I am making a move . . . consolidating this blog with my website page. If you wish to find out what I have to say about this amazing woman, you can read it at:
In honour of my aunt’s 80th birthday, I’m re-posting a piece from a few years ago. Blessings to her again!
My Aunt Erma celebrates a birthday today. She is a strong woman in a family of strong women. I’m proud to say that when the women in our family have an idea or a purpose, stand back.
From her I learned:
- How to be authentic – You might not agree with my Aunt Erma’s opinions on any given matter, but you can be certain to know what they are. She never puts on airs or hides her true feelings behind a façade of false politeness. I admire her forthright approach to life and the authentic soul I see because of it.
- How to tell a tale – My aunt has had many stories published in the local paper, and her writing group—The Henscratchers—published a book. I appreciate her ability to capture life in a story or a poem.
- How to weather a storm – She has had more than her share of uncommon heartbreaking events in her life—the kind that knock you off your feet for more than a few days. I respect her strength and resilience in bouncing back, picking herself up and carrying on.
- How to entertain a whole room – Give my Aunt Erma a guitar and some elbow room, and she’ll happily provide the songs for the night. She and her sisters (including my mother) have sung together at community events. I envy her enthusiastic ability to sing out without inhibition.
- How to teach with calm assurance – My aunt was the kind of teacher who kept order in the classroom and expected the best from her students. She’s petite, so her authority came from her manner, not her stature.
There’s a whole lot of power packed into a diminutive woman in my Aunt Erma. I would say that she’s like her mother in that regard (my grandmother), but I’m not sure she’d like that. .
Like all strong women, she might have ruffled some feathers over the years. More than one person might have shaken their head and said, “Oh, that Erma . . .”
If I can live authentically, inspire with calm assurance, weather life’s storms with strength, live to tell the tale and entertain a whole room with songs, then I will be happy to ruffle a few feathers along my own way.
There are days when I wish more people could say, “It’s not about me.”There are days when I wonder why people think life should only be about what they like.
I am guilty of it too. But I try to think: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”
I use it at the grocery store when I’m in a hurry and the person ahead of me is paying cash, counting out every nickel. Patience.
I use it in tense meetings. Conflict resolution lessons.
I use it at church every week.
I’m a member of a progressive, affirming congregation. The foundation of our group is that love and grace are available to all people, but beyond that we don’t dictate what anyone should believe. On any given week an atheist could be sitting down the row from a person who believes in the virgin birth. It’s fantastic!
Our conversations are authentic, and deep, and heartwarming,
And challenging. How to balance the content of a church service for people on such different places on a journey?
- A service about an Old Testament story:
- “Why do we even use the bible (small b) anymore? It’s thousands of years old, written by men in a patriarchal time. What does it have to do with me? “
- “Thank goodness we’re finally talking about the Bible (capital B). It has timeless lessons, and it’s the foundation of our faith.”
- “It’s a sacred ritual for me. A reminder that I’m not alone and that I have purpose.”
- “It’s meaningless to me. A little creepy if you want to know the truth.”
- The cross:
- “It’s barbaric. I would never wear one because it brands me as something I don’t want to be associated with.”
- “It’s a symbol of connection with something greater than myself, the reaching and the grounding.”
- The organ:
- “The music resonating through the pipes moves me to the depths of my soul.”
- “How can people endure that horrible screeching?”
- A short sermon:
- “It’s about time. No need to go on and on about things. Just get to the point. “
- “The minister needs to delve more deeply into the topic.”
- Children in church:
- “Oh, the noise, noise noise!”
- “It’s good to see so many children. They bring the place to life.”
- The hymns:
- “We need to sing more of the old, familiar hymns.”
- “Enough of the blood and the sin songs. Let’s sing something new.”
- The prayers
- “Oh my God, the prayers are long. My mind drifts off.”
- I need prayers. They are my time of centering. It’s when I connect with God, and when we connect with each other and the world.”
Every Sunday something happens that I would not choose to include if I were a member of a church of one. (And what fun would that be?) Every Sunday I have to remind myself that the thing I dislike is exactly the thing that someone there—maybe right beside me—is needing. Every Sunday I say to myself: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”
There always is. Something authentic, deep and heartwarming.
How have we failed our next generation?
Have we allowed them too many video games?
Do we restrict their freedom too much and not let them just be carefree and out there playing?
Will their inability to read cursive writing or tell time by an analogue clock put their lives in mortal danger someday?
Those are all valid questions. But there’s one place where I know I mis-stepped with my children.
They don’t use top sheets on their beds.
Apparently this is common amongst people of their age. Read one such person’s opinion here: For the love of good sleep, stop using a top sheet.
My children are young adults now so I don’t do their laundry anymore, but when they were younger, this drove me bonkers. On laundry day, I would find the top sheets either removed entirely or balled up at the foot of their bed. And washing a duvet cover is five thousand times more irritating than washing a simple sheet. (I’m not exaggerating there, right?)
