Thursday, 22 November 2012

Knock, Knock

When you find yourself guilty of the avoidance or neglect of a place, I have learned that it is appropriate conduct to knock before you barge over a threshold un-regularly crossed. Knocking says with an action that which would take much longer with words; a knock simultaneously offers an apology for absence, acknowledges the created estrangement, and requests permission to re-enter not only the physical premisses guarded by the tapped-upon door but also the social freedoms of forgiveness and friendship.

It is with this understanding that I type here, humbly knocking on the proverbial door of my own unattended blog. You, my reader... it is with you that I must reconcile. 

I have avoided any formal postings for months, knowing that whenever I finally came back to these pages I would owe to you not simply a story of my imagination, but also a true story -- an update that I very much need to write, but have been afraid to put down on paper. The truth of it is so straight-forward, the reality of my situation such a blessing and my projected short-term future so bright that the blurred, darkening edges of my outlook are senseless. Please ignore any doubt or cynicism that might slither its way into what I hope to be a hope-filled letter.

I am living at home this year. Home in Muskoka, back with my parents, working part time at the camp that consumed this past summer and has laid claim to the next. Life in Muskoka slows down as the temperature drops in the sweet, stiffening way that pulled maple toffee does when it is moved from bubbling stovetop to a blanket of fresh snow. The tourists that mingle about after the leaves begin to fall have long since cleared out; the dog-walkers and jog-runners are fewer and farther between; windows are shut up tight; cars are armed with a brush and shovel... winter is on its way.

And just around the corner is December; the quietest of months in this place, freezing lake and lung in one chilly blow. My desire is to admire this icy world from the comfort of some soft sofa, on professionally prescribed bed-rest, out of commission and quite literally off my feet. (I'm currently waiting for a call from the hospital that will give me a date for the foot surgery I've needed since childhood. The phone has yet to ring.) In the meantime, I've spent the last several days unpacking many boxes of books, stopping from time to time to read a few pages of the ones that jump out. I've skimmed through novels and recipe collections, atlases and commentaries, comics, journals, musical scores, dictionaries and fairy tales. It's a fragmented sort of learning but I rarely close a cover without some new bit of knowledge.

It's been a season of setting-to-order. I still have a few dusty corners that need sweeping out and washing up, but there is time.


That, my friends, is a blessing.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Riding (Hard) for Refuge

Okay, so here's the deal.

On a normal day, I am a writer and not a cyclist; most often I find joy between the lines of a book, not the lines on a road and if I am ever going to do any large-scale world-changing in my time it will likely be from behind a desk with pen and ink, and not by crossing the finish-line with a smile on my face and a number on my back. But September 29th is RIDE day, and RIDE day is not your regular calendar Samedi.

The vision of Ride for Refuge is simple: share the love. In a world of practicalities, that love manifests as wealth. The mission is to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves, to speak for those who are being politically and socially hushed or rejected, and to support and encourage the ones who need it most. 

This year our goal is even more personal. Teams from Camp Mini-Yo-We are riding for our Sponsorship Fund - to help kids who would never be able to come to Camp get here - to give them a place of refuge, security, love, encouragement, hope and peace. At the end of the day, half of what we raise will be invested into the larger projects that RIDE is already working on, and half will come right to camp. Win-Win-Win-Win. 

"Four wins?" Why, yes. Their organization and ours, a child or youth being blessed by your generosity and you. "Me?" Of course you. BEING awesome FEELS awesome. Try it out.

Rock this with me.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

One Naked Bug

It began with a simple, quiet little bug sitting in a still, quiet part of the African Savannah. Close by she could see many other animals grazing and drinking from a freshwater desert pool. Everything was calm and beautiful, like a great piece of art, but nothing in sight was as beautiful as Bug. 

Her shell was as blue as the deep Indian Ocean, as yellow as the tall grain, as green as the cactus and as red as the reddest of sunsets. Everyone admired her as one of the most beautiful creatures on the continent and it was her pride and joy to be thought so lovely. All day long she would sit on her rock in the shade so that the sun wouldn’t fade her shell and whenever a friendly animal would walk by she would fly through its fur and polish herself until she dazzled. Nothing was more important to her than the appearance of her shell... It was, as some say, her most defining feature.

One day, completely without any warning or time to prepare herself, Bug’s body did something VERY strange... it hiccoughed! Bug had never before in her entire life experienced a hiccough. She had never even heard of a hiccough! In fact, this was the very first case of African hiccoughs that had ever been experienced by anyone since the very beginning of the world. Bug was VERY afraid.

“Help!” she tried to call to one of her friends, but her shout sounded more like heh-culp than help, so no one paid her much attention at first. “Heh-culp! Heh-culp! Heh-culp!” cried Bug desperately as her hiccoughs began to bounce her body around on the ground. “Please! Won’t somebody heh-culp me!” Suddenly one of her hiccoughs jolted her so forcefully that Bug flew backward and crashed into her rock...

“AAHHHHHHH!!!” Bug screamed! For a moment her hiccoughs stopped out of shock. 

She was

She had crashed SO HARD into her rock that the colours from her shell had peeled right off of her! Her rock was now as blue as the deep Indian Ocean, as yellow as the tall grain, as green as the cactus and as red as the reddest of sunsets. The rock was so beautiful... and she was SO naked!!

