Monday, November 18, 2013

Like that's really 'news' . . . .

The RCMP are missing the mark in assisting members with mental health issues and PTSD in particular.  Recent news stories are being reported and someone seems to have noticed that the number of members on long-term disability due to PTSD has DOUBLED in recent years.  My only comment, as a former RCMP wife, is "Well, DUH?!?!?"

As a society we hold our first responders to a level of super-humanness that is not only unreasonable, but deadly.  When I was in my late teens and my Mom worked as a guard for the local RCMP detachment I remember talking with some of my friends about the newly-minted Mounties that got sent to our town.  My view was:  "When you take any red-blooded Canadian boy, put him in a red suit, give him a gun, a fast car and tell him he is the national image, do NOT be surprised when he gets a big ego."  Sadly, as they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

I dated a Mountie back in my old home town when I was in my early 20s.  I remember him commenting that to ask for any type of psychological help was a "career limiting move".  He and his colleagues dealt with the stress the old fashioned way -- they drank, smoked and behaved like rowdy teenagers when off duty.

When Renfrew decided he wanted to be a cop in the early days of our marriage, I said "Anything but RCMP."  He capitulated.  After many different roads, they all lead to red serge.  I sighed and capitulated.

For those not in Canada, the RCMP train in one location and one location only:  Regina, Saskatchewan.  The training course, when Renfrew did it was 22 weeks.  It is now 24.  That is a LONG time to separate a family.  Especially a young family.  Pumpkin turned 3 while her daddy was away.  She went from a 'baby' to a 'big girl' in many, many ways.  He missed it.  Before he left for training, she was definitely 'Daddy's Girl' and the two of them went on adventures on his days off [he was working shift work as a corrections officer and had random days off].  When he got back, things were different.

So, first your spouse is gone for half a year and THEN you find out where you are moving.  No matter how much you prepare yourself for move, it is still world rocking.  For most of the graduates the move was away from where they had lived although a few of Renfrew's classmates went 'home'.  So, a month before he graduated we found out that we would be moving . . . 4 1/2 hours North of where we lived.  At this point, I was still a lawyer.  So, in 30 days I wound down my practice, sold our house, bought a house in the new location (aka the "Middle of Nowhere"), and dealt with a 3 year old whose biggest concern was how she would get to play with her best friend who lived across the street.

This reality for RCMP recruit families, I am sad to say, is typical.  The RCMP is a dictatorship -- it did not matter that I had a career I had been building for 10 years.  It did not matter that our child had friends and connections.  Nope.  Sign on the dotted line and you go where they tell you.  I cannot even imagine how it would have been with a teenager or even an older child who could comprehend how far we were going.

When the 'usual' events in the lives of new RCMP recruits and their families are added up using the Stress Life Event Scale created in 1967 by Holmes and Rahe it looks something like this:  marital separation (the chart does not specify the reason) 65; change in financial state (5 months with reduced family income) 38; change to a different line of work 36; mortgage or loan for a major purpose 31; change in responsibilities at work 29; spouse begins or ends work 26; begin or end school 26; change in work hours 20; change in residence 20; change in sleep habits (welcome to shift work) 16.  This totals 307 -- 80% chance of stress related illness.  Add to that the reality of work as a police officer -- situations that would make the normal person fall apart are just the everyday reality, it is actually amazing that more officers are not on stress leave.

As noted above, the 'Force' has had its collective head in the sand for a very, very long time.  It is not going to change over night or probably even 'over a couple of decades.'  The Members with PTSD are the canaries in the coal mine.  I hope that they are being not only heard, but helped.

Since I do not believe in pointing fingers without offering suggestions for change I would suggest at a minimum level of psychological and psycho-social assistant for RCMP officers rather than "[t]he clinical psychologist works with cadets who consult on a voluntary basis," as described in the Family Information Guide.  Psychological health should be considered every bit as important as physical health, with regular check ups during training.

After graduation, psychological services should be provided to Members on a non-voluntary basis for the first few years.  If the Member is married, then marital counseling should also be non-optional.  Why?  Simple --> if everyone participates then stigma is reduced because it is normalized.  Further, issues can be discovered and dealt with before they reach the boiling point.  Resilience can be built both in the individual Member and the family.  

Having watched not only my marriage, but the marriages of other new RCMP members, slowly break apart, I believe that had a regular psychological check been in place things may have turned out differently.  After our split I did my work and faced my monsters under the bed.  Renfrew did as well.  We have both grown to a point of forgiveness and peace.  But the pain it took before the work began was heart shaking.

The current reality is that the psychologists who do end up involved with RCMP officers and their families are most often like firefighters arriving at a burned-out house.  Their only job is to clean up the mess and put the hot spots out. 

So, I say Bravo to the RCMP Brass for acknowledging the problem.  What they do about it will be the real test.  The lives of our first responders are on the line. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Dishonourably Discontinued - or I sure hope they are cancelling all the sports' programs too

When I was a kid I wasn't good at sports.  I wasn't popular.  I didn't sing, dance or act (which in a predominately Mormon town is quite a handicap).

