A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Thursday, 23 February 2017

How the Hopi helps with housework

You know your bathroom is disgusting when your neighbour's daughter, who has autism, will not pee in your toilet. But I have discovered a strategy that helps me overcome the shame, and let's me tackle the housework without resentment.
By the way, to figure out how to get this toilet bowl clean I had to watch alot of Kim and Aggie of the British show "How Clean is Your House?" The secret was a pumice stone that could scrub the stains off the porcelain without scratching it - who knew?!!

The "Before"
I hope that I have previously established that I am not a hoarder. And I'm not a hoarder in denial - really! But I do have a problem with STUFF! Sorting stuff, putting away stuff, and cleaning stuff. And, with five years of poor health, things had really piled up, literally and figuratively. When you deal with depression, tasks that are routine for most people can feel overwhelming – washing the dishes, doing the laundry, opening the mail, filing papers, or... cleaning the bathroom.

When I would look around me and see all the stuff that I had failed to do, I would beat myself up for letting this happen, worry that I would never get it all done, feel guilty and overwhelmed, and stick my head back in that hole in the ground. I believe it's called denial. (Remember, one of the ways to get your head out of the ground is to dig your way out like the dung beetle or scarab.) When I recognized how difficult it was to get on top of the housework, I used one of my first knock-off beads to remind me of the importance of creating a home that is comfortable, safe, and peaceful. I later replaced this with the Pandora Hopi charm on my "Lucerne Recovery" bracelet.
The Hopi charm, to the right of the tulip with the dangle

When I first started this journey of recovery with Pandora, I wanted this Hopi charm because it reminded me of my grandmother Holmes, or "Granny" as we called her. She spent her winters in Arizona and had a string of silver beads that I loved, made by the expert silversmiths of the Native-American Hopi. As I shared in a previous post about her, she always liked to show me her jewellery and tell me stories of the places she'd visited in the world, where the jewellery was from.

Oh, I just realized something! She started me on this journey of having jewellery for "unforgettable moments," as Pandora calls them. I don't know who inherited those beads, so for now, in addition to the Hopi bead, I have some earrings in that style and a turquoise Mii bracelet.

But I digress. When I looked into "Hopi," I discovered that there was another reason for me to have this charm.

The word "Hopi" means "behaving one," one who is mannered, civilized, peaceable, polite, who adheres to the "Hopi Way." Wikipedia describes the Hopi Way as "a concept deeply rooted in the culture's religion, spirituality, and its view of morality and ethics. To 'be Hopi' is to strive toward this concept, a state of reverence and respect for all things, to be at peace with these things, and to live in accordance with the instructions of the Creator or Caretaker of the Earth." For the Hopi, all of daily life is part of their religion, and their belief is to help others improve their lives.

When I started to dig out of this disorganized and dirty mess a few years ago, I tried making schedules for myself. In my agenda I would put "Paid" and "Unpaid" work, which of course I then resented. Then I scheduled time for "chores," which of course made them feel like... well... a chore. So now I schedule time to do things that are "Done with Love." It's similar to when someone really bothers you, and instead of cursing them, you bless them. So I started with a daily "Bless This Kitchen" and then moved on to a weekly "Bless This Bathroom." It really does change your outlook and attitude.

My typical morning, the blue representing self-care

Rather than beat myself up, and get anxious or overwhelmed, the Hopi charm reminds me to "practice the religion of daily life and be at peace with things." Or, to keep the affirmation shorter, I say "Don't Worry, be Hopi." (You have to watch the video so you can use the correct accent when you say it.)