Suddenly the giraffe came galloping over to Bug and her rock. “Bug!” cried Giraffe, his long neck swooping down to the ground with a great swoosh, “Bug! I heard your scream! What’s wrong?! Talk to me Bug! Say something!”

(He was speaking to the rock.)

“Giraffe!” pleaded Bug, “you’ve got to heh-culp me!” Giraffe looked at Bug. “Who are you?”

Bug could hardly believe her ears. “I’M BUG!” she yelled into Giraffe’s long face. “I AM BUG!” 

Giraffe gasped. “Bug! What happened to you?!”

Bug quickly explained as much as she could which, unfortunately, wasn’t very much. Giraffe tried his best to diagnose the problem but he wasn’t trained in the medical field and so was not much help. Just when he was about to give up on her, Giraffe’s body did something VERY strange...

It hiccoughed.

“HEH-culp!” yelled Giraffe as he began to run around in circles in panic. He was SO worried about his hiccoughs that for a moment his graceful limbs got tangled up and he lost control of where he was running. In one second of chaos Giraffe knocked into Bug, sending her flying for five feet! When she landed they both noticed something horrifying: Bug looked a lot like Giraffe and Giraffe was NAKED.


They screamed for twenty seconds straight before either of them could even blink. 

“Okay,” said Giraffe as soon as he caught his breath after the very long yell. “There must be some kind of scientif-HIC, logical explanation for all of this. Unfortunately, I am not a very log-HIC-al animal, and both of us failed Jungle Biology last year. We need to call in an expert!”

Giraffe and Bug did what all of the animals did when they needed to learn something; they signalled for the wisest and most medically astute of all African creatures. Both of them lay flat on their backs and stuck their tongues out because, as you know, the fastest way to find a vulture is to play dead.

Vulture showed up two minutes later. He was always on the lookout for an easy meal, but when he saw the big white blob on the ground he was sceptical to say the least. He hovered over their bodies for a moment and just as he was getting ready to settle down, Giraffe’s body hiccoughed.

“Woah!” exclaimed Vulture to the apparently dead carcases beneath him. “That was not normal!” Giraffe hiccoughed again, which sent the poor bird into fluttering hysterics. Worried that Vulture was going to fly away before he could help them, Giraffe swooshed his long neck into the air...

It was like Safari baseball. Vulture’s body let out the tiniest little bitty hiccough that had ever been hiccoughed and then PAASMAAASH! Giraffe’s neck crashed into Vulture’s body and instantly Giraffe looked like a tall, gangly and bald version of Vulture and Vulture was naked from beak to bottom. Naturally, Vulture was a little surprised.


“Please don’t pan-HIC,” said Bug with a new calmness. “Who are you?!” Vulture half-yelled, half-gasped as he stared at the little spotted creature in front of him. “I’m Bug,” said Bug, “and this is Giraffe. We need your heh-culp.” Vulture closed and opened his eyes slowly, hoping that the scene unfolding before him was just a very unusual nightmare. That was not the case. Faced with a confusing reality, Vulture took control of the whole situation.

“Well, there must be some kind of scientif-HIC, log-HIC-al explanation for all of this. Fortunately, I am a very log-HIC-al animal, and even taught Jungle Biology last year. You were right to call in an expert.” 

Vulture listened carefully while Bug and Giraffe told him their story. “I believe that the problem is a synchronous diaphragmat-HIC flutter. I have two ideas that just might work,” Vulture said in his smartest and wisest voice, “but if neither of these plans su-HIC-cceed I’m afraid we’re all going to die.”

Vulture’s first plan was that all three of them might hold their breaths. Neither Bug nor Giraffe could think of a reason as to why this would not work, and so they stood facing each other with noses and lips sealed tight. Perhaps if the animals had been able to hold their breath for long enough this remedy would have worked, however only a few seconds into the experiment a ferocious jungle cat leaped into view and sunk her claws into Vulture’s vulnerable backside! The shock of the whole situation was so great that all four of them hiccoughed simultaneously. Leopard, who had never experienced hiccoughs before in her life panicked and tried to stop herself mid-leap with no success. She tumbled into the other three knocking them over like bowling pins and landing in a tangle of claws and feathers and fur.

“AAHHHHHHH!!!” yelped Leopard as she discovered herself printless from tip to tail. “Vulture! Give me back my spots!” Vulture looked down at his body. “Well,” he said, “on to Plan B.”

Vulture explained his second plan to the group. “This is our last h-HIC-ope,” announced Vulture grimly. “We must ram into each other and jump up and down and try and get our patterns back.” Leopard and Vulture were first to test the theory and they took a running (and flying) charge at each other. Their SMASH was hard and both were stunned by the impact, but the pattern did not move. Even when the collisions happened mid hiccough their colours would not change.

“It’s hopeless!” moaned bug, rubbing her bruised shell after trying a trade with Giraffe and landing upside down in the dirt. “We’ll be stuck like this forever!”

“Should we change our names?” Giraffe asked the group, looking longingly back at his herd. “Can I still be a giraffe when I look like a vulture?” 

The question took them off guard and no one could offer an answer. They stood in miserable hiccough-interrupted silence for several minutes, until...

“Hey everybody! What’s wrong with you? Why are you all so sad?” It was Zebra, the most unusual looking animal in the whole Savannah. They all stared back at him sadly and Bug answered for all of them: “We’re all jumbled up... this is the worst day ever! I don’t even know who I am anymore!” They nodded their agreement.

Zebra stood quietly looking at the depressing clan of animals in front of him. 

