☕️ Destruction & Restoration: rethinking change

A Saturday Caesura

We (as in the friend-who-owns-a-backhoe), took out all the trees, dead and otherwise, from our backyard. This was a Hard Thing for me. The day before the Hoe of Destruction arrived, I wandered through the yard, noticing, touching, remembering…crying. Although I had already relocated my perennials and Justin’s lilies, most of what existed in the back yard was never planted by me, and I loved all these wild and wonderful green growing friends. They were so beautiful and so welcome, even as they always seemed to welcome me.

They are all gone now.

I know we needed to deal with the dead and dying trees, but I wasn’t prepared for losing everything else, too. So…I’ve been grieving this week.

But I’ve also been discovering.

I discovered shady hideaway places for the ferns. They seem to be enjoying their new homes beneath the remaining willows and tucked at the feet of a small copse of trees in the front yard. I enjoy the lacy sweep of their fronds uncurling in among the grasses and wild roses and honeysuckle. I envision more woodland shade-lovers adding texture and colour beneath these still standing, living trees.

I’ve also discovered the western sky. With no trees in the foreground, I can now watch sunsets from my deck or bedroom window rather than having to scuttle out to open spaces in the marsh to catch the full effect of the evening glow-show. I love the prairie sky as much as I love trees, so it’s felt like a fair-trade deal to exchange one for the other.

The yard itself is still a mild mess, but a Tractor of Restoration with tools like rototillers and harrows will do its thing and eventually there will be green grass and a new garden spot, which I am already “garden-scaping” in my mind. It’ll have space for the veggies I love to grow, but also nooks and crannies and islands where perennials can flash their colours and re-texturize the backyard view. We’ll re-instate the fire-pit (a necessity), add a clothesline (my wish) and an archery range (his wish) and some gravel by the sheds because it’s the practical thing to do.

I’m still adjusting, but I’m also realizing that a bare patch of ground is an invitation to possibility. Like many of us, I’m often most comfortable with what is. Even when what is isn’t really working all that well, it’s hard to accept that what could be might hold promise even though it requires change.

So, here’s me learning (once again) to let go of something I held dear and finding ways to embrace and appreciate change.

☕️ Small Things that Matter

A Saturday Caesura

Totally random and completely unrelated to anything else in my day, I went to bed last night thinking about cotter pins. Weird, right? I mean, who thinks about cotter pins when you aren’t in immediate need of one? I do, apparently.

Whether large or small, split, hairpin or bowtie, cotter pins perform a purpose more significant than a simple piece of bent metal might indicate. They hold things in place, keep things connected, provide a final measure to prevent things from flying apart, coming undone, falling off. I doubt that any farm could function well without a few cotter pins involved somewhere.

What if we used our words like cotter pins?

Image: http://www.thomasnet.com

☕️ There’s a daisy…

A Saturday Caesura AND Jots & Doodles

The artist Georgia O’Keefe once wrote that “in a way — nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small — we haven’t time — and it takes time like to have a friend takes time.” O’Keefe knew something about taking time to see a flower because many of her paintings are of flowers. The most famous one, a single white Jimson Weed blossom, sold in 2014 for $44 million. Maybe the new owner doesn’t have time to see flowers in their natural environment, and the painting provides an opportunity to “really” see. Maybe the value of a painting is that it preserves a beauty that normally fades and falls away in the cycles of seasons.

In art and in literature, flowers are often heavily imbued with imagery and symbolism. My grade 12 English class just finished reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet where an emotionally distraught Ophelia prattles to her bewildered brother: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance… And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts….There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.” In most contemporary circles, we have lost much of the folklore and symbolism associated with particular flowers, but we maintain flower traditions for Mother’s Day, anniversaries, funerals. Red poppies are synonymous with Remembrance Day. We have national flowers (Canada’s is Cornus Canadensis, the Bunchberry) and provincial or state flowers: Alberta’s is the Wild Rose, a prolific presence alongside roads and fields across the province.

Whether we pay close attention to them or not, flowers capture our collective imagination on some level.

I don’t attach particular meaning or psychoanalytic significance to flowers, any more than I care about star charts and the zodiac, but contrary to Georgia O’Keefe’s generalized conclusion, I do notice flowers. I first began paying attention to them during my childhood roaming of the forests and meadows near our home. When I found out that flowers actually had names, I wanted to know them all — not the confusing Latin ones, but the common ones like butter-and-eggs toadflax and bedstraw and saxifrage. I pored over wildflower identification books. When our family travelled somewhere, I watched the roadside swish by, looking for recognizable snatches of colour — blue chicory, yellow goldenrod and salsify, magenta fireweed. I met my first Mariposa lily from the window of a vehicle, grateful that my father understood my love of flowers enough to pull over so I could have a closer look.