But there was ONE THING that I was good at.  I was smart.  I read before I started school. By the middle of grade 6 I had charged through and completed all the pre-packaged curriculum units  in English that were favoured in the mid-seventies to allow kids to 'work at their own pace'. The program still exists and, yes, I remembered correctly.  I finished the 'Year 9' programming when I was 11.  Our grade of about 120 students was divided for 'core' classes by the level at which students were learning.  Those of us who were quick studies were grouped with like students.  Those students who needed more help and different learning strategies were kept together.

Somewhere in the 1980s or 1990s (not having a school-aged child until the 2000s I didn't really pay that much attention to educational philosophy changes) the grouping of classes based on learning level and style fell from grace.  Students of all abilities were grouped together in classes, often large classes.  For the most part, the quick learners whose learning style lined up with the way things were taught generally still excelled.  Kids who learned differently, who needed extra help, well they often had trouble.  This was the era of 'social passes', when some children were moved from grade to grade without having learned even the basic skills.

By the time my girl-child started school, most elementary schools were hesitant to give children actual 'grades', instead opting to use measures of progress that simply said "meets expectations" or "participates in class".   When she started junior high actual percentage and letter grade marks were finally part of the report card experience.  Now that she is in high school and getting prepared to apply for University, grades are somewhat more important.

One of the "perks" of getting higher than average marks has always been a place on the school's "Honour Role".  Most schools have some type of assembly and/or certificate to recognize those students who have put time and effort into their studies and excelled as a result.  The Pumpkin has been on the Honour Role pretty much every year and she is proud of her work and so are her parents.

Well, it now seems that some educational gurus are challenging the use of singling out those students with high marks for special recognition.  Recently I saw that a Calgary School was talking about getting rid of the honour role system "so as not to hurt the feelings of those who don’t make the cut".   What the Heck?  Seriously.  What about the self-esteem of those students for whom academic excellence is their only claim to fame?  The recognition I got for high marks was the only thing that got me through much of my adolescence.  It told me I had something special about me.  The way that shooting baskets and acting in the community theatre told other of my classmates that they had a special talent.  Unless schools are also going to get rid of all sports' teams, so as not to hurt the feelings of the kid who doesn't make the cut. AND get rid of any type of drama or musical programs, so as not to hurt the feelings of the kid who doesn't make the cut.  AND get rid of student council, so as not to hurt the feelings of the kid who doesn't make the cut.   Why don't we accept that everyone has different gifts and talents.  Celebrate the diversity and find the 'thing' that each child does best.  This would lead to success for that child in other areas.     

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Paying it Forward

First, let me apologise for abandoning the Blogging A to Z Challenge . . . I learned an important lesson:  Starting a new job is kind of a time-suck for anything else you think you may have to do in your life.  Yup, I started a new job half way through April and the rest as they say, is not history . . . .That new job, however, has taken me back to working in an area that means a great deal to me . . . an area that I would call my dharma.

Everyone has a 'calling'.  For some that calling whispers in the quiet of the night and they spend their waking hours trying to remember the sound and shape of the words.  Some people just know their calling from infancy and move toward it without many sidelines or detours.  Sadly, some people spend their entire lives not just unaware of their personal calling, but also oblivious that such things exist.

In the past several years, my calling has become clear to me.  I seem to have a gift as somewhat of a life change mentor.  Given that my initial career choice was divorce lawyer, this does not seem much of a stretch.  Getting divorced rates right up there on the life change scale. 

I always gravitated toward clients who were stuck in the mire that is left in the wake of disintegrating relationship.  The sludge that pulls even the most gentle souls into the abyss of anger and self-loathing over what was both done and left undone.  I listened patiently to tales of spousal betrayal and broken promises.  Witnessing their stories often gave them the opportunity for closure and healing.  Just as often it inspired a higher level of hatred and anger.  I learned to focus on the factual bits.  The details that were uncontroverted and unarguable.  Things like the date of marriage and the kids names and birthdates.  I changed my process to require new clients to write out their story for me.  This gave them the opportunity to vent their spleen and sprew the nasties on paper, where I could read through and pull out the germaine information that I needed to properly frame and present their claim.  But there was always something missing, something wrong with the system I was working within.

For example, I was somewhat limited in my ability to tell my client he/she was being a completely unreasonable idiot.  Which I never really knew, in any event, because I had only one side of the story.  And a very, very, very biased one side at that.  Sure, I would get the other party's version of events in the battle of the affidavits and letters from opposing counsel. 

As I edged toward burn out, I found myself exhausted from suffering fools.  Not just my clients, but the other lawyers and often even the judges who were charged with figuring out a solution to the client-created messes.  Most days I just wanted to sit and cry.  Tears for the clients and their former partners, but mostly tears for the children caught in the tangled webs of lies, anger, sorrow and mistrust that had been nurtured, fertilized and grown by their parents.  It was a relief when we left the Back of Beyond and I was able to take some time off.

The time off did not renew my desire to continue my former profession, much to Renfrew's chagrin.  He was quite taken with being the professional's husband. . . although I'm not sure why.  Once I realized that the law bus had left the station and I was happy just waving as it pulled passed, I began to look for other career options. 

