Thanksgiving Day Hike

As is often our tradition, we do a hike on Thanksgiving Day weekend. Today we went to Foley Mountain Park in Westport, ON. The air was fresh, the sky was blue, and the trees were just beginning to colour.

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We followed the Orange Maple Trail

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The trail wound through young forest on the rocky Canadian Shield.

The canopy was beginning to turn colour.

The canopy was beginning to turn colour.

And closer to Big Rideau Lake the colours were more vibrant.

And closer to Upper Rideau Lake the colours were more vibrant.

We enjoyed exercise, fresh air, and sunshine.

We enjoyed exercise, fresh air, and sunshine.

And also enjoyed moments of beauty...

And also enjoyed moments of beauty…

and serenity.

and serenity.

We're pretty sure we saw a bear paw print in the sand. What do you think?

We’re pretty sure we saw a bear paw print in the sand. What do you think?

It was an afternoon of blessing and goodness. Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

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Give Thanks- Always

Today, in a moody late winter day, we have had ice and overcast skies, puddles of melting snow and brilliant sun.

But for our little town of 1000, it has been a tragic day. Blair’s Barbershop has burned to the ground. The people above the shop have lost their home.

While the details will come out in the news in the next several days, my eyes tear up. Blair had one of the longest, if not THE longest running business in town… 45+ years.  His shop was a cozy place. Small, smoky from the woodstove and the lingering scent of customers, filled with memorabilia, deer antlers, antique toys and more. It was a landmark.

And as I write, it is being torn down, smouldering, stinking. Charred, rippled, century old beams- some of which are still in one piece- are toppling to the backhoe that sits in a narrow lane by the post office. It barely has room to swing around. I see the BLAIR’S BARBERSHOP sign in blue lettering get crunched. The sun is bright and people stand around in winter coats, but no toques or mittens.

Blair’s Barbershop shared an old stone wall with Stedman’s Department Store. That wall, and the valiant efforts of our local volunteer fire team, have saved Stedman’s. And the brick post office beside it. The post office is closed indefinitely due to smoke. The department store must also be.

I spoke to Giles, Stedman’s soon-to-retire owner, and he said, “You never know what you’ll wake up to, do you?” He is thankful. But he immediately thinks of Blair.

Moments before, I crossed the street under police direction to go to FoodMart to get some of life’s essentials. I saw Blair coming the opposite way.

An OPP officer was leading him, almost supporting him. Blair is a man in shock, and I don’t think he even saw me. I feel nothing but sorrow for the man. He was alone when I saw him, and I felt grateful for the officer who was doing his duty with dignity. Blair’s entire life’s work and efforts and memories have gone to flame in a matter of hours, minutes even. Heartbreaking. Nothing will ever replace it.

I could have taken photos today, but it didn’t seem right. Even though the sidewalks had many people around, it was quiet, hushed almost. The cracking of timbers reverberating off the buildings across the street. It didn’t seem right to freeze such a moment in time into a still-life.

Ironically, there is a funeral home within a stone’s throw of the barbershop- basically  at the back door.  There was a funeral today. Everyone dressed in black. Exiting the funeral as the burned building is taken out. Parking is full on both sides of the street, some on snow banks. Traffic is moving in slow motion as this is also the detour route around Main Street.

Life is full of twists and turns that would probably overwhelm us if we saw them in advance. You never know what you’ll wake up to. So give thanks. Give thanks that you woke up. Give thanks for all the good in the world.  Give thanks- always.

 

Poem to the One I Love

I wrote this to my husband, who travels extensively for work. We met for dinner at a restaurant, as he was going through town on his way from Point A to Point B.

I noticed him watching me a lot as we ate, but he did not say what he was thinking. So I asked him…

This poem came to me on the drive home, and into the evening, so I thought I would share it here.

POEM TO THE ONE I LOVE

What do you think when you look at me?

I asked.

So now I ask myself:

What do I think when I look at you?

I see a healthy, clean, pleasant face.

Neatly trimmed hair around thin, refined lips.

I see a nose that moves slightly when you talk.

And eyes, clear blue eyes, like

A bright blue day-

With a few clouds scudding past.

I see wrinkles and crinkles of years

Of smiles by your eyes. I love those lines.

I see your brow, smoothing out

As we eat and talk.

I see a face more familiar than my own.

For who has gazed upon their own face

In conversation, in concentration, or at rest?

When I look at your face

I see love.

                                ~Brenda Visser, 2016

Happy Early Valentine’s Day Everyone!

Card- Love Blossoms 3

 

 

 

 

 

John’s Positive Pipe Organ

My father grew up in the Netherlands, and as a young boy was impressed by the pipe organ he heard in church. That impression never left him. Organs became his hobby, and my childhood was full of organ music.

I remember Dad reading the Diapason magazine, studying it, really, as my brothers played with Lego around his feet.

He taught me to play chess, while pipe organs from Europe played from vinyl records. A lot of times, it was Johann Sebastian Bach.

Apparently, I was the referee before I even learned how to play the game. Dad is on the left. Sunday afternoon was the only time Dad had for chess games, and most likely there was organ music playing.