YouTube video of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy"
Seems appropriate that the late Robin Williams is in this video

I have spent so long worrying about the mess of our home, and feeling ashamed of it, that I didn't even realize how much it has improved. When my daughter and her friends wanted to start a cat account on Instagram (@cats_of_the_truenorth i.e. Canada), I said my only stipulation was that pictures of our cats could not show how dirty our house is. When she started posting photos I was pleasantly surprised to see that our bathroom was clean - not perfect, but clean!

photo credit Taylor Hayden

In her book "Simple Abundance: a daybook of comfort and joy," (which I mentioned in a previous post about gratitude) author Sara Ban Breathnach says, "The Quakers, or members of the Religious Society of Friends... refuse to segment their lives into the Sacred and the secular. Quakers believe that all of life's daily experiences are spiritual in nature, from preparing a family meal to protesting political policy." She quotes the British writer George Gorman who observed that "the essence of Quaker spirituality is the certainty that everything we do has religious significance. It is not cutting ourselves off from life but entering deeply and fully into it."

This is similar to the practice of Mindfulness, which can be described as "paying attention on purpose." Practicing mindfulness of daily living is to do each thing with all of your attention, intentionally bringing your mind to the present, even if that "present" is the enviable job of cleaning the toilet.

I have the "Bless This House" charm sitting in my jewellery box, waiting until we complete the Clean Sweep of the whole house. The charm will require, quite fittingly, a lick and a polish before I can add it to my all-silver timebead bracelet.

I am pleased to say that we now "Bless This Bathroom" every week, each of the four of us with a different task (as well as other non-bathroom jobs) as part of our "Saturday chores." We are now in the maintenance phase! And Yes, it's me that does the toilet - and nobody is afraid to pee in it!

What I wear with my Lucerne Recovery bracelet

Related Posts:

Clean up with the tea cup - a story about the start of the Clean Sweep, with "Before" and "After" photos of our sunporch, and my most important affirmation in dealing with negative self-talk about the state of our home - and the charm to represent it.

Bellies and babies and "girlie parts" - a story about one of the reasons our house got so messy, the health problems I battled, including those things that women just don't talk about - and the charm to represent it.

My Pandora journey of recovery - how it all began - a story about my first knock-off charms, how I use charms as rewards, and how charms help me in my recovery.

You can search the blog, at the bottom of the website version, using key words. You can also see all of the stories about the charms from my first bracelet by clicking on the label for "Lucerne Recovery bracelet."

Photo Gallery

The "Before"

The "After"

The "After"

shower curtain rings to match the handles on the sink faucets
a clean bathroom with a drawer unit under the sink for supplies and toiletries
a garbage AND recycling bin to keep the toilet paper rolls off the floor

this angel ornaments was the inspiration for the bathroom colours

Martha Stewart curtains in the colour scheme of sage green and lilac

an antique plate of my mom's with purple violets

A Wedgwood sage green "Jasperware" plate from my in-laws

original hexagonal bathroom tiles

a new white shower curtain as a reward for cleaning the bathroom
IKEA's brilliant solution to the tub mat
that would always fall off the edge of the tub,
drip onto the floor, or stay down in the tub and get mouldy

a tray for the back of the toilet for candle holders and Kleenex

a few purple accents on shelves above the toilet

The "After"

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

A love story and a poem - a reflection on Valentine's Day

After being married for almost 25 years I was surprised to find that the best description of marriage I've ever seen was in a book on my teenaged daughter's shelves. Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unlikely places, including novels, poems or fables. I was even inspired to write a poem of my own, as a gift to my husband on Valentine's Day.

One of my earliest charms, the red vines, was a gift from my husband for my "Always and Forever" bracelet, about our love and marriage. I had this vague notion that vines could represent a marriage, but since I hadn't written a blog post about the charm, I hadn't put my thoughts into words - until yesterday, Valentine's Day. Now, in doing some research and writing this post, I have discovered that I was on to something; my instincts were correct.

If you had asked me over 25 years ago what makes a marriage I would have given you this poem "On Marriage" by Kahlil Gibran. In fact we had a friend read this in our wedding ceremony.

"Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving seas between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup, but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone.
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow."
- Kahlil Gibran

I wanted us to support each other, nourish each other, and celebrate each other. But I did not want to lose myself. Little did I know that I would not lose myself, but find myself, a new self, changed by the years together.

