New Year Resolutions

I started my resolutions a day early, hoping to catch the new year unaware.  January 1, 2015 was waiting for me of course, not fooled by such transparent tricks.

It is like setting the alarm clock 15 minutes ahead and expecting myself to fall for that ruse instead of hitting the snooze button twice and ending up 5 minutes behind.  Like trying to tickle myself, it can’t be done.

So, New Year’s Day 2015 slammed me hard, probably as revenge for treating it like it was stupid.  Of all “tomorrows” January 1 has a reputation to uphold, an attitude. The mission of January 1st is to see if it can break that New Year’s resolution right off the bat.

It didn’t matter that I cut up a boat load of vegetables on December 31 and placed it strategically at the front of the fridge beside a vat of low-fat yogurt dip.  New Year’s Day had me shoving aside broccoli florets and celery sticks in favour of the left over cheese platter and crackers. Who knows what evil mind voodoo convinced me that “wasting” party leftovers like high fructose punch, ripple chips and full fat onion dip was a far greater crime than putting off a resolution to eat healthier in 2015.

Wouldn’t it be better to start the year with a purge and rid the house of chocolate and wine in the best way possible, by consuming the whole lot on New Year’s Day in a glorious binge? Tomorrow I will do better.

Except, there is no such thing as ‘tomorrow’ for resolutions, only guilty ‘todays’.  January 1 is a bitch because it drives home the futility of hoping for success without action. A New Year’s resolution is a pipe dream without a plan, a destination without the journey to make it worthwhile. And that goes for any change I want to make; promises to myself to exercise, to write daily, submit more and spend time working on the blog.

The truth is, I really don’t believe in New Years Resolutions and I don’t make them any more.

I haven’t given up on starting things a day early though, that’s because today is ALWAYS the day to start. Tomorrow never comes.

Saved by the Ark

The houseboat we lived in when I was very young.

The houseboat we lived in when I was very young.

My mother recorded the events of my early childhood in a journal titled To My Daughter. It includes our brush with death in January 1963, when I was only one and a half years old.

Our family lived on a houseboat on a canal in Utrecht, in The Netherlands. My mother described our home as an ‘Ark’, not because we had three pets – a dog, a hamster and a lizard – but to distinguish our houseboat from the barge-style houseboats that also lined the canal. Our ‘ark’ had a keel and could navigate on the waterways.

During the winter of 1962-63, the temperatures in Holland dipped to -20 C. The waterways froze and comparisons were made to the deadly winters of 1929 and 1890. It was widely believed our canal was frozen solid to the bottom, but that was not the case. When the Waterways Authority opened a sluice downstream, the water drained away, leaving a gap.

At 10:30 in the morning my mother heard a sound like thunder, followed by an earsplitting crack. As the sound rose to a crescendo, my mother wondered if we were being bombed and her first instinct was to hide under the bed. She grabbed me, but it was too late, the ark tipped sideways, we fell to the floor and I slipped out of Mom’s grasp, leaving her holding nothing but my pants as I slid away across the bedroom. The sound of breaking glass and chaos in the kitchen drowned out the noise coming from outside, and then – just as quickly as it tipped – our houseboat returned to horizontal.

Mom knew I was okay because I screamed my head off, and crawled back to her under my own power. She picked me up and we climbed over the mess in the bedroom to check on our dog, Pito, who howled in the kitchen, where he was trapped in a tangle of chairs.

Most of the furniture on the ark was either built in, or secured to the floor. The hamster cage and lizard terrarium were askew, but upright, saved by ledges built onto the shelves. After checking on the pets, my mother looked outside. Huge chunks of ice, the size of cars, tilted against the banks of the canal. Our ark had shifted away from shore but thanks to its design, it floated upright in the small amount of muddy water that remained in the canal.

Others were not so lucky. Four people died that day. The barge-style houseboats with their flat bottoms did not fare well when the ice collapsed – many of them capsized – the death toll would have been higher, except that it was a weekday, and most homeowners were at work.

I do not remember the day the ice collapsed, but I am grateful my mother kept alive the story of how we survived the winter of 1963, all thanks to our ark.

