Saturday, 4 February 2023

Art of '23

This is the third time that each person in our family has created an original painting around the time of the New Year. I think I truly can call it a tradition now because it was AJ who reminded me this year.

Left: AJ, Right: Dani, Centre: Mr. Turtle

The girls, of course, create art constantly: any time is the best time. It is as natural as breathing to them. Mr. Turtle and I need to be more deliberate about it.

Previous years: 2021, 2022

I was the last to participate. The idea that came to me was to do something organic, abstract and inspired by ancient cultures. Sometime completely different from last year's attempted realism and symbolism.

I started by collecting a few images, specifically from Neolithic Ireland and Mesopotamia. But it was after reading the beautiful essay Time Unweaved by Flat Caps and Fatalism that I felt I was onto something.

My creation for 2023:

My workspace before I tidied up:

I started with a pencil sketch, but didn't particularly like my sketch, so I painted a texture over the pencil markings, mostly covering them. Then I painted my spirals, which was a lot of fun. As I was painting I was listening to my Ancient Mesopotamia lectures about the peoples of early civilization working with plaster, clay, bronze, copper and gold, and the colours I was drawn to echoed those materials. After working on the spirals, I noticed I could still faintly see some of my pencil drawings, so I painted in those designs here and there, and also added new ones.
"If time is a directionless field for the email worker, a forward arrow for the mill hand, and a turning circle for the peasant, then what is it to the people who know how to stay alive? Perhaps it is the spiral, of which there are many prehistoric examples in Yorkshire.

"The spiral has the rhythm of agricultural time without the lie that we can return to the same point. It has the movement of mechanical time without the lie that it has a direction. It has the all-encompassing field of flat time without the lie that nothing will change. Perhaps we can sing a spiral song with the world awhile." --FFatalism, Time Unweaved

Saturday, 21 January 2023

First new 2023 goal!

 After my last post discussing how I might, one day, make some New Year's intentions, and/or assess how 2022 went, I did start a blog post draft where I began writing down ideas. But this has already become a large collection of random thoughts, links to articles that appealed to me (but are major thought provokers in and of themselves) and memories and observations. It would take a large effort and amount of time to make all of that cohere into one blog entry, even though there probably is some order or pattern in it somewhere. Plus it is like a snowball rolling down the hill, picking up extra snow and other debris as it goes. I'm not sure it's entirely in my control anymore.

So instead what I will probably do is take pieces of that collection from time to time and see what I can do with them.

Today's piece is a dream I remember from my rather restless sleep last night. I had two dreams actually. In the first one our family was out camping, and we were having quite a good time, but then we had to pack up and my youngest daughter's boots kept getting misplaced.

Incidentally, this dream reminds me a bit of a recurring dream I had when I was younger. In the dream I had to catch a train, but would suddenly realize that I had lost my shoes. I would then spend a long time frantically searching for my shoes and miss the train. Eventually, I decided that if I was ever in such a situation, I would just get on the train in my socks. I then stopped having the dream. 

Anyway, after the camping trip the dream setting changed completely to the university from where I graduated, more than 20 years ago with my first degree (!). I was in the university as an adult, and my goal was to take some courses, just out of curiosity and interest. The only other criteria was that I really wanted to take a course that had a final exam, because I missed that experience.

The part about the exam must have been inspired by the fact that it is currently "exam break" in high schools. In waking reality, I have no desire whatsoever to take an exam.

But the notion of taking a course stuck with me after I woke up. The dream was so vivid. And suppose I really did take a course in something? There are plenty of things I am interested in. So I took a look at the websites of two local universities, just to see what was offered. Continuing education was mainly vocational classes with a certificate in this-or-that attached. I decided I do not want anything with a certificate or any kind of career application.

Then I took at look at the university's website for classics and religious studies. I have long wished that my education included more classical history and literature. Of course, there wasn't time to do everything, but if I could do it over, I would have made some different choices.

This was the blurb on the university website:

Hmmmmm, let me think about that. No, none of that actually interests me in the least. The website was full of this sort of aren't-we-so-relevant copywriting. I decided I do not want anything that attempts to be Relevant to Today's Concerns. If there is relevance to (my) contemporary life, I will find it out for myself, thank you. Just teach me about the thing.

This exhausted the obvious options for local education. If I was open to travel, of course there are many more options: short courses, conferences, retreats. But such things are also several orders more complicated to arrange, involving multiple negotiations and sacrifices and trade-offs that I don't particularly want to make or demand of others, especially not for a whim. The truth is that anything requiring my time and attention is complicated and difficult. That’s just the consequence of being embedded in family and work and my large web of responsibilities.