And so I came to see that, although we were separate trees, our roots had grown together and our branches had become intertwined, as JRR Tolkien described in this poem to his wife Edith.

"Lo, Young we are and yet have stood like planted hearts in the great Sun of Love so long (as two fair trees in woodland or in open vale stand utterly entwined and breathe the airs and suck the very light together) that we have become as one, deep rooted in the soil of Life and tangled in the sweet growth."
- JRR Tolkien

Turns out that my idea, that a marriage could be represented by vines, was not such an original idea after all. The vine has long been seen as symbol of marriage, in particular the vine and the elm tree. In Italy, and other wine-producing countries, they would "grow wine" on trees. It was a common practice, at least into the 20th century, to have orchards of elm trees that were pruned to be used as supports for vines.

Tuscan country life 1849
There were many examples in Renaissance literature using the vine and the elm as a symbol of marriage, and fables were created from the association. The stories would tell of an elm tree, that did not produce fruit, inviting a vine to grow among its branches. Although the vine initially declines the offer, after being exposed to the harsh weather, the vine "creeps feebly to the Elm's embrace; and in his arms finds sweet solace; United thus they storms defy. And mutual grace and aid supply." I love this representation of marriage.

Without the vine, the elm would have nothing except leaves, and would not feel productive. Likewise, without the elm, the vine would trail along the ground and not produce fruit in abundance, and it's fruit would rot.

Some stories told of a fruitful vine that acknowledges its debt to the little tree that supports it. Some tales say that the vine learns that we often can not rely only on our own resources, a sign that you are not alone. This image is often described as "the living union of a married pair" with grateful dependence and mutual support.

Abraham Bloemaert 1620
Between the 16th and 18th centuries, in many European countries, artists commonly painted the image of the pairing of the vine and the elm. In the myth of Vertumnus and Pomona, Vertumus takes the shape of an old woman and urges the reluctant goddess to marriage by pointing to the vine in her orchard.

But still, the best description I have ever found, of a loving committed relationship, whether a marriage or not, came from a YA (Young Adult) book: "Allegiant" from one of my 15-year-old daughter's favourite book trilogies (if you haven't read "Divergent" and seen the movies, please do).

"I used to think that when people fell in love, they just landed where they landed, and they had no choice in the matter afterward. And maybe that's true of beginnings, but t's not true of this, now.

I fell in love with him. But I don't just stay with him by default as if there's no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me."
- Tris from "Allegiant" by Veronica Roth

Using this quote from "Allegiant" I made this sign for my husband for Valentine's Day last year.

This year, inspired by poems and fables - and a YA novel - I wrote my husband a poem.

And when my husband needs reminding (and because The Simpsons is his all-time favourite TV show) I will simply tell him that "I choo-choo-choose you," every day.

In case you're not familiar with the source of this Valentine, check out this 17 second You Tube video of Lisa's Valentine's Day card for Ralph.

 Or you can take two and a half minutes to listen to Lisa tell the whole "love story" of Lisa and Ralph.

 My Valentine's Day gift
Pandora heart charm
"pink bow and lace"
better than flowers
better than chocolate
better than lacy lingerie
on Valentine's Day
"Rose of Hearts"
My work-in-progress representing the year 2017
PANDORA Rose with pearls, moonstones, and mother-of-pearl

Related Posts:

My home, my marriage, my husband and my honeymoon - a story about the symbolism of the lighthouse charm and my first attempt at writing a love poem.

"the deepest secret nobody knows" - a story about how we treat those we love, inspired by an ee cummings poem, and the charm to represent it.

Sheila and Mike's Excellent Anniversary Adventure - a story about a colourful outing for our 20th wedding anniversary and the charm I had engraved to remember it.

I would say "Yes" all over again - a story about how my husband had to re-enact our engagement, with our kids as witnesses.

