Tuesday, November 27, 2012


There is no part of pomegranate eating that is labor free.

My son first brought a chunk of pomegranate home from school one day, after successfully trading a part of his lunch for this new treasure.  (Lunchbox trading--another whole parallel universe to my kitchen preparations, when the value of any given item is not proportionate to it's enjoyment to your child, but to its trading value at the school lunch room table.  I had no idea.)  Back to pomegranates ...  I had never seen anything like it: bright magenta little seeds packed with juice ready to squirt a mile at the least provocation. 

You can't slice into the fruit without releasing a red stream onto the counter top, or shooting onto the nearest white shirt. There is no way to coax the seeds from their white tissue membranes without inadvertantly squishing a seed or two, or letting one slip onto the floor where your foot will unwittingly contribute to the carnage. 

"Put it into a bowl of water," my son recommended.  "The white stuff floats to the top and all you have left is the seeds."
Right.  That's only after you have wrestled them apart, leaving the water stained, and now the water also joins the forces bent on wrecking havoc on your kitchen. 

I stood in front of a woman at Costco who bought an entire case of them.  12 pomegranates. 
I tried to bite my tongue.  You don't just strike up pomegranate conversations in the busy pre-Christmas Costco check-out chaos. 

Well, yes, apparently some of us do. 
"How do you serve the pomegranates?" I asked innocently, hoping that she had some secret that she would be willing to share in such a setting. 

She smiled, and said "You only eat the seeds."
"Yes," I acknowledged.  Nodding. 
She continued... "I cut them up, separate the seeds, and put them into bags for my kids lunches." 

I looked surreptitiously at her shirt (not white), her fingers (no stains ... yet), her eyes (she looked completely rational). 

"They are really healthy,"she added. 

I did not go back and get my own case.  But I did stop at Extra Foods yesterday and bought
one.  The deceptive smooth round reddish balls sit invitingly on the grocery shelves.

Yesterday, while my bathrooms renovations started, pumpkin muffins were in the works, and the syrupy beginnings to peppernuts were warming on the stove, I cut up that fruit.  Oh, the mess.  But I put all the seeds into a small bowl, and then took spoonfuls throughout the afternoon. 

The one moment that is worth all the work is the moment you clamp down on a mouthful of sweet, juicy seeds.  Your mouth fills with a tart, refreshingly delicious red.  Just that one moment.  You might keep the seeds in your mouth for a while, trying to work out the last bit of flavor before spitting them out. 

And now, the final straw.  Google. 
How to de-seed a pomogranate

This is not my counter top after wrestling with a persnickety pomegranate.  And the "How to" instructions recommend a specific cutting technique followed by ... immersion in water.  (Yes.  You were right Adam.  I was wrong, and impatient.)  Well. I've run fresh out of experimental pomegranates.  We'll see how long it takes me to gather enough courage to bring another one home. 
Apparently pomegranates join team Astillbe.  (see post from July 9th...)

I am not competitive.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Quoting Mark Buchanan again, this time from his Your Church is Too Safe (Zondervan, 2012): 
 Historian Daniel Boorstin documents a momentous shift that occurred in North America in the nineteenth century:  we stopped calling people who went on trips travelers and started calling them tourists. 
Traveler literally means "one who travails."  He labors, suffers, endures ...   A tourist, not so.  Tourist means, literally, "one who goes in circles."  He's just taking an exotic detour home. 

they have traveled, I think
dropping down on familiar soil
wind turned as they landed,
swept in from the north

a new thinness, a sparseness,
grief, joy, sharpness,
clarity, wisdom,
pruned, honed, tested, poured out


perhaps we have traveled as well
to the brink of life
to watch it spill over the banks

returning mute
for what did we see
but a fading

returning shaken
for what did we see
but a glory
within the fading

returning to a table
after a long summer silence
we ate together
laughed, remembered

singing, speaking
praying, waiting
we come back changed


come to the table that he's prepared for you

Friday, November 23, 2012

new heaven and new earth

this morning's readings from Isaiah 65 and Revelation 21

reverberating promises of a new heaven and a new earth 
   He will make all things new

a morning like this, where pink sunlight seeps into the darkness
pink backdrop for new white snow on roof tops and tree branches 

makes you consider that it might be possible
perhaps a Creator could take this world,
   turn it upside down, give it a shake, and renew all things

how much more difficult is that
than reducing himself to a specific space and time

immersion into this old earth
to plant seeds of eternity

like a pearl
like a treasure buried in a field
like a mustard seed
like a city, dressed up as a bride

like nothing you have ever seen

Saturday, November 17, 2012

What is your name?

These spinning days after the death of my parents have left me sometimes groping for a footing.