But, it’s still worth it to ask if there is something that I should do to grow or learn more. I also observe that in my life, transformative opportunities don’t present themselves as duty or necessity. They don't sound or look like: "This is The Way to Build Your Knowledge and Skills and Personal Network!"  They present themselves as joy and fun and exploration. It’s kind of like the universe poking me to see if I’m actually paying attention.

Who am I and what am I doing here?

So, well, that leaves (for now) online. I poked around a bit, exploring maybe 0.00000000000000001% of what the internet has to offer. I listen to podcasts regularly, so I want more than just audio. I don't mind spending some money. I want professional production.

Which brings me to my first new goal for 2023. I decided to try a course about history thousands of years old: the civilizations of Mesopotamia! It is offered through The Great Courses.

I got interested in Mesopotamia through The Lord of Spirits podcast and The Fall of Civilizations. I learned enough through those to intrigue me but I listen to them in bed so I also sleep through a lot. But ancient civilizations are fascinating to me, and while Greece and Rome are somewhat familiar through literature and movies Mesopotamia is less so. I have a total of 10 courses in my wish list right now but it seemed appropriate to start with the oldest history I could find.

I love the strangeness, the foreignness, the mystery. I love the fact that the people are all dead and there is no chance whatsoever that I can solve any of their problems. I love that they are humans like me despite their utter remoteness in time or space.  I am so excited to get to know them and the pieces of the puzzle that was their world.

The more mundane questions: How will I find the time and space to do this course with everything else in my life? Will I remember anything? That too is a mystery, and the only way to find out is to dive in.

I may use my other blog to record learning and progress. We shall see. For now, time to have a new experience!

Tuesday, 3 January 2023

Hey 2023!

 So, 2022 has waned and passed away, and here we are in the new year.

My family and I welcomed the new year on an airport shuttle. That's a first for me! We had just completed a successful and mostly relaxing trip to the USA. The girls and I are lucky to have an extra few days of holiday at home, so here we are.

As I do my selective reading online, I see some truly impressive posts by people describing how they assess their goals and accomplishments of 2022, and set new goals for 2023.

I sip my coffee, nibble my breakfast munchies, and relax in the slightly sweaty comfort of my PJs, untidy hair and slippers. This will continue until the next hot flash, whereupon I will throw various articles of clothing across the room and pace about the house. In the meantime, I gaze into the depths of my mind and soul, as far into the murk as I can see, and I ask myself: Am I capable of assessing 2022 and setting some Intentions for the new year?

The answer comes back: Nope, let's not go there yet

Whenever I do feel like it though, I will be using these three posts for reference:

One month(ish) into 2022 (see, I never start early!)

Answering Lynnette's question (throughout my life, I have found it helpful to ask myself - and sometimes others - blunt questions and answer them as truthfully as I can, whether I like the answers or not. 

Seeds in My Mind (isn't it much more pleasant to reflect when it's nice and warm outside?!)

What I do feel capable of is setting some intentions, maybe even goals (!) for the next few days.

First, things I have already accomplished:

  1. Our first day back, with a medium-bad headache, I tidied and re-organized the girls' rooms. They were both in desperate need of such attention. I felt strongly that I couldn't and shouldn't put off this job since we were arriving (of course!) with Christmas gifts. I love exchanging gifts, but. Introduce anything new into a poorly organized space, and a chaos explosion ensues. I cannot handle that. So I worked very hard for a few hours while the rest of the family had screen time or napped (and were out of my way, lol). I am very happy with the result, and the girls were grateful for their renewed, cleaner spaces. Also the headache went away after a few hours, so I'm glad I powered through it. I feel pretty well rested and healthy, overall.
  2. Unpacking and doing laundry in a logical, calm progression. I've given myself permission to not unpack suitcases until I'm ready to do so. Because I'm a pretty well-organized person, I don't actually need the majority of what I packed, so there is no urgency.
  3. Put on a pot of bean soup to cook for dinner today. Mmmm, soup. Hot, delicious, full of fibre (travel and unfamiliar diet did mess a bit with my digestive system).
  4. Family trip to the zoo yesterday, enjoying the sunshine and warmer weather we were blessed to return to (the two weeks before Christmas were a deep freeze here, which added to the overall feeling of exhaustion and overwhelm).
Things I would like to do/continue doing this week:

  1. Teach the kids to maintain their newly tidy rooms. It's a process to learn the skills of organization, so I am keeping the expectations reasonable (I hope). It's easier to practice organization when starting fresh, however. AJ has been doing pretty well with her drawers, but her bookshelves were a mess. So I organized and labeled all the books by genre. She is very excited about this and is currently pretending she is a librarian. So, good start there. AJ also wants to keep a broom and dustpan in her room which I'm hoping will encourage her to not leave things all over the floor. Expectations are lower for Dani but with the new organization I can at least keep her accountable for putting away a few things at a time.
  2. Cook a few meals this week, maybe trying new recipes or even just renewing ones I've forgotten about. My cooking style is comfort food and January is a good month for that.
  3. Continue with cleaning/reorganizing. Part of improving the kids' rooms was to remove the majority of their stuffies. They do love their stuffies, and goodness do they have a lot. Right now the stuffies are in overflowing bins in the basement playroom, which is pretty untidy and ugly-looking. I have ordered some mesh organizers for the playroom and door hanging organizers for their rooms, so I'm hoping that those improve matters. 
  4. There are always soooooo many organizing jobs to do around our fairly small space. I can easily get discouraged trying to do too many things at once, or only seeing what needs to be done. I'm grateful for this week because I feel like I can tackle a few things at a time, but have enough time to see some progress too. So the goal is, do a few things frequently without attempting too much.
  5. Do a few errands outside the house. I really don't feel like going anywhere, I admit, especially after all the travel. But, well, we probably should. Maybe tomorrow.
  6. Spending a bit of time doing my volunteer coordinator work. I joined the board of my daughters' dance organization this year, which means some extra responsibility. 
  7. Continue re-reading Lord of the Rings and continue when done with The Silmarillion. Becoming a bigger Tolkien nerd sounds like a fantastic goal for January / February, and is easily the one I'm most happy about. I may also dip into a few other books on philosophy/spirituality, if I'm moved to do so, but I'm really following my heart with this one.
There you go, seven is a decent number.  7 X 289 = 2023. I may be back in late winter or spring to revisit and look at the bigger picture. For now, the picture is a miniature.

The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

- Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn't tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.

"Sandpiper," by Elizabeth Bishop

Sunday, 13 November 2022

Winter reflections

After a beautiful golden fall, winter came on us freezing and furious. People in the city have adjusted, somewhat grudgingly, and life goes on despite every sane animal instinct that says stay inside and hibernate. Illness is going around too, whether the now familiar plague of Covid variations or something else.

There is much to be grateful for but it hasn’t been an easy few months. My mom moved to supportive living last summer, and while it was absolutely the right decision and overall things are much better, there’s been some painful weeks where she was struggling to adjust. And there’s a lot for me and my brothers to keep learning and trying to cope with emotionally. We have each other anyway; I’m very grateful for siblings in this situation.

Work has been crazy. I was extremely lucky the past couple years to co-teach with an amazing woman who became a close friend. We weathered a lot of challenges together and innovated in ways that we probably wouldn’t have individually. But life is complicated and this past spring she decided she needed to leave special Ed. We are still friends and work in the same school and she continues to be a huge support.

Unfortunately, her position was filled by a person who is really not competent at all. This can regrettably happen with unionized jobs.  I’ve worked successfully with all sorts of personalities, and I was prepared to do so again. But it’s been seriously impossible, and I’ve gone from tight collaboration to asking for a “work divorce.” Mercifully, this has gone through in the past week. While the situation is not ideal at least there is more separation of responsibilities and therefore more accountability.

Halloween has come and gone, and a certain sweetie’s October birthday. As soon as November comes I find myself looking for the twinkling lights of Christmas in the long dark evenings. As of this weekend I’m all in, and currently under a blanket crocheting busily. I’m a rather shiftless crafter: sometimes I’m really into it and sometimes  months go by when I don’t touch yarn or fabric. But there is something about winter nights that tends to inspire. 

My project at the moment is to crochet twelve Christmas stockings.

One reason for this undertaking is we are flying to the USA for Christmas to visit my mother in law and my brother in law and his family. It will be our first trip there since 2018 and also our first time flying since then. Twelve family members total together, and one stocking each!

I’m maybe equal parts excited and anxious. A chance to travel is not something I’m prepared to turn down. My mother in law is a queen among hosts. And we have a new (ish) little nephew we’ve never met. But I’m more uneasy a traveller than I’ve previously been. I’ve heard a lot of travel horror stories. Intellectually I know things still go smoothly more often than not, but I just don’t take for granted anymore that complex systems usually work.