You can search the blog, at the bottom of the website version. Using the label for "Always and Forever bracelet" you can see all of the stories about those charms, about love and marriage.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

One woman's march

Last month's Women's March got me thinking about my grandmother who was a feminist and fought sex discrimination in higher education in the 1920's and '30's. I want to share her story with you and tell you why I have the 8-ball charm in her memory.

The 8-ball charm on my "Treasured Hearts" bracelet.

Almost six years ago at my father's funeral I reconnected with cousins that are 20 years older than me. We were talking about my grandmother Holmes, and I recalled her Magic 8-ball. I remembered how she would take this 8-ball out of the deep recesses of a linen closet, with great reverence, and let us ask a question of the Magic 8-ball. We would then turn it over and wait for the answer to magically float to the surface. My cousin John said that she managed to maintain that magic by only letting you ask one question before putting it away until the next visit. I hadn't been aware of that subterfuge, but when I saw that Pandora had an 8-ball charm I knew it was the perfect charm to have in remembrance of my Granny.

If you're not familiar with the Magic 8-ball, see what happens when Woody asks a question in this clip from Toy Story:

When my father was just six years old he lost his mother who had died during childbirth. His father remarried when my dad was 13, giving my dad a stepmother.

Knowing I had this retired Pandora charm coming in the mail I did a little research on my grandmother, Vera Brown Holmes - I Googled her. She was born in 1890, the daughter of a country doctor and attended a private boarding school for girls. She finished high school in 1906 and then studied at Royal Victoria College, which was the women's college (where women both lived and studied) at McGill University in Montreal.

Royal Victoria College 1911
"College Life" at R.V.C.
I was very excited to find that I had online access to the McGill University archives and the yearbooks from 1911, 1912 and 1913. It was hard to imagine what my grandmother looked like at twenty-something; I just had to see what the fashions were in clothing and hair. In looking through the yearbooks I discovered that the majority of the pages were devoted to men. Women did not study science, medicine or law. Men had a mining society, philosophical society, debating society, French circle, western circle, readers club, electrical club, rifle club - even a mandolin club! Women were not involved in clubs or bands, and the only societies they were engaged in were the Delta Sigma Society (the literacy and debating society), the French Society, and the YMCA ( Young Women's Christian Association).

My grandmother, seated, second from the right, was on the Executive of the Delta Sigma Society.
She was Secretary-Treasurer in 1911, Vice President in 1912 and then President in this photo from 1913.
On the far left is my grandmother, her maiden
name Vera Lee Brown. In 1912 she was on the
Executive of the YWCA as President
There were many pages in the yearbooks with team photos of men in soccer, rugby, football, boxing, wrestling, swimming, water polo and track. For the ladies' athletics there was one page. Their uniform consisted of a white shirt and scarf. Although it might look like the ladies' were wearing pleated skirts they may have been wearing very loose pleated bloomers that cinched below the knee.

My grandmother (top right in this photo from 1912) played on the basketball team
My grandmother, Vera Lee Brown, received her BA in 1912 (the same year the Titanic sank) and a Master of Arts in 1913 - all before women even had the right to vote in Canada, the United States, or England.

In the Autumn of 1913 (the same year that women marched on Washington for the right to vote), Vera entered Bryn Mawr College in the US, one of the few institutions that encouraged women to study and become academics. She was a Graduate Scholar in History and received a Fellowship to study in Spain. When war broke out in 1914 Vera's period of study abroad was postponed and she returned to Bryn Mawr. Between the years of 1913 and 1915 Vera had a scholarship and became a Fellow at Bryn Mawr, allowing her to continue her studies in modern European history, American history and political science. In 1916 she accepted a position as a Lecturer in the Department of History at McGill and became a member of the resident staff at Royal Victoria College.