Questions posed by Mark Buchanan, in Spiritual Rhythm:  Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul, are quoted from Monty Python's The Holy Grail as a travellor sought to gain permission to cross a bridge:


1.  What is your name?
Darlene (my father sometimes called me Darry, very few friends shorten this to "Dar")
Gloria (also the name of my grandson's 2nd favorite monkey ... because of his favorite Christmas carol)
Krahn Driedger Klassen (men I have been named after) 
Once, a few months ago, someone asked me my maiden name, and I said--oh so definitely-- "Guenther". 
"No it's not!!" corrected my daughter with some alarm. 
No.  I guess not. That was my mother's name.  But for a moment that felt true.
2. Where are you going? 
  • to the coast
  • a little insane
  • always just a bit farther

ok.  The actual question was:
2.  What is your quest?
  • to find beauty ... in gardens, and in friendships, and in this wonderful world
  • Jesus
  • faithfulness

3.  What is your favorite color?
A few years ago I would have said green.  This summer's color was yellow.  But I think that my favorite color is whatever color my flowers have chosen.  The bright pink of October  snapdragons answer the question today. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

marking Novembers by the gingerbread houses

The date on the Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies gives me away.   

Display until January 5 

... Make our Charming Fairy-Tale Gingerbread Cottage ...

For some reason, I picked up this magazine in the checkout at one of the Lethbridge grocery stores in our first fall living in southern Alberta, and thought to myself, "I could do this."  I think it may have sat on my shelves for a year while I gathered courage and made a plan.  and a list.  (I am not a crafty person ...)

I sent the girls off to school while my 6 month old observed the first foray into gingerbread house building.
My friend arrived around 9 in the morning, after sending the older kids off to school.  We mixed, rolled, cut, baked, re-cut, assessed building plans, assembled, dismantled, reassembled, built, salvaged, and decorated those houses, finishing them off just before midnight. 
In the midst of the general chaos, lunches were made, a few diapers changed, supper was served and family members send off to another room to leave the builders to their work.  We made our first apple cider that year as well - another recipe from the 1993 issue.

Next year, we decided, we would do the baking on a separate day, and then build them together. 
The year after that I let the girls contribute by putting the mini-wheats onto the roof. 
The year after that, they pursuaded me to bake them their own houses, forcing the project to a weekend. 

Candy, gingerbread and icing ruled the kitchen, and clean up sometimes took as long as construction.  Gradually I found myself relegated to the position of purchaser, porch-maker, chief advisor, roof caving-specialist, construction assistant and icing maker.  I didn't mind.  It was just as much fun to watch my kids build the houses as to make my own.  Usually we stuck to the pattern, although Jeana always had ambitious cottage renovations in mind, and Josie and friends loved to add creative landscaping ideas. 

The youngest was born into a home where gingerbread houses were what we did in November.  Construction had navigated quite permanently to the Remembrance Day long weekend.  Since I was perpetually involved in Christmas programs of some kind, Christmas music had already permeated the house by early November - whether it was "Go, tell it on the Mountain" for preschoolers, or the musical, "A Strange Way to Save the World"  for elementary kids.

Our move to Saskatoon brought a question to  our gingerbread habit.  Did it belong here?  Apparently it did.  There were some years that I baked up to 4 houses.  Each of the kids started with 1/2 a house (the full cottage had a double room plan, so it was easily divided)  till they could guarantee that they would stick through the construction and decoration of an entire house. 

One gingerbread builder and her husband have built their own home now, another is an engineer working on a degree in city planning, another is involved in the construction trade, and the final gingerbread builder will finish high school in another year.  18 seasons of contruction have slipped by.       

Cue the violins for the sentimental music:

mini wheats and vanilla wafer shutters
graham wafer awnings
slipping sugar cookie roofs
candy cane lamp posts, listing and falling
woodpiles and chimneys
pathways and tree cones
kids' Christmas pageants playing their soundtrack
 trails of cookie crumbs, candy and icing tracking through the years
That this is worthy of the supreme teen-age boy's eye-roll, I am painfully aware.  A sentimental mother who often tried to slow down the days or years finds herself a fair way down the road from 1993.  This tradition happened accidentally.  I set out to do it once, and the next year, to improve, and then the next year our kids wanted to try, and then they wanted to bring their friends along.  Every once in a while there is a lull year, where I think perhaps there will be no houses built, but as I wander down the grocery aisles I see that mini wheats are on sale, and I pick up vanilla wafers, prezels, molasses, icing sugar, lifesavers and apple juice ... just in case. 
Bring on the next generation of builders!


Monday, November 5, 2012

Black bean and cilantro chili for a chili cook off!

Black Bean Chili with CilantroWe've had an annual chili cook off at church for several years now, where cooks bring their secret concoctions in crock pots and electric frying pans, and we gather after services to visit and sample the fun variety of food that shows up.  Each chili is named, and at the end of the meal, you can vote for your favorite chili (cowboy chili, carl's chili, 2 napkin chili, creamy white chili ... to name just a few).  

I decided to bring some chili this year, and when my son walked into the house last night, he commented on how good it smelled. That was problematic, because it had morphed over the evening into a completely non-reproducable recipe.

