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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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

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.

Eating Stale Cookies and Other Fun

From the outside, my childhood may appear to have been quiet, boring even. Born to Dutch immigrant parents, I went to church every Sunday (sometimes twice), and often during the week for other programs  or events. The Calvinistic work ethic was alive and well in our home, and money was handled frugally.

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun!

Cookies were a big part of my first ten years. Yes, my mother baked cookies- sometimes. But she didn’t really need to, because my father was a cookie salesman. (If my husband sold cookies, I don’t think I would bake them either.)

Dad drove a van all over Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, selling cookies to grocery stores, small gas bars, and even to the ubiquitous Canadian coffee shops named for a hockey player.

He couldn’t possibly contain all those cookies in one van load, so we always had a store of them in the garage.

Biweekly, a big rig from Ontario would arrive at our rural Nova Scotia home to unload the next shipment. There was always lots of excitement in our house the day the truck was coming! (It may even have influenced the course of my brother’s life who is now an Operations Manager for a large trucking firm in British Columbia…)

The Cookie Truck! Can anyone guess what year this is?

We would wait on the lawn while the truck backed up slowly to the garage. We would watch while the cases of cookies slide down the steel rollers. We thought it was cool that Dad could carry so many cartons at once. We were never allowed to carry more than two at a time- a dropped box meant lost inventory. We loved to watch the garage fill up again, to listen to the talk of the driver and sometimes his driver-in-training, to see what kinds of cookies we would get. Sometimes they would unload in pouring rain. I remember the wet cardboard smell to this day.

My brothers by the Cookie Truck many moons ago. Aren’t they cute?

The empty boxes were great fun too. Being Dutch (and smart), Dad didn’t throw empty boxes out, but rather flattened and stacked them. They had many uses, such as a sort of mat that Dad could lay on while changing the oil in the vehicles.

Eventually, we moved to a new home, and most of our belongings went into cookie boxes. Once empty, the boxes still didn’t get thrown out.

Instead, my brothers and I folded them back up into empty cubes, and made elaborate forts and tunnels out of them in the vacant hay mow of our old barn. We put flattened boxes on the floor so our knees wouldn’t get sore. We spent hours up there being active and creative. And getting hungry.

After Christmas, Dad would have to remove all the stale gingerbread men, and the red & green wreath cookies from the shelves. He brought them back home. He may have received credit for them from the company, or it may have been a loss he had to swallow. Whatever the case, they made a convenient snack, sitting unattended in the barn.

The problem was, we would always get caught. The coloured sugar would stain our mouths an unnatural green or a Rudolph red. Somehow this never got past Mom! Which wasn’t great before supper. But the scolding we may have received never really diminished our fun, and more cookies would be eaten again. Maybe Mom didn’t really mind either- hungry kids are not usually happy kids, and besides she didn’t have to bake!

Post-holiday cookies made their way into the house too, and  were not really stale at first. You would think I would have gotten sick of them, but I haven’t. When given the choice in a store today, I often choose the very same ones I ate in my childhood. And often, I smile.

Crocheting Dutch Doilies

Crocheting with my grandmother, “Oma” in the winter is a warm memory from my first year of marriage. I had moved far away from friends to be with my husband, and was admittedly a little lonely (although I am not sure I admitted it at the time).

It just so happened that my widowed grandmother lived across the street from me, and I suspected she was lonely too. So about once a week in the evening, I would go visit. We would sit together, have tea, and talk about crocheting, needlepoint, and other handiwork. She could still make the intricate, cotton thread doilies at her age, from memory.

This doily was a wedding gift from my husband's Oma. She was in her 90s when she made it.

She would also talk to me about her teen years in Holland, and about marriage. She would sometimes give me advice, but I think she mostly listened. She was a good soul, and I felt very safe with her. I felt like I could tell her anything, and that she wouldn’t think less of me for it. I really don’t know how much I did share with her, but maybe she saw through me anyway. And that was okay.

Just being in her presence, especially by myself with no other family members present, was a blessing. It was like a little oasis. I always left her place happy, with songs in my heart.

Not once when I phoned her to ask if I could visit did she say no. True hospitality. I am thankful that I had a caring Oma. I am glad that I got to know her a little better on my own terms, before her decline.

She gave me the gift of herself, and I am grateful.

January’s Jigsaw

I got a jigsaw puzzle tradition from my mom. And there has rarely been a year since I lived on my own when I have not followed the tradition.

Every year, after the Christmas decorations are put away, when it is cold and snowy and I’d rather be by the fire, when the sunshine beams in the windows brilliantly, I make a new jigsaw puzzle.

First, I pick out a puzzle with a good image that won’t irritate me when the puzzle-piecing gets hard. Like this:

Then I choose a nice bright place to work in natural light. Usually that means the kitchen table, but given the table’s constant use, it is not always the best pick. (And since I have children, you will notice that the natural light in this photo has long since disappeared). I have to adapt to working on a large piece of cardboard or wood.

I pick out all the edge pieces, like this:

And then I randomly choose a colour or zone of the puzzle to work on next. Right now, it is the sky:

 

 

 

 

 

 

By now, I have most of the pieces sorted according to colour or zone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I continue on this way, picking out areas, placing pieces, until I am all done! This particular puzzle, although only 500 pieces has turned out to be rather challenging because some of the pieces have the exact same cut and will fit in more than one spot. The colour variations and patterns then become the key thing to look at.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How satisfying it is to place the last piece! (Sorry, I just started this one, so no pic).

I have done various things with completed puzzles. Sometimes I break it all up in  haste, and put it in a bag for Goodwill because it was such a miserable thing (think not-interlocking-pieces-that-fall-apart-whenever-you-look-at-them) to work on.

Other times, I put them back in the box for another time. I made a Norman Rockwell puzzle three times, I think. Then I gave it away to another puzzler. I couldn’t handle making it again, great as it was.

Another thing I have done is glue the completed puzzle together and frame it. Then they have memories to go with it. This puzzle was given to me from a dear friend in university. And it was framed by the handyman whom I house-sat for when they were down south in weather like this. It has been on one wall or another for two decades:

The sunflower puzzle was incredibly challenging, and since I am not an expert puzzler, my Mom and brother finished it for me. And my Dad framed it, so I guess you could say it was a family affair!

Here is a close-up of it. Don’t you just love it? It was also a gift…

So, I’m not sure what I’ll do with “Family Picnic” yet, whether it will go back in the box or not, but so far my January jigsaw has been as enjoyable as ever!