“Identity crisis is nothing new to the zebras, you know. We’ve been struggling with appearance for generations! Are we white with black stripes or black with white stripes? Some of us are brown! Some are almost as patternless as you are Leopard, but that doesn’t change a thing.” The other animals seemed sceptical at best. Then Zebra had an idea. “I am going to teach you something that all Zebras learn when they are very young. I think it might help.” Zebra cleared his throat and stood up tall as he began:

“You are who you are
Not because of your skin,
Whether spotted or striped
Whether fat or quite thin.
Your self’s on the inside,
It’s the stuff you can’t see 
That says you are you
And that lets me be me.
So don’t fret about pattern!
Don’t worry ‘bout size
'Cause the fuss about external
Worth is just lies!
Take pride in your spirit
Take care of your heart
Because that’s your most
Valuable, beautiful part.”

None of the animals spoke for a moment or two, but in their faces a change was easy to see. Their eyes had gone soft and their mouths had turned up into a very different kind of smile than they had ever experienced before. 

“I feel weird,” confessed Vulture. “So do I,” added Bug. Each one nodded their heads. “So... what do we do?” asked Leopard, looking to Zebra. “Well, I do have one idea that doesn’t lead to death...”

And so, deep in the heart of the African Savannah on days that are not quite so quiet and still you can still find the effects of the Zebra’s great plan. Each animal stood in front of a stone and with all of their might each one hiccoughed their last.... 

and prowled and galloped and flew stripped clean, into the reddest of sunsets.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Summer's Victorious End

My spirit is in denial. In the space between free swim and tuck shop, in the gap of Bible study and morning meetings, in the shock-silence of lineups and the blissful chaos of an excited gathering of little ones the summer has evaporated. I wasn't counting this one down so somehow along the way I lost track, and now here I am, in a cabin that desperately needs cleaning and with a heart that thinks, just maybe, prolonging the mess will prolong the month as well. Foolishness, of course, but one can always dream.

Tomorrow I will wake up in the summer and fall back to sleep in autumn's cool embrace. Many of you wonder (along with my family) where my life will go from here. I wish I had possession of a befitting answer - some brilliant plan or valiant adventure waiting for me next week - but I don't, yet. I don't have my plan laid and for only one more day is that an acceptable answer in and of itself. I plan to enjoy my one-more-hour of freedom by beginning the process of re-packing my life away. Back into boxes, like so many times before. One more chapter written, one more page on the brink of turning. Only the Author knows what lies beyond these precious words.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Hymnary Wisdom

I've begun a new tradition while living here at camp. Several, really, but some of them I expect will fade as summer turns to fall. But this one, I hope, will persist.

While perusing the shelves in our local Sally Ann this week, I picked up a gem of a book. The cover is smoothed from holding, the pages have yellowed at the edges with age and it has the marvelous smell of history, rightfully earned over the past eighty-two years. It is a beautiful thing, this Hymnary, but it is the words arranged on each page that are capturing my thoughts.

Here is one hymn as a sampling, written by a man called Edward Cooper (1770-1833):

"Father of heav'n, whose love profound
A ransom for our souls hath found,
Before Thy throne we sinners bend;
To us Thy pard'ning love extend.

Almighty Son, incarnate Word,
Our Prophet, Priest, Redeemer, Lord,
Before Thy throne we sinners bend;
To us Thy saving grace extend.

Eternal Spirit, by whose breath
The soul is raised from sin and death,
Before Thy throne we sinners bend;
To us Thy quickening power extend.

Thrice holy—Father, Spirit, Son;
Mysterious Godhead, Three in One,
Before Thy throne we sinners bend;
Grace, pardon, life to us extend."

My goal is to read one every night, to reset my perspective before my ritual rendezvous with my bed and pillow. Pardoning love, saving grace, quickening power. The gospel in six words. I have so much to learn.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Grilled Cheese

I'll let you in on a bit of a secret: I'm not really that okay. I am a master at playing healthy and fine when things go a little awry, but my happy facade has been under more than the usual load of stress over the last few days, and the seams of this mask have started to fray, tipping off the critically attuned. Don't set off all of the alarms at this point - I need neither pity nor chide - this is just a little bite to let you know that not all is always well in the mind and spirit of your friendly neighbourhood Spiderman.

My eager little heart and I have been having a fight with God this week. The cause of our quarrel? Love, how ironic. In my childlike (and sometimes childish) way, I have come to my Dad Proper with a simple request: let me love somebody. In His abundant patience He has let me shout, cry, scream, fume, pout, scoff and worry myself into an emotional exhaustion, quietly waiting for me to shut up. And tonight He answered with a song.

I have had a few moments in my life when (though not in an audible voice, exactly) I have had a conversation with God. "Heart on Hand" is the record of one such encounter - this will be another.

I was working the PowerPoint tonight for Refresh, the training week worship service at Mini-Yo-We. I'm really not very good at this role by nature, but it is one that needed filling and after a few days of fighting with God I knew the proverbial platform was not the appropriate arena for this little soul. Sitting on the floor beside the stage suited my mood and my spiritual posture just fine, but it was a struggle even from such a vantage point to keep up with the band. I kept moving ahead too quickly, minimizing a window in the middle if a bridge, and at least twice I pulled up the songs out of order. The second time this happened, I swore. Quietly. I could almost see God raising His eyebrows in the pseudo silence of facial expression... "Do you see yourself? Can you hear you from there? Stop and look. Listen."