So.  when Lisa sat down at my table at the end of the meal to ask for the recipe, I tried to recall the steps ...

I browned a large tray of lean ground beef (about 3 pounds) in our electric frying pan.  Then added 2 cans of tomatoe soup, 1 can of diced tomatoes (with basil, oregano and garlic flavoring), 1 jar of tomatoes from Karen Friesen's garden last summer, 2 cans of drained black beans, and started it all simmering.

Then started chopping - the last 3 small onions from my garden, and 2 others medium sized onions, and 2 stalks of celery.  Added 5 cloves of garlic, minced, and sauted it all till soft.  Meanwhile, stirred in about 2 tablespoons cumin, and 2 tablespoons chili to the saute mix. 

When that was done, added it all to the meat mixture, and then began to add more flavor...  2 tablespoons Knorr bovril beef bouillon, another can of tomato soup, a really long and generous squirt of barbeque sauce, a thorough sprinkling of cinnamon,  and let it simmer. 

Meanwhile I made a spinach and strawberry salad for yesterday's supper, (dressing has oil, vinegar, worcestershire sauce, sugar and poppyseeds), and when the salad was done, there was a fair bit of dressing left over.  :)  Yup.  Added that to the simmering sauce. 

I refridgerated it overnight, and in the morning, added a whole bunch of fresh chopped cilantro to the mixture before letting it simmer for the morning.

Next up, if I can get it from him, Del's amazing spaghetti sauce!

Friday, November 2, 2012

another list of 50 ... from November's perspective

1. mounds of dirt
2. mother's hand
3. fresh fallen snow
4. christmas lights hung in the backyard in summer
5. hugs from a two year old
6. a surprise pumpkin spice latte from my son at the end of the day
7. Dakota, by Kathleen Norris
8. Circle of Quiet, by Madeline L'Engle
9. sitting on the floor with friends, legs crossed, talking about holy scriptures
10. echo's of angel choirs
11. unsolicited prayers
12. successfully absorbing and redirecting a solid hit from the other side of the volleyball net
13. my "exploding with fuschia blossoms in November" Christmas cactus
14. my new white garden swing, which has found a temporary home in the living room
15. my journal
16. a certain three story house in Winnipeg where my daughter is at home
17. old friendships
18. office with a window
19. hallway conversations
20. sacred watches through the night and past the sunrise
21. image of the invisible God
22. Salt of the Earth calendar - reorienting the days of the year
23. violin and guitar gigs (does playing for the Gideons count as a gig? :) ) with my Randy
24. wonderful in-laws
25. the anticipation of a book
26. my mom's journals
27. both of my sisters' music (one sings her own beautiful songs, the other plays Gaithers)
28. this city
29. my Dad's old 50 horse boat
30. a squirrel jumping through the new fallen snow on the back fence
31. a helpful salesperson
32. walking down Meewasin
33. pottery
34. quilts
35. bright eyes
36. life in West Portal's foyer
37. a long obedience in the same direction
38. canoes
39. Shekinah
40. McNally Robinson
41. long road trips
42. working together towards something grand
43. concrete dust in my house
44. sudden grin on a teenage boy's face
45. Shop Class as Soulcraft, by Matthew Crawford
46. a zip-lock bag of encouragement notes from Player's tour, orchestrated by Kaylee and Randy
47. open horizons for my children and grandchildren
48. the energy that my brother and family bring to a room
49. multi-colored guitar picks, and little fingers using them to strum my guitar
50. going out on a limb

a list of fifty, written in July

within 20 minutes, with no edits - just a random list of 50.  Because this is the summer of 50.  (Inspired by Elaine's list of 40!)
  1. books
  2. lilies
  3. rhubarb
  4. biking along the meewasin
  5. easter sunrise
  6. july thunderstorms
  7. first harvest of raspberries
  8. a three year old's prayer
  9. a seventy seven year old's baptism
  10. watching my daughter tend to her growing sons
  11. tasting my daughter's new world
  12. listening to music with my son
  13. watching my son play basketball
  14. early spring walk abouts in my yard
  15. camping at rick and rene's in Grand Forks
  16. tubing at rick and Rene's in Grand Forks
  17. driving with my family
  18. eating the food that Randy makes
  19. tending my garden
  20. weeding prayers
  21. my freshly mown back lawn
  22. the smell of my morden sunrise
  23. playing volleyball
  24. church with Norah
  25. Del and Lois's back yard
  26. first snow
  27. skyping with Ray and Lisa
  28. hearing Tyler coming up the front steps
  29. long friendships
  30. an evening of laughter
  31. telling stories to children
  32. listening to children tell stories
  33. my new vacuum cleaner
  34. the wicker chair on the front porch
  35. the smell of the lilac
  36. the sight of Hobbs draped over the kitchen railing
  37. dirt biking along the river
  38. tide pooling
  39. the sound of the ocean all night long
  40. sleeping under the stars
  41. an unexpected note from a friend
  42. a canoe on a glassy lake
  43. everyone all together, remembering and laughing
  44. a quiet place all to myself, for writing
  45. a fresh artistic perspective 
  46. pottery
  47. garden tomatoes
  48. singing with my sister
  49. anything that makes my sons grin
  50. my Escape

