Wednesday, 6 December 2017

there is no such thing as a coincidence

Yesterday, at 10 o'cock, there was a knock at my front door.  Sheets from the dryer still in my arms, I opened it to see a spry-looking man with a grizzly beard, more grey than black.  He asked if there was anything that needed doing in the garden, telling me that he needed $31 as his sleeping bag and cart had been stolen.

I asked him to come into the back garden where we could have a look.  Pulling on my gum boots, I showed him areas that needed raking.  When I pointed to the small pile under a Japanese maple, he questioned me, wondering if I needed to leave them there as a winter mulch, protecting the plants under them.

Ah...he was a gardener!

We walked around, pointing out plants that needed cutting back, and then I left Dale with pruners, a rake and some oversized plastic bags.

He refused my offer of coffee or tea, with a shake of his head. He was here to work, he implied.

1 1/4 hours later he again knocked on the door and I paid him for the excellent job he had done.

Dale had walked all the way to my doorstep at a perfect time.

Perfect because as I struggle with a bone spur and severe arthritis in my right thumb, I can't use my pruners and have been looking helplessly at my unkempt gardens.

Perfect for another reason too.  As a member of Avodah, the social action group at Congregation Emanu-El, I have been active in a drive to purchase and distribute underwear to those who are less fortunate, our vulnerable friends in Victoria.  In our Underwear Challenge, we have been asking for donations to match or exceed Avodah's $500 contribution.

The dark and rainy season is upon us and clothing essentials are needed now more than ever.  Avodah has begun distributing underwear to the following:  *Out of the Rain youth sleeping at the synagogue, *Sandy Merriman House, *Peers, *the Women’s Transition House, *Anawim House, *the Dandelion Society, *Quadra Village Community Centre and *First Metropolitan shelter. 

As Brian and I were returning home from a drop-off at the office of the Women's Transition House, we stopped at a traffic light bordering Oak Bay. In front of our Lexus was a new Audi, to the left a Mercedes, and a shiny BMW pulled up behind us.  I looked on-line to see what the top luxury car brands were and, in addition to the list,  I read this:

  • More expensive and exclusive than mainstream models, luxury cars are about wants rather than needs, and about image rather than utility. ... 

The economic disparity and the injustice of it screamed in my head. How is it that some of us have landed on the okay-side-of-things while others are confined to the hardship place.  Some of us are lucky, some of us less so.  Some of us caring while others, with the same financial security, don't give a shit.  Many governments fattening the pockets of the super-rich, while shutting their eyes to the great needs of  people living at the edge of poverty and to those who have tumbled over this edge.

Meeting Dale yesterday placed a real person in front of me.  I was no longer buying and distributing underwear to "people in need".

This essential clothing was being given to individual men and women, to people as diverse and as complex as I am.

It is people's right to have the essentials of health-care, food, shelter and warm clothing.

While I really do know this, it never hurts to be slammed again with the truth!

Stella, our 8 year old granddaughter, interviewed me 2 days ago for her classroom assignment.  Her final question was: "What advice can you give me?"

My answer was:  #1. be kind  #2. follow your dreams and put everything you have into the journey and  #3. listen -  People have so much to share, if you truly listen to them.

                  If you want to help with the Underwear Challenge, please let me know

The mystery buyer who bid $450 million for Leonardo da Vinci’s "Salvator Mundi" is a little-known Saudi prince and friend of the heir apparent
Wednesday, December 6, 2017 6:21 PM EST

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

like the imprint of a bird in the sky

"Good and bad, happy and sad, all thoughts vanish into emptiness, like the imprint of a bird in the sky."
                              -- The Sadhana of Mahamudra

 I have been feeling weighed down and squeezed as if by a too tight girdle.  I have been getting things done, but only just, and without enthusiasm.

My hostas need repotting, my garden needs attention, there are small piles of stuff around our house that need sorting and perhaps discarding.  I still have many hundreds of new photographs on the computer that need editing. And a book to read for book club.

Most of these things would be fun at another time.

This lethargy started when one of my dearest friends was diagnosed with liver cancer.  Just like that, she was told it was incurable. Just like that she texted me with the news, on her way back to the Cowichan Valley from the Victoria hospital. She wouldn't come and sit in our garden that day.

She was 6 years younger than me.

