Dance Tunes remind me of my friend Derrie.

Dance Tunes remind me of my friend Derrie.

This morning I felt like listening to some soothing classical music. I chose Chopin. Immediately upon the first note I found myself transported to many different places and thinking of several people. Music, much like literature, is magical in the way it allows you to revisit other times and places and I think I could choose music that would suitably personify every joyful as well as painful moment in my life.

As a very young child I was exposed to music made by my family.  My biological father’s side of the family was quite musical, in an unschooled, country kind of way.  They did not have a lot of extra time or cash for leisure or entertainment so making music together was their form of entertainment.  My father’s mother played the piano by ear and at a young age was thrown into the dance hall music business when her father required someone to accompany him at local dances.  He played the fiddle and she played the piano while the locals danced the night away.

Whenever I hear fiddle, mandolin, banjo and piano music it takes me back to a time that I can hardly remember because I was so young but the music does something to my psyche that allows me to recall late night barn dances and early mornings when us kids would head out to the barn to eat the leftover take-out Chinese food and scavenge for the coins in  the straw that had dropped out of the frolicking adult’s pockets. The singing sound of a good fiddle reel can bring me to want to jump up and step dance or dissolve into a puddle of tears, neither of which I have much explanation or control over.

Classical music pieces also stir up memories and stories for me.  This morning as I listen to Chopin, I think of my dear friend Ester and her daughter Kristi, both whom are extremely talented pianists. Movie-like scenes form in my mind, of their dreamy, other worldly look and demeanour, as they escape into a magical relationship with the keys and notes.  Listening to these pieces makes me feel, in some small way that I am  connected to them and their world.  My story becomes bigger because I have been witness to their musical gift.  I am connected not to only them but also their families, their friends, their farm and of course the forest that we would often visit on our walking forays after an evening of music, conversation and fine food. I can picture Ester’s parents which causes another set of stories to unfold in my head, especially those of their resilience, resourcefulness and faith, as they have made their journey through  life-threatening escape, young love, family, hard work and finally, an old age surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren on a beautiful farm nestled away safely along side the mountains.

Although classical music can stir fond memories it also has the ability to take me back to the days when I somewhat unwillingly studied music. I wanted to take piano lessons and my Mom was so keen to do all she could to give me opportunities she never had as a child, that she enrolled me with a teacher when we did not even own a piano.  I remember walking home from school and hurrying over to the neighbours house to use their piano to practice. Soon after my Mom bought a piano from my grandmother and I was set.  The only problem being, I had already lost interest in practicing because it cut into the time I could play outside with my friends.  I was a competitive swimmer and I swam every morning and everyday after school so there was not much time left for leisure activities when the swimming, homework, chores and piano practicing were factored in.  Nevertheless, my Mom was a firm believer that quitters never get anywhere in life and so I stuck it out.  I learned to discipline myself to practice early in the mornings so that I could squeeze in friend time as well as piano and all my other activities.  I was diligent and the hard work did pay off.  I was able to get my Grade 8 Royal Conservatory Certificate and although I do not have my piano with me at this time I still love to listen to many of the composers and pieces that I begrudgingly learned as I grew up. I look forward to a time when I will have my piano and perhaps be able to take more lessons. Mom was again right, the hard work and not quitting paid off.

Yesterday I was reminded again of the power of music to transport us to happier times.  We received a short note in the mail from my partner’s widowed mother.  She wrote of the latest event in her life which was so touching.  She had recently been to a musical performance that she said  took her down’ memory lane.’  She recounted how the music caused her to relive the love she had shared with her husband before his death and asked us what music might perhaps do the same for us one day.  I found it so heartwarming that she would share such precious memories with her son and I.  What a beautiful gift.

Another genre of music, (country) that I could not stand when I was younger has since grown on me. Country music used to make me think of the ridiculousness of the lyrics and often caused me to be very sad.  I had no explanation for this pervading sadness and still don’t.  Now, country music makes me remember my parents on Friday nights, twirling around our living room or that of my aunt and uncle’s, dancing to the tunes of Stompin Tom Connors, Hank Snow, Hank Williams and Buck Owens.  I think of my Mom singing along to Jim Reeves when we lived at my grandparent’s house and remember when she was young.  I thought my mother was so beautiful, a super-model of sorts. I admired her fashionable hairstyles, her glamorous outfits and the nail polish she would carefully apply at the kitchen table.  I used to think I must have been adopted because I thought I did not possess any of her striking good looks or feminine mystique.  Sadly, life has taken its toll on my mother and although she is still striking with her intense blue eyes and long lean physique, she is tired and hurt, especially after the death of my oldest brother.  She still enjoys a good country tune though and I love to mix her a White Russian or pour a glass of red wine and put on some country tunes in order to transport her to happier times.