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

puzzle pieces 1

one of the tasks left to me in these days after Mom and Dad is 'puzzling' - the taking apart and the putting back together of a picture

pulling apart the days and words,
the looks and the events,

finding fragments, scattered pieces
of conversations and stories
held together by Mom and Dad all of their days

notes from my journal

August 2, 2009
Clear Lake
So. Mom and Dad show their fragility differently here. Mom stood under the Saskatoon bush, determinedly ... and matter of factly – not with joy, exactly, but with great pleasure, picking the luscious berries. It was not long before Dad joined her under the bush, harvesting. She wears her hats pointedly, daring you – but only a small dare with her eyes – to make a comment. “Baldy” she whispers accusingly to me as I hug her. She picked 8 buckets of Saskatoons last week, she says with pride. After 6 you get one free. And she brings out her pail, with sugar and cream, for us to feast on her fruits.

Their love language is provision. It is no gift to tell them not to bring anything; that we will provide. It is robbery. They place their provisions on the table, and their eyes shine as we savour.
We (the non-golfers) went on a hike to the boardwalk yesterday. A fairly level, and short hike with resting places that wouldn’t make them feel weak if they chose to sit, I thought. Dad doesn’t like the grandchildren’s rough play. He is afraid someone will get hurt.

We came to the fork in the hike – where you could choose to go longer, or choose to go back. Mom knew, and without apology said she was going the short way, but we could continue if we wanted. We all went the short path, and mom didn’t need to be convinced to sit for a while on the bench before the final hill to the cabin.
They have become observers – taken a step away from being enablers. This is the greatest sign I see of their journey. Dad wants to play the games, but the rules frustrate him. They dominate him, taunting his long domination over them. The colors elude him, the rules confuse him, and wrestle with his desire to engage in play with his children and his grandchildren. And mom must explain again. And play his hand with him. And this frustrates her. Her backpack is loaded to capacity, and perhaps exceeds capacity, for on these miles of their journey she carries much of his load as well as her own.

They retire early, they are easily chilled.
Dad joined us at the lakefront yesterday, followed us after we had gone.
Sat on the bench with Janine for a while, watching our football in the sand.
But the wind was cold if you were not running.
So he soon got up and walked back,
his frail frame listing – only slightly – towards the water.

His grandchildren throw the ball for miles, and chase each other in the sand, pushing each other into the ever cold Clear Lake (where Grandpa long ago baptized us into his family with a 50 horse West Bend moter)... wrestling and laughing and competing.

Monday, September 17, 2012

morning mugs

The shelf brims with mugs. 
One set of them is from my regular dishes, one set of Christmas mugs arrived after a lively name exchange at work, and then there are many random mugs of all shapes, sizes and colors who arrived on a variety of occasions and stayed.  I do not wake up in the morning with a cup in mind, but by the time the aroma of coffee fills the kitchen, I reach into the cupboard to fill one that suits the morning. 

My sturdy starbucks mug is fit for hunching over on cold or formidable mornings.
Two mugs from Germany are pulled out only for special occasions.
There is a tall, flowered one that feels fragile, and asks me to believe,
a white one that says "Grace", and
a deep blue mug with a low round reservoir ... to name a few.

On a good morning, there is time to emerge from the shadows of sleep
cradling the cup that speaks to the day.

a response to a writing challenge issued by Amber Haines in this blog:
inspired by these words:
There’s a woman standing on her morning-tender feet on the hardwood floor, and in both hands she holds the cup, jolt hot, and she drinks it burning fast awake slow-poking her to the living room. A day ago she stood on a beach and even there she missed the creak in the floor and the low air conditioner hush of morning before the boys wake up. This is holy time, the gray of morning before the chaos of cereal bowls.

Monday, September 10, 2012

strawberries in september

It is late, and I still have strawberries to freeze.  I picked strawberries this morning with my daughter and her two sons.  One a baby in her arms, and the other son a toddler who helped me fill my pail.  Well, perhaps “helping” and “filling” are not completely true.  His red-stained cheeks and shirt told a tale of more eating and tasting than successful pail filling.  I did not tell my grandson, as we chattered along the path and picked and tasted the wonderful red fruit, that my mother had loved strawberries.  Had picked them with her Arthur every year, and put them into her freezer so that loved ones who came could enjoy something strawberry-ish.  It was something that Lydia and Arthur had done since the days of their courting, and every year since.  They loved to pick them. 

I did not tell my grandson this, as we sang about strawberries, and laughed and talked as we picked. 

