Friday, 29 September 2017

Visiting Washington, DC

Things we learned and some suggestions about the US national capital:

1. A bus tour helps to get orientated: the red bus tour was our choice because we liked the open top - it was very good, if a little grid-locked on Friday. Monday was better. There are two other touring companies; they all seem to overlap - be ready for glorification of wars and lots of statues of dead white men. Martin Luther King is given a token location - his feet are still encased in stone, unsculpted, because "his work was unfinished".  (Alert: segregation in tourism can be seen here as the whites went to Roosevelt and Moslem/black tourists could be found at MLK.)

2. The city is clean - perhaps the cleanest city that I've ever visited. There are re-cycling bins everywhere but it is not clear whether people understand the purpose of separating garbage.

3. Food is expensive. We bought groceries for our breakfasts and snacks - cheese, crackers, fruit, cereal, milk, tea and coffee. $2.90 for two quarts of milk, $1.20 for a banana - US funds. 

4. Public bus and metro service is excellent! The drivers and metro service managers were very pleasant and helpful. For seniors, $1 a ride practically anywhere; everyone else $2. If we went back, we would purchase a "smartride" card which is needed for transfers - over two hours. Eating out? Expect a minimum of $15 for a salad or a sandwich. Our best deal was the American University cafeteria where that same $15 got an all-you-can-eat buffet. The menu at the German restaurant around the corner from our Airbnb listed meals at $48.

5. Smithsonian museums and galleries are free - we went to the National Arboretum (and rose garden), the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Cathedral (not free), the National Art Gallery and especially the National Museum of African American History. (Tickets for the last one are on line about four months in advance of the visit, daily tickets go up at 6:30 am - our choice - or you can stand in line at 1:00 pm.) (It was warm outside and the air conditioning was fierce - we carried extra clothes.)

6. There are lots of demonstrations and a few vigils. We went to the demonstration for health care; an experience in sharing just a little in the US underbelly with lots and lots of police presence. We saw the vigil against torture (and Guantanamo) from the bus. Probably best to leave before arrests start unless you are rich or famous enough to get media attention.

We were blessed with fantastic weather and would easily go again!

Thursday, 6 July 2017


My truck has big doors that swing wide when they are opened. At the one-third point, there is a spot that “pauses” the door. The parking spaces in public places are a challenge – do I leave the passenger side threatened by the door of a random parked car or do I leave room on that side and slide out under a 1/3 opened door? I parked in Northgate shopping mall and carefully opened the door to its “pause” spot but as I turned, my elbow pushed it further and the door struck the door of the vehicle beside us. I slid out, wet my finger and leaned over to assess the damage. The dirt on his car clearly marked the strike but under that, there was a nick, through one layer of paint only but an undeniable spot of damaged finish.

A twenty-something man suddenly appeared in front of me demanding to know why I had deliberately thrust my truck door into his car – “what the f**k are you doing?” “I saw you throw your door at my car” – there was figurative smoke coming out of his ears. His nose was turning red and his face was snarly. He went on to describe himself as a leader in a very important organization and in a hurry to get to a meeting. He had two small dogs in the car.

My first reaction was to deny that I had tried to hit his car which of course was a ridiculous accusation but all he did was repeat his impression calling me a “stupid bitch” and deriding my lack of brains. He threatened me with SGI. His tirade gave me a moment to think about what I needed –

What I needed was to get my letter mailed. I didn’t need to waste time on this scratch. I didn’t need to be yelled at in a parking lot. I also didn’t need any more points off my license. How was I going to get my needs met?

Finding a way to calm him down was the first item on the agenda. It would be decidedly useless to engage in a discussion of whether or not I had intended to damage his car door. I realized that I had to calm myself, find that quiet space within myself and view the dilemma from that quietness.

I really didn’t know what he wanted. Did he want to sue me? Did he want money?

I started, “Look, I’m really sorry that this happened…..” He was not interested. “What do I need to do for you to make this right?” He continued ranting. I repeated the question. He was getting off on his poor damaged car and how much I was to blame! I yelled at him, “LISTEN TO ME” That got his attention, “what do I need to do to make this right? Do you want it fixed? What do you want to do?”

He mumbled – he hadn’t thought about what he wanted. “Well, I’ll have to get it fixed and that is going to take money. You should pay for this. How much are you going to give me? I should report it to SGI.”

