The Angels Return

The angels returned to the Grange House this past weekend.  (For those of you Dr. Who fans, no, it wasn’t the angels who took Manhattan.)

These angels came from Goderich, Toronto, Port Perry, Caledon and Waterloo. Arriving in the middle of the pouring rain, these angels came when I asked for help. I guess that is just what angels do.

I had no closet in this house. I mean, no where to hang my clothes, no where to store things other than the basement (that requires opening a door in the floor and climbing down). The sliding glass door in my bedroom no longer sealed and cold air blew through all the time, and if it was removed, it could house a closet. A call went out a few weeks ago, and was answered by this host of angels. They arrived with hammers, and nails, paint supplies and drop cloths; a trailer filled with wood and every tool imaginable. They brought beer, wine, laughter and energy and more, and before I knew it, an entire workshop was constructed on my front porch!

The workshop emerges

The workshop emerges

Rory and I started the weekend by cleaning the clothes out of an old wardrobe next to the damaged sliding door in my bedroom. Before the first pot of coffee was on, Brian had arrived and was up on the roof, cleaning the eaves troughs. Tony followed close behind and the two of them were a human wrecking crew, pulling out the doors and then hammering the boards…in the blink of an eye, a new wall was built.

While this was going on, Anastasia and Scott were mudding and priming, and the dirty, nasty paint in my kitchen and bathroom was disappearing.

No, he's not doing dishes, he's cleaning brushes!

No, he’s not doing dishes, he’s cleaning brushes!

Dave put his larger than 6 foot frame inside the wee room under the stairs, and vented the dryer, then installing a plexiglass window upstairs. Vito managed to install a mount for my TV, and figure out how to fix my kitchen door.

Vito at work..note the concentration!

Vito at work..note the concentration!

There was perpetual motion in every room, with me, running around like a chicken with my head cut off, making coffee, sandwiches, finding hammers, running errands from one person to another, and generally being completely useless but very, very enthusiastic.

I'm trying to paint the door, but Anastasia should really take the brush away from me!

I’m trying to paint the door, but Anastasia should really take the brush away from me!

This remarkable crew of friends, who didn’t know each other prior to their morning coffee, worked all day Saturday, with 4 of them spending the night, and getting up and doing it again the next morning. “Fruit coloured paint” was applied to the kitchen, the bathroom actually looked refreshing, and the closet was a work of art. The temperature dropped outside, but the laughter inside kept us all happy and warm. Admittedly, I wavered between laughing at Brian’s crazy comments, puzzled about everyone’s dedication and commitment, and struggling with tears of gratitude.

It was quite a time.

I learned so much this weekend. I learned how to make long, careful brush strokes and and the difference between primer and paint. I learned about fuses and power saws. But mostly, I learned about these things:

  • New friends are remarkable: I play fiddle with Anastasia. We’ve only known each other a short while, yet she has given me three days of her life to clean, weed, haul garbage and paint…in fact, at the end of the day Sunday, I just sat and drank wine while she finished the kitchen. I know Jean and Michael from my yoga class. Jean ran the 10K race at the Zoo on Saturday in the rain, came home and dried off, then came over here and worked. Michael arrived with Jean and then went and did all my grocery shopping. These are new friends who have given me their time and care. My message to you is cherish your new friends , because it isn’t the length of time that you know them, it is the quality of time that makes a difference.
    A great post-run cool down, and stylish outfit!

    A great post-run cool down, and stylish outfit!

    Note the headlamp for better colour application!

    Note the headlamp for better colour application!

  • Old friends are remarkable: Scott and I have been friends forever. He splits his life between his home in Bragg Creek, Alberta, and a little apartment in Waterloo. He has no time to himself and he travels non-stop. Yet he gave me two days to help mud walls, sand and paint. Tony and I are fishing and working buddies, and never once have I ever heard him say “No, Susan, we can’t do that”. He just grins and figures things out, and we end up laughing, whether we’re in a boardroom or on the river. He partnered up with Brian to design and build the closet, and then went around to find other things that I needed done, and he did them. Cherish your old friends, because they are a gift that keeps on giving.
  • Trust your friends: Kathy MacDonald and I are two peas in a pod, according to Kathy’s husband Brian. Their dog Rolo was injured and Kathy stayed home in Goderich to care for her. But Brian went out early Saturday morning, bought lumber, loaded his trailer with every single tool known to man, and drove over here to undertake this construction job with nothing more than a hug and a big thank you. He made me laugh, he fixed my eave troughs, he worked with Tony and built my closet,
    The door is gone...make room for a closet!

    The door is gone…make room for a closet!

    and not once did he stop smiling. This was the first time I’d spent time with Brian without Kathy. I always trusted her judgement, but picking Brian was a thing of brilliance on her part!

    Brian in the finished product. One proud craftsman.

    Brian in the finished product. One proud craftsman.