For 3 years I had my 'dream job'.  I worked within the court system helping family law clients work out child support and helping self-represented family law litigants in the superior court with procedure and the organization of their materials.  I did not take sides and gave information freely to those who asked, including providing computer calculations for child support situations.  I explained forms and documentary requirements and tried to demystify court room protocol and process.  For the average person, speaking in court is not unlike confronting the Great Oz.  Terrifying.  By explaining the process and acting as cheerleader, I like to think I helped individuals present their cases in calm and clear fashion.

But in reality, I was only play-acting at understanding my clients until my own marriage dissolved near the end of my first year in this position.  Seriously, I try to empathize with the broken hearts and the feelings of anger and abandonment, but it was nothing I had ever experienced. 

Suddenly the affidavits of those both applying for and defending against protection orders seemed less crazy.  Now, don't get me wrong there was NEVER a hint of seriously angry words, much less actions, in my marriage or during its demise.  We were always civil, if not particularly kind.  However, I can admit that there were moments when I had Carrie Underwood thoughts of baseball bats and Renfrew's Mustang.  The only difference between me and my clients was:  I would never have acted on those thoughts.  Not in my DNA to act out violently.  And whether that disinclination was from some hardwired, genetic trait or just how my Mom raised me, I don't know.  But I'm glad for it.

Anyway, it wasn't until my own personal sh*t storm struck that I truly understood how bereft a person can become when those things that were TRUE no longer are.  How having the floor drop out from under your feet can send you on a spiral of pain and bad choices.  There was a part of me (probably the same baseball bat referenced part noted above) that wanted to become a screaming crazed scorned ex-wife complete with wild eyes and frothing mouth.  You know what I mean.  But I didn't.  It would have hurt not just Renfrew but also the Pumpkin. 

Strangely one of the things that I believe not only got me through those first several months, but ultimately allowed me to find a path to healing, was helping my clients.  I truly got on a deep level that helping others, helps us.  As I made suggestions to them on constructive, positive ways to try to deal with their situations, I took the advice myself.  I could see a little part of me in almost every situation.

In counseling my clients to remember the good things that attracted them to their former partners, I remembered the good in Renfrew.  I bent over backwards trying to involve Renfrew (who had his own way of dealing with the separation) in the Pumpkin's life. 

As time passed, I felt growth in parts of my character and soul that I didn't realize could grow.  Everytime I gave Renfrew the benefit of the doubt, I was equal parts irritated and genuinely forgiving.  Everything I saw my kid hug us both with abandon and talk about her dad with the adoration a 9 year old has for the man who is EVERYTHING to her, my heart grew.  I knew that my hurt and anger had NOTHING to do with her feelings for her dad and she needed those feelings to be strong.  He was the man who would teach her what a man is supposed to be.

Since my dream job ended I haven't had much chance to encounter people in that life change blender that is divorce.  Several of my old friends have sought me out and I like to think I talked them off the ledge and gave them some different ideas about how to look at their situation.

So how does this relate to my job change?  I am now working in a family law office . . . not as a lawyer, that is no longer something I have the desire to do . . . I am the assistant who deals with the clients.  My concern is helping my boss get the information she needs from the clients.  If I help some of those clients see their situation as a growth opportunity, that is even better.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"L" is for "Love Truly"

According to A Course in Miracles, Love is the CONTENT of all relationships.  The form may change, but the content does not.

Love isn't about romance . . . or sex . . . or possession.  LOVE is about wanting for others what you want for yourself . . . PEACE.

I not-so-jokingly say that getting divorced was the best thing Renfrew and I did for our relationship.  It is true.  While we 'loved' each other, the form and function of marriage had stopped working for us.  I had turned into a nagging shrew and he had closed himself off into a passive aggressive non-participant.  At some point in the process of divorce, I stopped wanting to control the outcome and sincerely prayed for both of us to be HEALED of our pain.  It worked (at least it did as far as I am concerned).  I began to look at Renfrew with softer eyes and saw the pain we were causing each other.  I finally let go  . . . .

It is trusting that a step taken with LOVE will get you where you need to be, even though that may not be where you think you want to be.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

"K" is for "Keep Confidences"

Secrets come in many forms . . . some secrets  - - - like your friend confessing her first kiss or the plans for your nephew's surprise party are serious business.  Little drops of trust that build an ocean that is a relationship.

Other secrets, like a co-workers negotiations with a potential new employer or your bosses plans to retire, are important because someday you may need the favour returned.

I come from a family where "secrets" are few and far between.  We all pretty much lay everything out on the table and deal with it.  It works for us.

My main thought to guide what secrets are meant to be kept is simple:  Does keeping this secret put anyone in harm's way?  Telling about harmful behaviour -- either harm of another or self harm is necessary.  It can save a life.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"J" is for "Jettison Anger"

Just to clue everyone in on where I am getting my alphabet from . . . it is from the plaque that hangs in my entryway.

So today is the day to jettison anger . . . .