I grow flowers in my yard that are not native to this area, but I’m grateful that they don’t find the cold winters so disagreeable that they refuse to grow and bloom. I extend an open invitation to indigenous ‘wild’ flowers to make themselves at home on this patch of land I claim to own, so I have hybrid lilies and irises and harebells and wild roses and false solomon’s seal and lily-of-the-valley all living together in harmony. I see them all and they fascinate me. It has taken time to make friends with them, but it has never been time wasted.

This month’s Jots & Doodles zine contains some words and images that arise out of my appreciation for flowers, and especially, my gratitude and worship of the God who saw fit to include them in his creation. May your eyes be drawn to see — really see — the flowers around you, and your heart opened to know — really know — the creator of them all.

☕️ Seasons

A Saturday Caesura

Spring has finally settled in to stay. The snipes are back, the trees are leafing green, night temperatures are staying above zero. The sun-snow-rain-freeze-thaw-frost of the past few weeks felt too much like the in-school-online-school-open-close-isolate-vaccinate of the ongoing coronavirus season. So much tossing to and fro, back and forth, in and out. It feels like rest for spring to just. stay. put.

This past week a friend and I met in a park for an after-work picnic and overdue visit. The summer-haunted warmth of the evening mirrored our friendship, one that has found deeper roots while standing together through a particular life-storm. I love that the all-season friends in my life come from all seasons, ages, backgrounds, experiences. I am grateful that they embrace relationships in ways that promote beauty and unity in a world increasingly prone towards the ugly and divisive. It feels like a settling and a hope-sprouting spring.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and whatever else it is for me, this day usually becomes a reflection on all the seasons of motherhood. So much delight and pain wrapped up in a single role. I have regrets. I have treasured memories. I have tears. But I am grateful for this season of being a mother to adult children. It feels like a settling and a fresh-washed spring and a joy-filled grief-tinged blessing.

Tomorrow is also our 40th wedding anniversary, and if motherhood has predicable seasons as children grow from newborn to adulthood, marriage seasons come and go with regular unpredictability. We grow, storm, stagnate, forgive, compromise, love, laugh, cry, cling, withdraw, pray, pray, pray, give, cherish, for better or for worse. Forty years. Two-thirds of our lives. We are not the same people who pledged to have and to hold till death to us part all those years ago. And yet we are still uniquely us, aged and shaped by forty years of individuality and togetherness. I’m grateful for this season of continuing to grow in oneness. It feels like a settling and a long, languid summer and a rich undeserved blessing.

He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty…and fills your hearts with joy. Acts. 14:17

☕️ A School Week

A Saturday Caesura

Students filled the desks in my classroom again after almost three weeks of emptiness related to spring break and COVID-removals to online teaching. We were happy to be back, to see actual faces and whole bodies, to feel the comforting illusion of normalcy.

On Monday a few students needed a reminder that English class is for English, not for Bio or Math or CALM or Duolingo or searching for truck parts online. But mostly we read our books and experimented with odes and word sonnets and parsed gerunds and crafted truisms and raged at the unjust treatment of Jutta and cried real tears when Werner died and WHY WOULD THE AUTHOR DO THAT ANYWAY!

We talked about iambic pentameter and the plums no longer in the icebox. We practised the art of paying attention to our world and shared grad photos. We vented about COVID and named our aspirations for the future. We wondered why Monday always comes after Sunday and determined that we would never be careless people like Tom and Daisy. We blamed the masks for our shortness of breath after coming upstairs to Room 210 because farm girls could never be that out-of-shape. We made excuses for unfinished work and tried to complain about the sub in another class and satisfied the burning need to talk about how that novel ended.

About mid-week I realized that my plan to retire in three years (maybe?) means I would no longer have this messy delight of teenagers in my life.

I already feel the shape of emptiness forming in my heart. It is heavier than I ever thought it would be.

