happiness

From Grandma’s Kitchen (FGK-1)

The kids and I moved into Grandma’s house three years ago, a few months after mom died. This house is full of family treasures of the sentimental kind. There are letters and cards, knickknacks, old kitchen items, even empty boxes of items purchased over 50 years ago (because you just never know).

In fact, years ago when I was a teenager (so late 80s) Grandma found an old tin of butter from the war in the basement. Seriously, you never know what you’re going to find.

Then there are all of mom and dad’s things. 70+ years of all of their treasures. And, because it’s “grandma’s house” and “mom and dad’s house” there are all of our childhood things and those of our children as well.

I guess what I’m saying is I had a full house of things to move into a house that was already full. And to go through things requires time, emotional energy, and my sister. The last 3 years have been busy, forget the past year of not being able to gather together. So my stuff is still in boxes sitting in with all of the treasures from other generations. It can get a bit overwhelming to say the least.

So this summer I have set aside time to deal with the treasures and the trash. I have felt for a while this is a crucial part of what I am supposed to do. Like this is an important part of the puzzle that is MElissa. I need to go back and find where I came from, to learn as an adult about the adults who raised and loved me.

And so, I’ve decided to blog this summer “From Grandma’s Kitchen” as I share some insights about the journey of clearing space in this home that I love so much.

It started yesterday. I walked past the “junk room” and I saw the ribbon of a cassette tape lying across the floor. Damn cats. I went in to grab the tape and throw it out, hoping it wasn’t anything important. I’ve looked through the old tapes many times because I’ve been looking for tapes made by my Grandpa Ramsay to no avail.

I followed the broken ribbon to the tape and grabbed it. It was an old theology tape made by one of our family friends (and probably would have been interesting). But then my eyes went to a tape randomly sitting beside it. As I’ve said, I’ve looked on this dresser many times before and I’m sure I never saw this tape lying there.

It was written in Dad’s handwriting and it said “Edna C….. Margie Bio”

And what it is is Dad interviewing Grandma about Mom’s childhood and her time in the hospital with Polio.

The Forgotten Years.

Or more aptly put: The Never Spoken Of Years.

There was always so much pain and trauma surrounding the time when mom got sick that it was a taboo subject in our home.

And yet, as I get older I find myself wanting to know more about mom and the rest of the family in those years. Because something big happened. Not only did mom almost die, but at some point she and everyone around her decided she was going to live and that she was going to live an important life. And everyone supported her until the day she died.

And that takes a special kind of love, character, strength, and most importantly faith.

I’ve just started listening to the tape, and I’ll share some of what I hear as I go along. But this part has stuck with me since yesterday.

While mom was in isolation, Grandma was told by the specialist who had been flown in from Australia that she needed to say goodbye to mom. Here’s Grandma’s recollection and response to the doctor:

And then the epidemic in Australia subsided and the doctor who was a specialist in Australia on polio was sent for to come to Canada. And she was quite a nice lady. The isolation hospital phoned me and asked if I’d meet her one day. She met me on the doorstep and she said that this is something that isn’t supposed to be done but they are obliging me to come to see my daughter because she is not going to live. And she knows that would comfort you a little to see her. So I walked with her through the rows of sick people and the girl in a bed beside her was in an iron lung. And she was too sick to talk or anything. And she (the doctor) said now I”m going to talk to you and you are not to even expect her to live nor to wish her to live. Believe me I’ve seen enough cases to know what I’m talking about

I said well I’m going to do just the opposite of what you’re telling me, I’m sorry. I’m going to expect her to live I’ll pray that she will and I’m going to get a lot of others to do that. And we have been, my friends and my church. She said well that’s very foolish because you’ll be disappointed and I was trying to ease your pain, so it wouldn’t be such a shock to you.

So I thanked her I just walked on then from one church to another where I could walk to move in Calgary and just spoke to the minister in each one of them. It didn’t matter what the church or the religion was and asked them to pray for her. And of course our church said they would, all of them did in Cochrane.

The power of prayer. And the strength and courage of Grandma to go ask strangers to pray for her daughter. It humbles me. And of course we know that while mom was left with some major physical impairments, never let anyone tell her she couldn’t do something. And it’s easy to see the apple didn’t fall far from the tree – no one was going to tell Grandma no either.