On Monday, I visited my Dad in Burlington. As usual, we went out for lunch and worked on solving all the world’s problems. We reflected on the tragedy in Nairobi, and my father said he was saddened by the cruelty in the world. I agreed in principle, but then shared my belief that there is goodness, kindness and selflessness all around us if we chose to find it. Indeed, I was surrounded by it all weekend.

9 angels. One is related to me by birth, and the other 8 are related to me in spirit. I know for a fact that everyone is surrounded by angels. You don’t have to look very far to find them. And for two days in September, they came and filled this house and my heart with their joy.

It was quite a time.

Getting ready for more!

Getting ready for more!

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The sound of your voice

5243718530_d16f48097e_bI have this screen shot on my desktop.  There are many voices that touch my soul and make the crazy vibrations of my life resonate with joy. But every once in a while, when I listen, I find a new favourite.

I moved on Friday. This morning, I still didn’t have running water in my bathroom. There is no electricity upstairs, and it is so hot but I can’t even use a fan. My landlord is 78, wants to do everything himself, and I will be much older before the washer and dryer ever get installed. My life has been turned on its ear and spun about like a whirling dervish.

But I heard a voice this morning that made me smile; grin, actually, and made my poor, chaotic soul stop and listen. My friend Christina called and we got to catch up on her wedding, her upcoming trip home to Vancouver, a bit of work, and general fun stuff. We also talked about how the big stuff isn’t as important as the little stuff, and it is the little stuff that matters. Hearing her voice, and listening to her stories…that made my morning. All the work that I hoped to take place on my house wasn’t as important as hearing her voice and having a chat.

Christina’s voice isn’t like Morgan Freeman’s, who could read the phone book and we’d all stop and listen attentively. But still, her voice makes me stop and listen attentively, because of all the positive things associated with it – laughter, support, friendship, delight and care.

Since my washer and dryer are not available, I had to find a place to do my ever growing pile of laundry. I called Janey, and the dogs and I headed to her place. Janey and her husband Dave had bent over backwards for me this weekend, helping carry, move, drive to the dump, do a million things that friends do to help in a move. And more. Way more. My laundry and I descended on her farmhouse just as she was leaving, and with a few quick instructions on how to use her washing machine (and not burn the house down), she was off. I was left to my own design.

Hours later, Janey arrived home. I was armpit deep in slide decks and outlines of plans, but I heard her gentle voice down the hall. She helped me bring my clothes in off the line, and then she said “Do you see what the birds brought me? They brought me sunflowers!” There were sunflowers poking up in her garden, and she hadn’t planted them. The birds managed to bring the brilliant amber yellows and chocolate browns of the flowers to her garden and she was filled with joy.

Janey talking sweet to Roofus.

Janey talking sweet to Roofus.

It was contagious. I still had to go back to my hot house, and finish working. But I too, was filled with joy.

I got home, and my dogs needed a romp. So off we went, doing something we’d never done before – a walk on a road, not a field or a trail. The deer flies were brutal, and the mosquitoes worse. But as I crested the hill, I saw a familiar car. My Irish neighbor, Colm, was on his way to soccer practice. When he saw me, his face lit up and he pulled over. Down rolled the window, and the sound of his voice almost made me cry. “ Oh girl, we miss you already and you’re only a few minutes away”.

Words are important, as I’ve written before. But the sound, the tone and timber of a voice that carries affection and care is something that can fill the heart before you know it.

Colm, with his son Cathal, who both have wonderful voices

Colm, with his son Cathal, who both have wonderful voices

I truly wish I had air conditioning upstairs. I wish I had electrical outlets that worked. I wish I didn’t have to drive somewhere to do my laundry. But three voices, whose vocal resonation, timbre and intensity is nothing out of the ordinary, is out of the ordinary for me. They told me stories and reminded me what was important.

Today, ask yourself who’s voice is your favourite sound? What is the voice that can pour over all the crazy bits and help you be yourself? Think about it. Then tell them.

Nothing but a song

I went to a conference last weekend. Or to be more accurate, I crashed a conference last weekend. In truth, I hadn’t actually intended on going. I was in Victoria, visiting with my most wonderful friend Marj Welch. We did what we do each year: she works up in her office, I work in a make-shift office at the dining room table. We converge at the end of the day to walk her dog Bobbie, eat our dinner and tell stories till the wee hours. Somewhere in there, we all head up to Cowichan Lake to visit with my friend Andy and family, and play music for hours and hours (and hours) on end.

This year, the EECOM conference was taking place at the University of Victoria while I was out west. The contract work I am doing right now is not related to environmental learning per se, and I was more interested in visiting with my friends out there, particularly Olivia, Sonia and Darrell, than attending a conference. But Holly Arntzen was playing at the Saturday night EECOM event, and she is quite remarkable (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKH54msZ0AY).  And besides, Grant, Luba, Remy and Sue all conspired to convince me to come, just for the evening. I am so glad I did.

