A Perfect Day for Dabeners

I sip my coffee at dawn while looking out at what promises to be a beautiful day. The light is soft, as if it were filtered to help sleepy eyes transition from the darkness of night to daybreak. Tender green leaves have sprouted from buds on the tree branches that etch the skyline. On the ground, tightly-rolled hosta and lily of the valley shoots peek out from the rich, dark earth. In a few weeks, they too will burst open and their leaves will reach for warmth of the sun or the refreshing feel of a gentle rainfall.  

Our region has been enjoying unseasonably hot, dry weather – ideal for dabeners like me. Dabener: One who dabbles in gardening. I made the word up but it fits me perfectly. In the spring, I’m ecstatic to be let loose in the outdoors after a long, cold winter. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I revel in digging in the dirt. When the humidity and mosquitoes arrive, my enthusiasm quickly fades. But for today – and hopefully for a few weeks to come – I can be a happy dabener.

By late afternoon, the hard, bright sunlight of mid-day softens again and the heat begins to dissipate. I kneel in the shade by a flower bed, the soothing scent of cedar mulch wafting in the air around me. My hands are deep in the earth as I prepare the ground for two new plants: a white bellflower and a ruby bell.  With a little luck – actually make that a lot of luck – by summer they will bloom and add a splash of color to the garden.

For a moment, as I dig I feel my fingers become roots that lengthen and run like tree roots in an underground network that is a marvel of nature. There are no wires, no server, no cloud or websites – only my hands buried in the mystery of a universe that, when stripped of man’s intervention, is still as beautiful as it is simple. For a moment, I am connected to the earth and to the sky, a part of the magic of that universe. Then the moment passes and I am just a dabener doing her best to create a little piece of paradise in her backyard.

Crazy 8s for Mother’s Day

Photo by Erik Mclean: https://www.pexels.com

When I was young, I remember struggling to fan the playing cards in my small hands when my mother taught me to play Crazy 8s. She’d wait patiently as I carefully scanned my cards, searching for one in the right suit to discard or, failing that, pick one from the deck on the table. Nothing gave me more pleasure than shouting “last card!” before discarding it on my next turn. I seemed to win a lot back then … the odds must have been in my favour.

Now my mother’s memory is fading … fast. Last Saturday, my two brothers and I moved her to the assisted living wing of her nursing home and the stress made things worse. Although we placed her clothing in the same drawers of her dresser as before (socks and underwear in top drawer; pyjamas in second drawer; sweaters and t-shirts in third drawer, etc.), she couldn’t find them. When I visited her on Tuesday, she was wearing the same clothes as on move day. She’d also been sleeping in them since there was no clothing or pyjamas in the hamper. (Each of my brothers visited her on the Sunday and Monday, but they were more attuned to what needed to be done in the apartment than to her wardrobe.) So we started a system whereby one of us calls her in the morning to direct her to clean clothing and one at night to remind her to put her PJs on.

Her eyes, ears and mobility are far from what they used to be too. And her morale, understandably, is not good.  We are the only family she has left and the last of her friends passed away a few years ago. She spends long hours going through photo albums mourning the loss of the people who used to be in her life as well as her physical and cognitive abilities.

When I visited her for Mother’s Day I tried to distract her by suggesting we play Crazy 8s. Now it was my turn to wait patiently while she struggled to hold the cards in her gnarled fingers. “These cards are so slippery!” she said but we knew that wasn’t the problem. But the expression on her face as we played was priceless.

For the first time in a long time, she was interested in something! She was fully absorbed in the game, glancing at the upturned card on the table, and then scanning her hand for one in the same suit. When she had an 8, she gleefully laid it down, signaling a change in suit. Then she sat back in satisfaction, eyes on me, waiting to see what my next move would be.

I’ll admit, her eyesight being what it is, she sometimes confused spades with clubs or diamonds with hearts, and I just went with it. It seemed only fair that the odds finally be in her favour all these years later.

The dance, music, colour and culture of Ukraine

As we celebrate Easter today, my thoughts are with my Canadian-born Ukrainian friends. Their Orthodox celebrations will be held next week and I’m sure they will be subdued this year. It’s hard to think of anything Ukrainian as subdued though. The memories I have of my Ukrainian friends are filled with color, music, dance and enormous pride in their culture.

I met these friends back in grade school, a melting pot where French & English Canadian children learned to read and write side-by-side with children of Italian, Polish, Ukrainian and other descent. I learned more about their traditions through them than any book could have taught me.

Easter, for example, meant that my Ukrainian classmates would be decorating Easter eggs. Unlike the clumsy creations most of produced, theirs were pure works of art. And no wonder. The technique is time-consuming and uses hot beeswax and dye to create ornate designs and patterns of breath taking beauty. Called pysanky eggs, the tradition dates back to the pre-Christian era when eggs were thought to have great powers including protecting homes from fire, preventing famine and ensuring good health.

One legend tells of an evil monster. The more pysanky people made, the tighter the chains were wrapped around the monster, keeping it at bay so that it didn’t destroy the world. It’s not much of a stretch of the imagination to put a face to that monster in world events of today.

There was no lying in bed or watching cartoons on Saturday mornings for my Ukrainian friends. Saturdays were for Ukrainian school and dance lessons. They didn’t seem to mind, though, because their parents had instilled such pride in their culture in them. And when the annual Christmas concert came around, the rest of us wished we could have gone to the dance lessons too.

The concert always had a Ukrainian dance number. It doesn’t do it justice to call it simply a dance number; it was performance-art. The girls would enter the stage to lively music as if they were skipping on air. They wore wide skirts embroidered in red, green and gold, a crown of coloured paper flowers on their heads with ribbons streaming behind and wide smiles. But it was their shiny red boots I coveted and loved best of all.

Then the boys would leap onto the stage in their Cossack pants tied at the waist with a satin sash. Their strength and athleticism was impressive. Squat kicks, pirouettes, split leaps -they did it all. These were my classmates – how did they all learn to do this?

The pride, resilience and strength of Ukrainian people has been on display for the world to see for more than 40 days now. So on this Easter day, my thoughts and memories are with them. May this conflict end soon.

P.S.: Whether you celebrate Easter, Passover or Ramadan – Happy Holidays!