I did’t understand why my children did this, and I thought it was a weird familial quirk. I would growl and grit me teeth and ask “Why? Where did I go wrong?
My friend has a theory that it’s because of the climate controlled comfort of our homes. She could have a point.
The farmhouse I lived in as a child had no central heating. My father, bless him, was first up in the morning. He lit the wood furnace and heated the lower floor while the rest of us — weighted down by layers of our grandmother’s quilts — watched our breath condense in the cold of air of our bedrooms upstairs. When he thought the house was warm enough, my father yelled up. My brothers and I would count, “1, 2, 3,” throw off the quilts and run as fast as we could from the frigid upstairs to the warmth below.
I grew up in a generation that needed layers for those winter nights, and the more the better. The top sheet (flannel in winter) was another much needed layer. And it protected the quilts, of which every stitch was sewn by hand.
On the flip side of that, without air conditioning the upper floor of our farmhouse could be suffocating on sweltering humid Ottawa Valley summer nights. The thin top sheet was all we could bear. It gave us the feeling of being covered without causing heat distress.
Even though the thermostat in the house I live in now is set to reduce automatically to a lower temperature at night, our home never reaches the biting cold of my old farmhouse on a winter night. And even though I’m not a fan of air conditioning and use it seldom, the times I do choose to use it are on the kind of sweltering hot days when a single top sheet for sleeping would be the choice.
As a result, for my children and others like them, the top sheet has become superfluous. They kick it off. Tra la la, I’m free.
Bonkers, it drives me.
But wait. To add insult to injury, my Facebook feed these days is filled with advertisements about weighted blankets. Some of these blankets promise that they have been “re-engineered” to guarantee sleep that will solve everything from ADHD to restless legs syndrome to my menopausal symptoms.
The same generation that kicks off their top sheets is now paying extra for the sensation that mounds of my grandmother’s quilts provided.
My grandmother never had to “re-engineer” her quilts.
As a parent, there are many things I would like to go back in time and do over. Some of those things “weightier” than others.
One thing I would rectify for sure would be the top sheet thing.
I would turn our furnace WAY down at night, load up their beds with quilts and not turn the heat back up in the morning until they had a good dose of watching their breath condense..
“Yesterday, while I was vacuuming my house,” Jackie Hawley said, “the truth came to me.”
Hawley is the Artistic Director of Cantiamo Choirs of Ottawa, a group that uses our church as a practice facility. She was invited to speak to us about her purpose and the work of the choir, and she told us that when she first started thinking about what to say, she focused on the music education, the performances, and the work in the community.
Then she vacuumed.
The repetitive physical act that required only muscle memory and no mental exertion opened her mind and invited inspiration. Her vacuuming body and open mind allowed her to realize that her purpose wasn’t really the education, the performances or the community work. They were all part of it, sure, but there was a deeper truth.
“I love through bringing music and beauty into the world,” she said.
She realized the truth about her purpose in life by cleaning her house.
Some people say they do their best thinking in the shower. Same idea. I once received a story idea while stirring cooked pudding. Many writers go for long walks every day for the same reason.
Body movement that doesn’t require mental exertion allows the mind to open to ideas, truths, plot resolutions or comforting thoughts.
Suddenly, I feel an urge to do some vacuuming . . .
To receive a skiing tip from Canadian alpine ski legend Nancy Greene Raine is a priceless gift.
It’s also slightly embarrassing.
We spent last week skiing at the Sun Peaks Resort in British Columbia, and one of the immeasurably valuable benefits available at the mountain is the opportunity to ski with Nancy Greene, Olympic medalist and World Cup champion.
She is gracious, kind and generous with her time. Several times a week she skis with visitors to Sun Peaks, and last Tuesday I was one of those lucky guests.
I’m a competent skier, but it seems that no matter what I do, I am always last in any group. I don’t care for speed. So, that day fifteen or twenty skiers followed Nancy down the hill, and I trailed behind.
She stopped to make sure the group held together. Of course I was last. She and all those fifteen or twenty skiers watched me struggle with fresh snow on the final slope.
“You’re all right?” she asked.
Oh God. Was it that bad?
“When you’re skiing, look ahead at the big picture,” she said. “Don’t keep your eyes on the snow just in front of your skis or you’ll get tense. Look ahead and relax.”
I remembered her advice when I skied after that, and it helped. I noticed it especially on Friday night when we attended the Alpine Fondue & Starlight Descent.
We enjoyed a three-course fondue dinner at the restaurant on the mountain and then skied down after dark via starlight and headlamps.
Skiing in the dark meant that I had to free myself of concerns about what lay ahead. I had to relax and go with the flow. I took this photo of other members of my group coming down the mountain AFTER me.
I wasn’t last!
I had time to stop, remove my gloves, take out my phone, unlock it and take the picture, and just look how far behind me those skiers are.
Keep our eyes on where we’re going, not what we’re going through.
Freeing, free advice from a champion