And aside from the power of this amazing story, the gift from God that I am able to hear these stories that I’ve longed to know for so long, I got to hear Dad and Grandma’s voice. From what I’ve gathered from the tape, they did this interview here in Grandma’s kitchen, in the same place where I am sharing it with you.

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happiness

Crocuses and memories

Yesterday my aunt headed home to be with Jesus. Although I will miss her here, she was a woman who held true to her faith and I know she was welcomed with open arms.

When we were kids, my cousin and I would go spend a week or so in the summer at my aunt and uncle’s farm, splitting our time between VBS and scaring the crap out of ourselves with whatever fun things we could find to get into. Sometimes our cousins would take us to the nearby “haunted house”, once we found a two headed grasshopper, but a lot of our time was spent playing in the yard and generally enjoying ourselves.

When I went away to school, my aunt sent me cards regularly so that I wouldn’t feel too lonely. She even came once and took me out for lunch which meant so much to me (I really was lonely).

After Grandma died, we were all sitting in the kitchen when my aunt returned from a walk in the field. It was early April, but she had found some crocuses growing in the field and brought them into the house. It seemed very fitting to have there for Grandma, but it also seemed fitting that my aunt would have gone out and found something that provided us all with a bit of comfort when we were all sad.

For some reason, after everyone left, I grabbed those crocuses and dried them in one of my books. The crocuses came with me as we moved around, and every once in a while I would open the book and look at that memory of love from home.

I opened the book at Christmas time and again looked at the crocuses with so much gratitude that we were back in the same home where they had sat in their vase (actually, in our home crocuses always go in a small juice glass), steps away from the field that had grown them. Grandma will be gone 17 years this spring, and it’s always amazed me that these crocuses held their shape. This time, though, the crocuses were disintegrating and as soon as I touched them they crumbled into little pieces.

It was like they knew they’d done their job well and were ready to go. Hopefully they’re a centrepiece at a beautiful tea table in heaven.

Love lasts for eternity. Everything else is noise.

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happiness

Love that lasts through time and space

Poor Ella has been quite depressed since Aladdin died. She’s the most cat-like of our cats (don’t touch me, don’t look at me, and whatever you do… don’t touch my fancy tail) and has a harder time getting along with the other animals (and sometimes humans). But she loved Aladdin, and he loved her.

They would lie on my bed for most of the day all cuddled up together, and they slept there at night too with me interrupting their space. He just got her, he loved her no matter how cranky she was and in turn that made her less cranky.

Since he’s been gone, she’s lying on my bed alone a lot of the time. She’s just kind of down and depressed even though we try and shower her with love.

Today the girl suggested we take Aladdin’s ashes and put them on the bed with her to see if they comforted her at all. It’s funny, if it wasn’t for the kids I never would have got ashes back, but it seems they were much needed. I could not believe her reaction.

She lay on the bed for ages loving on that box

I was not prepared for how beautiful or emotional this would be. But she just could not stop hugging on the box that contained the memories and essence of her best friend.

It was a truly beautiful moment.

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happiness

Little Abu

We had a health emergency with little Abu yesterday that put us all in a small state of panic (she’s going to be ok). Abu is Aladdin’s sister and littermate, they lived together with their mom in the abandoned house before they were rescued, to say she was bonded to him is an understatement.

Man, it was hard taking her to the same clinic where we let Aladdin go to his happy hunting grounds, I cried during her intake.

But you know, little Abu is a trooper. Besides the emergency, it turns out she’s in great health, and she won over the hearts of the kind people looking after her.

Abu may not have bonded with the other cats quite the way I’d have thought, she didn’t really need to since she had Aladdin. But, she has developed a strong bond with her two giant canine friends. I think they knew something was up because they both spent some extra time with her yesterday. It’s quite cute to see this little round ball of cat fur all curled up beside one of her dog friends.

The power of love is quite incredible. Us humans love Abu to bits, but our animals have these profound relationships with each other that I learn so much from.

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happiness

Opportunities for mindfulness

This week I am co-leading a group on mindfulness for my master’s program. Although the intention of mindfulness is to bring peace to your soul, I have been so stressed about leading this group!!!