One thing I have learned about anger is that most of the time the person who are angry with DOESN'T CARE.  Anger is a *reaction* that is chosen.  It leads to fuming and rehashing of whatever trigger of the anger was.

The question to ask when anger strikes is not "how can I make the person who 'made' me angry change".  The question to ask is what is this feeling here to show me about MYSELF.

Just ask that question . . . then listen for the answer.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"I" is for "Imagine More"

As a girl whose primary sense is her imagination this is easy for me.

Imagination is the key to empathy and understanding those around us.

Imagination is free entertainment.

Imagination, as Einstein said, is more important than knowledge.

Yes. . . . Imagine . . . Dream . . . and then find a way to reach those dreams...

Monday, April 8, 2013

"H" is for "Hurt No One"

I have always been a pacifist . . . even before I knew what the word meant.  I am a pacifist to the point that I cannot even play laser tag - - my girlchild loves laser tag.  She and her other parental units have spent many happy hours shooting at each other and the other players.  I tried.  I honestly tried.  I just  It surprised even me.  Even pretending to hurt another person is contrary to my nature.

When Renfrew and I separated one of the revelations for me was that my WORDS hurt him.  I did not realize what I was saying hurt.  The statements, as I recall, were innocuous.  But it was what HE heard in those statements that hurt him.  It has taken a lot of self reflection, but I can see how he 'heard' what I was saying.  It makes me more careful with not just what I say, but how I say it.  We hurt each other . . . as couples who lose their way will do.  Part of my promise to myself was to make our divorce a peaceful place.  I hope I am able to succeed.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

"G" is for "Give Freely"

I have found that just focusing on being grateful makes me more giving.  Finding small things to be thankful for creates a mindset of abundance.  Where there is abundance, giving is not just easy but natural.  Here is an  example of how my perspective has shifted.

When I was younger, like many 'kids' Christmas was about what I got . . . sometime, not that many years ago something rather strange happened.  I got 'full' of stuff. . . I stopped really caring about what I got (although on the rare occasion someone truly *got* me and found something -- often a small thing -- that really spoke to me, well those times are really gold.)  Anyway, my greatest joy during the holiday season is giving to others - - the family our office 'adopts', the annual toy drive and, more personally, our family tradition of baking goodies and delivering them to neighbours' doorsteps on Christmas Eve.  Yes, that is what the season is for me.

So, I say GIVE in unexpected ways . . . and more than giving THINGS, give smiles, kindness and prayers for everyone who crosses your path.  They are there for a reason.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

"F" is for "Forgive"

I have talked about A Course in Miracles on my blog . . . I credit that program with being a large part of the incredible healing I experienced when my life fell apart.  When Renfrew looked at me and told me he wanted out of our marriage (a marriage we had both sworn would be FOREVER), I was hurt but above all I was ANGRY.  I herded us into almost 2 years of therapy and counseling.  I did everything humanly imaginable to try to *fix* it.  Yeah . . . right . . . what I should have done was work on healing myself.

Anyway, the biggest thing I finally GOT from my study of ACIM was the absolute requirement for forgiveness as the only real path to inner peace and happiness.  The Course is a series of 365 self-study lessons that help retrain the mind away from fear and toward love.  It isn't a religion -- people who study it come from every religion and no religion.  It costs NOTHING to study -- it is available free on-line here.

I will not say that forgiveness came easily.  I felt betrayed and angry.  The man who had repeatedly told me that NOTHING would change his love for me had pulled the escape hatch.  Slowly . . . and I mean SLOWLY. . . over the next several years I asked God/the Universe to bless Renfrew and give him happiness.  I asked that the WILL of the Universe be shown to me.  And it was . . . one day I woke up . . . I woke up and realized that the end of our marriage wasn't about ME.  It was about both of us growing.

People who know me have heard me say that the divorce was the best thing that happened for our relationship.  Our marriage had changed from one where we put each other first to one where we had both lost sight of ourselves to the point where we didn't even see each other.

Forgiveness has freed me from the anger and pain.  Try it . . . all you need is to be willing to forgive. .. turn it over to whatever higher power you believe in and let him/her/it take it from there.  Here is a link to one of lessons on forgiveness offered by ACIM. . .    Lesson 46.

Friday, April 5, 2013

"E" is for "Express Thanks"

There is a different between muttering a reflexive "thanks" and really focusing on making a connection with whomever you want to know you appreciate.  Part of my life 'shake down' helped me truly remember my Mother's teaching by example that we are all human beings and deserving of being seen as such.  I have also found that this is one area where the concept of Karma can be seen in action. 
Try this experiment:  Tomorrow when you get your morning coffee from the barrista look at him/her.
See the PERSON not the job and share a smile and THANK YOU. 
Even if the service sucks and your coffee takes an extra 20 seconds, do it. 
Actually do it ESPECIALLY if the service sucks and your coffee is slow in coming. 
Imagine that the young woman who is foaming your latte has just learned her beloved pet has terminal cancer, but came to work anyway because she has to pay her rent and the vet bills. 
Imagine the middle aged man (who you suspect is the owner of the franchise but who still makes the coffee) is stressed because two of his employees have strep throat. 
Give the person MOST in need, a smile and a sincere nod of gratitude. 
You will improve that person's day . . . and I guarantee, you will improve your day as well.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"D" is for "Dreams"