"I know," I said in wordless reply, "I'm a mess."

So when I finally got to the right slide about one second later, I had to laugh. "Take, Take, Take it all," said the song. "I'm gross," I said to God with a dry laugh. "I'm like over-done grilled cheese and hot soup on a boiling day. I'm gross."

"I know," I heard. "You have been acting gross. But you know what? I am still hungry for you. I still want all of you, gross or not."

So I laughed. My anger melted away with my fear as I realized again the goodness and majesty of grace. Did He answer my question? No. It was a gentler reprimand than was given to Job, but in a similar vein of impression: I AM your Father, you are my child; I AM the sequoia, you are toothpick. He's big, I'm little. Just a reminder.

So, while life isn't blooming like a rudbeckia bouquet, I am back in alignment with Christ. I'm still a mess, I could still use a hug and my heart will take a while to settle and reset, but this is the right direction: more like Jesus, and less gross.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Now THIS is Camp.

If we can ignore for the moment that I am scribbling this update post from my iPhone, I think this is an exactly perfect moment. I am alone in a cabin, curled up under my blankets between the bunk-bed railing and the slanted wooden roof. My starry skies tonight are the constellations of names above me: more names over more years than you could count on fingers and toes if every bed was full. Outside I can hear the murmuring of overlapping stories down the hill and the tell-tale clopping sounds of flip-flops against the bare rock path. The night is cool, but not quiet.

Thanks, God. You have snatched my breath away once more and filled me up with joy. Praise and worship. Selah.

Thursday, 14 June 2012


Darling, O Infatuation
Caught in your clichéd spell
A well-framed look, a splitting smile
My give-away, my tell

The moment I am free of you
Again you catch my eye
And whisper every honeyed word
With lips I can't deny

Darling, O Infatuation
How useless to protest
With heart and soul and mind so charmed
By the fruits of your unyielding quest

How laundered is this heart of mine
Sewn, sleeve after sleeve
Yet you take me arm in arm once more
And tempt me to believe

That darling, O Infatuation
This time you'll follow through
And lead me to a love divine,
Patient, faithful and true.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Mellow Milo & Melanie Ryne

It wasn't the eye-popping poster pinned on the porch, nor the cheerful and chortling chatter which charmed the atmosphere outside that drew people in by the droves: it was the air.

A tropical breeze perpetually wafted out from between the two large wooden doors which hung on their hinges beneath the cautionary sign that read, "Take care: this door swings both ways," and trailed off merrily by quoting the rest of the Herman's Hermits' hit. The clinking of cutlery could be heard beyond the entrance was the second most common reason for passers-by to become partakers-in the little shop. The third reason that new people seemed so magnetically drawn to the building was its extraordinarily snowman-like shape. Three large globes sat stacked atop each other in architectural madness. Even the highest of brow and most impervious to temptation were finally broken by the curiosity stirred up by this magnificent feat. No one knows whether or not a fourth reason to enter was ever contrived of, as it was never required; every local, visitor and tourist was inevitably conquered by one of the first three.

Walking through the doors was like diving headlong into a giant vault of rainbow sorbet without any feeling of stickiness or chill. The experience was intensely pleasurable and refreshing, and if staying inside was not so obviously the superior decision, I wouldn't be surprised if people spent their whole day simply walking in, over and over again. But insidewas better.

Suspended in the middle of the enormous, open, multileveled space hovered threehumungous fruits. No matter what day of the week you choose to come you will always be met by one watermelon, one honeydew melon and one of six rotating berries: strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, huckleberry, appleberry and chinaberry (a hybrid of Milo's clever invention which took a juicy, bulbous form with the crisp flavor of an Asian pear). They were open six days a week (closed on Sundays as a matter of principle), and every day the place was packed. It was no surprise, therefore, that Dani Dulce stood in the cue for a full nineteen minutes before finding herself next in line.

"Good morning! Welcome to Milo and Melanie's Mega Melon! Healthy is our philosophy and sweet is our tooth. Do you know what kind of spoon you'd like today?" Mounted on the wall behind the pretty cashier was a rhinocerosly large collection of spoons arranged in boggling spectrum.

"Yes," said the man at the counter. "I'd like a glazed candy-apple red spoon, short handled, medium weight and… let's go with strawberry Jolly Rancher this time. Thanks, Molly."

The girl gave the gentleman a flouncy sort of bow and spun around to face the wall. After a half-second she stretched up on her toes and lifted a spoon from its peg. She handed it to the man. "That will be thirty cents today, Mr. Jordan. If you have dimes, that would be lovely." The man chuckled. "I fill my pockets with them these days," he said, counting three out on the counter. The pair laughed mirthfully and he shuffled on his way. Dani stepped forward.

"I haven't seen you before!" beamed the girl behind the counter. "I've worked every shift since we opened and I can confidently claim that your face is a new one. This is your first time here, yes?" Dani nodded. "I couldn't resist the smell!" "Ah!" exclaimed the girl, "That's our primary marketing strategy - but as you can see, it isn't false advertising! Do you have a preference of spoon?"

The tinkling utensils were displayed without the clutter of labeled explanations. Thankfully Dani's dazed expression was answer enough and she was spared the uncomfortable confession of confusion. "I'll call Melanie and she'll show you around. I know it's a sensory overload at first, but you'll have the codes cracked in no time! Just take a seat over there and she'll catch up with you in a few minutes."