There are so many ways to remember.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Come, stop awhile

I've walked through this room more times than I can count, but not till the lilacs bloomed in the rain did I think that I might want to occasionally sit here awhile.

My willow chair has been here since then, and a blanket that Jeana and I made when we lived in Alberta, and a three legged stool. 

Then yesterday, a dear friend brought me a bright yellow and burnt orange pot of fall chrysanthemums. 

And yesterday evening my daughter sent me our latest favorite Wailin' Jennys. 

So. While the Jennys sing their songs over and over for me, my bread rises and bakes, and I begin to move plants, a wind chime, and other odds and ends into my very temporary room.  A front porch on the prairies in September cannot hope to harbour plants long.

It is obviously not an efficient space, not a place to concentrate on a project.  People walk by on the sidewalk, visit on their front lawns, and drive by.  The wind occasionaly reaches around the corner and swings on through.  Birds won't often come - I've hung a glass hummingbird in acknowledgment of that fact. 

It is creative space, "come stop a while" space... although the teen age boys that most often come through may not even notice :) 

I do need to fine tune efficient space, but that day is not this day. 

Come, stop a while in these beautiful fall days.

And happy, happy birthday to my dear Randy. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

a shadow story

walking with mom into places we do not know well
waiting with her in a time we rarely visit

passed away
went home
bidding farewell

words that all seem too weak to describe the labor
of waiting with and caring for a body that was tired
finishing this journey
being overrun by a ravaging disease

   ears that already heard angel choirs,
   eyes that were seeing loved ones gone before

We counted the spaces between breaths
interpreting grimaces and groans when words no longer could be formed

we did not bid her farewell
we gave her permission to give up the fight
and then we fought by her side
what were we fighting for?
her peace
successful passage
we fought against the pain

we urged her on. it was ok.
though our sobs belied our words

no way back, only forward into shadow
shadow of life
shadow of glory

finding ourselves blinking in the morning sunlight
trying to orient ourselves to a new day

Matt Redmon, 10,000 Reasons

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mom's Apricot Jam

Combine  4 cups fruit
                 3 cups sugar

Let sit 2 hrs.
Cook till it gets thick.

That's all I have written on my paper.  Define "thick", you may say.  Well, according to my mom, you cook it till the thin liquid just begins to thicken into syrup.  The test:  you put a tablespoon of the golden liquid onto a plate and put that into the fridge for oh- just the right amount of time.  And when you take it out, it slides ever so slowly across the plate rather than running.  Last year I made the jam, and obviously boiled it far too long.  It completely lost its golden color in the brownness of thick syrup.  I was determined that that was not going to happen this year. 
One bowl had sat for 2 hours, and one for 3 hours when I called Mom. 
What do you think, Mom?  Would it work if I just let it sit overnight? 
Oh no - that would be far too long. 
What about if I mix the 2 hour batch with the 3 hour batch? 
Well of course that would be fine. 

How fine do you cut the fruit? 
Really quite fine.
How often do you stir? 
Often enough, you know.

Then there's the foam.  You have to skim the foam off the pot of simmering apricots and sugar or the jars don't seal.  And the jar with the skimmed off foam is the best - you put that onto fresh bread and it all melts into your mouth. 

Three of the four jars have popped as I've been writing.  Sweet sound of success :)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

as far as the estuary

In our orientation to our home on Vancouver Island for the week, our host told us that the shoreline below the cottages was ours to explore. There was a little path down to the ocean, and we should feel free to explore as far as the estuary.  He threw his arm in a wide gesture southward and shoreward.
"You must explore the estuary."

I tried to remember what an estuary was as we clambered down the steep and winding path, sometimes aided by creatively constructed wooden steps and roped rails to the shore.  Recalling grade eight geography lessons with maps of peninsulas and islands and isthmases and things you must label and define, I thought it might be a place where fresh water runs into the ocean.

But a definition does not bring you to this place ...
where currents cross back on themselves,
white sails, carried on currents
of river, ocean and wind;
shoreline covered with down,
lifted by a breeze from the rocks and carried high or set down onto one of the currents.

The near bank was dominated by the river, running steadily toward the ocean.
The tides on the far banks overwhelmed the river, carrying the feathers back inland, lifting the kelp and weeds to give homes to crab and minnow. 

At first I hoped the feathers and down may belong to an eagle, but as the families of geese kept landing we realized that this was one of their favorite places to hang out.

Careless flapping gave the eagle away as he settled on a high cedar limb, almost hidden.
Perhaps this was the baby that our host told us to look out for,
kicked out of the nest just a few days earlier.
He sat, surveying the area, out-lasting us.
   Watched the geese land on the jutting shore.
   Watched another bald eagle soar over the territory a few times before heading back inland.
Smaller birds flitted back and forth through the sunlit river crossing under his watchful eye.