In 1913 women marched on Washington for the right to vote
In the summer of 1917 all of the work that Vera had done on her thesis was lost in a house fire. She started over. Because someone else had by then published on the same subject as her original thesis, Vera turned to a new field of investigation. When peace was restored in Europe, Vera went overseas in the Spring of 1920 and spent 15 months doing research in London, England and returned to earn a PhD at Bryn Mawr College. Her thesis topic was, "Anglo-Spanish relations in America in the closing years of the Colonial Era," and she came to be well-respected for her work on Spanish-Anglo relations.

My Treasure Hearts bracelet photographed on a bound version of my grandmother's PhD thesis.
I have always been aware of my grandmother's education but watching Downton Abby on Netflix really helped me put my grandmother's story into historical perspective. (If you haven't watched it, I highly recommend it) The fictional Mary Crawley was born in 1891, one year after my grandmother. For those who have watched the show, imagine, if you will, the Lady Mary Crawley who, instead of marrying Matthew and having a baby, decides to go to university, work on a PhD, travel to Spain, and then, as an unmarried woman, become a university professor!

In the Preface to my grandmother's dissertation, she shared the sources of her research, one of which was the Grantham Papers: "original letters addressed by the home government [England] and by ministers at other European courts to Lord Grantham, the British ambassador to Spain 1771-1779, and copies of his letters in reply." When I read this I thought, "Wait. Grantham? Isn't that the name in Downton Abby?" I guess that would be Lady Mary's ancestor.

Includes Vera Holmes
This was a time when women were discriminated against in many areas on the grounds of sex or marital status, including education. In the Victorian Era men and women were seen to have vast intellectual and emotional differences. There were concerns that allowing women to compete with men could lead to emotional breakdown. If they allowed women to become educated they would be corrupted and lose their purity. Or it would make them more masculine, might harm their reproductive systems, or lead to them being an unfit mother and wife.

In the 1880's some institutions, in some countries, started allowing women to attend university. But often classes were segregated. There were classes for men that women couldn't attend. Or women would be required to stay out in the hall to listen to lectures! Even if women were allowed to study, it was quite some time before they could actually earn degrees. Believe it or not, it wasn't until 1963 that women were able to receive degrees from Harvard University.

In the 1920's women in many countries were finally being allowed to go to university, and in the US, women were enrolling in college in record numbers. These women played a crucial role in the development of women's rights. They fought for equality, acceptance and change: equal access to education, extra curricular activities, and athletics - not to mention the right to vote.

In my Google search on my grandmother I found reference to her in a book called "Creating Historical Memory: English Canadian Women and the Work of History," (Ed by Alison Prentice and Barbara Boutilier) which discussed prominent women in the field of history academia. In the early 1900's, it was, of course, very unusual for women to attain the level of education that my grandmother did. And it really wasn't until after the second world war that women were routinely given academic postings. History departments were dominated by men, even at women's colleges. In addition, much of the "business and conviviality of the historical profession" in its early years occurred at hotel "smokers," private men's clubs, and an annual retreat in Connecticut. Women were barred from these events, social occasions when graduate students were introduced to prominent colleagues by their mentors.

In response to this reluctance to hire women professors, and their exclusion from the networking opportunities of their male counterparts, my grandmother and her colleagues became activists. In 1930 they formed the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, an annual retreat for women historians. It's intention was to facilitate the exchange of ideas and foster friendship among women historians - and it continues to this day. Vera Holmes served as the Secretary-Treasurer in the 1940's and as President in the early 1950's. In the 1970's this organization started having conferences on a new area of study: the history of women. The Berks, as it is called, now organizes the largest international conference on the history of women and gender.

This photo. from the website for the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, shows the original members of the organization; it is difficult to tell which of these ladies may be my grandmother.