“How much will it cost?” I asked more specifically.

Since he didn’t seem to have any ready suggestions, I described a ridiculously cheap option. A can of paint and some careful work. That might be $20? On the other hand, I think it would be a $75 job at Blackjack’s. He didn’t have a counter-proposal. So, in the interest of speed, I offered him $100 and told him I’d pay the rest when he submitted a receipt to me for work-done. I had him take pics of my license plate, registration and my email address. I also reminded him that if he had it assessed for more than $200, he should take it to SGI.

He was flabbergasted. He started apologizing. It was clear that he had not expected any solution and certainly not one that put money in his hand. As I walked away, he was still apologizing for flying off the handle. I’ll be surprised if I hear from him.

But I did see him again. He was working a hot dog stand at Victoria Park – I bought a smoky and, by common nonverbal consent, we made no reference to our earlier altercation (his “important-person-going-to-a-meeting” story was blown). I recalled that the passenger side of his car looked as though he slept in it and pitied him.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Deep Cuts

Over two decades ago, Floyd Olson leaned over to me at a Wynyard High School Christmas concert to say, “you have to send her to the city”. He was speaking about Beth and referring to her love of music and her double bass. She subsequently enrolled in a high school with a renowned music program and two years later was in the Regina Symphony. Had the STC not been here for us, I don’t know how we would have survived the separation. Beth was our baby and we had been through a lot together before coming back to live at the farm (New Roots). She would catch the bus in Regina Friday or Saturday and we returned her to the bus on Sunday.

Our family always utilized the bus - and after smoking became prohibited - with increasing pleasure. A person traveling alone could read, sleep or even watch a video instead of driving. A bathroom on board meant that you could drink all the coffee you wanted and not have to stop for a pee! Once upon a time the bus could be caught in Wynyard in the morning, a person could spend the day in Saskatoon and return in the evening.

Cutting the library was also cruel. I cannot be the only Wynyard person ordering books, often difficult to locate books, through the system. Because of it I was able to do research and still live where I live. In any library, there are people using public computers, another service available to those who could not afford to access the technology.

Cut the bus, cut the library services, cut education, cut support for recreational programs - and increase law enforcement in rural areas. Makes sense, I suppose - people can’t move, can’t read or learn to read, can’t go on the net but we’d better make sure that they are caught if they commit a crime! After imprisonment, we’ll send them home by taxi cause we can’t send them home by bus.

We are also directly and immediately affected. Beth is in Regina working for the Regina Folk Festival. We were planning to make use of the weekend commute.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Experiences with Homestead

The word "homestead" stirs up shameful memories for me now that I've become aware of what the creation of "homesteads" meant to the people who already lived here.

Growing up the word meant "deprivation", "hard living" - my grandparents lived for two years in a 12 by 12 foot hole in the ground with his brother. They worked long hours to "break" the ground. All four grandparents were already second or third generation residents on Turtle Island moving West to the prairies following promises of the federal government in 1880. They were not particularly adventurers; the Dewar side was moving away from a family that disapproved of Christine and Donald's marriage. The Ward side simply overflowed with too many children.

My father became aware of racism in the 1950's. Dad discovered that his Cree hired men could only cash their cheques through the Indian Agent; he didn't want "his" cash going to that "drunken sot" - he thought it was bad enough to have to go through the agent to hire the guys in the first place! 

Awareness moved onto the next generation, amplified.

The term, "homestead" antedates North America. It comes from an old English (some argue Scottish) word, "hâmstede", used before the year 1000 CE. "Hâmstedes" were owned by people who were not well off and often struggled for their sustenance - but could call a place that included a parcel of land and outbuildings their own. This distinguished them from peasants who lived on the someone else's land.  As British common law transitioned into a formal legal system, the "homestead" was often exempt from forced sale.

Bill Curry, my partner, was of the first generation born in North America on both sides of his family. His father's ancestors moved to a homestead in Ireland acquired in the 1680's. They  were Scots who were unhappy with their lot in Scotland. From that time through the 1700's, the Scottish diaspora spread around the world - Ireland, Australia, and North America especially. It is rumoured that poverty-stricken men and women even committed minor crimes so that they would be jailed and then shipped to "the colonies" at the government's expense! In the 1700's, big land owners in Scotland, usually various nobles, "cleared the lands of peasants" for herds of sheep to provide the wool to feed the newly industrialized fabric industry; the largest Scottish invasion of North America occurred at this time..