One of the keynote songs of my youth is "Dreams".  The older I get, the more I am amazed at how Stevie Nicks managed to describe the 'chase' for 'happy' that plagues most relationships - - people become so focused on what they do NOT have, they forget what is there and real.  The observation that:

But listen carefully to the sound
Of your loneliness
Like a heartbeat, drives you mad
In the stillness of remembering what you had
And what you lost
And what you had
And what you lost

Our dreams . . . they are lost and found . . . the lesson is to appreciate each moment . . . for it will someday be a dream that seems to have disappeared in the mist of the past. . .

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"C" is for "Count your Blessings"

Seriously, this blog isn't long enough for this . . .let's see . . . Max, Scully (my dogs) . . . Charlie, Reese (the boyfriend's dogs who are currently hanging at my house), Midnight, Mumble (my household felines), Shadow (boyfriend's cat, not visiting - - the zoo only travels so much) . . . my new job. . . my old job. . . all the jobs I've ever had.  . . . my ex-husband and his wife . . . our KID (she really tops the list) . . . my Mom (she still guides my steps everyday) . . . my wacky wonderful family (including, but not limited to, my 4 sisters and 1 brother, all the 'in-law' siblings, my nieces and nephews, my great nieces and nephews, my great-great nephews --no nieces yet) . . . my friends (best GIRLFRIENDS EVER) . . . these are all obvious.

But I'm also thankful for every loss I've ever had.  They gave me perspective to not sweat the small stuff and to appreciate the GOOD.

I'm thankful for every time my heart was broken.  It healed stronger and fuller.

I'm thankful for having a 'challenging' childhood and youth . . . gave me much grist for the writing mill.

I'm thankful for every single person who reads anything I write.

Yes . . . I have concluded life is ONLY blessings . . . it is just some of them come disguised as tragedies.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"B" is for "Be Kind"

In A Course in Miracles it is said that to find inner peace we are to tell our brother he is right, even when he is wrong.  This, to me, is the definition of choosing to be kind over right.  I spent the first 45 years of my life "right" fighting . . . I wanted to RIGHT, Damn it.  At the end of the day, being right did not 'work' in a real sense.  Sure, I won arguments, but I lost relationships.  When my life (as I knew it) ended, I realized that being right was wrong.  I learned to accept that my 'right' wasn't everyone else's.

Now, I will always choose to be KIND.  Give a little. . . give a lot. . . be gentle with all those you encounter. See how your life changes.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A is for "Accept Differences"

Okay, because I tend to follow good suggestions and I found a blogging challenge on Slappy in the Face's blog, I joined up to  . . . . my family can hear me screaming:  "Me too!  Me too!".  So I have signed up to do the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.  Rather than depend on my slightly busy and addled brain to come up with something for each letter, I am borrowing the alphabet from the lovely plaque I purchased shortly after the end of my marriage and which has hung in my living room since.

So, today is "Accept Differences" . . .

My girlchild has observed that "there are so many different people . . . everywhere. . . wow. . . they are sooo incredibly beautiful."  Yeah, she's smart that way.  She and her friends are amazing . . . they are creative, funny and willing to be themselves.

It gives me faith in the future and hope for the next generation when I see these young people.  They are funny, charming and as different as snowflakes.

I think that Christian traditions talk about and 'a child shall lead them'.  To that I (who professes no religious affiliation, but who is firmly embraced by the Spirit that is the Universe) say:  Let's follow these children.  Love unconditionally.  Judge no one's choices.  Be PRESENT.  Show up for life and LIVE IT.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I guess I am a quilt snob . . . or maybe just a purist.

I was raised by a family of women who quilted.  It was how we celebrated - - new babies, new marriages, new beginnings.  When I was no older than about 6 or 7, I remember sitting on a step stool at an orange patterned quilt that was for my older sister and proudly adding my own stitches to the pattern.  Funny I didn't notice that the next day they looked much smaller and neater than when I first did them.  (Apparently, either my Mom or Grandma had redone them after I was safely tucked into bed.)

Over the years, my technique improved.  We did a lot of quilts.  Every new baby received a baby quilt . . . most quilted on a fabric we call tricot, which was a slick and finely knitted polyester of some sort popular in the 1970s.  These quilts did not involve patchwork, but instead had large designs of animals or flowers drawn on them, generally with fabric paint -- oh yes,  Artex Paints .  We quilted deer, bunnies, baby chicks, lambs . . . in fact, the Pumpkin's 'lovey' is the same lamb pattern that we used back then. 

At some point, my mom became enamoured with patchwork.  Not just any patchwork, but patchwork made from polyester double knit.  She made quilts for each of her grandchildren, mostly in the log cabin pattern.  She made me one of bright yellow and purple . . . my favourite colour combination when I was a teen.  Some she tied with contrasting wool and some she quilted in a crows' feet stitch

Handmade quilts were part of my life since forever.  They were pretty much all I had ever known.  My paternal grandmother made a raft of 'crazy quilts' and I recall using them to pitch tents along the picket fence that surrounded our house. 