Country music also reminds me of my three children.  Funnily enough,  it is the genre of choice for all of them.  George Strait singing, I Wanna  Dance with You, reminds me of when my son would crank that tune and drive me crazy.  When I would tell him to turn it off he smugly reply, “come on Mom, doesn’t this remind you of Pa whistling away in Gram’s ear while they dance?”  Another country song that I cannot hear without thinking of my daughter, Regan, is People Are Crazy, by Billie Currington.  I can pinpoint exactly where we were the first time she played it for us.  We were driving between Penticton and Vernon on our way to my son’s hockey game in my parent’s truck.  When she put the song on I was immediately taken, probably because I saw such pleasure and joy in the faces of my daughter and my Dad.  I still love that tune.  Old Taylor Swift songs remind me of my youngest daughter and all the driving we did in her high school years.  When I hear those songs I can picture us speeding along the Hope Princeton highway on our way back to Penticton or racing toward Vancouver to try catch a ferry so we can be on the island with our family and friends for holidays.  I learned all the words to her early music and Hanna and I would sing away to pass the long hours of driving and to soothe our homesickness.

My Chopin playlist has ended and the house is quiet now.  I am going do some long neglected paperwork, bake a treat to bring along to a friend’s presentation tomorrow night and finish the mincemeat I started yesterday.  I’ll need to be focused and stay on track so I think I better choose my music wisely.  I’ll need something that doesn’t stir too many memories and is not too distracting otherwise I might find myself engulfed in an unproductive, nostalgic fog again and that just won’t do. Perhaps a little ‘Saturday cleaning  and chore music’ would be suitable; Billie Holiday or Thelonnius Monk? I’ll have to see.

Parents and Wisdom

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Wise Dad

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Mom still modelling getting outdoors and walking and then posing for the picture.

Today I am heading to visit my parents and that has got me thinking about parents as transmitters of wisdom.   Parents are sometimes unaware of what they may be teaching their children just by  going about living their daily life  but observation is a very powerful tool and the old adage “do as I say, not as I do” is not really effective. Sometimes it gets to be very difficult for parents to accept that the habits and traits that irritate them most about their children in fact have been picked up by observing them.  In my case this is very true.  I am not proud that I modelled stubbornness and impatience with my children often and it is not fun to be treated impatiently by my young adult children.  That being said I can look at so many good things that my parents modelled and that have now been transmitted to me and my children.

My parents are from the ‘hard working’ generation.  They believed that if you ‘put your nose to the grindstone’ and ‘buckled down’ you could succeed. They modelled this for us by going from having basically nothing but each other and their children, to paying off two properties, providing us with a beautiful recreational property to enjoy every summer, providing for any education we wanted and then turning around and repeating that with their grandchildren.  They provided rides and support to my children as they grew up and participated in sports, music and 4-H.  My parents were always there for my kids.  If one of them had a game and Gram and Pa were not notified so they could be there cheering they were disappointed and hurt.

Another thing my parents modelled to me was resourcefulness.  My Mom, in particular could make a meal out of nothing. I remember when we were young and short on cash we would be hungry and asking Mom what was for dinner.  She would sometimes reply ‘pine floats.’ I remember the first time she told us that.  Floats, I thought?  We never get treats like that; I wonder what a pine float is?  To my dismay I learned that a pine float is a toothpick floating in water.  This was my Mom’s way of telling us to stop bugging her and let her get about making whatever it is she decided to make and that she would not be taking requests.  Mom used humour often and I’m sure it was one of her coping strategies to quell her uneasiness about not being able to provide for her children and to avoid alarming us that that might be the case.

As we got older my parents hard work paid off and they were able to breathe a little easier.  They no longer had to worry about enough money for groceries; they were comfortable but not rolling in excess.  Some of the things I watched my parents do to save money and provide were things such as, going into the forest and collecting cedar blocks and then spending hours splitting the blocks into shakes for a roof.  My brothers and my Dad spent so much time carefully splitting the blocks and storing the shakes in the garage for when they would need a new roof. Generosity was also modelled and those shakes sat in the garage for years and were finally given to my oldest brother when he needed a new roof.