Cruel Mistress Spring

I greet the warmth of spring with mixed blessings. Lengthening days speak of promise as winter melts away and temperatures rise to give me hope of birds and blooms. Can summer be far behind? But spring warmth is an illusion. Too quickly this fickle season rears its ugly head with a new kind of chill – one far crueler than winter’s cold – because it feels like betrayal.

At sunset the temperature dips. The melt water flowing in gutters and ditches and across sidewalks by day becomes an ice rink. An old woman slips, a broken hip, and we are visiting Grandma in the hospital.

The cruel mistress of spring holds as much promise of death as it does re-birth because new life cannot rise unless something has died to give it space. I take the inventory of winter kill, not in winter, but in spring. Despite the hope of spring’s renewal, I cannot help but mourn the things that did not – that could not – survive.

It is a function of age no doubt, that I mark each spring as one season closer to my own demise. I tread carefully across icy spring, like the old woman I never imagined I would become and assure myself that the cruel mistress will not take me this year.

Apple Horseradish Jelly

I went to my Friday morning Free Fall Writing session wondering how to incorporate Apple Horseradish Jelly in my writing today, and the first writing prompt (Eating Out/Dining in) was like a gift – as was the Apple Horseradish Jelly. 

A word to the wise; if someone brags about having made Apple Horseradish Jelly, don’t say, “cool, that sounds interesting,” or “delicious,” or anything that sounds like you are vaguely interested in having some to take home. 

One of my gardening clients handed me 2 (two!) jars of the stuff. One for me, and one to give away.  I decided I actually had two jars to give away because, honestly, this gift was like the summertime equivalent of getting Grandma’s Christmas Fruitcake. You know the one, it gets passed along through various holidaygatherings and makes the rounds of the whole family before finding its final resting place as a doorstop. There is some kind of unspoken edict against just throwing away homemade goodies.

Apple Horseradish Jelly

Apple Horseradish Jelly

I pawned off one of the jars of jelly to my boss, (who did not thank me for it) because she was the one who sent me to the job site and I thought she deserved to share the burden. So, what to do with the other jar?  It is not in a pretty or petite little decorative jar, ready for re-gifting, it’s in a big old mason jar with a ragged white sticky label. “Apple Horseradish Jelly.” I think it’s big enough to use as a doorstop, but I already have the fruitcake. 

I don’t dare open the jar either, because doing so will limit my options. You will notice that I am not considering ‘eating it’ as an option. I have flashbacks to the dozens of jars of Crab Apple Jelly sitting on shelves in the cold room of my childhood home; of glistening, translucent, reddish pink blobs on toast and pancakes and cereal – just to get rid of last year’s supply before a new batch was in the works. It wasn’t even our crab apple tree!!

As for horseradish, I never acquired a taste for that either, and somehow, the combination of apple and horseradish does not add to the culinary appeal or the appearance of either. The jar looks like it is filled with a dark red (almost burgundy), cloudy goo.  It might be the most delicious thing in the world, but I’m not going to be the guinea pig.

Apple Horseradish Jelly. Do you want it? Take it, because I’m eating out!

~Minkee Robinson

When Everything Stops

There are those moments in life when everything stops. Occasions when a community, a city, even a country, come to a halt and we all turn to look at that one thing that stops us in our tracks. We are spectators to disaster and we hold our collective breath as catastrophic events drag our attention away from the scattered activities of our busy lives and focus it on one thing for some period of time. Minutes, hours, a day. 

June 21, 2013 was just such a day in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. On the calendar it marked the first day of summer, but it did not feel like summer. It was cool and wet, and record rains falls combined with spring run-off from the mountains to the west to push every river in the region up to, and above the limits of their banks. Not just Calgary was affected, many areas to the north, west and south also declared local states of emergency. 

Emergency alerts, non-stop news coverage, evacuations and dramatic rescues would contradict my premise that life came to a standstill. Obviously not everyone and everything stopped. Countless people worked harder than ever. First responders, civic employees and aid agency volunteers began putting in long shifts with no end in sight until the rain let up and the water receded.  

But above the flood plain, many of us were stopped in our tracks. No school, no work, stay home, keep safe, don’t put any extra strain on the city’s infrastructure, just hunker down and watch. And for a day we did just that. 