Dani was ushered toward a long bank of chairs that were oblong and dark in colour. They were carved of variously sized giant seeds collected from the days before Milo figured out how to reduce them in size from five feet in height and circumference down to one foot. The seeds collected nowadays were washed thoroughly and dropped into a machine that whittled them into helmets, for customers without the freedom of time to stay their hour. The Melon Baller (an intern in his early twenties, working his way towards a culinary scholarship) would scoop a sphere of their selected fruit into the helmet and send it down a long chute to the front counter. "Protect Your Melon!" was inscribed on the front edge of each container. Almost everyone still chuckled at the little joke.

A designer from California who specialized in the creative upcycling of giant orange pips ergonomically engineered the seats. His only requested payment was unlimited spooning privileges whenever his family found themselves across the country. Melanie and Milo were both thrilled by the arrangement and made a point of inviting them a few times a year. It was a profitable partnership for both parties and in a few short months "Seeded Seating" was in every other household for three towns around. But Dani didn't know any of this and she never thought to ask - there were so many other things to think.

Melanie Ryne, co-owner and co-founder of the Mega Melon, slid across the floor with the tap-dancing suave of Fred Astaire, leaping with the grace of a gazelle and landing with the confidence of a lion and the lightness of a bird. Her dress was of a pearled pink that matched a column of spoons and she wore jewelry of a gold so warm as to almost be rose-coloured. Her voice was both calm and excited: a sound that enticed a listening ear.

"Good morning!" she sang in a tone that reflected the joy of her expression. "My name is Mel. Molly tells me that you're looking for a tour?" Dani smiled and nodded. "Well," said Mel, "first thing first. We need to get you a spoon."

Pulling up a neighbouring seed, Melanie unfolded a large card from her pocket and spread it open across her knees. It was an oversized photograph of the cutlery wall, with pull-tabs at the head of each row and column. "You may have noticed," she politely began, "that our fare is a fairly fine-tuned affair. We peddle plastic and medal handles with sculpted sugar scoops and we sell the dissolving not-so-silver wares to our patrons by the hour. We needn't charge much, as the fruit is donated daily and sugar is cheap. My husband is a brilliant chemical engineer and concocted a formula that, regardless of flavouring, would stay stiff for fifty-nine minutes and dissolve by the sixty-first. We sell the spoons for thirty cents a piece: ten cents covers cleaning and reforming of the spoons, ten from each goes toward the cleaning and maintenance of the building, and ten is divided amongst the volunteers at the end of each day. We don't have a cash register - just four large jars behind the counter. If we are paid in dimes, they are immediately divided among the first three causes. The fourth jar holds any other money that needs to be divided later. We have never been stockless, lightless or dinnerless in seven years of business, thanks to the loyalty and generosity of our clientele."

"But what of the fruits?" asked Dani, still mystified by the magnificent melons.

"We befriended a family of foreign giants shortly after we were married, you see. Each of our great fruits is gifted to us by one of three salad-growing farms. Agriculture in their lands functions quite differently from the fields of the human realm: instead of one or two crops that will be manufactured into many different products, giants simply choose one or two products they most enjoy and raise them directly from the earth. On one of our travels we once came across a greenhouse full of baby ice cream parfaits! Unfortunately they weren't quite ripe and we had to forgo the experience. Too bad, really. But I digress."

Melanie gave the first tag a tug and the column furthest left popped up like a children's book. "From left to right the spoons are arranged by colour. We begin with pearled pearl," she said, wriggling the first tab, "then pearled rose, saffron, apricot, buttercream, wild lemon, aloe, mint, forget-me-not, corn flower, eggplant, mica and chestnut. Then come our glazes in a similar array, then the mattes, the chrome metallics and we're waiting on a new line of organic stained bamboo." She worked her way across the board, tugging out and swiftly returning each tab. In total there were ninety-seven represented pigments on the pop-up pictograph.

"In each colour set," she continued with the rapid precision of language that comes with a passionate and familiar speech, "there are seven rows organized by sets of nine spoons." She indicated the top block of pearled pearl, running her finger along the micro row of three. "By weight across, we have light, medium and heavy; by length down, short, medium and long in each flavour. So, we begin here with pearled pearl, vanilla, light-short and work our way down to black licorice bamboo, coconut, heavy-long, giving us a grand total of 6,111 different options. About half of our flavours never change: vanilla yogurt, chocolate, marshmallow and coconut. The other three rows are on a monthly rotation of popular sweets. Right now we have Fuzzy Peach, strawberry Jolly Rancher and Swedish Berry. We've had everything from Milk Duds to Big Feet and we'll do almost all of them again."

Dani gave her a curious look. "Were there a couple of failures?"

Melanie almost winced. "Last year one of the local boys spent a month convincing Milo that garlic-avocado would be the next big hit. It was not, but even after trying it himself Milo wouldn't believe it was a terrible business move for weeks. When he finally did see the light, he forced the kid to eat all of the remaining stock over a three-day period. It was disgusting," she smirked, "but hilarious. He works for us now, up in product testing. Cast iron stomach, that one."

Melanie moved the card from her knees to Dani's and asked a few leading questions. Before long Melanie was armed with her usual pearled rose, chocolate, light-long and Dani had chosen a sky-blue glaze, Swedish Berry, medium-long spoon which she was quite happy about. After they placed their order with Molly and retrieved their respective thirty-cent spoons, Melanie led the way across the great hall, almost directly beneath the hovering honeydew. She leaned against the simple fence that ran around its base. "This is a giant melon," she said, giving the slippery fruit a little jab with her handle, "and we only have one rule that must, without exception, be obeyed. ONLY spoons may come into contact with the fruit. My Milo has made the mouth-parts of our products to be self-sterilizing. Don't ask me how, he's a genius and the science he can employ is far beyond me! He ran several hundred tests before we settled on the final process, but even self-sterilizing spoons can't stop contact-caused contamination. That's why we came up with this." She walked towards a large wall panel plastered with goofy looking mug shots. A plaque above it read "Melon's Felons" and each person photographed was wearing a look of the most exaggerated guilt. "Anyone who lays finger or face against the fruit gets their picture taken. We keep it fun and as painless as possible for our patrons, but we decided that we needed something to deter misbehaviour. It's been working well so far. Very few repeat offenders. Well, the smell must be driving you crazy! Shall we dine?"

Dani's mouth had been watering with anticipation from the moment she'd arrived and she was very ready to eat. Her shiny blue spoon seemed equally anxious, digging deeply into the flesh of the fruit. She was not disappointed: the first bite was nothing less than euphoric.

Clean, sweet juice flooded her tongue and her mouth filled with the deliciously light syrup; the slice of melon melted away after a chew or two and trickled its merry way down her throat. She could taste that first bite half way through her digestive system it was so good. If it was possible, the second spoonful surpassed the first... and the third the second.

"Pace yourself," Melanie cautioned with a smile in her voice. "Don't fill up on the first floor - we still have two and a half more to see!"

A spiral escalator that wrapped around the perimeter of the building carried them up to the watermelon floor. The bowl that hung below the fruit was more prevalent on this level, as was the tube that extended from the center of it and into the wall... But that may have been because of the man dangling from it by his knees.

"Milo! Honey, what are you doing upside down like that?" called Melanie, running over to help him upright.

"The tube sprung a leak," said Milo after climbing back to his feet. "We were losing a carton a minute all over the tile. Getting mighty slick up here, which would have been reason enough to hurry even without the product loss. A little gumpaste and it's patched for now. I'll have to brew up a batch of caramel caulking tonight and really fix it for tomorrow, but it'll hold okay." He smiled broadly at his wife as she slid her arm behind his back and began an introduction.

"Dani, this is Milo. He's brains and brawn behind every technical operation in the place, and very good at holding it all together. I'm crazy proud of him." Milo glowed.

"If I'm brains and brawn, this woman is heart and soul," he said and kissed her on the cheek. "But don't you believe she's no brains. My girl is a visionary like no other. I'm heading down to Mikey in mailing; we got a letter from another Belgian confectionist and he needs a little help translating. Thought I'd call my cousin again?"

"Good plan. Say hello for me?"

"Will do. Enjoy the rest of the tour, Dani; it was nice meeting you. See you in a while, lovely."

The watermelon tasted everything like a perfect summer day. Every spoonful evoked a memory: the splash of your first dive off the dock; the drip of a popsicle into the sand; barefoot running through fresh cut grass; guitars and lightening bugs around a campfire; new freckles on your sun-kissed face and the tangy, ubiquitous smell of sunscreen. She spent thirty-one minutes in this glorious immersion before Melanie called her back and they caught the escalator again.

The roof of the building was made of a retractable glass. Every morning when the fruit was brought in by helicopter from the giants’ farms the great glass ceiling would sway aside to allow the daily load to be lowered into position. Once everything was in place and the chopper had moved safely out of the way, the roof would close up again like a Venus flytrap. Although the berry station was on the third floor where they hopped off, the escalator didn’t stop with them; it continued climbing another twenty feet up toward the high glass windows, wrapped around the top and then dropped off quite suddenly into a hole in the wall. “That’s our way down,” pointed Melanie, “but not just yet. Raspberry first.”

It had been a fifty-seven minutes between the first bite of honeydew to the first bite of raspberry. For Dani, most of those minutes had slipped away quietly while her eyes were closed and her mouth was full. Time had sped past with the illusion of standing still in those blissful moments, and the candied cradle of all such splendid seconds was about to melt away. The berry was exactly the perfect balance of sweet and tart. The Swedish Berry lacing behind it was a magical combination and her face burst with a wide, unhindered grin. It was wonderful, but it was briefly lived. Two minutes later the spoon felt thinner between her lips, and in another thirty seconds she felt a hole beginning in the center of it, like a lifesaver. Then it was gone. Just the handle shining in its glossy sky-blue remained. She looked to Melanie.

“It only lasts an hour,” she gently reminded. “Come on. This way.”

Together they rode the escalator once again, taking in the whole scene for a moment from the highest possible vantage point in the place. The rising air brought vaporous smells from every floor and they blended together in the rafter spaces like a smoothie of reverie and sensation that could make your skin tingle. Dani took a very deep breath… and then she dropped right out of the world. Gravity vanished. Light vanished. She could feel something smooth and cool against her back and then, just as abruptly as its disappearance, the world popped back into existence around her. She plunged into a deep pit of foam cubes, the kind found near running trampolines in Olympic-quality gymnasiums. In a few seconds she felt four sets of hands hoisting her up, out and onto her feet. “There you go, miss. How do you feel?” She gave her thoughts a moment to follow her back to the first floor. “I’m… elated, actually,” she said.

“Glad to hear it,” came Melanie’s voice from the pit behind her. “I thought about warning you, but by the time it occurred to me you were already dropping past the second floor.” Her hostess was lifted out by her arms and brushed off by one of the littler attendants. “Thanks, Max. You’re a dear,” she said and hugged the boy child. I don’t know how you grew up so fast and so tall, but it is so nice seeing you all the time!”

Melanie walked Dani to the take-out counter. They crossed the parade path of people, each waiting for their helmet with spoon in hand. “Spoons are thirty cents, and one helmetful is complimentary for those in a hurry. Here you can also purchase a carton of pure juice for seventy cents a litre, freshly strained from today’s delivery or iced into a slushie from the frozen collections of the day before. But you get one on the house for taking the tour, if you’d like something. Or another spoon, it you’d rather dive back into one of our levels?”

Dani gazed around the room. She had never been anywhere quite so wonderful, and wasn’t keen to leave. “Well, I was thinking, marshmallow would look pretty great next to a midnight lightning chrome…” Melanie smiled. “Believe it or not,” she said, “I get that all the time.”

The End.

Saturday, 4 February 2012


For some in my field the rhythm and rhyme of a turned phrase comes out naturally in even metre;
Measure for measure the language of melody and whistle-whispered tune of a thought is laid down
Neatly: as notes are planted in the rows of a staff so are the petals and pedals
And knots and naughts and oughts picked up from their stray places by the storyteller's quill.

This field of mine is old; it is a fertile land and well maintained, though it may seem unruly at first
Glance: a short story goes to seed and delicate white tufts of the idea escape their native land on the breeze;
A poem blooms like cherry; the novel climbs like ivy; the devil's paintbrush spatters the landscape
With conflict and convict and red and read and read as it dances through time and its tenses.

It is a beautiful place, my field. It is so full of imagination, half-opened ideas and words chasing words
That whir and purr and prowl and prance and dance around and around each spark-of-a-memory tree
So I sit in the meadow and open my mind to its floral stimulus and each enchanting colour that fills
Me: happy and quiet, paper in pocket, pen in hand... trying to join the artists.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Home, Sweet and Sour

There is never any pleasure in the realigning.

Whenever I go to Anissa, the chiropractor of every bone in my family's collective body, I fear the alignment. The whole process begins with a problem - an unsettled joint, a strained muscle, an ache, a pain, a problem. After greeting the receptionist you sit down in the chair with the funny back rest and realize just how terrible your posture has been as of late; sadly, you realize that your back pain is at least partially your own fault. Keep those shoulders back, and you might be in this office less.

The next part is wonderful: Anissa (or Meegan, sometimes) ushers you into the first room and ask how things have been going in life. While you give updates on siblings and school or work (or neither), she lays you down and puts weighted heating pads all down your spine and tells you to relax and have a little nap. Then she leaves, to align another client or get a glass of water. I never actually know what happens at this point, as I tend to actually fall asleep.

Inevitably your ten minutes of warm and peace conclude with a buzzing, bleeping timer and your chiropractor returns. She removes your heat, makes you stand, waits patiently as you steady yourself and escorts you to the next room. In contrast, this room is always colder (or feels it, as you've just been in the dozy, dopey sleep-heat a moment before), and the light is more diffused. During my last visit, Anissa spent a fair amount of time letting me cry and explain why I was feeling so heartbroken and miserable... a double fix. The psychologist bit doesn't last forever though, and eventually I find myself face down again (this time on chilled leather/vinyl) with Anissa's hands preparing to crack my back. "Deep breath, and, out..." she says.

It is incredibly difficult to relax your muscles at this point. Anyone who has gone through this before knows exactly what it takes to realign: your breath is pressed right out of you, a sharp pain jolts through your body, and you can hear it. The problem, what was out of tune and out of place, is set to rights again, movement restored, things are as they should be once more... but the alignment itself is an unpleasant process.

I feel like I'm waiting for God to crack my back.

When I moved to Hamilton this fall, it was an act of hopeful necessity. I had a problem; spiritual heartache and the burden of a perennial depression several years old (which I will argue is just as or more debilitating than back pain). I felt the need to move somewhere that I saw God healing/working/acting in obvious ways - I wanted to get into His "office," and the MoveIn program, and this city, seemed like a good waiting room. The first few months here were spent primarily in observation - looking on in envy laced with hope at the people around me who seemed to have such straight backs and pain-free promenades. I sat in the proverbial funny chair and realized more acutely that I wasn't okay - and that I was, in deed, part of the problem. I needed to change something.

Then I went home for Christmas and out West for the last two weeks. It was definitely my heating-pad experience, preparing my heart for the real work to be done. I truly rested while I was out there... but the point of the heat isn't to rock you to sleep - it is to prepare your body for the adjustment. Yesterday was the walking to the second room, and tonight I am fighting the impulse to flee.

When the buzzer goes, I often joke with Anissa that, should she want to leave me be for another ten, twenty, thirty minutes I'd be more than happy to stay put. She laughs good-naturedly but moves me right along all the same. The reality is, of course, the heat soothes but does not solve. Only the adjustment can put right what has gone wrong.

So tonight, alone in this place and feeling rather uncomfortable, I am trying to remind myself that the best way to brace for an adjustment is to relax... I have done my part in coming, and now I must wait for the touch of the Master's healing hands. He's the only one who knows what's out of whack, and He's the one who will have to set it right again. I can't do it on my own - that's why I came in the first place.

Adjust me, O God. Then let's work on my posture together.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Abbey ~ Between the Stops

They must have been close to the water, because that's where the trains are. Even over the whirr of traffic on the road and the twittering conversations around him he could hear the long, low whistle of the train. It was a language of one tone and one message, slow and spread thick like the finger-painting of a sleepy child. It called out with a counter-cultural patience; beckoned to the artistic spirit with billowing smoke and bellowing sound. He lifted his heavy eyelids and looked out the window. He couldn't see the long line of cars all held together with iron and prayer, but he heard its lifted voice again and smiled. It sounded like home.

In the city, life was stacked on life in tall buildings - people packed so close to each other and yet physically paper-thin walls are functionally miles thick. The opposite was true in the plains: acres and acres dropped between neighbours was barely enough barrier to be noticed.

The bus pulled over and a young girl in a patterned hoodie stepped aboard. She moved down the aisle as lightly as a ghost, making no sound and attracting no eye except his. He looked at her but she faced forward firmly. Either she couldn't see him, or she was choosing not to. Everyone rushing, rushing - far too busy or important for archaic notions of community and relationship. Discouraged, he returned his gaze to the world beyond the window.

The horizon here was still so unfamiliar to him, even eight months after his move. So little land made up the landscape outside; skyscrapers raced upwards to block out the heavens, a rough wrought iron fence against the natural realm. At dusk, tiny lights illuminated the darkness - but they weren't free to flicker and move the way that fireflies could, back home. Lightening bugs, like street lamps, shone bravely into the swallowing black - but they were a very different sort of beautiful than the orange-yellow haze found here.

The bus forked right and scuttled away from the waterfront and the trains and all reminders of any old-fashioned ways. He closed his eyes again and fought against the homesickness climbing from his heart to his throat. Fatigue mixed in with nostalgia and old grief was a powerful depressant, and with work to do in the here and now he couldn't allow himself to drift into melancholy. He cleared his throat and shook apart the knot of emotion lodged so close to the surface. He picked up his thoughts like a wayward child and redirected them to think about Abbey, instead.

Abbey was the reason he had moved east in the first place. She was his anchor in this city, to which all of his heartstrings were tied. She was a beautiful, entrancing creature and at almost nine years old she was the cleverest Scrabble player he had ever taken on. And she was his sister, for whom he would have moved to the moon if asked.

Abbey moved in with Liam and Sarah four months after the accident. The will had disclosed an agreement between his mother and Sarah that, should the worst, they would welcome the other's family with open arms and warm hearts, unless the children were old enough to care for themselves. He was seventeen and already off at school; she was almost nine and needed a home that he couldn't provide. Sarah was an aunt by all but blood and she moved West for the whole term, away from her own family and home and life, so that Abbey could finish the year with some kind of familiarity and order. He had moved home too, and the three of them grieved through the shock together. When summer came and everything that could be sorted out had been, Sarah and Abbey flew back to home and new-home. He followed a few weeks later, found an apartment near by and started the process of transferring his degree to the local university.

"You could try out a dorm," Liam had suggested over dinner one night, "since you didn't really have one out west. A bigger school will make it a bit harder to start up a social base, if you live alone."
He shook his head. He didn't want Abbey even visiting one of those dorms; she was still far too pure.
"You could live with us," Liam continued. "We just don't love the idea of you being so alone."
"I am alone," he said.
"You're not alone," he said.

So they found a middle ground and Liam moved in with a house full of young guys from his program. He'd answered a flyer, how cliché. Wanted: young, quiet, studious guy. Not too good looking, we don't want competition. Funny is allowed, though. Call Brian, Chris, Steve, Tyler, Alex, Adam or Kent. No, we're not dwarves. Only one grump. It was working well, so far.

With school through the week and a couple of shifts at Subway in the evenings, Abbey-Day was on Saturday. Liam and Sarah took her (along with four kids of their own) to church on Sunday mornings, so he would often pick her up on those afternoons as well. A day and a half, just the two of them. Sometimes they would go for walks around the city and try out different bakeries. He took her to the zoo once just to say that he had, and every other week or so when it was his turn to cook at the house, he'd bring her home and all of his housemates (without an upcoming exam) would teach her how to play cards. The whole house had kind of adopted her, and she was developing quite the little poker face.

Today, though, was a tough one. It had been a full year, and he had been thinking for a long time about how to handle their visit. Sarah had hinted that maybe they should just stay in for a change, but tradition held and she would be waiting for him, just three stops away. They would walk, he'd decided. They would walk all the way back to the train yard and let each other cry about home. Then he'd take her for Moose Tracks ice cream, like Dad used to whenever they had tripped out to Ontario for a visit. And then... and then they would come back to Liam and Sarah's and he'd pull out the books filled to bursting with their parents' photographed memories. They would cry, but they would cry together and fight the bitterness away with story. It was what he thought she needed. At least, he needed it.

The bus slowed down and he gathered up the bags that he had settled beside him. They were heavier than all of his textbooks combined, and far more valuable no matter what his bookstore receipts had to say. A beautiful little face greeted him as the doors spread open, and she reached out to take one of the bags. "Are you ready to go?" she asked. He passed down his backpack and balanced the rest before hopping off. The evening air felt fresh and he felt his spirits lift as he met her eye. "I am," he said. "Let's go."