My Mom was and still is such a hard worker.  She always worked full time.  She would get up early and often walk to and from work in order to fit in her exercise which we learned was very important.  On top of that my Mom made all our food from scratch.  I can remember on Tuesdays or Wednesdays,  she would mix up a big batch of bread dough and put it in a covered bowl on the counter to rise.  Off she would go to work and then at lunch she would hustle home, punch the dough down and form the loaves.  They would be covered and left to rise a second time.  After work she would hurry home and put the loaves in the oven to bake and that is how we had our bread for part of the week.  Saturdays were cleaning the house and bread day as well.  She would repeat the same steps only this time she would make an even bigger batch of dough so that she could make us cinnamon buns for a treat.  All the while she would be organizing us to get our allotted house and yard work done while she worked away at jobs she did not have time to get to during the week.  Nobody was allowed to do anything with friends or for leisure until their Saturday chores were done.  At the time I remember hating Saturday mornings but funnily enough I found myself repeating this pattern with my own children for a time.  Through participating with and observing my parents, I learned to look after my belongings no matter how inexpensive or costly they had been and there are many jobs that need to be done to maintain a home and provide good food for a family.

Another one of the things my parents did to provide for their family was garden.  They would both participate in the preparation, weeding and watering of the garden but my Mom was the head cook and bottle washer when it came to preserving and preparing the food.  I spent many hours at my Mom’s side following instructions to boil canning lids, wipe the tops of the jars, pour in the syrup and such. Mom got really resourceful for a few years and we spent the winters eating canned everything. We had our favourites like cherries, peaches, pears and jam and then the ones we hated such as carrots, peas and even chicken one year.  Mom discovered that it was  cheaper to raise your own birds and then process them yourself so her and my aunt raised all these chickens and then butchered, gutted, plucked and wrapped the birds themselves.  You can imagine after that episode that we were a little turned off chicken.  My job was plucker and I remember being envious that my brothers got to gut and see the eggs and innards of the birds.  I thought it looked so interesting.

So this brings me to today. My Mom often marvels at how much I like to make things with my hands.  I have raised chickens, grown vegetables, kept a beautiful flower garden, grown fruit trees, picked mushrooms, canned, made chocolate truffles, baked bread, spun wool, knit and woven.  She can’t understand where I got the know how and willingness to learn all these things.  Really?  I rest my case on proving that the most effective way to teach your children is through being a good role model.  I may have not been listening so well but I was definitely watching.

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I Get to Choose

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Picking apples in November

This morning I was awake before the 6am alarm.  It is a gym morning and usually I really don’t want to get out of the warm cozy bed but today I was ready to be up before the alarm went off.  I headed off to the gym in the dark and was motivated to work harder than I usually do.  After my ‘what’s the hurry’ attitude yesterday I felt rejuvenated.  I left for the gym knowing I could work as much or as little as I wanted.  With that freedom of thought and permission to do what felt right, rather than having a preconceived notion of what I should do based on what I was able to do a couple of years ago, came a little extra motivation.

I felt great after my gym workout and was greeted with a steamy cup of coffee on the porch with my partner.  He had ventured out into the dark morning for a run and was back before me.  We sat and listened and looked at what was happening in the yard.  Within a few short minutes we observed the Juncos and Towhees in the rhodos and on the ground under the winter vegetation.  Next, I noticed a familiar sound and looked way up to see two bald eagles soaring and chirping at each other.  As I returned my gaze to the ground something moving quickly along the fence caught my eye and there was the grey squirrel running along the fence and over to a neighbouring tree.  All this activity caused my senses to be heightened and immediately I was aware of the sounds of loons and ducks coming from the ocean below the cliffs at the other end of the property.  Accompanying that was the sound of the sea bell ringing, warning ships of shallow waters.  Such activity early in the morning.

A little observation of how the natural world is up and busy first thing in the morning causes me to rethink wanting to linger in bed.   I guess the early bird really does get the worm.

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Cardamom Cookies

So, now it is time to get on with my day.  I am visiting my parents later today and so I thought it would be nice to bring a treat along.  Yesterday I made some apple crisp to share with them but I really want to bring something that they can have for a few days.  Lately, I have been feeling particularly drawn to my Scandinavian roots.  Last night I made Finnish Meatballs from Tessa Kiros’ book Falling Cloudberries and so today following that same urge I remembered how much my Dad loves Cardamom Cookies.  I don’t have the recipe my Mom used to use which was a recipe of my Dad’s aunt so I looked one up on the internet.  I came across the recipe for Swedish Cardamom Cookies that looked similar to the ones Mom made.  They are rolled and in the fridge chilling and I will bake them just before I leave so that I can arrive with a just out of the oven batch.

Mom and I are going to make Shepherd’s Pie together when I get there, another one of my Dad’s favourites and so I am looking forward to an afternoon with my parents.

The recipes for the cookies and the meatballs are on my recipe page or can be found by clicking on the link in the blog.