I knew that other types of quilts and blankets existed.  One of my friends had Ibex blanket sheets on her bed.  These were thick, heavy warm sheets.  Other friends had what were called thermal blankets which had a strange waffle like weave.  But to me, none of these were what belonged on a bed.  Perhaps the only exception in my family was the use of chenille bedspreads over quilts.

It has been many years since I quilted beside my Mom.  The very last quilt she made before her hands became too sore and her eyesight too dim is one for my daughter. 

My sister PA and I carry on the quilting tradition.  She makes quilts for babies and new couples.  The Pumpkin's 'lambie' blanket was made by PA and is what my baby arrived home from the hospital wrapped in.  I am not quite as prolific as my sister, but I have made many quilts for myself and for friends over the years.  Baby quilts are made using the same wooden 'frames' that were used by my grandmother and perhaps by her mother before her.  They are plain 1x2x4s that are some wood that is both strong enough not to sag under the weight of the quilt and soft enough to easily thumbtack the quilt in place.  For larger quilts, I have several times purchased pine 1x3x8s, but they always end up getting cut up for projects after the quilt is finished.  Eight food lengths of wood are not easily stored.

My sister uses frames made from PVC pipe that look like this:

I had a set many years ago, but I do not recall what happened to them.  Undoubtedly they were lost or given away during one of my many moves. 

Since I am planning to make some larger-than-baby-size quilts, I went in search of a set of these frames.  Now, keep in mind I live in a large city in Canada, where generally there are several suppliers of any item you could imagine needing.  I had priced them out at the chain fabric store, but thought that I might find them at a better price at one of the boutique quilt stores (where amazingly most quilt-related items are priced lower than at the chain).  A couple of weeks ago I went in and as I wandered the aisles looking for where quilt frames were kept, I became slightly confused.  Upon reaching the back of the store and not seeing anything resembling quilting frames of any kind, I trundled back to the front to do another search.  Finally I asked one of the clerks where they kept the 'quilt frames'.

She took me over to look at something like this:

I said, "No, I want QUILTING frames.  You know for actually 'quilting'?"  I mimed the action of quilting up and down by hand.

She called to one of the more senior clerks who advised:  "Oh, we don't carry those."

I'm sure the look on my face was something to behold.  I crinkled my forehead and said:  "But I thought you were a QUILTING store?"

When she pointed back to the machine set up, I said, "I'm sorry but that is SEWING.  Sewing is done with machines.  Quilting is done by hand."  I left the store shaking my head. 

So I have accepted I am a quilt snob.  If it is done by machine, it is sewing.  I confess I did ONCE sew a small quilt on my machine. . .it was a handprint patchwork for my daughter's preschool class to raffle for a fundraiser -- I was sure I could feel my grandmother standing behind me shaking her head the entire time. 

When I conferred with my sister, she too said she had tried to make a quilt using a machine for the stitching.  But she JUST.COULDN'T.DO.IT.  We agreed that it just was wrong - - for us.  And that quilting by definition means using our hands.  It is putting something of US into the project.  Time.  Energy.  Blood. Not to mention the heritage of women sitting around a quilt in communal work.  Machine sewing is just so. . . so . . . individual.  And, even when I work alone on a quilt, I feel the presence of not only my mother but my aunts, my grandmothers and many generations before.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Maximum Fun

I am a dog person . . . and to a somewhat lesser extent a cat person.  In addition to the two bipeds who currently live at my house, we have a total of four quadrapeds -- two canine and two feline.  At one point we also had two snake-type (i.e. no-peds) but they both slithered off to the Rainbow Bridge.  This post is about the most junior member of the household.

Max turned five in November and he is very much like most 5 year old boy creatures.  He enjoys junk food (whenever he can lay his paws on it), sleeping in on the weekends, harassing his sisters (mostly the feline one, who I will admit seems to egg him on) and he will cuddle up if he thinks there is something in it for him.  He is cute and he knows how to use it to his advantage.

Now, Max came to our family when he was already almost two years old.  My cousin had rescued him from an owner who was unhappy that he was not a the 5-pound 'Yorkie' she believed she had bought.  She was planning to have him 'put down'.  There is a very special place in Hell for someone who would consider doing that.  Seriously, I do not care what his "papers" (not CKC variety) say, he is NOT a Yorkie.  He weighs a healthy 15 pounds and no matter how long we go between trips to the puppy parlour, his hair never gets long and silky.  He has a double-coat with a water-proof outer layer, like a Cairn or Westie.  My personal opinion (and that of my vet and her techs) is that he is an Australian Terrier -- pretty much breed standard in fact. 

Max was rehomed with me when my dear cousin's first grandbaby was born and she found her house overfull with 2 teens, a baby and 3 dogs.  Max fit into our household quite well, making friends with the senior canine (Scully, who was 13 at the time) and working out the pecking order with the two kitties. 

