Saturday, May 29, 2010


And those 'aha' moments just keep coming. For the past 20+ years I have lived in a state of 'almost', perpetually waiting for some magical event or demarcation of time to announce both to me and to the world at large (not that the world at large cares, I realize now) that I am THERE. Truth be told, even through five houses in four communities, Renfrew and I never really, fully committed to a place. Boxes were always left to be unpacked later and pieces of furniture tucked away because we had no place or use for them at a particular time. It was like we were just visiting EVERYWHERE we called home.

This has carried on to my present living situation - - minus Renfrew. I have both a dining room suite and a bedroom suite that belonged to my grandparents and parents respectively. Though both are 'in use', both are also awaiting the magical transformation of refinishing. Admittedly, I have started on the dining room suite and 3 chairs sit in my garage awaiting several coats of new colour and new seat cushions. The headboard to the bed has been striped of its many layers of stain but that is all that has been done to the bedroom set except for purchasing a new mattress and boxspring which, if set upon the bed frame, would totally obscure the headboard. Just when did mattresses need to be thick enough for the pea feeling princess's comfort?

After taking an inventory of my crowded craft room -- with boxes of photographs and memorabilia from 20 years of marriage plus some and my home office -- what it lacks in style it makes up for in a catch all for the detritus of my life, I realize I need to start somewhere and begin to make a 'THERE' for me to settle into.

Let me say I KNOW there is no 'THERE'. It is really HERE and I have spent enough time in prayer and meditation to know that HERE is where I want to be -- every minute of every hour of every day that I have left on this thrill ride we call LIFE. As I often remind many of my dear friends, we are human BEINGS not human DOINGS. I have been so busy 'doing' or not doing that I have lost stopping to just BE and enjoy the peace that comes from that.

So, I am starting at the heart. I am doing what my dear Mother wanted for years and what I have been ignoring for more time than I want to admit. I am cleaning my room -- or more accurately cleansing my room. While I cannot twitch my nose and have the bedroom set magically lose 70 or so years of stain and dust, I can start living my life like I am really HERE.

What does it mean to be HERE? It means that I am throwing out or giving away whatever does feed my spirit and create beauty in the room where I spend my hours closest to the Divine. I'm not sure what this will look like, but I will when I see it. I realize that I owe it to those I love, I owe it to the Divine and I owe it to myself. I am HERE.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mothers Day ...

On this Mothers’ Day, I want to talk a bit about the important things I learned from my Mom. Although she transitioned to the next world two and a half years ago, the things I learned from will serve me through this life time and hopefully into the next.
Even when I was a teenager, I knew my Mother was one of the smartest people around. She had a calm and patient way about her that just engendered calm in those she was around. This was good since I was one of those mercurial teenagers whose mood swings were similar to a ride at a major theme park - - except they did not feature any safety harnesses or seatbelts. It did not help matters that I was a decidedly square peg surrounded by a plethora of uniform round pegs. Regardless of what went on in my life I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that my mother was on my side and that she had my back.
In fact, her unwavering support started in first grade. There were 2 classes of first graders in my small town school in 1967. For some reason, someone got the bright idea that we should switch teachers for our math class. Now, I had pulled a lucky straw and gotten Mrs. Neilson as my teacher. She was the kind of old fashioned teacher who treated her students with a firm gentleness. We knew she was in charge, but she never lorded that fact over us or used her power as 'power'. She loved us and we knew it. It made even the most challenging of us want to learn.
The other teacher, who I will just call Mrs. "L", was the other kind of old fashioned school teacher. One who believed most fervently in 'spare the rod, spoil the child'. Remember, these were the days when the Strap was still a fixture in the public schools in Canada. What was even more disturbing for me was her tendency to shriek at her students. Perhaps she was having personal issues or perhaps this was just how she was, but she would routinely yell in class as if raising the volume of her voice would help my less quick minded classmates catch on to the nuances of counting to 20. I had never been exposed to an adult who yelled and screamed - - although my siblings assure me that my father did, he died when I was 2 1/2 so I had no clear memory of him. My mother rarely raised her voice and, when she did, it was generally to inspire us to get to the dinner table from whatever we were doing.
This new form of communication, which did not seem to have any predictability or logic to it, was most distressing for me. I'm sure it was even more so for the individual children who were the target of her wrath on any given day.
After several weeks of watching Mrs. L take out her frustrations on my classmates, I told Mom that I did not like her class. Apparently, I explained to Mom that all the yelling was giving me a headache and it was hard to concentrate on my schoolwork with a headache.
What did my mother do?
Well, if this happened today, the parent would probably charge into the principal's office and threaten to sue the school for traumatizing little Suzy. My mother's approach was much more subtle and, as I recall, more effective.
She wrote Mrs. L a note. It said simply:"Dear Mrs. L: Could you please not yell in class as it gives Elizabeth a headache. Sincerely, Patricia Odell"
I handed it to Mrs. L and, while I cannot recall the look on her face, it is my recollection that math class was a bit quieter after that.
I learned a valuable lesson from my mother's approach: Sometimes just asking will get you the result you want. Mom was not trying to 'fix' Mrs. L. She was not worried about why she was yelling at us - - it did not matter whether the reason was because we were the biggest group of imbeciles to enter the classroom or because Mrs. L was experiencing the mood swings associated with menopause. The cause did not matter. What mattered was the effect on me. Mom's message to Mrs. L was simple -- get it under control.
As I ponder my life, I realize that there was never a time that I did not believe that my Mom 'had my back.' She supported me, even when I was royally screwing up on so very many levels. But it was as though she trusted my ability to recover from a bad choice more than she ever felt the need to point out the obvious when I was clearly veering off the road in a less than safe direction.

The first time this happened, I was only in third grade. Apparently, I was a very verbal child who read and spoke well from an early age. When I was in third grade, my class became involved in a massive musical theatre production with the grade fours. I was chosen (along with 2 other third graders) to play one of the leads. Now, the drama queen in me would like to believe this was because I was cute, engaging and obviously Shirley Temple's heir apparent. Realistically, I was mostly likely selected because I was already reading at a junior high school level and had a pretty good memory.
Whatever the reason, I found myself thrust into the centre of the action. All these years later, I do not remember much of the plot. I do, however, remember how it felt to perform for my classmates. We did several shows initially for the other grades. Finally, the day came to perform for the parents, who had been invited to a special performance. That was when I experienced my first case of stage fright. I was suddenly totally terrified. Of what, I am not really sure. All I knew was that I did not want to go out onto the stage.
I broke down and told Mom. Instead of giving me a lecture about 'letting down' my classmates and teachers, she backed me up. I headed off to school with a 'note' from her explaining that I was having a crisis and simply could not perform that afternoon.
Now, I do not know if she and my teachers 'talked' on the phone. But, with much encouragement and cajoling from my teachers and cast mates, I managed to overcome the stage fright and went on stage. It was probably not my best performance, but I got through it. And, of course, Mom was right there in the audience cheering me on. Like she knew I would come through but she also knew I needed to know that she supported me and trusted me to know what I wanted. That knowledge was powerful and, in reality, gave me more courage than a guilt filled pep talk would have inspired.
Looking back, I realize what Mom did to get all of us launched into the world. Her family was her focus. She believed in each of us and knew that we would do her proud. I know some days it must have been hard to believe that, but she had faith in us even when we did not.
Mother was never big on telling any of us what to do. She was a proponent of the 'logical consequences' school of parenting long before it came into vogue. It was as though she knew her children needed to experience things to learn from them. Imparting wisdom through lectures was about as effective as using a blow torch to light a candle - - a lot damage could easily be done and the original point of the exercise is lost in the ashes.
I have always said that her approach was to give us enough rope to hang ourselves and, while we were there dangling just above the ground, she would come and cut us down. Once our feet were back on solid ground, she would ask (in her unique roundabout way), "So what did you learn from that?"

Now that I am on the edge of adolescence with my own daughter, I hope I can live up to the example I had. I pray that I will be able to back my daughter and trust HER enough to let her try it her way - - but always with the rescue squad on call to pull her from the flames and give her a safe place to figure out where her plan went awry so she can start again and be stronger in the next attempt.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My McBrain almost McSploded

I have a new respect for the predominately young staff at McDonalds Restaurants that dot the landscape in virtually every place on the planet after spending 2 hours 'helping' as part of the McHappy Day fundraiser. As a Board member for the Family Centre in Lethbridge, I figured it was the least I could do to help the organization that has provided resources and funds to the many programs that the Family Centre offers. Two hours, how hard could it be?

As I arrived for my 5:00 to 7:00 shift, the supper rush was well underway. The drive through had a parade of vehicles in various stages of ordering, paying for or picking up supper. Wisely I realized that 'helping' anywhere near the drive through would not be a good idea. While I'm sure that many patrons find having the local news anchor or radio personality mess up their order, having a no-name local volunteer do the same does not have quite the same cachet when retelling the story to your cubemates at work.

Trying to figure out where I could do the least damage, I plunked down behind the front counter filling drink orders for the young gentlemen working the inside sales points. This seemed relatively straightforward, afterall I worked in the concession at the basketball games when I was in high school. There are only 4 sizes of drinks and they even have a handy gizmo that automatically fills the various sizes of cups. All I had to do was put in ice and finish them off with a lid. Then there is the coffee. . . they have a funky set up to add cream and sugar to the coffee cups. Pretty neat. I think I didn't make too many mistakes. And there was only a passing suggestion I try to use the milkshake machine. My 'coaches' could clearly tell I was just hanging on to the learning curve with two things to worry about.

What I have to say is that I am very impressed with the younger generation. The two young men handling the tills were amazing. As I watched their fingers fly over the 'touch screen' adding extra pickles and deleting cheese; assembling kids' meals with the appropriate toy; whipping up a McFlurry or two; and basically multitasking in a way that made my head spin. And they did it all with big SMILES! Who says men can do more than one thing at a time.

So over the course of my time on shift, I managed to help with a few meals. I didn't destroy any equipment and my being in close proximity to the computer system did not make it crash (trust me, this is something to worry about). At one point, I asked the manager how many people had their head explode during the first shift. He just smiled.

That was my experience with the fast food industry. To all of you who have lasted more than one shift: I salute you! To the McDonald's organization, THANK YOU for support our community. To the patient young men, I 'helped', THANK YOU for not laughing at me. And to my Mom for insisting I go to University so I could get a day job, THANK YOU. The only way you would find me working behind that counter full-time would be if I could make my own McFlurry flavour to get through the day --> Baileys! Anyone else?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Rally Troups the Boil the Vinegar

Ever since putting down the sod at my new house 2 years ago, I have been trying to get rid of several rather stubborn clumps of dandelions. With apologies to my dearest Mother (whose favourite flower was the dandelion), I sprayed the entire area with "die wee die" before I put down the sod. After the persistent Taraxacum managed to push through the thick sod and sprout lovely yellow blooms, I then pulled out the herbicide and applied it individually to them. They still came back. Then I dug and pulled and tried everything legal to get the darn things to find a new home (there is a lovely vacant lot just a short distance away). I am now convinced they have roots of steel - - or maybe that stuff they injected into Hugh Jackman in Wolverine.

Because I am attempting to become more environmentally friendly, and honestly, because the toxic chemicals seem only to make the weeds healthier, I went to the internet for ideas on how to eliminate the dandelions in my lawn in a 'safe' way.

What I was really looking for was instructions on how to build a dandelion electrocution device. Seriously, many years ago Renfrew and I had a neighbour in Edmonton who explained how his late father had used a 12 volt battery and some wires to essentially ZAP dandelions. This was as we were all out in our adjoining front yards trying to reduce the dandelion population. I almost regret not telling my ex to go grab a big battery and get to work trying to duplicate the execution system. As creative as I am searching on the 'net (I have the reputation of being able to find ANYTHING on the net for friends, family, clients, strangers. . . I was a born research geek and the internet has given my desire to just KNOW things a wonderful tool.) the closest thing I could find about zapping weeds were some very technical research papers about microwaves.

Many of the other removal techniques I ran across were ones I've tried without success. One of those was pouring boiling water on the offending weed. Maybe it was because I tried it during a late summer heatwave, it did not have the desired effect and actually increased the problem because they got water. Another method suggested pouring good old vinegar on the dandelions. A clerk at Home Depot suggested getting out the drill and drilling a hole in the centre of the plant and pouring in herbicide. Suddenly my mind did one of it's synergistic leaps --> boiling vinegar into a drilled hole! YEAH -- combine gardening with POWER TOOLS. I love power tools. . . I'm the girl who mourned the closing of Prudhomme Hardware in Edmonton -- the last of the great hardware stores.

So I am going to take my lovely red cordless kettle onto my front step and boil up the vinegar! I let you know how it turns out. . .