Experiencing the "clearances" might explain why so many Scots became allied with First Nations. However, it does not explain John A MacDonald, a lawyer that rose beyond his level of competence  He drank heavily and many of his decisions were controversial even in their day - including the execution of Louis Riel and the starving of the Cree in what is now the North Battleford area. (That he rose to prominence is a warning to those who think that our "democratic" process is failsafe. We cannot weed out sociopaths or psychopaths who lack empathy and promote violent solutions at every opportunity - they are often great manipulators and brilliant charmers. 

The word "homestead" moved across the Atlantic and came to mean "a quantity of land adequate for the maintenance of a family". Not specified but understood was that only white men and families need apply. No one with black, yellow or red skin could apply. Women could not apply. Furthermore, the 160 acres could only be "developed" using rather strict European farmer/peasant cultural expectations. 

The notorious "Homestead Act" in the United States was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln in 1862.  Almost ten years later, Canada in 1871, "negotiated" Treaties 1 and 2 with First Nations. This made way for the "Dominion Land Act" in 1872. The provisions of the treaties were never fulfilled; the federal finances did not have enough money to fulfill the financial agreement. John A then proceeded to solve the "Indian problem" by eliminating the people themselves. He became renowned for bringing about his vision of a country sea-to-sea but he was also a drunken sot will delusions of grandeur. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Story of Pain #1; Chronic Back Pain

I broke my sacrum in a freak accident at the age of 18. I could not sit comfortably and often rode on my knees backwards in the seat to travel. I whined, griped about back pain and took pills that upset my stomach, pills that caused annoying numbness around my mouth and nausea and indulged in a variety of legal and illegal non-prescription drugs.

Through the years, I also travelled, climbed mountains, Scuba dived, taught school, roller-bladed, skied and had adventures generally allowing the energy of youth to keep me moving. I developed osteoarthritis in my knees while interning in Saskatoon.

My mother was a good example; she had osteoarthritis and believed that exercise was, not a cure, but a key to staying active. She was 70; in 1989, now 45 years old, I couldn't see myself getting that old. In fact, I decided that I wanted to live longer with less pain. I sought the advice of a physiotherapist and started the exercise program that he prescribed. It was May, 1989.

Exercising was boring so in order to do it faithfully, I combined it with watching t-v – first with our middle daughter as we watched Degrassi High and later with our youngest watching Star Trek. I became so accustomed to exercising in the living room that even our guests would be exposed to my routine. In September, 1990, I returned to the physiotherapist, saying “I feel better, I feel stronger, but my back still hurts a lot”. He poked me in my soft jelly-like abdomen. “What are you doing about these muscles?” he said. I replied, “I don’t like sit-ups”. (The mere idea of a “six pack” was a total turn-off and I had a lifelong hatred for the idea of a small waistline.) He gave me non sit-up exercises for my core. In the third week of April 1991, I experienced a pain-free week.

It didn’t always remain pain free. I learned to change many of the ways that I did things – I changed position a lot, I stopped the car every hour on long trips, I put a foot bar in front of counters and desks, I lost ten pounds of weight, I used heat and saunas. I did not stop exercising – in fact, I added a yoga routine in order to increase both strength and flexibility. Sometimes I took naproxen, a non-steroidal pain and inflammation reliever. Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease and exercise didn’t “cure” it. Exercise does, however, make our bodies release endorphins which are natural pain-killers. This seems to be a good thing.

In November 2011, I fell on ice and severely jarred my pelvis and lower back. I struggled back to mobility with the help of my physician, the physiotherapist and a chiropractor. I had to severely modify the exercise program at first but by March 2012 I was well enough to go to Mali with a medical team. Unfortunately, a military coup with tanks going down the street occurred and in our rush to avoid them, I fell again on uneven pavement. When I eventually was able to walk and return to Canada, I made appointments with the physiotherapist, my physician, the back institute specialist, the chiropractor and a mental health counsellor (for PTSD prevention).

The back specialist insisted upon reviewing my back x-ray with me, practically rubbing my nose in it. The radiologist had read it as having “osteoporosis, severe osteoarthritis and a 60 degree roto-scoliosis”. In short, a very bad back. And he emphasized that it was going to get worse!