☕️ Gifts

A Saturday Caesura

The first story I remember writing was about a cougar. At the time, I was positive that it was the greatest story ever written. I have only vague memories of what I actually wrote, but I can guarantee it was everything you would expect from an elementary school student: sentimental imaginings, clichéd descriptions, and gaping plot holes. I remember this particular story because writing it made me realize for the first time that the ideas and pictures in my head could become words on a page, that writing wasn’t just about copying letters or spelling words correctly or answering study questions in full sentences. I’ve not given much attention to story-making in the years since that failed masterpiece, but I’ve developed a love for story-finding among the bits and pieces and images of daily life.

The first picture I clearly remember drawing was of a poster-sized blue garbage can with big eyes, an open lid for its mouth, and “Feed Me” (or something similar) written on its belly. It won an anti-littering-on-the-playground contest which was monumental to my little-girl-self, not because of the prize (which I don’t even remember), but because I realized that I could draw and that I enjoyed drawing. At first I mostly drew animals. Okay… horses. But eventually a charcoal cat and a moose and mountain goats and even a cougar. Later, I realized that drawing people was somewhat similar to drawing animals; I just had to change the shapes and features and lines and proportions and perspectives — in other words, everything but the actual drawing techniques. Even later, I learned that artists call pencil crayons coloured pencils, and now I have a glorious array of them. They are still my favourite art tool.

Over the years writing and drawing have been relegated to the When I Have Time portion of the calendar. I regret this. I realize now that what I lacked was not time, but a proper understanding of the gift they are to me. For the past several years I have tried to be more faithful in using these gifts. I write and draw nearly every day, even if it is only for a few minutes – a quick sketch, a sentence or two. From this habit, comes a new project: a zine I’ve entitled Jots & Doodles, which combines inked images from my sketchbook with poems and reflections from my writing notebook.

Jots & Doodles Volume 1: Issues 1 & 2

As a gift to anyone who happens to stumble across this blog, I am making each issue of Jots & Doodles available as a PDF download. They can be printed on a single sheet of paper and folded into a booklet (see instructions below). They are the perfect size to tuck into a card or a pocket or an envelope, attach to a gift or pin on a bulletin board. If they bring you (or someone you know) some encouragement, I’d love to hear about it!

Gifts are only gifts if they are given.

Source: https://tellingcambridgetales.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/how-to-fold-a-zine/

Note: please notify me if there are any issues with the download links. Thank you.

☕️ Looking Up

A Saturday Caesura

I needed to stop and just look up today. My gaze has been pulled in many directions this week, sometimes dragging my heart with it, sometimes my feet, and most often, my already weary brain.

I try to avoid claiming that I am busy because I don’t like how it suggests that I am more important or useful or productive than someone “less busy.” But I will admit that there are times when I feel the need to stop and collect bits and pieces of myself scattered here and there across the days and weeks.

Reclaiming wholeness requires me to turn my gaze upward — not just to fully attend to the latest iteration of prairie sky, but to see beyond the distractions and demands of life to the steadfast Oneness of God.


The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Duet. 6:4-5


God does not exist in bits and pieces. He is not scattered, but fully and wholly and eternally present.

He doesn’t want my love and obedience in bits and pieces either. Give it all, he says, give it wholly. That’s where true wholeness is found.

☕️ When Words are More Than Just Words

A Saturday Caesura

What if words were more than sounds strung together, more than marks neatly divided into varying units on a page, more than a means to an end.

What if they became fully animate, took on substance and form like miniature people who could rally their synonyms and join hands and encircle you in a gentle embrace.

What if they invited all their like-minded relatives and pieced together a quilt of protection and comfort for just that moment when you most needed it.

Perhaps a few wise, discerning words would forge themselves in a sword capable of cutting through thickly matted lies, of slicing cords of fear and hacking away shackles of shame. They wouldn’t be fickle words, these defenders of truth, but words tried and tested, refined and strong.

Some words would be playful, like clowns, and dance and tickle and entertain. Gentle, warm words could soothe like a cup of hot tea on a cold day.

No doubt there would be those words bent towards dissention and malevolence. Rough, shabby and too arrogant to notice or care, they scold and scald — or snap, bite, slash and stab. Gaping wounds, deep scars, and wearied hearts are evidence that they’ve either passed by or still lurk, hungry, in the shadows.

Thankfully, more words come marching along, grim-faced and determined. They assemble a triage team and set to work bandaging, repairing, relieving, healing. Their work never ends and they never stop. They are faithful words.

Words are actions. They are causes with real effects. They carry weight far greater than nanograms of ink or graphite on a page. They may seem devoid of mass when they leave a person’s mouth, but they can slam into a life and completely destroy it, or they can huddle shoulder-to-shoulder and somehow form a solid foundation on which to stand when the ground is sinking sand. Words have strengh and power.