Gutteral raven sounds occasionally seeped from the surrounding trees. A yellow finch blended almost into the pine cones at the towering tree's fingertips, dropping too quickly for my binoculars to trace the first time. Second time I knew enough to keep the looking glass dropping till we both landed on shore.

 conflicting currents
salt tide and fresh stream
 eddies of water and wind

you must explore the estuary

Friday, July 27, 2012

silver thread

high winds momentarily shut down the ambitious spiders who
fling themselves across gaps on my deck in the night, leaving
sticky silver strings in their wake

one morning a single silver strand
drops from the poplar and swings across my line of sight.

some overnight projects are a little overly ambitious, stretching
across walkways only to end up caught in my hair with some spider frustrated
at the one that got away 

others create a tangle under a chair
no apparent pattern but a maze of ways for a fly
to get stuck

the perfectly constructed web
symetrically woven
sparkling with fresh dew in the morning, waits
for the first small creature to choose the wrong flight path.

Tyler spotted a web at the playground,
and we found the tiny tan spider sitting motionless at the anchor point
 where web touched metal
a mosquito caught on the far side of his web
we prodded the spider 
and then Tyler decided to take out the web. 

the spider instantly flew across her disintegrating trap
snagged the mosquito before it fell
 surrounded it twice with silver strands, and dropped
down on one of the remaining threads
to disappear
under a playground platform
before the destruction was complete

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


first glimpse of the morning sun

Our summers have often brought us to this part of the world ... we have slept under the stars,
kayaked and tubed down the river,
run the Friesen/Klassen mini-olympics, enjoyed amazing food,
watched fish jump and swim along the shores,
sat around camp fires,
thrown sticks for Chewy and Wuss to retrieve from the river,
and watched the house and yard gradually transformed under the care of Rick and Irene. 

First heard Wailin' Jennys on a summer evening in Grand Forks ...

I love the things that they build.  Community.  A place for restoration.  Homes for those who cannot afford a house.  A dock in the river.  Their current project for Habitat is nearing completion, and the seven handicapped men who have helped to build this home will soon be moving in. 

They have also invested heavily in  The Pines Bible Camp (recently devastated by a massive windstorm) over the years in many ways. 

When I think of living a simple, uncluttered life, I think of Rick and Irene.  The phrase by Eugene Peterson "a long obedience in the same direction" keeps coming to mind.  They rarely seem hurried, but their hearts and passion are set in one direction, and they have created such beauty. 

Monday, July 23, 2012


The smell of summer savory drifted up as the wheel chair drove over some of the long fragrant stems that had tumbled out of the pot and onto the sidewalk. 
“You could freeze that now,” Mom said.  “It’ll make good soup in the winter.”

We brought her home for an hour Friday evening.  The air had cooled to a wonderfully warm temperature, and the grandchildren were lively on the front lawn, bringing laughter to her face. 

She was grasping for
the children that kept running by.

Like butterflies ... fluttering close but not daring to alight. 
Finally they did – both of them. 
For a moment, a hug, she was grandma again,
though the cancer insisted on creating a new Thing that must be reckoned with, pushed aside.   

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

green beans and chemo

There was a knock at the door just after eleven pm. 
Mom's friend was standing there with a pail of green beans.  Perhaps I had woken up in a Barbara Kingsolver Animal, Vegetable, Miracle nightmare...

I knew that mom was exhausted last year when she didn't mind leaving her garden behind.  Her new place had no garden plot, and no patch of dirt in which to plant things.  She didn't care.

This summer was a different story.  She wanted to know what could survive in the 4 inch wide patch of gravel between her outer wall and the sidewalk.  There are now three hanging baskets, two coleus, two impatience, and some summer savory thriving in pots just outside the door.  She planted a garden with a friend who has a larger patch of earth.  Just a few green beans, carrots, one sweet million tomatoe plant, one potatoe plant and green onions.  It's the "just a few green beans" that kept me up late.  Beans have an amazing capacity to over produce. 

I deliberated, pail in hand, for only a few seconds.  Mom and her friend had discussed this pail.  Mom could have this one, and her friend could take the next one.  I had told her I could freeze them for her, but had forgotten about them in the midst of the rather unpleasant preparation for Mom's first day of chemo.  Couldn't remember exactly how long to blanche them - didn't have my books, had no internet access, and Mom wasn't available just then with her wealth of green bean wisdom. 

So I sat down, snipped off the ends, chopped them up, and put them into a pot of boiling water. Blanched them for about one minute ... I think that was a little on the short side.  Bagged them, and put them into Mom's freezer. 

The next day Mom was facing down the monster - pain had gotten out of hand during the night, and the medical team was assessing whether she had the strength for this struggle.  "Do we go ahead with the treatment?" her doctor asked.  Her chin tucked in a bit, mouth tightened into a line, eyebrows up, determination to go ahead with this unpleasant thing shone through tired eyes.  It was a look that reminded me of days long ago when she was telling me to eat my green beans.  So what if you don't like it.  It's good for you, so eat it.  

"Yes.  We go ahead."  


Monday, July 9, 2012

Astilbe stubbornness ratings

Personality and stubbornness ratings for perennials would be so helpful.  Hardiness zones are so, well, limiting! 

My first run-in with stubborn plants was with a discarded batch of run of the mill orange day-lilies.  When I found the yellow roots sprouting in my compost bin the next spring, I retrieved them and gave them the place they deserved.  Irises have been added to that list, and now one particular astilbe. 

I first saw astilbes waving in abundance in our friend's shade garden on Vancouver Island. 
I assumed that they would never survive in the prairies,  but every year the garden centres bring in these beautiful delicate astilbes. 
So I bought one.  Put it under the trees in the back border. 
It flowered the first year (well, actually it came with a flower, so that was technically cheating), and then the next year the foliage reluctantly emerged, but definitely no flower. 
It looked so dejected that I decided it needed a new home.  Put it into the front in the shade of the blue spruce and purple leafed sand-cherry.
Didn't like it there either.  Refused to emerge till I dug around looking for it.  
Oh.  Time to come out?  Ok ... and it would send out two or three shrimpy and grumpy looking stems that just sat there glaring at me. 
Fine.  You don't like it there?  I'll move you again. 
(A battle of wills with an astilbe is never a good thing.) 
Put it back into the back yard against the house where it gets early morning and evening sun. 
Right beside some very happy hostas.  Nothing. 
This spring I dug around looking for it, long after its companion astilbe across the path was well on its way.  (Yes.  couldn't help it.  I bought another astilbe - a much less stubborn variety.) 

Definitely dead.  I left the old root ball on top of the soil and forgot about it...
till a few weeks ago when I was weeding in that bed,
and about to put the hoe to a new random bleeding heart seedling
when I saw a happy little red stem with leaves, hiding behind the bleeding heart.
I put it back into the soil, and put a little fence around it, reminding me to leave it alone.
If all this astilbe wants to do is send out little stems, some years grumpy, some years quite happy,
I've decided to let it do what it wants.  I give.

 This is not a picture of my astilbe:

Official description from gardening website
http://www.gardenersnet.com/flower/astilbe.htm :  "Growing Astilbe is very easy..."

I feel as though I should write a "parenting Astilbes" response.  What do you know?  You just haven't met my astilbe!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


There are a few basic realities that oh-so-strongly influence the way that I have parented. 
I want my children to be able to make strong and informed choices. 
I want my children to have both roots and wings (a card from my sister-in-law with these words several years ago made its way onto my windowsill, where I do my dishes). 

I want my children to understand that they are not here by chance, but by design, and that their lives have infinite value in my eyes as well as in the eyes of the One who knew them before they took their first breath. 

And I have loved the perspective of Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet on children ...
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
   for they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
   for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
   which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. 
You may strive to be like them,
   but seek not to make them like you. 
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. 
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. 
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
   and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. 
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
   so He love also the bow that is stable.

I have always looked forward to the worlds that my children will show me
as they build and travel, dream and think ...  


Saturday, June 16, 2012

crow's nest

The crows often sit high in the poplar tree,
  or up at the top of the front spruce tree
    or on the street light
      or perched on the mostly-dead top branch of the birch in our neighbor's yard
           announcing their domination of the neighborhood
           waking us up raucously on summer mornings
           with their hoarse coughs and incessant caws.

I kind of like it.  Reminds me of camping in Riding Mountain when I was little.

Travelling across the many miles of Saskatchewan prairie,
we have seen them flying
chased by a sparrow-sized tormentor,
   or by a flock of black birds dive bombing.
The large one leisurely dipping and rising as it flies, unfazed by the small annoyances
   slowly flapping along the prairie skyline.
Once we saw one flip over on its back for a suspended moment
as it continued its flight forward ...
a midflight cartwheel
just for the fun of it.

This year they have been quite silent in our neighborhood.  Not absent, but definitely silent.
I'd catch a shadow of wings out of the corner of my eye, hear a whisper of flight near the spruce.

When I finally heard something, it was not the noisy pronouncement of the adult crow.
It was a bizarre combination of younger coughs and squawks and throttled air as an adult flew into the top branches of the spruce. 

The parents were kept busy feeding the squawks - one parent or the other constantly coming and going.  They mostly ignored me ... except when I turned on the sprinklers.  Then I received a scolding for disrupting bed time.
The one morning when I was doing a walkabout, a nesting parent flew a wide circle coming towards me cawwing fiercely, then settled back to its post on the dead birch tree sounding its warning from a distance.  (I'm sure that my cat's company had nothing to do with that.)
I looked up to see a young one -  it had hopped out of the nest and was perched precariously on one of the arms of the top branches, teetering and madly flapping for balance.

Next day the crow's nest was empty.  No throttled sounds of babies. No sentinel in the birch sounding its harsh warning.