I was using two canes, doing modified exercises and saw myself as an invalid. All I could see in my mind’s eye was the severely misshapen back. The view from there was dismal. I was depressed.

A month later, my eldest daughter chided me, “so which of these things is acute? Aren’t they all things that you have had for years?”
She was correct, of course – in fact, the scoliosis had probably been present since my teens. It was largely my mind that needed to change.

At yoga in June, the instructor asked that each person “create an intention” for the class. I determined that I had to “see my back from the outside” instead of from the x-ray view. During that session, I was able to have a glimpse of a better back but only a glimpse. There was no miracle cure. I had to consistently and mindfully re-envision my back.

Meanwhile I was learning more about backs. While I was recovering enough to fly home from Mali, my partner was collecting written material on backs. A foot high stack of literature was sitting on the living room table. I found new and sometimes non-back exercises that helped backs. Stride – who knew that a long stride was hard on the back? – I modified my walking.  I became stronger and soon there was only one cane and then often none!

But the real epiphany – and the reason that I’m writing this – came in the summer of 2015. I returned from seeing my family physician in Saskatoon. He had asked me how much pain I had – I had replied that it was almost always a 2/10, sometimes a 6/10, never 0/10.

Two out of ten all the time? This didn’t make sense to me. I decided that a re-set was in order. If I was always 2/10, then 2/10 was my zero. Using Melzack’s gate theory of pain, I reasoned that a person should be able to simply re-set the “gates”. While I could not change the abnormalities in my back, perhaps I could change my perception of the pain. I have used distraction, music, movement, and eating to decrease my awareness of pain so now, every time I became aware of the pain in my lower back I mentally “closed the gate” just above the painful area. At first this was quite tedious and took quite a bit of effort.  

But in fact, the process took less than six weeks! In mid September I realized that the gate seemed to be permanently closed. I had no pain. It was so hard to believe that I told no one. Today I remain pain-free!

Not that I have quit exercising, weight control and all of the other good things including moving around – even at meetings, I get up and walk to the back of the room.

On my way through an airport, looking for something to read, I picked up Norman Doidge’s “The Brain’s Way of Healing”. Explaining how what I did works, not just for me but others as well! I heartily recommend it.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The Manner of his Passing

After a lovely Thanksgiving weekend at Shekinah Retreat Centre which was special to Bill, he delivered me to the Saskatoon airport. Our time together was becoming more and more precious as we felt our age and mortality - probably normal for people in their 70's. It was getting harder and harder to part. When I waved at him after passing through security, I wondered how much longer I would be able to say goodbye at an airport. This was not how I thought it would end.

I was in the North in Kugaaruk (Pelly Bay) for work when I called a neighbour to check on Bill because I hadn’t heard from him for 36 hours. The neighbour told me "it looked as though Bill just went to sleep and forgot to wake up”. The nurses helped me organize to leave immediately.

One of the advantages to traveling for two days to get home was that by the time I had reached home on Friday, Oct 16th, I knew what I needed and wanted to do to mourn. Within six hours of reaching home (his body was in a cooler but we couldn’t wait indefinitely - it was likely that he died during the Monday 12th night) - we met with the funeral director. As he started to roll out the sales pitch for his pamphlets, we were able to inform him that we wanted to fulfill Bill's wishes of a green burial. In fact, Bill wanted to be placed in the compost pile so we did have to make a compromise! I wanted to prepare his body - the thought of any one else handling his body upset me - it turned out that the girls wanted to share as well. We also sewed a shroud and tested a means of lowering. (For those who seem concerned, his modesty was preserved; the undertaker and I put him into his bathing suit). We washed his body and cleaned his fingernails to Mavis Staples’ music and sewed the shroud to our own singing.

On Sunday, my family came and they plus four special friends sat in worship on Sunday morning - those that had never been to a Meeting for Worship caught on real fast. We followed the hearse to the little country cemetery where there was a viewing of his face for those who so wished. Bill’s body was lowered into the consecrated grave as a group effort and to the beat of a drum played by a Dene friend who also provided sweet grass for a fold in the front of his shroud. Three eagles circled us at the farm and followed to the burial. My brother-in-law brought compost to add, that followed by the closing of the grave as a six-shovel participatory act.

And then on Monday, the 19th - we quipped that you could come to vote, attend the memorial service and then get your flu shot - Bill would like that it was efficient!