Unfortunately for Vera Holmes, the Department Head at McGill, like many university administrators, was set against having any women on the faculty of the History Department. Although she was a "Lecturer" at McGill, it wasn't until she accepted a position at Smith College, a small, private women's college in the US, that she became an Assistant Professor (1924) and then a Professor of History (1931). She taught at Smith College until she retired in 1958. Smith College awarded Vera an Honorary degree in 1960. Her first book was "Studies in the History of Spain," and she was known as a "prominent Latin Americanist." The "magnus opus" of Vera Holmes - her greatest work - was her two-volume "A History of the Americas," which, by the way, you can still buy on Amazon.

In her late forties Vera Lee Brown married my grandfather, the Very Reverend John H.A. "Jack" Holmes, who was a priest and bishop in the Anglican Church. He later became a professor and the Dean of Divinity at King's College in Halifax. My grandmother, in addition to her academic success, was said to have "pioneered the idea of commuter marriage." Not teaching in the same cities, the couple met during school holidays and spent their summers together at the family cottage in New Brunswick. After retirement they spent their winters in Arizona. My grandfather died in 1963, the year before I was born, but my family traveled every summer to the cottage on Grand Lake to see Granny. It was one of my favourite places in the world.

My father did not usually join us during the summer vacation, when we were camping or visiting my mother's family, but this cottage would be the one place we were all together (scroll down to see the Photo Gallery). I think this cottage is why I always wanted a sun porch in my home. We would eat family meals out there and watch the sun set over the lake. I liked to lie on the daybed swing in the sun porch and listen to the water gently lapping the shore below.

(YouTube video with the Sounds of the Lake)

The Holmes family cottage overlooking Grand Lake, New Brunswick
This is where my father taught me how to skip rocks. Here we could swim, row a boat, play Scrabble, read a book, take long walks on the beach... and ask a question of the Magic 8-ball. So many wonderful memories wrapped up in this little 8-ball.

I have a Magic 8-ball in my front hall and the charm on my bracelet

My grandmother, the academic, was described as "formidable," "steely-eyed," and a "strong and feisty" woman, and she could be old-fashioned, opinionated, judgemental, stuck-up, and not very tactful. But, for me, she was just the Granny who made terrible oatmeal, and terrific chocolate fudge, and liked to show me her jewellery from all the places she'd travelled in the world. I think she would have liked me to have some jewellery in memory of her - and the cottage. She taught me that it's OK to be smart, to be independent, and to have my own opinions. And now, knowing the feminist role she played, I am even more grateful to have known her. And this 8-ball charm will remind me that even the most serious of people have some play in them.

Related Posts:

Surprise! Mothers can be athletes too! - a story about my mother's youth during the second World War, and the crazy rules they had for women's basketball.

Daddy, do you have time to play? A reflection on Father's Day - a story about one of my daughter's favourite things about her dad and why she and I both "throw like a girl."

Speaking up when it would be easier to remain silent - a story about sexual harassment, bullying, and standing up for what you believe in, and the charm I have to remind me "Don't be afraid of making waves."

 Holmes Family Photo Gallery
My father, aged 9, with his father the Very Reverend John H.A. "Jack" Holmes
My parents' wedding (July 1963) with my father's
Holmes family. From the left my Dad's oldest
sister my Auntie Chris, Dad and Mom, Uncle
George (Arnold), and Dad's older sister Aunt
Mary (Arnold), Granny Vera Brown Holmes
and Grampie Jack Holmes

My father and me July 1966
My mother Verna Holmes with me
(almost 2 years old)
Me, my younger brother Thomas, Mom
and Granny (Dad was usually the photographer)
Granny, Mom, me and Tom with Granny's brother
who we called Uncle Eric and his dog

Me, Mom and Granny at church

We visited the cottage in the summer of 2012,
the summer after my father died. Mitchell and
Taylor were 10-years-old at the time.

We visited the cottage again in the summer of 2015.
This lake has a sandy bottom and you can walk a looooong way before it's over your head.
But you might get your shorts wet.
Skipping stones. The wind-up.

And release. Guess who's rock did NOT skip.
(She throws like a girl)