I would come home from a stressful day in high school, and Dad would be home from work, alone, eating his jam sandwich, with pipe organ music belting out of the stereo. I didn’t necessarily smile, but he sure did. I liked it. It was such a switch from the day-to-day grind of teenage hormones and insecurities. It meant home.

Often times, Dad would wake us up on weekends with his playing.

Along the way, I attended pipe organ concerts along the French  or the South Shores of Nova Scotia.

One of the most remarkable feats was when he acquired a complete pipe organ that was sitting abandoned in someone’s barn. It came to us in thousands of pieces, like a giant 3-D jigsaw puzzle. Dad patiently reconstructed it all, even making way for its soaring soft pipes by cutting into the empty barn loft of our century barn. He eventually sold it, and it is now in someone’s home.

He built a clavichord, a pretty little instrument. Again, a pretty neat accomplishment.

And his latest feat was the building of a small, living-room size pipe organ. It is entirely, painstakingly, built from wood, pipes and all. Some of it recycled wood, and all of it carefully chosen.

The organ is showcased here, in a 10 minute interview, via the link below. Take a look!

http://youtu.be/wZ7fx7zrj4g

Knives, Nonsense, and New Life

It was a beautiful spring day in Nova Scotia. The grass was turning green, the sky was blue, and birds were singing everywhere.

We were in the picturesque province for a funeral, and a bit of a mini-vacation with family. Being on the go, one night we decided to order pizza from Luigi’s- the yummiest pizza around. We ordered, and my husband and I hopped in the car to pick up our boxes.

As we left the subdivision where my mother-in-law lives, we drove by a cute yellow colonial house that was in the process of being upgraded by her owners. Three mid-teens were outside, standing in a circle to the side of the house. We were almost past them, when a glittering object fell to the ground, not far from them.

It was a knife. A large butcher knife. That fell from the sky.

It took a moment for this to sink in.

These two boys and one girl, probably around 15 years old, appeared to be playing a “dare” game. A game where a dangerous activity is agreed upon by a few or a group, and the challenge is to not flinch or “chicken out” by saying “no” or “stop”. Examples of these types of activities are found all over the internet, and I find them disturbing, so will not elaborate on them here.

We arrived at the pizza parlour early, and while we waited for our order, we debated what we should do. Knock on the door and tell the parents? Call the police? Ignore the situation? We did not know if these kids had ill intent, if they were on drugs or alcohol, or what the state of their minds were.

We decided that if they were still out there when we went back, that we would simply ask them to stop. We hoped they weren’t an angry bunch who would  turn on us…

Sure enough, as we approached the yellow house, a knife catching light from the sun clattered to the sidewalk. A teen ran over and picked it up, pulling up his sleeves, sweating. They stood in a circle. He threw the knife. Up high. Very high. The knife came down. Landed with a thudding plunge into the grass. Inches from a bare foot.

We drove up with cautious urgence. Rolled down the window. The knife was in hand to be thrown again. All three looked at us silently.

“Could you please stop throwing that, please? It’s so dangerous!” I pleaded. My husband echoed those thoughts. “Please stop. You guys don’t need to be doing that!”

Then a surprising thing happened. I expected them to laugh, to be angry, to ignore us or swear. Instead, what we heard was the most meek thing ever.

“Okay,” they all said in unison. “Okay”. They looked down, and immediately started walking towards the house. They were quiet.

“You are all too valuable for games like that!” we said.

“Okay,” they said, completely submissive.

The transformation was astounding.

It was like these kids were waiting for someone to say something. Not one of them could bear to break the peer pressure and say no, but it appeared they all wanted to. They welcomed our words, received them in a way rarely seen in teenagers. (Believe me, I know. I have four teens in my house!) The relief was tangible and evident.

In Christianity, turning from your old ways to a new, God-inspired spirituality is considered to be a conversion. New life.

Now, I have no idea about the hearts of these kids or what drove them to engage in such a dangerous activity, but something profound and deep happened that day. I could feel it. I could see it. I could hear it.

It was a conversion, of sorts. A chance of new life, and a stepping away from something destructive.

I do not know how this has affected the kids involved, or if they even think of the incident anymore.

But I know it affected me:

Words are powerful.

They can build or break.

Choose them carefully-

See the difference you can make.

I am so glad I spoke up that day.

***Song lyrics from Colleen Reinders and Grace Moes, "Encourage One Another"

Tissues & Tears

My father-in-law is in the hospital. He has multiple medical concerns, perhaps the greatest being the state of his lungs after a lifetime of cigarettes. But the most disconcerting thing is his dementia and decay of mind.

A dedicated farmer, “Opa”  began his life in Friesland (northern Netherlands). He has always claimed that he started work at the age of three. I’m not quite sure what exactly that looked like, or how true it was, but it is true he did not live long before he was helping on the family farm.

He milked sheep outside and hated it. They were wet and smelly, and it seems he did the job alone. (Sheep milk is used to make cheeses such as ricotta or feta.  I am not sure if the Dutch made sheep-milk gouda. Can anyone tell me?) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheep_milk)

Sheep that may be similar to the ones milked by my father-in-law as a child.
Photo from: ( http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/sheep/friesianmilk/index.html)

The oldest of 11 children, he carried much responsibility, including when he immigrated to Canada as a young man, with other family members, taking over financial responsibilities and other things for his father.

