Friday, 10 May 2013

Seen through a window mist dimly

My heart is full from these rainy roofs,
from a yellow-gabled window interrupting purple slope,
sage green next to white next to rusty red,
cedar shingles seen through a window mist dimly;
from wooden animals carved in a far-off land
     now lined up along a window ledge,
     always travelling by standing still.

Though this is just a small town on a damp day
and my coffee is bad and my toes cold,
there is some mystery here beyond the misted pane,
just out of reach of my grasping mind.
I have travelled to this place in search of a presence beyond
but the mystery meets me in a wet sidewalk like any other
and in the simplicity of metal roofs carrying rain down from the sky
– another journey upward turned down.

Bursting into the fug,
a little girl spins around the pillar singing
“Sun, sun, mister golden sun!”
and while he isn’t shining down on us today
her yellow hair and rippling laughter are my sun,
and the mystery
is in me.

This is not my town
nor the cafe I wanted to sit in,
but resting my feet on a window ledge
something inside me comes home.
Another journey outward leading in,
always travelling by standing still.

(Tuesday 9th April 2013,
St. Andrews-by-the-Sea)

Friday, 8 March 2013

My Own Darkness {Guest blog for Reflections on Darkness}

Today I feel privileged to have written a guest blog for friend Brianna Kocka's project 'Reflections on Darkness: Words to Light up Our Darkest Months'...

"Can we even see our own darkness? It shrouds us so that we walk around blinded, ignorant of the shadows we cast as we go.
A Thursday night, driving home from an evening lit by conversation and laughter over a shared meal. My husband Jeremy points out the way I have just cut off and insulted a friend, thinking only of myself. I can’t see it. I protest and defend, explain and excuse, insisting on my own unflickering light, clawing back the darkness of an accusation that threatens to snuff out for me the evening’s warm flame."
Read the full piece here and then explore the other wonderful writings that have been posted by various people since January, each a very different, personal perspective on Darkness.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Comforting food for a winter's day: Sausage and Bean Casserole

The slow cooker is a wonderful invention! And so is the sausage... And the humble bean. Combine all these wonderful things with a few other wonderful things and you get the most perfect supper for a cold winter’s day. It’s comforting and tasty, with savoury and sweet flavours balancing each other wonderfully, and with a beautiful hint of smokiness too.

Now, usually I get my ‘sweet’ mostly from the can of baked beans I throw in – and I will do this again when busyness demands! – and my ‘smoky’ from chopped, fried (smoked) bacon; but today I didn’t have any bacon and I wanted to use up a tin of navy beans that’s been gathering dust in the cupboard.  So the smoky is coming from smoked paprika, and the sweet from tomato paste and some maple syrup, as well as the sweet potato. With locally grown or produced sausage, onion, garlic and maple syrup, and herb salt used to season, I am pretty happy with the ingredients of this particular stew, and can’t wait to eat it later once the slow cooker has done its magic! We’ll serve it with jacket potatoes (baked) – their skins crispy from the olive oil and sea salt, and their insides mashed with local sea-salted butter. Mmm! Only three hours to wait! J

4 large sausages from our local butcher, in chunks
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 large organic onion, diced
2 cloves organic garlic, crushed
  ½ red pepper, diced
Large tin chopped tomatoes
Small tin organic tomato paste
Large tin white navy beans (haricot beans)
A handful of leftover black beans (optional!!)
2 Tbsp or so maple syrup
Some generous shakes of smoked paprika
Some more generous shakes of herb salt (e.g. Herbamare)
Some grindings of black pepper
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only

How to make it:
Saute the onion, garlic, sausage, sweet potato and red pepper in a little EVOO (olive oil).
Throw into the slow cooker along with all the ingredients and cook on high for around 3 hours. And it’s THAT easy!!  ENJOY!

Friday, 4 January 2013

The Year in a Word

A few days before 2012 reached its timely end, my friend Joanna asked me a question I wouldn’t have asked myself and that I didn’t instantly have an answer for. She was the perfect person to ask me this question, since she has become good at exploring it herself on her blog: What word would I pick to sum up my 2012?

I thought hard about this as I pottered around the kitchen making us poached eggs on hot-buttered crumpets, letting my mind wander back over the last twelve months.

I recalled our recently gained permanent residency in Canada, my corrective eye surgery in June, and my choice to pull back from some work commitments in order to give more of my time and energy, while it matters, to Amélie. And I remembered the unexpected pregnancy and early miscarriage that only some friends and family know about but that, now almost a year in the past, perhaps I will begin to write about. So, with all these memories, the word that came to me on one of my trajectories from stove to toaster was this: HERE.

“Is that allowed?” I asked her, lifting an egg out of the swirl of simmering water. A noun or an adjective seem worthier of summarizing a whole 365 days. But HERE was the word that came to me, so I told her what it meant to me as we sat down to the orange goodness of free-range eggs seeping into buttery crumpet holes.