Every day something reminds me of J...the Sweet Autumn clematis that is just beginning to bloom reminds me when she housesat for us and the clematis tumbled over the deck and all around her as she sat reading...the grasses in my garden that I never remember the name of, asking her dozens of times to remind me...walking along Willow's Beach gathering seeds from hollyhocks and storing them in all our various pockets to keep the colours separate. Personal conversations about our lives while sitting in our living room.

While I know that she is no longer living, I still expect her to visit, to phone or to text. To knit me another pair of fabulous socks. To eat chicken soup at our dining room table.

J's passing propelled me to immediately visit another special friend in Steveston.  Sheila was on vacation, a perfect time to grab some time together. We walked along the dykes and took a few small day trips,  just being together and cherishing our love for each other.

It is J's cancer and Sheila's company that made me realize that I primarily want joy and nourishment and love in my life and that I needed to discard those things that were not providing this- small day to day chores not withstanding.

As if from a revelation outside of myself, I realized that our beautiful ocean- front suite at Seaview had become a burden.  I realized that our original idea to move there as we aged was unrealistic and that the responsibilities there had begun to outweigh the pleasure. We listed it for sale almost immediately.

When we purchased our suite in 2013, Seaview Apts became my palette and my canvas.

Creating a contemporary space from a 1951 apartment was a challenge and great fun. From the designing to the actuality, from the choosing of a magnificent piece of quartzite to the simple furnishings to the display of art, it was an artistic experience.

Outside, Brian and I worked together in the overgrown tangle of neglected garden beds to create beautiful new spaces. The gardens began to enhance the beautiful location.

I believe that the places we make reflect who we are.

Through this endeavour, my creative self once again blossomed. Purchasing at Seaview had been a most generous error.*

My immersion into photography began.

We have just returned from a short holiday in Tofino- my place of quiet and peacefulness. While being there hasn't erased my sorrow or appreciably lessened my sense of carrying a heavy load, it has, however, allowed my seeing afresh the magnificence and sanctity and the fragility of the world.

As I walked on the beach, amidst the ever-changing tides, it allowed me to see more clearly that life is a series of changes.  Rumi said that  "All disquiet springs from a search for quiet. And so the best way to cultivate inner peace is to learn to love the way everything keeps changing."   I often forget this.  Tofino helps me remember.

   please click on the photographs to get full-size images

*Isabel Archer’s observation in Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady that “one should never regret a generous error”

from Brian Andreas
Story People

Sunday, 2 July 2017


My photography show, quiet devotion: PHOTOGRAPHS, is still on display in my studio/gallery. People can visit and view these new images by arranging a time with me (

My studio is surrounded by our exuberant summer garden. Inside, it is quiet and the works hanging only increase this silent peacefulness.  There are no hums from my aging refrigerator, no pings announcing new emails and, best of all, there is the absence of vehicle noise. Several times a day I sit quietly with my photographs, not so much seeing them, but rather feeling them.

For a number of years I tried in vain to adopt a sitting meditation practice. I was part of an intensive Mindfulness class, based on the teachings of Jon Kabat -Zinn, and I actually enrolled for a second time, trying again to sit silent and still. No, my body and mind were not playing!

I have found my own meditation practice: photography.

At this time of year, I may simply remain in our garden with my camera. In the early morning, my collection of various hostas, their containers grouped together in the shade, gather me into their leaves' textures and shapes.

If the irrigation system has been on that morning, the multitude of droplets sit waiting.

Mid-day, I have become fascinated by the shocking near-white areas the sun creates and the contrasting black shadows.

Recent evenings have shown me the pale purple flowers that are beginning to appear.

An hour passes quickly. No thoughts. No itches that used to plague me at mindfulness classes.

Some of the fun for this summer photography show was how it came together. As Tofino is my very favourite place to be, these ocean and sand photographs became the early foundation for "quiet devotion".

The cacti were a surprising addition.Visiting my friend Margo in Tucson this winter, I photographed magnificent cacti every day. Morning and evening. How could the spines work with the serene sand-scapes?

As I printed more images, the consistency of my colour palette was remarkable. This created, I believe, a flow and mood, even as the images' subjects diverged.

Besides sharing a similar palette, the repetitive patterns of both subjects emerged. The show became stronger and I believe, more interesting, by this unplanned direction.

The Southwest and the West Coast became partners.

                     My "silence series" added still another layer to the show.