The first hint of Max's issues began when one of the Pumpkin's friends came for a sleepover. S is yet another of the Pumpkin's beautiful and creative friends.  The fact she arrived at our house wearing kitten ears and a tail (and no, it wasn't Hallowe'en) tells much.  However, for a girl who lives in a house of critters (dogs, cats and the occasional bird or other beastie she rescues when it is in need of TLC), she did not react well to Max's barking at the door.  For the record, the best way to 'react' when a dog barks and jumps at the front door (especially one where the owner is standing next to it and is clearly trying to work with it) is to stand still and let the dog be 'introduced' to you.  S, did not do this.  She RAN, which to Max meant "chase me and bring me down".  He nipped her ankle.  No skin was broken or blood drawn, thankfully. 

The next 'incident' was when we were walking around the local lake in our old neighbourhood.  Scully has always been good at meeting the proverbial 'puppies in your neighbourhood'.  Max, not so much.  He would bark and lunge.  One evening on our after supper walk, we met up with an adorable Golden Retriever Pup.  At first, I thought Max was just being 'dog' and greeting the baby (who was Max's size already).  The baby 'nipped' at Max (as babies are prone to do) and Max nipped back.  I was mortified.  The poor little pup's nose was scratched.  I apologized and got the owner's phone number.  When I called her back after we had gotten home, she said the pup was fine.   I suggested a rematch in about 8 months when said puppy would be 4 or 5 times Max's size.

Flash forward to last year after we had moved to Calgary.  Puppy walks through the neighbourhood were getting painful . . . with Max essentially 'going off' everytime he saw any other creature in the vicinity.  It did not matter if it was a squirrel, a bunny, another dog or one of the free-range neighbourhood cats.  He was also getting worse, not better at the door.  Finally, in an act of desperation we signed up for a class called "Goodbye Growl" and spent 10 weeks working on Max being able to be in the same space with another on-leash dog.  OY.  He wasn't the worst in the class, but he wasn't the star either.  I resigned myself to trying to work with him (reward him for staying calm when we would see other creatures on our walks) and accepting that this was just how his temperament was.

Recently I started dating a fellow who also has critters.  He has two adorable Bichon/Cocker Spaniel crosses who love, love, love the off leash parks that dot our city.  A couple of weeks ago we decided it was time to introduce the dogs.  I brought Max (Scully is getting too old for long walks, especially on chilly days) to the off leash park with the understanding that it might be a very, very, very short stay.  I pretty much figured Max would go completely psycho, I would scoop him up and toss him back in the car and that would be that.

Guess I underestimated the little dude.  Once off leash he was in his element.  He frolicked, he played, he made friends -- not just with my friend's dogs but with any number of assorted canines.  I spent most of the time we were there shaking my head in wonder and amazement. 

Max is a completely different critter when he can run free . . . He is happier when he gets some quality play time and I am a happier owner.

Now, if he could just stop wanting to kill visitors.....

Saturday, February 23, 2013


I want to freeze this moment.  This moment with my child as I watch her step from childhood into the young woman who is already taking shape and forming inside her skin.  In 15 years she has gone from a tiny creature who would curl up on my chest and make 'girlie noises' to one who stands eye to eye with me and borrows my shoes. 

At 15 she is
curious about so much
and willing to look for her own
answers and not
simply accept.
She is a creative force
even when it seems she is
staring inertly at the screen of her laptop.
She sees the World as
a kaleoscope of beauty and
every person in it as a sparkling light . . .
our differences make us
spectacular - - she just KNOWS this.
My child
My Wonder - Full
partner in glee
My answer to a Prayer and a Wish.
Know Always you are

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Half empty, Half full

One of the 'big' issues that Renfrew had when he called 'time out' on our marriage was that I was always 'negative'.   At the time, I couldn't see it.  Now, I realize that I was spending an inordinate amount of time focusing on the empty part of the glass.  There was a dark cloud following me, sort of like Schleprock in the old Pebbles and BamBam cartoon.

But, in fairness, we both were.  It is an unavoidable trend for a person who is unhappy...even if they, themselves, can't see the unhappiness.  It leaks out.  Like when you try to pour 8.2 ounces into an 8 ounce travel mug.  Not a lot leaks out, but what does escape stains your clothes and often burns your hand.  Unhappiness colours everything in your world to the point you don't even notice the grey filter over your lens.

When "the worst thing that could happen", happened; followed by the "even worse thing that could happen" within hours, I got a wake up call from the Universe.  Did my negativity attract the bad stuff?  I doubt it.  Bad stuff happens in everyone's life.  Mine just decided to all happen in the space of 48 hours. 

In my journey to where I am now, I made a conscious decision to look for the positive.  And believe me, there were many days there was not a lot of it around.  At the start I spent most of my time accepting condolences on the double whammy life had handed me.  After a while I realized I had to reframe those events or they were going to pull me irretrievably into the Pit of Despair.

The easiest reframing was dealing with Mom's death. 

Don't get me wrong, I miss her ever minute and wish I could not just ask her what she thinks about the things going on in my life -- work, parenting, romance -- BUT ALSO hear the answer clearly. 

But Mom and I had talked about death.  Not hers specifically, but that is what we were really talking about.  She spoke to me of friends who were taken to the hospital and who had lain, somewhere between alive and dead for weeks, months and some even years.   She talked about, Glenn, a distant cousin of ours who was a fixture at our house when I was growing up, hiding out from his religious sister, drinking coffee and playing cards.  Glenn slid into dementia before he died and spent a period of time in the local nursing home before being released to the next life.  To Mom both of those fates were much worse than death.  Mom did not want to linger.

She also did not want to move into a 'care home'.  My sister and I had broached the subject of maybe moving into a seniors' apartment complex the summer before.  Suggesting perhaps Mom would be more comfortable in a place where she would have people around to socialize with and where the day-to-day chores would be taken care of by someone else.  She was pretty adamant:  "My next move will be out West on the hill next to your Father." 

Yup, that pretty much said it.  After decades of caring for others, she was totally happy in the small, but comfortable ground floor apartment where she lived for the last 14 or so years before she died. She did not want to end her days dependent.

When she died . . . at 85 after a year of less than quality life caused by a bout of shingles that had started almost a year earlier . . . I knew she was at peace.  She had the good death she had wanted. 

The end of my marriage. 

Well it was harder to find the silverlining in that event.  I still loved my husband.  Part of me wanted to believe he was just 'going through a phase' and that he would end up back on my doorstep asking to put things back together.  Let's just say I wasn't ready to process that particular loss yet . . . it took another year, at least, before I not only accepted that the marriage was over BUT also that it had not been as blissful as I had wanted to believe.  At least in the last few years. 

Once I made that paradigm shift, I realized that while Renfrew and I had continued to inspire growth in each other (for me helping the other person grow is a big part of what defines a marriage), the ONLY type of growth we had been encouraging was negative.  Instead of bringing out the best in each other, as well we did for many years; we now brought out the worst.  Renfrew's growth is his to tell.  My growth was in the areas of sharpening a nasty tongue, prolonged pouting, sarcastic comments, ice freezing glares and generally bitchiness.  I now acknowlege that for about the last year or so, I wouldn't have wanted to live with me. 

Now I realize the real death knell to our marriage was simple:  We stopped being KIND to each other.

I can also now frame the loss by what I have gained. 

We get along . . more than just being civil to each other . . . we are able to participate in things together and to be a part of our child's life.  She sees us laugh together and cooperate.

The end of our marriage did not negate the good years we shared or the love.  Love (as I've said before) is the true content of ALL relationships.  The form of our relationship as 'marriage' was no longer working for either of us.  The form of our relationship as dear friends who share a history and a child is what IS now.  It is still one of love.

From the end of our marriage, I learned I could forgive and make peace.  I cannot emphasize what a true GIFT this is.

The end of our marriage brought a new friend into my life in the form of Renfrew's new wife.  Some people marvel that I like her.  Well, why on earth wouldn't I?  Renfrew is still basically the same person he was when we chose each other.  Stands to reason that he would chose someone similar to me.  And that she is.  He always had phenomenal taste in women.  In fact, there are times I think Renfrew gets a bit nervous when the Pumpkin, she and I are plotting together.

The end of our marriage has brought other people into my life.  A new career and new co-workers.  A move and new neighbours.  And last but not least a new man who is becoming part of my life.

Yes, my glass is more than half full these days.  It runneth over.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Men. Porn. Why.

This was the question posed on a blog site (The Dooce) that I frequent.  One of the members was wanting to know why men watch porn.  Is her partner comparing her to the artificially enhanced, waxed and tanned female bodies that populate that medium?

Now, first, as everyone knows I am a card carrying feminist and have been since I first read the word in Ms. Magazine when I was 11.  I believe that the genders should have equal opportunity to experience the world and make choices within it. 

Regardless of equality of opportunity, there are some things about men and women that are hard-wired.  By virtue of the design of the human body and brain, there are differences that just are.  Kind of like the reality that men do not give birth. 

Another difference between the male and female brain has to do with how they process visual stimuli.  Yup, there it is guys brains respond to visual stimuli faster and in a different way than women's brains.

I am not saying that cultural factors are not also at play here.  Boys stealing their dad's Playboy magazines is a tradition as old as . . . well as old as Playboy itself.

But while boys were stealing dad's magazines, girls were helping themselves to their mothers' copies of Valley of the Dolls, Fanny Hill and the Story of "O". 

The biological drive for sexual expression is hardwired into both genders.  It is the reason our species continues.  Go back far enough in history and I strongly suspect that women were just as likely as men to stray from (or replace) a partner.  Genetically it makes sense to have different fathers just in case one has a genetic defect. 

Now that monogamy is the norm (more or less), fantasy takes the place of changing partners.  Male fantasies are more visual and less textually complex than those of women.  Women's fantasies . . . well, we like a back story, a plot.  If you think I've got it wrong, I can only give you one last thing to consider:  Fifty Shade of Grey.  I rest my case.