So when I think about words, as I have this week, I marvel that God chose to identify himself as the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” writes the apostle John. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The incarnate Word is the epitomy of action.

Since we are created in the image of God, it seems to me that our ability to use words is embedded in that image. To speak and write words as if there is not a greater Word is to be but a sounding gong or clanging symbol — noise without meaning or purpose. If God can animate his Word in flesh and blood to show the depth of his love and commitment to the creation he spoke into existence, then my words, in his hands, can be an extension of the incarnation.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, (which often end up as words on a page), be pleasing in your sight (and in your ears), Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer, the Word of Life.

☕️ The Best, the Good… and the Ugly

A Saturday Caesura

Before Christmas, COVID-19 restrictions moved my students from our classroom to their homes for three weeks. We made the transition with resigned acceptance; for too many students extended time alone at home only leads to anxiety or depressive loneliness. To help curb the mental health issues that arose when we had to ‘go remote’ in the spring, I added a “What’s your best thing from today?” to our daily writing exercises. Every day for those three weeks we took time to look for goodness and joy and positive things even when we weren’t necessarily happy about our overall circumstances.

Just this week, our first week back in class, though not back in the classroom yet, a grade 12 student popped back in to our online video session after I had dismissed everyone to work on the day’s assignment. She shared with me that she found the daily focus on “Best Things” so helpful that she decided to extend the practice. She took an empty mason jar, dubbed it her “Best Things Jar” and has been using it to collect more Best Things, each neatly written on slips of paper.

Any guesses what this teacher’s Best Thing for that day was?

My frequent Noticing Walks, a (mostly) weekly writing habit of Saturday Caesuras and Sunday Doxologies, my daily time in prayer and Scripture are all meant to focus my attention, not only on Best Things, small blessings woven into the routines of daily life, but also on the Good Things of God, rich blessings etched with eternity in the human heart.

But noticing the good does not remove the ugliness from the world, or even from my own heart. And sometimes all that ugly looms large and ominous. It consumes.

So I’ve been pondering another aspect of noticing and paying attention: What do I need to overlook or ignore? This question is not meant to ensconce me in blinders, to box me firmly into a position of denial about the world or my heart, but it is a reminder that I do not need to wade into the ugliness or let it weigh me down with anger or swamp me under in despair. Instead, I can respond to the Ugly Things by following Christ’s commands to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind (best way to deal with my heart uglies) and love my neighbour (best way to respond to the world uglies).

If this first week of 2021 has taught me anything, it is that I need to pay attention to what I am giving attention to. I need to focus my noticing, set boundaries on what deserves or requires my attention, celebrate the Best Things, be deeply grateful for the Good Things, respond with love, prayer, and humility to the Ugly Things.

☕️ Thinkski

A Saturday Caesura: New Year’s Edition

Grey snow clouds smudge the horizon. Falling snow blurs the middle-ground and slowly whitens the foreground. I bundle up for a New Year’s Day “Thinkski.” Although I skied these trails yesterday, the new snow muffles my tracks, leaving them at best discernible parallel grooves, at worst, blown into oblivion by the wind or stamped out by snowmobiles. Maintaining my own trails is both an exercise in futility and an act of love for skiing. I reset the tracks more than I ever simply ski them nicely packed and smooth.

As I settle into a rhythmic swish-glide, I think about how this almost daily resetting feels so much like the past year where so many days required a reset of expectations as the world was blown over and apart by pandemic fears, racial violence, political divisiveness, and conspiracy theories. Many days felt like a beginning again, a re-finding of something we used to call Normal even though its exact configuration has always been so elusive that we keep renaming it The New Normal to accommodate all of its mutations. Ski, snow, blow, storm, reset, ski, thaw, snow, reset…

My eyes scan the snow ahead, looking for signs of the trail, but it is my feet that tell me whether I have found it or not. The foundation trail beneath the fallen and blown snow is firm and reassuring. This is the way, it says, ski here.

I think there is a foundational trail through the year ahead as well, just as there was one that brought me through last year and the year before that and the year before that… Choosing each day to orient to that foundation is most certainly an act of loving life and Lord and neighbour. “Stand at the crossroads and look,” said the Lord through Jeremiah, a prophet well acquainted with unrest & lament, “ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

This is the way, God says, walk here. He is firm and reassuring, a faithful refuge, a steadfast guide.