My partner lives in China which is a challenge because of the 13 hour time difference, and so far I’ve been pretty much flying solo (although we did most of the prep work together).

Here’s what I’m discovering. The last 10 years of working on myself, including developing a (fairly inconsistent lately) meditation practice are really helping me. I know a lot more about mindfulness than I give myself credit for.

Also, I’m much more comfortable in the role of leader than I thought I would be. My years as a substitute teacher help me to be able to change lesson plans on the fly to meet the needs of the participants.

While preparing for these sessions, I’ve recommitted to my meditation practice and I’m noticing a huge decrease in stress over the last couple of weeks.

I feel that meditation and mindfulness helps me kind of reset my soul, which is a game changer when the anxiety or whirling thoughts kicks in.

I do a good job of talking to God, but not so much of listening. Meditation is my time to listen.

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happiness

Precious friend, precious memory

Sometimes we are lucky enough to have a true friend arrive in our lives. I’ve had a “bonus cousin” for about 25 years who is this wonderful soul who not only married my cousin, but became like family and a true soul friend to me almost the moment we met.

Yesterday I finally managed to drag myself to the vet clinic to pick up Aladdin’s ashes. I had a long talk with myself and “self” agreed that I could handle the emotions of it and everything would be fine.

Self lied

I was doing really well as I was standing in line at reception, I even let a lady go ahead of me who was carrying a large feed bag. I visited with the doggies who were coming in, I felt ok.

Then it was my turn and I blubbered out that I needed to pick up my ashes and then awkwardly stood there and cried while she went to the back to get them. Interesting note, crying with a mask on is just a disgusting mess of boogers and tears that run rampant all over my face.

I got home, cried again a little bit, and then started making supper. As I was cooking the doorbell rang and it was this soul friend standing at my door.

She’d had a portrait of Aladdin made for me because she knew how much I loved him and how I missed him. I burst into tears, she got a bit watery around the eyes, and I blubbered away about how much I appreciated the painting and the love behind it.

The kids have suggested the portrait go in our “hall of fame” which consists of photos of all of my grandparents, and somehow a portrait of little Melissa (not sure how I made the hall of fame, but I’ve always secretly loved it).

I will never forget Aladdin, but I also will never forget the love that went behind this gift. I will treasure it forever.

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happiness

Signs from above

I woke up this morning to find my facebook feed was filled with photos from last night’s Northern Lights. I love watching the lights dance across the sky, and usually get myself out of bed to see them when I know they’re out. Somehow, last night I missed the memo and was soundly asleep while the lights danced.

One lady took some absolutely amazing photos and I’d like to share them.

I see an angel, what do you see?
Here’s the rest of her pics along with her name for credit

The universe does some pretty cool stuff. How blessed are we that we are here to experience it!!!

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happiness

The ability to adjust

It’s been 11 days since we lost our beautiful soul that is Aladdin. After our Dotted Dog died last summer, the girl and I had a conversation about how each animal was connected to the others. We realized that the only one who had a relationship with all of us in the house was Aladdin. So when we lost him, all of us lost a companion and I can see all of the animals grieving in their own way.

Grief is interesting, and we all do it differently, no grieving process is the same in my experience.

I miss the honest and easy love that I shared with him. You know how usually when you have a relationship with a person or animal they have some weird trait that drives you insane, but you deal with it anyway because you love them? Aladdin didn’t have anything weird or annoying. In fact, when one of us was being weird or annoying, he would come to us and share our space until we felt better.

Abu misses her brother, they were together from birth and shared some pretty traumatic times before coming here. Poor Ella, our highly neurotic Southern Belle misses the only animal that she ever let into her world, her constant companion, and napping buddy. Jasmine misses the cat who taught her to be a cat, and Killer misses the weird bromance they had going on. Even the dogs seem sad.

When Aladdin would walk through the house, he’d stop at each of us as he passed and say hi, share some love, and carry on.

The interesting thing is now, we are all doing that. Not just the humans, but I see the cats pausing and greeting each other the way he used to when they never did before.