When I entered the scene, years later, he and his brothers were living on successful, thriving farms, or operating other successful agricultural businesses like potatoes and apples. He himself had pigs, which he did not really enjoy, but which gave a steady income prior to the sharp decline in pork prices in the 1990s. He also had Holsteins, his true love.

The birthday parties when all the brothers and sisters were united were noisy, joyous occasions. The longer the celebration was, the louder it got- the stories became more boisterous, the tales of the past more adventurous. My husband and I would hear crazy stories of these Boys in Friesland with their wild horses. They were reckless, bold, and not afraid.

We heard stories of Opa being dragged down a cobblestone street full-speed by a runaway Dutch Warmblood horse. (For more about the Warmblood, go here: http://stabledays.typepad.com/stable_days/2009/01/five-fun-facts-of-my-favorite-horse-breeds-dutch-warmblood.html

We heard stories of him as a teenager, having to walk miles to deliver their best horses for World War II service, and how heartbreaking that was. To this day, he loves a fine horse, particularly Warmbloods or Friesians.

Friesian Horse

But as I mentioned earlier, his true love is Holstein cattle. He spent years milking them, studying and developing pedigrees and good genetic strains. His office is decorated with colourful ribbons won in many competitions and classes. He got out of bed every day, eager to spend time with his cows. In the evening, on his cot, he would fall asleep, Holstein Journal opened in front of him.

He was smart and shrewd, a sharp businessman, which did not always win him favour. But he knew his stuff and wasn’t afraid to dicker. I heard more than one business transaction get heated over the years that I was on the farm with my husband.

In 2012, one of his Holsteins, Friesia Goldwyn Lainey, won significant prizes in various prestigious competitions:

2nd five-year-old at Quebec Expo; 4th at International Holstein Show &Quebec International Fall Show; and 5th at Royal Winter Fair.

2nd five-year-old at Quebec Expo; 4th at International Holstein Show &
Quebec International Fall Show; and 5th at Royal Winter Fair.

(Friesia Goldwyn Lainey continues to win: http://www.belfontainegenetics.com/en/nouvelles.php?id=23)

Which brings me to the title of this post- Tissues & Tears.

Opa has dementia, the mysterious decay of the brain. It means he has days where he does not know where he is, what he is doing, or what he is saying. He wants to get out of bed, but is not really able to. He sees things that we don’t. Yesterday he kept saying there’s water coming in, mice and rats are running, the hay will get wet, there’s water coming in…

I wish I knew the story behind that.

He also spent time yesterday taking every Kleenex out of the box- swoosh, swoosh, swoosh- methodically, one by one. Then he tried stuffing them all back in. This story brings tears to my 18-year-old daughter’s eyes. It has always been a family joke that she did the same thing when she was 18-months-old and I was napping on the couch.

Kleenex

It is very hard to see someone you love become frail and helpless. To see the strong become weak. To hear the garbled words of someone who could earlier play with words. To feel strong and vibrant next to vulnerability.

Grief.

Tissues and tears.

We love you, Opa.

Update: Opa passed away on April 11, 2013, one day after his 84th birthday.

Fire!

I remember as a child watching a tall office building burn down. I remember the hook and ladder truck reaching for the top and looking so thin and flimsy next to the raging inferno. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

Another time in my childhood, the hay barn of a neighbour burned to the ground. It burned all day (and smoked for many after), and the firetrucks came from all around the county, zooming by our house, sirens screaming. It was a beautiful, east-coast-sky-blue summer day, and black, black smoke roiled furiously for hours. We stood in the backyard and watched it all.

In later years, my husband’s cousin lost his entire pig farm operation to an electrical fire. The historic barn, the newer addition, and hundreds of pigs were lost. It was a tragedy. Interestingly enough, his cousin now says that the fire was a good thing. Painful at the time, it also gave them a new start, a new opportunity. They now operate a beautiful boarding facility for horses, which had been part of their original dream at the beginning.

Friends of ours just lost their modern dairy barn, more than 100 milking cows, in a brilliant blaze that lit up the night. Again, my husband was there to help pick up the pieces and clean up debris. And he wasn’t the only one. Neighbours and friends from all around came to help. A community dinner and dance will be held in support of the four families who earn their living from milk. And meanwhile, they are beginning to speak of rebuilding.

And this is the amazing thing about disaster. When we are faced with it, we have a choice.

To give up or go on.

To sink or swim.

To die or rise again.

When you study the history of the old downtowns of cities or villages, it is common to learn of vicious fires that raged through a whole street of structures. Most often, today’s viewer cannot tell where the damage had been.

I love the poetry of Isaiah 61, where it says that God comes to

“Provide for those who grieve-
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.”

No matter what difficult thing you may be facing, I hope that you will begin to be able to experience beauty instead of ashes.

Like sitting by a crackling fire on the hearth on a cold winter’s day…

This blog post inspired by a WordPress writing prompt:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/daily-prompt-ode/