One of the funeral attendees blurted out, "That's the best funeral service I've ever been to" and then put his hands across
his mouth, clearly embarrassed. We thought that it honoured Bill as much as we could in our sorrow - some weepy, some uplifting with great music.

The church was decorated with Bill's garden produce - tomatoes in baskets, pumpkins, squash, calendula, a sheaf of grass. (I filled the back of the truck with stuff - Erin (Beth's partner) and a friend, Shayna, mostly set up the tasteful tableau). Elizabeth had chosen a playlist of his favourite music for the settling as people came into the church. All great choices but mostly not the usual funereal music. (Available for sharing).

From Saskatoon - Frank, Sharon, Jessica, Isaac, and Ahren Klaassen-Wright - led the singing of the songs: Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Galway Bay, I will fly Away, Amazing Grace. The audience really did participate as did we - that Unitarian church, I’m confident, had never had its roof lifted like it was on the 19th. Quaker Friends came from Saskatoon and Regina, also participating were Elizabeth’s music friends, the girls' high school friends from the community, my former patients, friends and co-workers.

The celebrant (from the funeral home) led the service and wove Bill’s eulogy around the music, the poems, and the Bible verses. Ntara read the Hafiz poem, "Love is a Funeral Pyre", Sharon Wright read the scriptures (Bill and she had shared a very special time at Western Half Yearly). His girls, Shauna, Ntara and Elizabeth, went to the front and said/read “Baba Bishmaya” - the Lord’s prayer in Assyrian which was followed by the same prayer in English by everyone. Bill must have been leaning over the celebrant because she chose two of his favourite e. e. cummings poems. 

All in all, it was a pretty ordinary service done in a remarkable way for the fascinating guy that was my partner, friend and lover. 

There will be a special celebration of his life at the farm on July 31st, 2016 starting at 2:00 pm. Hopefully we will be able to host friends, family and Quakers from far away. 

Love, dale


Love is the Funeral Pyre

Love is
The funeral pyre
Where I have laid my living body.

All the false notions of myself
That once caused fear, pain,

Have turned to ash
As I neared God.

What has risen
From the tangled web of thought and sinew

Now shines with jubilation
Through the eyes of angels

And screams from the guts of
Infinite existence

Love is the funeral pyre
Where the heart must lay
 Its body.

- Hafiz

Psalm 121: 1-8
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whereon cometh my help.
2.  My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
3.  He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
4.  Behold, he that keepeth Isreal shall neither slumber nor sleep.
5.  The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
6.  The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
7.  They Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
8.  The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

Habakkuk 2:3
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end – it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay

Isaiah 40:31 
“…they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Memorial Music Lyrics (in order of service):

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

I was standing by the window
On a cold and cloudy day
When I saw the hearse come rolling
For to carry my mother away

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by?
There's a better home a-waiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky

Lord, I told that undertaker
“Undertaker, please drive slow
For this lady you are carrying
Lord, I hate to see her go”


I followed close behind her
Tried to hold up and be brave
But I could not hide my sorrow
When they laid her in the grave


Went back home, Lord, my home was lonesome
‘Cause my mother, she was gone
All my brothers, sisters cryin’
What a home, so sad and alone


One by one the seats were emptied,
One by one, they went away
Now the family, they are parted.
Will they meet again someday?


Galway Bay
If you ever go across the sea to Ireland,
then maybe at the closing of your day,
you can sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh,
and see the sun go down on Galway Bay.

For the breezes blowing cross the sea from Ireland,
Are perfumed by the heather as they blow,
And the women in the uplands digging praties,
Speak a language that the strangers do not know.

Yet the strangers came and tried to teach us their ways,
And they scorned us just for being what we are,
But they might as well go chasing after moon beams,
or light a penny candle from a star.

And if there's going be a life here after,
And somehow I'm sure there's going to be,
I will ask my God to let me make my Heaven,
In that dear land across the Irish sea.

I will ask my God to let me make my Heaven,
In that dear land across the Irish sea.
In that dear land across the Irish sea.

I'll Fly Away

Some bright morning when this life is o’er
I'll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I'll fly away

I'll fly away, Oh Lordy,
I'll fly away (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I'll fly away

When the shadows of this life have grown,
I'll fly away
Like a bird that prison walls have flown
I'll fly away


Just a few more weary days and then
I'll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I'll fly away


Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I'll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I'll fly away

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

When we've been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun