THE LIGHTHOUSE

January 14. The Ultimate Blog Challenge.

I wonder if you can write a book review when you haven’t read the book yet. I’ve started 3 books at present. I’m a John Grisham fanatic. His books, especially the early ones, have always engaged me. I’ve just started reading The Client when the library notified my request for Babel was ready. We had a discussion about Virginia Woolf at a bookclub meeting. I’ve read about her and had seen the movie, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I haven’t read any of her books. I’ve added To the Lighthouse. Having only read a few pages of each, it’s difficult to write a review of any of them.

Of the three, To the Lighthouse is the slowest read. It does remind me of another lighthouse – the one in Cape Three Points, Ghana. Here’s my photo memory of it from 2011.

A PROCESS – Getting Through a Day

January 13. The Ultimate Blog Challenge.

Getting through the day is not always an easy thing, especially when it is this Friday the 13th. There’s no black cats crossing my path. I didn’t walk under any ladder. I didn’t break a mirror. I didn’t stick my chopsticks straight up in my bowl of rice. No there was no bad luck involved. However, I might have been too over zealous with my skiing and exercise classes the last couple of days. Our warmer than usual January weather is also affecting me. I’m suffering the price of it all today. Regardless of how I feel, the beat goes on. It does not stop for me.

How do I manage? How do I go on or had I stop and let the music play on without me? I was tempted to be a couch potato for the day. Experience has taught me that had not been the best thing for me. Somehow a day could lead to another and another. Things will pile up. I will get behind and it will be struggle to work out of that inertia. What I do is slow down and work at a slower pace. I try not to look at the whole picture/job. I break everything into blocks/squares.

I’ve learned to do that working on my logcabin quilt. I couldn’t think of the whole thing at once. I built one block a day for a year. That way I wasn’t overwhelmed or overtired by the whole picture. I have all the squares, enough for a queen size quilt. They’re not all together yet, but they are on their way.

I’ve tackled this day in the same way – in small blocks, one at a time. I got through washing the dishes, one dish at a time. I made turkey stew with the leftover. It wasn’t easy thinking about it. I didn’t want to leave it any longer for the turkey to spoil. So I gathered my stuff – potatoes, carrots, beets, celery, turkey. Then I started to peel, wash, chop and threw it all in the Instant Pot and turned on the slow cook mode. 4 hour later – turkey stew. They’re portioned and in the freezer now for future lunches.

I’m really surprised that I got some of the floors vacuumed and is now adding the finishing touches to this post. And this post is built block by block. What a coincidence, eh, that WordPress thinks like me. I have amazed myself that thinking and working in blocks is so effective. It’s not terribly late but all the same, I shall not post on the daily thread. This is enough. I shall go to bed. Good night!

WONDER

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January 12. The Ultimate Blog Challenge

I overdid the skiing today, going twice around the golf course. I was aiming to increase my endurance. I know I cannot get any faster. I know I am a tortoise. I felt pretty good after my second round. No sweat! I thought even though I was quite sweaty. I was counting on relaxing and stretching in our mobility class at the gym shortly after. I didn’t count on our instructor changing things around. The mobility class was yesterday. Today’s was on upper body which was not stretching or relaxing.

I am physically tired but I am relaxed after a long soak with epsom salt. My brain is too relaxed and a bit mushy. I am not sharp or focused. I caught an interesting podcast whilst soaking on Tapestry. In this episode Karen Armstrong talks about the value of wonder in a despairing world. Give it a listen if you have time. It is very interesting. It made me think about this morning on the ski trail. I love snapping photos. I want to capture the magic to hold and look at again. It is impossible, of course, but I still try.

It was very foggy today. The grey of the sky was so soft and velvety and the trees with the hoar frost…I was gazing at it all. Then a woman glided by. Her jacket was a peacock blue, so bright and luminous. So beautiful. I tried to capture the wonder of it. She glided away faster than I can dig my camera out of my ski pants. I resigned myself to watch the wonder and beauty of the moment. It did occur to me that I might be just a wonder, too, in my tangerine red ski jacket. I felt awe by the wonder of it.

There are many wonders around us and in our lives that can give our spirits a boost. Sometimes all we need to do is to stop, sit, listen, watch and remember. I’m thinking back again to March of 2011 and my memories of time in Ghana. I’m remembering some of the wonders of that time.

Last Week March 31, 2011

I’m on a countdown of my days in Ghana.  In exactly one week I will be winging my way back home.  Before I came, someone asked me if I have been in a Third World country before.  I guess they were worried about how I will fare.  Or maybe it was because they were surprised on their first trip here and wanted me to be prepared.  And since I’ve been here, people have asked how do I like Ghana.  Does anything about it resonate with me?  Hard questions to answer.  Well, not hard to answer on a superficial level.  As a tourist it is easy to say that I love my stay here.  I can hear the ocean from my bed and the breezes are warm and soothing.  Everything is new to me….my physical surroundings, the people, the politics, the colours…..everything.

On a much more personal level, I am unable to tell what it is that I feel about Ghana.  I have not been homesick the time I’ve been away.  I have not missed my suspended life….the cold or snow.  I have not missed my work.  You can say that I am really away. I do miss my family and my Sheba.  At times, I would really like to have free running clean water from the faucet….water that I can drink and to brush and rinse my teeth with in abundance!  And I wouldn’t mind having hot water to shower or shampoo my hair with.  So, I’m learning to really appreciate what a valuable resource water is.  And I would be able to have that most of the time, had I been staying in an upscale hotel instead of an eco-lodge.  I’m not feeling that this has been a hardship or a deprivation.  It has been an experience.  I have a very privileged life back home.  And I can have a very privileged life here if I choose.  The question, of course, is do I wish such?  I have always enjoy hard work and being an independent woman.

One week left!  Impossible to know if I will miss Africa till I leave it and see..….

LONG AND WINDING DAY

January 11. The Ultimate Blog Challenge

January is starting to feel long and weary already. I’m not complaining, just stating the facts. It’s the end of the day. I’m feeling irritable and disgruntle. I think I will just keep it to myself. I slept amazingly well last night despite the 2 cups of coffee I had. I’m thinking a cup would pick me up now but I’ll just stick with a herbal tea, a deep breath and a good memory. It is getting into evening.

I was itching to go skiing again today. There’s always this challenge of improving my time and skill. I held myself in check. I don’t want to get obsessive about it. I already had an hour of workout at the gym this morning. I had a good ski yesterday. I can see why I could get hook on a good feeling until it isn’t. I still had groceries to deliver to my mother and I should stay for a little visit. So I packed her stuff and took a short walk over and back.

I always enjoy visiting and having a cuppa with my mother. She is good company, a good conversationalist and a good storyteller. She’s been talking and telling me stories forever. I’m her oldest child. I treasure hearing the history of our family and villages of her and mine birth. I was 6 years old when we left China for Hong Kong. I saw my first electric lightbulb enroute in a hotel in Canton, now call Guangzhou. Isn’t that amazing, that I remember the time before electricity?

I’ve long talked and often about writing a book on our family’s history. All I’ve managed is little bits here and there. Little bits are better than nothing. Here’s a little tidbit from coffee with my mother from 2011.

COFFEE WITH MY MOTHER – Sept. 21, 2011

I had coffee with my mother at Tim Horton’s after her eye appointment with her opthalmologist.  It has been awhile since it was just the two of us.  I always enjoy such times with her for she is a wonderful storyteller.  Much of our family history and life wisdom have been passed onto me in this way…over coffee and in easy conversation.  What wonderful gifts she has given me.  I shall sorely miss her when she is gone.  I do not know how I will deal with it at the time.  So I am appreciating her in the fullest in the present moment.  I am listening to her stories, taking all her soups for my health, accepting the vegetables from her garden…….I am taking time for her.

TOO MUCH COFFEE

January 10. The Ultimate Blog Challenge

I drank too much coffee today. I forgot myself and didn’t specify that I wanted a decaf when I ordered my breakfast. Since they’ve already poured it, I didn’t want to make a fuss. When I went for a refill, I forgot again! I’ve been a little jittery since I got home. I’m drinking hot water like mad to flush it out of my system. I hope I can sleep tonight. There was a time when I drank coffee all day long at work, came home and had a large mug of coffee before bed and never think of it. Of course in those days of when I was a nurse, I never slept much. I took pride in how well I functioned on how little I slept. I’m sure that I was brain damaged then.

When I retired in 2013 I crashed. The sleep deprivation, stress and everything that was suppressed by fatigue all caught up with me. It took 3 years to catch up all the sleep I missed and to flush the caffeine, the stress and anxiety I had absorbed working in a hospital environment. I also took pride in how well I functioned having crashed so totally and heavily. How foolish and vain I was. Perhaps it’s that Chinese trait of saving face in me. It would have been easier and healthier if I had just stop, curled up and rested. But I guess that’s not who I was/am. Today I am still taking pride in striving, but I am more moderate and balanced.

I haven’t drank this much coffee since until today. I think I will be OK. It’s only 2 medium cups whereas in my younger golden days, it was many, many cups. It was my way of staying awake and on my feet. I still like to be alert and on my feet but I don’t need the caffeine to do it now. It’s fresh air and exercise. I had plenty this morning on the ski trail. It was early and I was all alone in a white winterland. It was beautiful. It was wonderful. It was marvelous.

Hmm. I’ve had another cup of hot water. I think I’ve tapped out much of my jitteriness. I think I will do some stretches to further relax me. I’ve been sharing thoughts and memories from 2011 this month. I will carry on the theme. Today’s share is on retirement.

THIS THING CALL RETIREMENT – OCT. 1, 2011

Retirement has been on my mind for awhile now.  It seems like that is what we should strive for….all our lives.  There is this message to work hard so that one day in the far off distance, we can finally do what we REALLY want to do.  I don’t hear THEM, whoever they are, talk about doing the thing that we want now.  And why don’t we? 

I’m feeling that it is not yet my time to retire from my profession.  There is still things for me to do and learn within that framework.  And to tell the truth, I still love what I do.  I’m feeling power in that knowledge. I’m feeling a great sense of freedom….to do what I like and to stop when I don’t.  I’m rethinking what ‘work’, ‘retirement’ and life mean.  I don’t think one needs to stop working in order to have a life.  One needs to do what gives him a sense of worth, a sense of joy, accomplishment…..to have a life.  And of course, we need balance.  Too much of anything, even a good thing like work or leisure time, is not what living is all about. 

And do we ever truly retire…from life?  I hope not.  I hope that when I am ‘tired’ of, or not physically able to work my present profession, I will find another something or another that has given me so much in return.

QUIRKY MOMENTS

January 9. The Ultimate Blog Challenge.

Monday afternoon. I’m sitting here in the middle of my chaos trying to tap out some words for today’s post. The dishes are not done. The pot of turkey soup is still sitting on the stove. But I have had my ski in the park. What I know for sure is no matter how tired or rotten I feel, a ski in the park can do wonders for my well being. It can build me up so I can tolerate the slings and arrows coming my way.

I got my cup of tea. I’m ready to write, but wait. Oh, darn! I have to hang up the load of laundry I did this morning. It’ll be just a few minutes and I’ll be back. And so it goes. Life can get better than this. I am sure but right now, I’m still struggling

I am doing the best I can. I am doing damn good actually though I do have my quirky moments. I haven’t been fortunate enough to have a ready ear when I need it but I am that ear that listens. It’s not a bad thing. I must be a good listener. I hope so. I’m lucky I have this space to tap, breathe and revitalize. The keyboard has been one of my best friends. It’s been talking and breathing for me for a long time. It tells my stories and stores them in a memory bank. Thank goodness for that. It’s keeping me afloat for this writing challenge. Here’s another memory from Ghana.

LAST DAYSApril 16, 2011

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And so…I’m having one of my quirky, restless moments.  Often, it doesn’t help to talk with anyone.  Most times, nobody is at home. And when I was messing with FB and my mouse, I ended up with friends I didn’t think I asked for. I had to use the remove button.  I wonder if anybody noticed.  Ooops!  I didn’t think I was that discerning, afterall, don’t numbers matter…the more friends, the better?   And so here I sit, with my glass of wine alone on a Saturday night.  Does it matter at this stage in one’s life?  I’m remembering all my self-help stuff and thought:  Now is the time for it ….. The Four Agreements.  The fourth one being, always do your best, no matter what the best is at the moment.  My best for this moment is to wine and write away my quirk.

I did not fully appreciate or use the beach at Escape Three Points in Ghana till the end of my vacation. There was this day when there were no guests and everyone else had gone somewhere else surfing or some other place.  I was alone for a few hours with only the workmen working on the foundation for a new chalet and girls in the kitchen.  The beach was empty….my moment had come.  I waded into the shallow pool between the rocks and sat down.  It was not an easy process for the rocks were uneven and rough on the bottom and the water was quite buoyant.  I bobbed up and down a few times before I could get myself set down.  The water came up to my neck.  It felt wondrous.  After awhile I thought maybe I should give swimming ago or at least float on my back.  But I was ALONE. I thought I better not fool around with an ocean and no life jacket.  The surf can be very strong, even though I was protected by the surrounding rocks.

Instead I started jogging up and down the hard sandy part of the beach.  It felt a bit eery as I was totally alone, under the African sun.  I ran up and down the beach.  When I got hot, I ran into the water and let incoming tide cool me.  When I got tired, I waded into the pool and sat down, sometimes hanging onto a rock when the tide got strong.  Then I got up and did my jogging again, and so on….Towards noon, I headed back to the chalet, got my buckets and headed to the well to draw some water for a shower.  I just nicely got myself showered and laundry on the line when the sky got dark and I experienced my first real African rainstorm.  And did it rain!  I got the laundry inside, lowered the grass blinds to keep the rain from coming in through the screen only windows.  I climbed up to the loft to move the mattress away from the rain splattering in since there was no blind for the upstairs screen.  I collected rain water.

The storm did end and so has my quirkiness.  But I better clean the house like a storm.  Back to work too soon!

SLOTHFUL SUNDAY

January 8. The Ultimate Blog Challenge.

I am having a slothful Sunday. We attended a bookclub meeting last evening. I was late in getting to bed. I was a little over stimulated with socializing and intellectualizing, a rarity in these times. I had to wind down with a little reading. It didn’t help as it was a crime novel. I had a little trouble getting to and staying asleep. I was still revved up in the morning. I gave in to my obsession of binge reading. I had to find out what happened. Now that I have finished reading The Firm, I have to tend to a bit of housekeeping and writing. Needless to say, my mind and brain are shot with no exciting or poetic thoughts to share. I’m a bit ‘wrecked’ I’m again relying on my memories from Ghana.

HalfwayMarch 19, 2011

I’m halfway through my holidays here in Africa.  And it is a real holiday.  I cannot remember the cold or the snow of Saskatchewan, the dark mornings or evenings of our winters, nor the trials and tribulations of work.  I am surprise to realize this morning that I feel no aches or pains at all.  From time to time I feel some minor irritations to my sinuses but that was mainly when we were in town when someone was burning garbage.  I am relieved to find that I can wear my contact lenses here.  It was a bit of a challenge at first.  But I learned to clean them with bottled water and to take them out in flash light without losing them, though I did drop one once.  And now, we have solar electricity.  I am enjoying the cheer of sunshine and learning to see by moonlight.  The ocean has its pluses and minuses.  Sometimes the surf is music to the ears, lulling one to sleep.  On hard to sleep nights, it sometimes a storm raging endlessly.  The humidity is wonderful for the skin and I don’t have to wonder about my hair having no body.  But…when you lick your lips, you taste the salt of the ocean.  Your mirrors and glasses are always fogging, needing wiping constantly.   The salt gets onto everything.

And as for food, it all depends….on what is available.  Living by the ocean, you would think that there would be an abundance of fish and other seafood.  But not so, because of overfishing from foreign sources.  When I first arrived and driving to Cape3Points, we bought some fresh coconuts from people on the roadside.  They do not look like the ones that I know in their brown husks.  These were green.  The boys selling them chopped the top off and we drank the milk.  Then we handed them back to them and they cut them open for us to scoop and eat the meat with the spoon made from the top of the coconut.  It was rather disconcerting for me to drink with faces hanging about me all the while.  I felt like I was taking too long and making them wait.  I am used to waiting on people and not the other way around!  I have not yet tried any of the local dishes.  Since my stomach is not great when I’m travelling, I am not very adventuresome.  For breakfast, it’ s usually eggs and toast.  We do quite a bit of pasta here at the lodge.  The beef is quite tough here but in kabobs, it’s good and a bit easier to chew.  I told Rod the next time we go to Takoradi, I will chop fufu with him.  It is a soup dish made of kasava and some other stuff…and goat meat.  They eat it with their fingers.  But I will ask for a spoon!:-)

Yesterday, we went to Takoradi to pick up Rod’s glasses.  I sort of had doubts about how well they would work.  The technician’s behavior and body language did not instil too much confidence in me.  And as I had advised about the frame…And to everyone’s relief, including the people at the optical shop, they worked wonderful.  They tested the glasses by whipping out a newspaper for him to read.  They included a nice case and 2 cloths and a bottle of cleaning solution.  So it teaches me not to judge a book by its country.

THE PLEASURE OF STARTING/WRITING

January 7. Day 7 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge. I think I have to stop counting the days. It makes everything feel more difficult than they actually are. And I have to stop thinking of this as a challenge. I write for the pleasure of it. It is not a job. I am not selling or promoting anything. I am not good at explaining how anything works. There’s much written or am being written about how things work and what is good for us. There is no need for me to do the same. I shall take a big deep breath, relax and just let the words flow. No need to worry if it is a good topic or if anybody will read it. If the words won’t cooperate, I might have to work and coax them out.

My partner like to build things. He built our passive solar greenhouse. Then a shed with a living roof. Right now he’s building a boat. He’s built two before. I like to build, too. Building is a man thing but it is also a woman thing. We use different tools. Oh, some of us use hammers and saws, too, but I like to use my keyboard and Bernini. I build with words that turn into sentences, paragraphs and hopefully into a post and a story. I haven’t aim toward a book – yet. It’s not an impossibility but I like things short and snappy. It’s like my quilt squares or little paintings. Each can stand on its own or I can put them together to form a quilt, an album and if I have enough posts, I could build a book.

It’s a pretty good idea, no? Right now I’m very disorganized and helter skelter but not so much that I can’t make a start on it. It is never too late and there is no perfect time to start. Starting is the operative word. I’ve written 3 posts on my travel to Ghana in 2011. I could use my photos to jog my memory to write more this month. It would be useful to have a theme for each month’s posts. The trick is getting started. Once started, I am often surprised how easy it is. One thing leads to another and I find myself on something different than I had intended. But I take it. I like the pleasure of being surprised by myself. I like the pleasure of starting. It gives me a sense of direction, a sense of purpose.

WHAT IS HARD – another Ghana memory

January 6. Day 6 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge. It is a cloudy -14℃ foggy morning. Our city is pretty in hoar frost. I’m having one of my ‘hard’ days. I’ve finally got around to paying my monthly bills. December was a costly month in heat and electric utilities. I shouldn’t complain. It was a long cold month. Then I tried to read Elizabeth Smart’s little book, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. It was hard. The language was very beautiful but I could not make any sense of it. So I gave up on it for now. I’m not good at hard. I’m ashamed. My hards are not really hard at all – not when compared to the women who had gone before me. I’m thinking of my March, 20ll visit to the Elmina Castle on the Gold Coast of Ghana. It was erected by the Portuguese in 1482 and became important port stop in the slave trade. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Here are some photos and thoughts from that visit. It’s my mental slap to remind myself to be grateful. My life is not that hard.

STARING RIGHT AT HARD

So here I am again, feeling quirky and somewhat sorry for myself.  Life is full of twists and quirks and mirky waters.  And I have to remember some of my mother’s words.  Do not include in your vocabulary the word, hard. Life unfolds, step by step.  And I see in my mind’s eye, a rose whose petals unfurl, one by one, in time-lapsed photography, until at the end ….a perfect blossom. 

I see in my photographer’s eye, too, the picture of the Female Slaves Dungeon.  It was at the Elmina Castle in Ghana.  The dungeon held about 150 female slaves until they were ready to be shipped across the seas.  They were held in the dungeon with just enough water and food to keep them alive and no sanitation measures.  So there they lived, 150 bodies pressed together in the closed space amid their own feces and urine.  Sometimes they were let out into the courtyard where the governor can view them from above, in his balconey.  He would choose one for his own pleasure.  And the soldiers would  clean her up before bringing her to him.  NOW THAT IS HARD. 

When I get into my quirky spells, sometimes I just have to give myself a mental slap to remind myself……When I have a job, health, a roof over my head, etc., nothing in life is hard.  There can be problems. …and solutions. There are prices to be paid.  Nothing is free.  But it is not hard.  You just have to pay up.  No free rides for anyone.

STILL GHANA – memories

January 5. Day 5 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge. A busy day of cooking. Made a big pot of chili this morning. Now doing a turkey. It is in the oven. Simmering stock for gravy on the stove. No time for a skii today, not that I have the energy. Trying to stay afloat and have fun in the challenge. Travel memories are always precious. Good thing I made some notes. Here’s part 2 to my post from Ghana in March of 2011.

The Slowness of Africa

I last left Rod at the optical shop getting his eyes checked.  In a very short time he came out with the technician.  How good could that test be when it couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes?  I thought that confirmed what I thought about things not working well in Africa.  As it turned out, the electricity went out and we would have to wait till it comes back or the generator kicks in.  We waited…not too long and power was restored.  And as I am typing away on my laptop now, I thought I might as well charged it up because by the time I’m done, my battery would be down to 5%.  So I flick the switch on the plug-in to turn the power on…..the lights went out!  I quickly switched the power to the plug in off and flick the light switch a few times before the lights came back.  Phew!  Good thing Rod is sleeping.

And so that is the way with life here.  You can not rush it along.  You have to accept its pace or it will eat you up.  Life can be very good here but it is not without struggles.  And I have asked some of the overseas people here why they love this place so much.  Freedom is often the answer.  I have a difficult time understanding that when there is so much bureaucracy to wade through so often. Sometimes getting a meal is a big production.  And if other people do your laundry, you’re not quite sure what shape your clothes will come back in.  But the more people I meet and talk to, the more understanding I developed. …of their dreams and what they hope to create.  I see in glimpses of what they mean by ‘freedom’.  It’s these glimpses that I see that motivates me to write…in the hopes that I will free myself to live my own dreams.