Firstly, I mean being HERE in the sense of physically here in Canada. There has been something unexpectedly settling and comforting about gaining permanent residency after more than four years of temporary visas and some uneasy moments of transition and uncertainty. But our new immigration status has come at the right time. It takes longer to really settle somewhere than you might think and the four year mark finds us with roots having grown deep down into this New Brunswick earth, well and truly committed to this place and these people as far into the future as we can foresee or predict. Because, of course, settling means more than just being here in body, but also being here in heart and spirit and will. And we are – for better or worse, for richer or for poorer, four years having already given us a good test run on those highs and lows. No-one can throw us out now - unless we commit a heinous crime of course! – and that feels good.  (Being able to stay, that is, NOT committing a terrible crime.)

In 2012 I also made some deliberate choices to be more HERE, not always trying to be everywhere and ending up nowhere, not always waiting for life to be how I want it to be before I ‘show up’ and give myself to what IS. The biggest choice I made was to work less in order to be around more for Amélie. And, again, I don’t just mean being physically there for her, but with some energy and creative brain space to spare because I’m not trying to juggle 101 things outside of the house and ending up with only the rat ends of myself to offer at home. Pulling back, pulling IN, was both a hard decision to make and also felt like an absolute privilege and gift to me for this season. Hard because though some of my deepest desires have to do with being a mother, this is also the area in which I feel I fail most consistently and dismally. And, apart from that, parenting and Stay-At-Home-Mum work is often thankless, endless and somewhat monotonous, whereas work outside of the home is more measurable and challenging – often more varied – and usually brings more recognition and instant ‘reward’. But though in some ways I struggled to make the decision to put more of my eggs into this precarious but precious basket, I was ready for it: ready to try and fail and try again, ready to actually attempt to give myself more fully to what and whom I profess to value most. I have also been keenly aware of the luxury of this choice – one that not many have – and the fleetingness of this season in our family life, one in which it still matters to her whether I’m there or not. So although trying harder inevitably brings more failure and heartache, there have still been enough moments when I have KNOWN that I was more present, available and invested than I would otherwise have been, to make this a choice I could never regret.

Getting my eyesight corrected with laser surgery might seem too trivial to feature in a summary of the ways in which I have been HERE during the past year, but it was a significant step for me, and not just because I have been blind as a bat all of my adult life and can now see perfectly! I have always felt rather hidden behind glasses, as if it were these paltry frames and lenses rather than my eyes that really got seen, and I have been torn between resenting and feeling comfortable with this. So taking the risk of having my precious eyes pushed and prodded (and burned!) felt a little like a courageous coming out of hiding, as well as representing a choice to spend a decent amount of money on myself for something I would have in the past considered superficial, vain and wastefully extravagant. Since being given the gift of new eyes, enjoying wearing eye make-up more often has felt similarly significant as a choice to shine rather than hide – and as a push against the inner voices that still whisper their reproach. In the wake of my surgery it was very telling for me to realise that part of me still wanted to be able to have regular ‘glasses days,’ meaning days when I could somehow hide, or at least try to! But I can’t hide behind my glasses anymore. I am Here and I can SEE!

Finally, perhaps it’s hard to imagine how a miscarriage could have anything to do with the word HERE. Although it was my fourth miscarriage after (it now seems, miraculously) having Amélie almost nine years ago, this one came out of the blue after we had mostly come to terms with only having one child. So this pregnancy and its loss at 8 weeks, near the beginning of last year, brought with it so much suppressed longing, tentative hope, fear, sadness and loss – past and present – that you would think I’d wish to be anywhere but ‘Here’. But the surprising gift of this situation was that I felt, really for the first time, able to simply be present to the rollercoaster of desire, hope, fear, longing, pain, sadness and loss that life took me on, and not try to wish it away, deny it away, even pray it away, as I have in the past. For the first time I truly, deeply knew that nothing I could do, say, think, imagine, feel or, yes, pray could control or predict the outcome, for good or ill. But I could be Here, Now, in the gift of the moment, and present to the truth of what I was experiencing. And, incredibly, I discovered that there was true Life in that ability to be present Here and Now – even if it’s painful – rather than always thinking Life is elsewhere or waiting for it to be otherwise. So I just let myself cry a lot, and that was good. And then I mostly stopped crying, and that was good too. And I was truly ALIVE.

So that’s what I realised over breakfast with a friend. Although when I think back over 2012 there are a myriad of moments, days and weeks that I zoned out, stressed out, numbed out and was far less present than I would have liked to have been, still I am encouraged that I have been able to be just a little more HERE, and in some significant ways and situations. And I want this to grow. I don’t want to miss the one life I have been given.

What about you? Grab an egg as we leave a year behind and look to the next, have a think, and tell us what 2012 meant to you.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

A Good Question

Never underestimate the power of a question.
Don’t dismiss it as mere herald to the all-powerful answer,
Or despise its uncertainty as feeble or unsafe.

A good question is full of life.
It bursts with the curiosity and promise of undiscovered worlds.
Its key turns the lock of never-opened doors.

So don’t let your own question spill heedlessly from your mouth.
Instead, turn it,
Like a hard toffee between tongue and teeth.
Savour, smooth and hone it.

Hold and admire it, a wild bird balanced on your faltering hand,
And when you release it to another’s charge,
Be ready for it to return to you unfamiliar,
Changed beyond recognition,
And pulling in directions you did not predict or desire.