Even more intangibly, I’ve become comfortably, perhaps smugly parochial in the past 2 years. (Which feels much longer than 2 years, more like ten. Or at least 5.) On my own home turf, not a lot scares me. I look straight into the chaos and the abyss and I say: You will find me your equal and more. Or I run to my cozy home and hide, which is also good. Things might be crazy and tragic here, but it’s a familiar crazy tragedy. The notion of crossing several borders to a foreign land and encountering some alien form of craziness is a lot more terrifying. Yes, sorry Americans, you are foreigners to me now. But to put it in perspective, I could barely stand being in the downtown of my own city last year.

Perhaps this trip is exactly what I need to get some of my former openness back. It’s happening anyway, regardless of how many alarming scenarios run through my head. I’m coping by crocheting and preparing for the trip like we are leaving for the final frontier versus a (presumably) civilized country. We’ll be prepared for lost luggage, being stranded in airports, trapped in a cabin with contagious diseases, and whatever else I can think of. Hopefully not violence, but I am certified in Therapeutic Crisis Intervention, and traveling with a psychologist.

Back to my socks now, and hoping for a peaceful wind down of the year! May Light prevail over Darkness (and we know it will).

Sunday, 2 October 2022

And now it is October (reprise)

Eight years ago, preparing AJ’s golden orange room. Lately we are talking about moving, getting a new house with more room to grow into.

But today, a breathtakingly beautiful golden October day, no need to do more than live in the present.

Sunday, 25 September 2022

Closing the circle

Eight years ago this fall, we were preparing for the arrival of our baby, “Ember.”

There was excitement, resolve (eventually), anticipation, and a good deal of anxiety.

Everything from clearing a room in the house to hiring a doula to making the first purchases of baby gear seemed fraught with terrific significance.

Finally, we were “kinda sorta almost” ready with a fully furnished “nursery” that was unnaturally tidy and organized.

By this time in 2014, I could just visualize that a baby would soon be joining Mr Turtle and I, and most of the time I figured we would probably be alright.

What was beyond me was to imagine life with our daughter. I have heard that people speculate about and imagine their future child, but I never did that when I was pregnant. I never really talked to her either, except maybe some prayerful pleas to “baby”, as much directed at a frightening, uncontrollable, incomprehensible universe as at her.

Today, I can still recall the feeling of being on the cusp of parenthood. Every life has moments of change and transformation: these are not unique to having a baby. Each transition recalls the others.  What is harder to remember now is what we were leaving behind: the life without AJ, and later Dani.

AJ and Dani are full personalities now. On this, a random Sunday, I did the following:
  • Made the girls their two bowls of oatmeal for breakfast, and instant coffee for me
  • Took Dani to a birthday party
  • Chatted on the phone with the friend I have known since AJ was a toddler
  • Laundry… much laundry 
  • Walked to the house of another friend of AJ’s and spent the afternoon while the girls played (her mom is a friend too)
  • Listened to AJ singing “Part of my world” (she wanted to take voice lessons this year)
  • Helped Dani with her music practice (she started Yamaha lessons this fall)
  • Ate Mr Turtle’s delicious tacos and talked around the table 
  • Participated in a rather long Zoom meeting with the board of AJ and Dani’s dance organization
Also today, a colleague of Mr Turtle’s came with a pickup truck and took what was left of the baby gear, including all the furniture.

Mr Turtle’s colleague is a first time mom expecting twin girls. She was willing to take everything and sort it later. It is perfect. And apart from a couple of bins of mementos (ok, more like four) we have now cleared most of our baby/toddler gear.

Is it sad? Not really. It was due to happen. I could have kept the crib and change table, maybe for future grandchildren. But the thought of them being used for real infants versus collecting cobwebs in the basement is more appealing. It was the same when we gave away the bassinet a few years ago.

I know in my heart that the real treasure is AJ and Dani.  And they did not come from a cruel, confusing world by random chance. Whether I can fully perceive it or not, they are part of a beautiful, unfolding pattern that touches my life and others. Whatever material things have passed through their lives, it’s ok to let them go into other lives. I’ve never really wanted money for their baby stuff, either. Whatever good energy has come into my life, I only want to pass it on.

(Dani loves her new big girl bed, too. She had refused to sleep in the crib/toddler bed for several months, first sleeping on the mattress on the floor, then in her sisters’s bed, then on the couch.)

AJ and Dani, enjoying musical moments in 2022:

Tuesday, 20 September 2022


Well, it’s been an…interesting…school year so far. Not terrible, but with unique challenges due to changes in my work team.

I relate to this statement because it is something I’m trying to do, not because I’m really good at it yet. I tend, I think, to be very accommodating and collaborative, except when I’m pushed to my limit then I become quite abrupt. I need to practice graceful ways of saying No, I think.