly impossible to lose weight while breastfeeding. No harm working on it, though, with a healthy approach!

A few in particular have to do with reorganizing my life in prep for The Big Move come spring. Forgive the phrasing, but basically I need to get all Buddhist on my ass. Try to create a zen existence in place of this chaos, more in keeping with my son's monk-like temperament. And I'll take a zen approach - not one room at a time, but one box at a time. One bag at a time. One little drawer at a time. Small steps to clear my life of the clutter and cobwebs this old farmhouse has accumulated.  In the spring, I will hold a garage sale. What I don't sell will be donated or dumped. A slow catharsis. The shedding of many years (along with the prego weight).

In the past few years, I've heard girlfriends talk about their "one word" of the year. Yesterday, I discovered the woman whose idea this is: Ali Edwards. (Thanks, Sara!) I love the concept of choosing one word to focus upon as a throughline for your entire year; a thread binding the many patches of your life into one garment with which to cloak yourself.

This year, I choose the word move.

I want to get moving. I want to keep moving forward. To make my move. To be moved. To move others.

Mobility will be an important theme this year for Sonshine and myself.

Not only are we anticipating moving from this farmhouse back to a semi-urban existence and building a new home together, but he will begin actual movement. Crawling, standing, walking: these will all be actions new to him; to his tiny mind, to his little limbs. His discovery of his wee body's capacities and the ability to stretch himself past limitations, past what he could formerly only regard as boundaries, will be incredibly freeing for him. (For me, not so much. HA!) I do, though, look forward to his exploration of movement within himself, of himself, for himself and by himself. He's becoming a little heavy to transport nowadays. I have biceps on my biceps!

So, move. That's my word for the year.
What's yours?

Wonder if I can choose one word for this new decade? Think I'll stick to small steps, though. And revel in witnessing my little boy make his first ones soon down this road we're traveling.

Some time in the 500s B.C., a Chinese philosopher named Lao Tzu wrote, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

Another cool guy wrote,
"Everything is moving so fast. I am unlimited..."

Small steps can take you so far, I've learned already. And what a journey lies ahead!

Happy 2010, everyone!

Music: Everything is Moving So Fast, Great Lake Swimmers