They are still in the neighborhood, but my spruce is no longer home. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

when it rains

When it rains, and when it thunders, we have a wonderful front porch from which to safely survey the action.  Mid-afternoon thunderstorms beckoned us outside earlier this week, and Tyler and I stood for a while in the soft rain, watching the peonies that had just begun to open, listening to the thunder echo around, watching the rain bend the heads yet again of the June blooming perennials.

My newly planted shrubs are gleefully taking it in.  I can feel their roots gathering the refreshing rain and getting limbs ready to burst outward.

My lilac fills the whole house with its fragrance if I keep the front screen open ... and its invitation was irresistable this morning.
So I have moved my computer outside; together with a willow chair that I built with a friend in Alberta, a quilt that my daughter outgrew a few years ago, and a three legged stool made for me when I turned 16 on which to set my coffee and children's ministry books for a fall class.   Took me a while to cart everything out, and settle in, and just as I had everything in place, my son drove up with some friends to take the chocolate cookies that I baked late last night for an end of the year, home room potluck.  "Isn't this rain great?" said his friend as he walked up to the house...
This is a good place to sit this morning, to think about teaching.  and children. and grandparenting.  and marriage.  and legacies.  and friendships. and the color yellow. 

I decided after a ridiculously difficult season of life, to choose the spiritual discipline of yellow.  Doesn't count, you may say.  A color is not a discipline. 
What is a spiritual discipline? 
How do I live my life, to try to align it with what I believe, to express in my own particular way, a life that follows a Creator who is really beyond my understanding,
who defies logic yet created it,
who continues to shape and create despite the determined or haphazard habits of those of us who call ourselves by his name.

How in the world do I respond to that?      
i will pray.  i will read his words.  i will journal.  i will get together with his people. 
and yellow.  bright yellow

I surveyed my closet a few weeks ago, and realized that it has become increasingly dark.
Blacks and dark browns dominate the hangers. 
My good friend has a bright yellow sweater.  She stood beside me as we sang in choir last December ... the best I could do was purple. 
really Darlene?  Purple.
I couldn't do bright.  Felt as though I was yelling at someone when I really wanted to be hiding.   

But this spring I have chosen yellow.  I wear it when I can.  I planted it. 
and God has on occasion chosen yellow for me too. 
yellow finches sing in the shorn poplar branches. 
the yellow peony blooms in the front yard. 
meadow larks with their yellow singing with abandon on Bethany Players' tour
... in gretna, and in niverville, and in steinbach
the yellow day lilies shine like stars in the back corner of the yard beside the fountain. 

I choose yellow.
It's a defiant, bright shade of yellow. 
I'm not yelling
 just declaring a different reality.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


An elderly gentleman was slowly making his way across an intersection in my part of the city. 
His clothing had an international flavor;
the color of his skin revealed more of the rich shades of our earth than mine.
He was flanked on each side by two lively black haired little boys,
  who walked oh-so-carefully beside him,
   matching their pace to his,
    holding his hands gently
    as they stepped up onto the curb
    and continued on a morning walk together.
It was not clear just who was caring for whom.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

stirrings of spring

this winter's stillness was marked by more
than a blanket of snow over my perennials
or a pause between growing seasons

the winter's white was marked ... marred
by passings
 that disturbed the snow
 left roots exposed
changed the landscape of a familiar part of my world

so in my spring walk-abouts, I have wandered often
wondering what will still survive
what will come up gladly after the winter's barrenness
what will stir in the spring
to testify again to the Lord of life

we have wandered often, my Tyler and I
looking at peonies
this one will be red
this one will be yellow, and this one pink
a little leafed lilac
this one will be purple
the irises
these will be purple
the lady slippers
they will be yellow

the peonies this spring have awoken with abandon
plants tall and strong, with a myriad of closed fisted buds

the lilac is covered with fragrant blossoms
just outside my front door

the iris is unfolding its first purple

the lady slippers revealing their yellow

... and this baby will be Logan Samuel. 
fists still tightly closed
body gradually unfolding
eyes occasionally opening to peer carefully into a new world
brother running circles around him
calling his name
bringing him treasure
to see if it belongs to him

stirrings of spring
life refuses to be locked up

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

physics of incarnation

Philippians 2 keeps inserting itself into my calm and serene picture
of a child born in a small town
with animals bedding down
shepherds visiting
Kings searching
stars aligning

What happens to the pressure of glory
the volume of godness
when all is reduced to the womb of a virgin
released to the shelter of a manger
growing into the hands of a carpenter
splintered onto the wood of a cross? 

When the nails pierced glory,
did glory begin to seep out through the skin, dripping onto the ground
... bursting through death into a resurrection
that led all of creation into its wake? 

Death, nor life,
powers nor earth
 could contain this glory. 

But for a moment in time,
all of eternity held its breath
God breathed through the lungs of a man.
Laid down glory and claim to power.

What happens to a universe when glory is held in one small child?

Perhaps it will take the rest of eternity to unfold ...