I have been receiving newsletters from David duChemin for about 2 years. It was only today that I found that he has a website. This site says that David "is a world & humanitarian assignment photographer, best-selling author, digital publisher, and international workshop leader.... Based in Victoria, Canada, when he’s home...."

(Another amazing Canadian. I can't find him on Canada411 and, for all I know, he lives down the street from me!)

It was on his website that I noticed a photographer's manifesto. In this treatise duChemin says "I do what I do to see the world differently and to show others what I see and feel." And, he concludes, "I believe photography opens my eyes to a deeper life, one that recognizes moments and lives them deeper for being present in them." I have often voiced these same thoughts, both in earlier blog posts and when I try to describe to friends my deep connection to my photographs.

Friends say that I have "an amazing eye".

I see it more as having a heart connection to the small gems that surround us. The treasures that are so often overlooked or considered unimportant.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

quiet devotion:PHOTOGRAPHS

Sitting at my computer, I know it's time for a new post. "Why?" I wonder.   "Because" I answer.

As I begin to write, my word-thoughts begin to respond to this question.

A friend came to visit this afternoon to reconnect and to see my new photography work. It came up early in our conversation that we are so very fortunate in our lives: living in Canada, in a beautiful part of the country, having a comfortable home and a warm bed, abundant food and enough money to make choices for our physical and spiritual well being.  J talked about the guilt she can feel, while seeing so many who are less fortunate.

Or less lucky, I added.

Because it is truly by chance, not as a result of my own efforts or abilities, that I was born to Mildred and Lou Ritchie in Montreal in the 1940s.

And I know that guilt sits on the low scale of useful emotions.

I read of Jim Estill, a Guelph business man who put up $1.5 million to bring 58 Syrian families to Canada, helping to find housing and employment for them.  And the investor who, in 1981, was invited to give a commencement speech at the New York Public School 121 in New York.  Looking out at the almost entirely black and Hispanic audience, Eugene Lang realized that the speech he had prepared was totally inappropriate for these students.  Instead, he talked of Martin Luther King's 'I have a Dream' speech, saying that everyone should have a dream.  He then impulsively told his audience that he would give a scholarship to each student in the graduating class admitted to a four-year college. This offer led to the establishment of over 200 I Have a Dream programs, that work with students beginning in grade 3, to support them as they move through school.

These two men and the larger support teams they helped to establish, are a beacon of hope in our often tangled and seemingly hopeless world.

These grand undertakings are a tremendous inspiration, though not a path for me to follow.  How can I contribute to the well-being of my community?  What can be my private giving?

During my conversation with J, I became aware of a subtle way of gifting that I practice.  The careful attention I pay to what is around me. The listening. The noticing. The seeing.

The teenager who walks alone. A woman leaning on her walker.  The disabled man from whom I buy Street News. The client at the food bank who selects a pair of reading glasses, donated by my neighbour.

The patterns that sand and light make.  The tiny tracks left by sea birds. The broken reflection of a pink-tinted cloud in the water. Hoar frost coloured by the morning's first light.

Mary Oliver writes that "Attention is the beginning of devotion."

I am exhibiting my photographs in our Victoria studio in about three weeks: Sunday, June 11.

When I looked on-line, #3 in Mirriam Webster's Learner's Dictionary was the definition I was most drawn to: "devotions [plural] : prayer, worship, or other religious activities that are done in private rather than in a religious service."  If I substitute "spiritual" for "religious" it almost fits.

When I add to this the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi-  “a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay” (, it becomes what my camera and I together bequeath to the world.

quiet devotion

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not, rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common--this is my symphony.

Friday, 21 April 2017

wonder woman adieu

I'm writing this sitting in a shallow hole in the ground.  Not the dirt and pebble sort of hole but rather the feeling of being not in the sunlight but rather in the deep shade. Is this what depression feels like?  Maybe it's my hypoglycemia?  It's nearly noon and I haven't eaten today as I'm waiting for Brian to bring home fresh bread after his bike ride.  After a week of matzos, the idea of a baguette is alluring.

The feeling of semi-darkness doesn't feel at all permanent; it's not as if the hole will be a lasting dwelling place.  It seems rather as if I'm being pushed to notice and examine what it is in my life that does not bring me sunshine and joy.

To notice what feeds my soul.  To see what chips away at it.