Abu, who I thought would be completely devastated has shown some mad survival skills. In the last couple of months our little ‘fraidy cat has decided to become best friends with both 100lb dogs. Last night I found her in the kitchen all cuddled up beside Bear having a nap.

I think the best way to honour the life of someone you miss is to tune into their best traits and share them with the world in whatever way is appropriate.

It’s easy to identify the less desirable traits of someone we know and decide “I’m never going to be like that” (sometimes less easy to actually not be like that). It’s a real challenge to see the light in someone else and decide that because their light shines so brightly that it’s safe to shine our own light too.

But we all need to shine our lights and share them with the world. The only way to get rid of the darkness is to turn on the light.

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happiness

Aladdin

I can barely stand to write this, we lost the beautiful soul that is Aladdin over the weekend.

Within days of dad dying, the kids and I went into Pet Valu in Cochrane to grab food for our dog and cat. The girl saw this beautiful bonded pair waiting to be adopted and immediately asked me if we could adopt them. I said no, partly because we would then have three cats which seemed like too many (haha I had no idea what was coming down the line), and secondly because I didn’t want to make any major decisions while I was grieving.

For the next three months, at least once a week, the girl found one reason or another to take me into the store and look at her cats. I even put her in a camp at the SPCA and told her if she found ONE cat that she liked we would adopt it.

Instead I would pick her up from camp and go see Aladdin and Abu at Pet Valu.

One day, as the weather was changing, a mouse ran across the floor of our old house. On that day I agreed to pick up the duo and our lives changed for the better.

When Aladdin came to live with us, he didn’t know really how to “cat”. They’d been left in an abandoned house with their mother for God knows how long before they were rescued. He didn’t know how to cuddle, he didn’t really know how to accept love.

But he knew how to give love. And he gave it in spades. And as time went on, he learned how to cuddle, found his purr box, and learned to accept the love that we showered on him, in the same way that he loved us.

I had a strict “no cats in my bed” policy. But as soon as Aladdin came to live with us, he decided his spot was on the bed, right between my feet. That is where he’s slept for the last 5.5 years and now there’s a big empty space where he is supposed to be.

If the other cats got into spats with each other, he was the one who came running to make them stop. If one of us was sad, he would come and sit on our lap until we felt better. Wherever he went he radiated love.

Aladdin means “nobility of faith” or “servant of Allah” and so his name is fitting for the soul that he was.

I feel like none of the words I use to describe him do even the littlest bit of justice to celebrate who he was. I am absolutely gutted and devastated by the loss of this gentle fur ball of love.

Aladdin (in front) with his sister Abu
To say they were a bonded pair would be an understatement
He even taught prickly old Ella to love
And they quickly became friends
We had a whole “Aladdin crew” with Abu and Jasmine

I hope he knows how much he was loved.

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happiness

The best part of waking up

Not coffee. It’s my teeny little puppy who is now about the size of our 100 lb gentle giant. Due to her puppy badness she sleeps in her kennel, and I get her up in the morning. Once in a while she will bark to wake me, but much more often I find her sound asleep on her back with her legs all over the place.

As soon as I let her out the loving begins. We have to stand just outside the kennel while I tell her how much I love her and she gets a little ear rub. Then she moves behind me and walks between my legs so I’m on her like she’s a horse (not too far fetched- goodness she has grown). We walk a few steps and she sits and lifts her face up to me and I give her a bunch of chin scratches before I walk/ride her to the door. Then she does a few weird jumps around while I try and get the old door unlocked and off she goes to check her yard for predators (or birds).

It has completely changed how I feel when I start my day. Instead of lying there waiting to see if I really need to commit to the day, I bolt out of bed to make sure I’m the first one up to get the morning love. She is pure love (and farts) and she radiates that towards us (love and farts – goodness I hope she grows out of the gas stage). It’s really something to see my boy pick up this giant dog and her just go totally limp while she pretends to be a little purse dog he’s carrying around.

It’s an odd balance to the fierce guard dog that she is, but that part provides comfort too. No one is getting in here without me knowing about it. And I’m pretty sure if they have ill intentions, they aren’t getting anywhere near me. That’s part of what love is too though, we protect each other.

Sometimes she likes to just chill on the couch. My guardian doggie with her heart shaped angel wings.
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