Learn to listen,
Just listen,
And to let answers be extended questions.

Likewise, when another’s question comes to you,
Don’t push it away if an answer does not spring instantly, comfortingly, to mind;
For this question’s gift was fashioned in the ferment of someone else’s strange soul.

A question should be given space
To roam through forgotten rooms.
Perhaps at first it will seem to bounce like a discarded rubber ball,
Its lonely thud echoing against the emptiness of abandoned space,
Bareness of untrodden floorboards.

But refrain from picking it up to thrust again into a cosy pocket,
And its ricochet will knock open closets,
spill chests,
split windows,
Drawing invisible arcs to connect random points,
Until the tangle of lines
Reveals a picture.

This picture you may pick up
And wonderingly exhibit,
Or carefully fold to store in your heart’s chest.

But the question?
Let the question bound on...

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Life's Small Things

A few things brought this 3+ year old poem fresh to mind yesterday:
1) I finally found a beautiful recycled glass jug at Ten Thousand Villages to replace the one the cat broke all those years ago; and we christened it last night, filled with water to rehydrate the cells after some lovely ruby red Carmenere.
2) Brianna's kind invitation to guest blog on her 'winter survival plan' brain child, Reflections on Darkness, has encouraged the light-dark motif to begin playing around the edges of my winter-slumbering consciousness. As I wonder if words will come again, I recall that they have come before.
3) As life continues to meander through its many patches of shadow and brilliance, and as I fail and succeed, fall and pick myself up again as much as I ever have, this poem helps re-ground me by reminding me that today's struggle and this year's struggle are also yesterday's and last year's and next year's; that mine is yours and theirs and ours and God's ("In all our wanderings, in light and in dark, you are the journey and the journey's end."); and that the hope and longing - and the journey in and through and towards them - remain constant, and must be kept alive, and are really what counts.
"How we get there is where we arrive." (Richard Rohr)


Today the cat broke my treasured water jug, a wedding gift from friends.
I cried as I swept up the shards of glass.
Today a friend spontaneously ploughed our oppressive mountains of snow.
We were left with miraculous open space, and the faintest hint of tender green.

Today something was irretrievably lost.
Today something was given, something gained.

Today I was ugly and angry with my daughter over nothing important.
We both cried, and I wondered how I am wounding her.
Today she asked for a kiss on her bumped head.
I marvelled that my loving touch still holds healing magic.

Today love was trampled and neglected.
Today love was simply asked for and freely given.
Today power was abused and vulnerability wounded.
Today there was connection, and tenderness, and healing.

I am a lover and a hater, a hurter and a healer, a bully and a friend.
I am control-freak one moment, carefree singing the next.
I am light and dark, good and evil, hidden and revealed.
Driven at times by an inner force of injury and rage,
Love rises at others to turn my small choices to good.

I am hopeful and despairing, as life’s small things bring loss or gain, fracture or growth,
As small things reveal the great circle of death and life before which I am powerless.
I am a small thing – powerless, yet powerfully held in the greater circle of love.

And so I watch the fall and the splinter, helpless to prevent or repair.
I know the wound and the wounding, and the barriers to love.
I hope, too, for the unsolicited miracle of healing,
For all that restricts to be pushed aside,
For the gift of a wide open space in which love can grow up
Like a tender shoot.

Rachael Barham – Thursday 26th February 2009

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

An affirmation: on returning home after being away

Isn't it such a gift to go away and leave one's everyday life behind for just a little while? And then isn't it also a gift to return to it, hopefully refreshed and with perspective regained and energy renewed? 

This is how I am feeling after a flying (but very precious) visit to my dear parents in England. I love the fresh eyes this gives me for my home, my everyday tasks, and especially my beloved two. It reminds me again (again, again) of the preeminence of love, and the smallness and pettiness of the concerns I can get caught up in. And so I long to recommit myself to this life, these dear people, the tasks and days I have been given, with all that I am and have; and particularly to commit myself to love above all - to love in all its patience, kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, trust, and delight. The sort of love that my small self, caught up in it-self, cannot manage, but that my True Self - centred and sourced from deep within and far beyond - can receive and live as gift. 

So this morning I re-member a simple meditation and affirmation that I wrote last summer on returning from six weeks in Europe, and I offer it to you too, as a way to re-call and rededicate yourself to the life YOU have been given. Because "This is my life!" Try saying this out loud, with a shifting emphasis on each word in turn, and feel what this means for you and what it releases inside you.

          THIS is my life.
          Right here, right now.
          It is not elsewhere
          and it is no different than it is.

          This IS my life.
          I cannot imagine myself out of or beyond it.
          Neither can any shortcomings,
          disappointments or misgivings
          alter or remove what IS.

          This is MY life.
          No-one else can live it.
          And only I have the power to choose 
          what it is
          or what it can be.

          This is my LIFE.
          It is not a game or a show
          or a dress rehearsal.
          It is LIFE itself, given to me,
          and more than the sum of its parts.

          THIS. IS. MY. LIFE.

          (Tuesday 28th June 2011)