Yesterday I experienced the light and the darkness in the same afternoon. On my way to a constituency meeting supporting the refugee family Congregation Emanu-El sponsored, I saw a pile of cut bamboo laying near a fence.  They were long and beautifully coloured.  To see if they were available to take, I knocked on the door to ask. The young woman said that I could help myself.  A fast text to Brian...would he come after my meeting to load some into our SUV.  Yes, he would.

Then the meeting.  We were 8 sitting around the table and it was clear that the majority  of us were hugely involved.  I was in the minority.  My ancient "I'm not good enough" messages started a relay race around my head. Why really am I still part of this group? I really like the family so I don't want to pull out, but what's my purpose in remaining?  "I'm not doing enough" partnering with "it's not really what I do well" is a powerful duo!

Move ahead an hour and there I was sorting through the bamboo, making a pile of the ones I wanted to take. Choosing by colour and width and appraising each piece with care as if it were essential that I love each one.  While Brian was threading them into the car I chose more and more until even I had to admit that we had enough.

Laying them out on our deck, one by one, I wondered if my singular focus and quiet attention was akin to meditation. While I have read several of Jon Kabat-Zinn's books, and taken a multi-week series of classes based on his teachings, the seated meditations uncovered itches I didn't know I had and thoughts that rolled rampant in my head.

There were no distractions as I sorted and lay the smooth bamboo side-by-side.

I was doing something that gave me joy.  (Never mind that I'm not sure what will become of the 100 and more hollow "stakes"!)

Usually my writing flows easily; not so with this entry.  It is halting, as if I'm afraid of the direction it will take. As if I may uncover a truth that exposes myself, a truth that hurts.

Because of this apprehension, I know I am getting close.

Part of it is staring me right in the face.  For almost a year I have been talking with Brian as he complains that he is unable to do as much gardening, biking and chores as he has been accustomed to doing.

 My response is singular: "You are 70 years old now- you were 36 when we lived in Duncan and spent most of every day outside working on the land."

Could age be a factor in how I'm feeling?  Could it be that I am having great difficulty in maintaining the belief that I am Wonder Woman, the demon who works in 2 gardens, volunteers at the food bank, walks and drives to take hundreds of photographs. An artist who will be exhibiting her work again this summer.  A woman who is on the Board of the co-op building in which we have a suite, which at present involves overseeing the redecoration of parts of the common space there. A Woman who does not crash.

Now, Wonder Woman doesn't get tired and fed up and crabby. Right?

Well,  I am tired. I am nudging towards discontent and more than halfway to crabby.

It may not simply be the chronology.  It is most likely a combination of factors: stamina* choice * desire * self-acknowledgement  * not giving a damn fighting with caring too much *

I am noticing this shift now as we lead up to the crucial B.C. election. Before the federal election, Brian and I erected innumerable NDP signs. I made sandwiches and cookies for the volunteers. I donated much needed money. I was keen and vocal.  This time around I am only donating cash.

I tell myself that I just don’t have the energy.

                          Maybe I am simply rationing it. Saving it up.

I remember that when I turned 59 or 60 I felt a shift: I needed to cut back on heavier physical work.  At 65 I actually hired someone to come and help divide huge plants in our garden.

At 69 I began to simplify our gardens. Now, at 73,  I'm in the process of simplifying my life!

At my life's centre is family. Definitely Family.  Photography has nudged into second place.  It is the concentric circles, like ripples in a pond, that seem less clear.

While I don't have a large circle of friends, I treasure the dear ones I do have. I know that friendships take caring attention and as my stamina reduces, my fear is that they might slip away if I'm not vigilant. I try to remember that attention isn't only my job, but theirs as well.

I am also greatly attached to the clients at St. John the Divine's food bank, so that's a keeper. We had 86 clients today. I have said this before... contact with a caring volunteer might be the single positive interaction of their day.

My time with them is a gift to myself.

I love my garden. It may not be quite as perfect as when Wonder Woman was in charge and when she was on the Garden Tour,  but it's still beautiful in its abundance.  I still love to share plants with my neighbours even though I can't always remember the plant's name!

I say "no" more often and think longer before I say "yes".

I am more selfish.

The Thesaurus offers "egotistical" "greedy" and "self-centered" as synonyms for selfish, but I see it rather as keeping plenty of good stuff to nurture myself.  Not taking stuff from others, but rather replenishing my body and soul with love and careful consideration.

Hello!  I have reappeared into the sunshine.