Holly and her partner Kevin, and the rest of the band The Wilds, were wonderful. They were backed up by the Getting Higher Choir from Victoria, and before I knew it, there were about 30 of us up, singing and dancing with Holly and company. The performance ended, and many of us gathered outside to ponder the remainder of the evening.

Which, of course, had to involve more music. The dancers and singers moseyed and sashayed through the residences and found a “campfire” to gather around. Well, campfire, not so much. But circle of chairs and a few cold beers, a taste of Strathisla single malt, and it was anything and everything we wanted! And if you know me at all, you will know that you’ll find me wherever music is being made. A fiddle, a mandolin and a guitar, supported by happy voices, is a magical event and I want to be in the middle of it all.

What I wanted to share with you was not so much the magic of the night, but the connections that music can make. I had crashed the conference. I didn’t have a name tag. I didn’t know anyone other than a few familiar faces. But after a few songs and switching from instrument to instrument, I had a circle full of new friends. I didn’t have a clue what they did, but I knew they were interested in environmental learning and in music…so they were kindred spirits to me.

Interestingly enough, when we took a wee break to refresh, I started chatting with Lidia, one of the singers, a lovely young woman from Quebec. Do you know that she was not interested in traditional environmental learning, but more interested in working with adults, with communities, exploring the role of stakeholders in environmental change? And do you know that I am interested in the same thing? And that without music, without the gathering that brought us all together to sing, I would have never known anyone else at the conference was interested in the same things that intrigued me?

It was music that brought us together but our shared interests outside music that made us both sit up and notice. The conversations I had with Lidia convinced me to beg for admission to the next day’s morning session, and explore, discuss and consider new paths for pubic awareness, engagement and communications.

It was nothing but a song that brought us together. But it was everything.

Post conference tunes!

Post conference tunes!

101 Things!

I just delivered a Team Training session for my NRCan friends in Ottawa. To prepare for it, I hauled out some of my old training materials, but also ventured into some newer research about teams and team building. Before I knew it, I had found a reference to Rolf Smith http://www.fastcompany.com/62628/rolf-smith. Somewhere in his site, I learned he had his “students” create a list 101 things they want to do before they die. A bucket list of sorts.

Making music with friends is truly priceless

Making music with friends is truly priceless

I decided to create my list.

I sat down with my journal and a pencil, and started writing. The first items on the list were easy. But by the time I got to about 15, I started to really think about the idea of WANT itself. By the time I reached 20, I was running out of things to write. How bizarre is that. Does that mean I’m actually happy with my life as it is now, or that my vision and outlook on life is just too narrow to see beyond my immediate borders?

What I found really interesting were the questions I would ask myself in order to try to fill up the 101 blank spaces on the page. This is how I approached it:

  1. What do I want to do?
  2. What do I need to make my life better?
  3. What do I want to make my life better?

My answers to the first question seemed like they would be straight forward. Okay, I want to fly fish in Patagonia. I want to keep skiing in Whistler. I want to travel to Russia and Mongolia. I want to visit a place with a radically different culture from the one I live in, like China or India.

Headlamp sometimes necessary while cooking on fishing trips.

Headlamp sometimes necessary while cooking on fishing trips.

Do you see a pattern emerging there? Apparently, what I want to do revolves around where I want to go. So where do I want to go, other than Patagonia, Whistler, Russia, Mongolia, China or India? Ummmmm. Well, places where I can fly fish, where I can ski, where I can hike and where I can experience different things. (This was enlightening in and of itself, because I realized that traveling was obviously very important to me, almost to the exclusion of anything else.)

Okay, what do I need to make my life better?  I’m stumped. My father is alive and loves me (thankfully), my children amaze and delight me more each day, my friends hold me close in their hearts every day. So what else do I need? Really, nothing.

What else do I want? Now that’s a loaded question. And here is where I really stopped to (like Winnie the Pooh), think, think, think. Sure, I want to have a lot of Port Ellen single malt whiskey. And some good skis. I want to play the fiddle really, really well and make music wherever I go. And I want to be able to fish on the Margaree River. But do those things that I want make my life better?

Nope.

What do I want to make my life better? Here’s my list:

  • Patience – I want to learn to be more patient, with others but more importantly, with myself.
  • Impact – I want to make a positive impact on as many people as I can.
  • Joy – I want to be joyful and share that joy with as many people as I can.
  • Understanding – I want to be loving enough to understand others’ perspectives, and not impose mine on anyone.

You see, I can’t buy any of those things. I can only continue to live and learn and move along that path. Wish me luck.

And I challenge you to do the same – start and finish your list of 101 things. Find the commonalities and discover what is really, truly important to you. You may be surprised.

(Of course, I’d like to find all those things while I’m fly fishing in Patagonia, or hiking in Ireland, savouring single malt and making music with my friends!)

Sharing laughter, single malt and a Steamwhistle with my most wonderful pal Gail!

Sharing laughter, single malt and a Steam Whistle with my most wonderful pal Gail!