This morning when the sun came up and we finally exhaled the breath we did not realize we were holding. The rains have stopped and the waters are receding. Now we can inhale and count our blessings even as the long haul job of getting things back to normal begins.

Few Calgary residents are completely unaffected by the disaster. Most of us know someone directly impacted by this flood, someone who will need our help as the water clears away. The job of cleaning up the mess will call many people to action soon enough, but for that one day it really did feel like everything stopped.

What is it about ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ ?

A good interviewer or host knows the secret to an engaging conversation with a guest is to ask questions that cannot be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  However, many things in life can be distilled down to exactly that:  Yes or No.

Despite the obvious interpretation that ‘yes’ is positive and ‘no’ is negative, we learn from an early age that life is not that simple. For a child, many manifestations of ‘yes’, including the non-verbal ones (a hug, a smile, a helping hand), are indeed positive.

But, just as surely, we discover that ‘no’ can also be positive if it is used correctly. 

We may have resented our parents for saying, No! You cannot stick that key in a light socket or No, you are not allowed to spend all your money on candy, but eventually we recognized that in those instances, their ‘No’ was simply a different way of saying Yes, I love you enough to keep you safe from harm.

Similarly, ‘Yes’ became a negative thing if a sombre nod confirmed that a beloved relative or pet was seriously ill and likely to die.

As we grew older, the answers in life got more complicated. And I don’t mean ‘maybe’.

I’m no stranger to ‘NO’. I’ve worked in direct marketing, and my stint as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesperson in the early 80s has helped me deal with the rejection inherent in submitting my writing to journals and publishers. Fortunately, ‘Yes’ is a strong part of my life too. I know that I am valued and loved.

Our life experiences and self-esteem influence how we react to ‘yes’ and ‘no’. So, why do we still get it wrong after all these years?  Now there’s a question without a simple ‘yes or no’ answer! And my point is not to bore with my attempts to answer it, because the personal journey I make to that place will be different from yours.

What I will do is share a couple of things that have helped me explore that question for myself. Both of these links (one to an article, the other to a video) brought home the fact that, as much as I am affected by the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses I get from other people, it is the YES or NO answers that I give to myself that really makes the difference.

The first link is for an article by Kevin Ashton (Thoughts on Creativity) about the power of ‘No’ when it comes to protecting the creative mind from unnecessary distractions.

The second link is to a TED talk video featuring Amanda Palmer, (The Art of Asking) that has inspired me to say ‘Yes’ to taking more risks; to making myself vulnerable by asking for what I need, even if it means that the answer I get could very well be ‘No’.

Artist’s Choice

This landscape was done by one of the artists who only began painting two years ago.

This landscape was done by an artist who only began painting two years ago.

Recently I wrote about the challenges faced by people with reduced mobility in my post. “A Simple Outing.”  In that blog I also mentioned that I facilitated an art group at the same care center. I thought I would expand upon that theme because the artists I work with every week are a true inspiration.

Artist’s Choice has been running for over two years, and there are dozens of paintings that have come out of the program. The painting you see is just one example of the work produced by an artist I have the privilege to help.

A regular group of participants shows up every Thursday afternoon. They look forward to Artist’s Choice and miss it when it is not included on the activity calendar. There is a wide range of experience in the art group, and no shortage of passion.

Every session starts with a lot of ‘setting up’ for people with reduced mobility or special needs. The artists work with Acrylic paint on canvas boards and there are enough materials to supply anyone who wants to attend. My role is to help with project layout, mix paint colours, and give pointers on technique if necessary. Everyone is welcome, and last March the program moved to a larger space with better natural light to accommodate more participants.

Discovering new talent often begins with someone coming into the weekly art session just ‘to look around’ along with claims that they are ‘no good at art’ or ‘don’t know how to paint’. That is fine, people are free to come and chat, or admire the art work of fellow residents.

But I love a good challenge, so if someone—anyone—is willing to try their hand at putting paint on canvas I jump on the opportunity to get them started. It does not matter if they want to paint a landscape, a still life, or something abstract.  I am a big believer in empowerment and want to make sure that everyone gets a chance to express their creativity and unleash their inner artist. And then the magic happens.

I am so proud of the artists I get to work with; they overcome huge obstacles to create beauty and the results are amazing.