I have been silent on this blog for a couple months and I am sorry for that. It’s been a season of honey harvesting and processing, of family illness and drama, of side-hustles and ambitious projects, and of challenges on every front. That said, there have also been wonderful times of warm autumn days, get-togethers that feed the soul, good books, meaningful work and the exhausting but inspiring antics of a three-year-old who only operates at one speed – one very fast speed. A dear friend asked why I wasn’t writing and I said I just couldn’t find the words right now, and so I just worked earnestly with the bees and the honey instead and figured I’d write again when the words returned.
And then a monster was elected as President of the United States and many of us, not even Americans, were left reeling as we faced the new reality. I still don’t have the words to process that one, other than to say that the Church, Christ’s Body, had better find a way to show the world God’s love again, because 81% of white Evangelicals in the USA just sent a threatening message of hatred and intolerance to those who most need to be embraced by the love of Jesus. I can’t even fathom it. My heart breaks to see that the evil that lurks beneath has now been legitimized and empowered and given free rein – from the Oval Office right down to the sidewalks of that nation. We watch stunned from the sidelines, painfully aware that our neighbour’s suffering is our own. I know, in my heart of hearts, that love wins. But it does not feel like it right now.
But that’s not what I wanted to write about today. On this Thursday in November, I wanted to escape all of that, to unplug and disconnect from the heavy reality on our screens and to recharge. So, like Thoreau, we went to the woods.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die,
discover that I had not lived.
(Henry David Thoreau)
Now, I’m not certain that Thoreau would have had the same profound experience had he gone to the woods with a few kids in tow, but I'm pretty sure he would have had more fun if he had.
Here in Paris, we are blessed with many scenic options for hiking or strolling. It really is a beautiful town, with two rivers and plenty of wilderness still left for wandering. Barker’s Bush is the most cherished piece of land in town, and under threat as developers make their plans to clearcut it in favour of houses. While I lament the loss of this beautiful land, I can understand why people would want to live there along the Nith River. I also want to live along the Nith River, where the stones conspire with the flowing water to make the most wonderful babbling and gurgling. It is a wild area, where generations of children have spent summers wandering and exploring and frolicking in the woods and across the fields and along the river. You will always find others there, sitting on the rocks by the river, throwing balls for their dogs or just walking the trails, soaking up the woods-i-ness of it all. It is a glorious place.
So today we went to the woods. I am sure that you already know this truth, although it bears reminding: there is not much in life that can’t be soothed by a walk in the woods. As my dear friend said, a walk in the woods today was a balm for her weary soul. Our kids have all be miserable this week – perhaps due in part to the anxiety and sorrow of their parents watching the election play out, and in part to the time change, Halloween hangover and darkness at dinnertime. Whatever the cause, life with little ones has been hard this week, but something magical happened when those kids were set free in the woods. Just like us, they found solace and fresh inspiration there. They ran wild and free, rolled like puppies in the long grass, skipped stones in the river and turned their faces to the sun. Henry spent more time in the water than on land, at first gingerly tiptoeing in the shallows and then just wholeheartedly jumping into the deeps. That water was so very cold, but those kids cared not. Henry climbed big rocks and threw little rocks. He and his friend Jonah pretended to be pirates, conquering a large rock in the river and searching for treasure in the ripples below. They found a very fuzzy caterpillar which required some very close and intense investigation. Meanwhile, Tanya and I started a fire in the conveniently located fire pit at the edge of the river. I had come prepared with marshmallows and we were on a mission to relax and let ourselves and our kids just BE. It was the perfect antidote to the crankiness that had been plaguing us all. A midday campfire, complete with marshmallows and juice boxes, was the escape that we needed. What a beautiful day to be in the woods. We’ve had a lot of these days lately, and I think we’ve done a good job of savouring them. Each time, I declare that this is the last good day and that we mustn’t waste it by staying indoors. So we have had some good long walks in the autumn sunshine recently, but today was the best. I can hardly believe that we are well into November with such sunshine and warm breezes. It won’t last long, but I envision some pretty great hikes into the woods on wintery days as well. We will need some of that healing balm to get us through the winter.
Go to the woods - today or tomorrow or this weekend. I promise that you won’t regret it. You will remember what it means to find your peace and yourself, in the woods.
In the woods, we return to reason and faith.
There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,
-- no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes),
which nature cannot repair.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)
One of my beautiful bees stung me in the forehead the other day and I tried not to be indignant even as I was yelling “SON-OF-A-NUTCRACKER!!!!" Russ just shook his head and laughed, having just been stung himself, through his socks. We were checking on our hives and it was a stinking hot day. It was so hot that my sunglasses had fogged up and I could no longer see what I was doing, so I trudged all the way down into the adjoining pasture and carefully unzipped my beekeeper’s hood. In the time that it took me to whip up the net, and grab my sunglasses off my sweaty face, a guard bee zoomed in and stung me on my forehead. She had diligently followed me down the path to make sure that I knew how she felt about my activities in the beeyard that day. Now here’s the thing about me. I do not generally overreact in life. I am pretty calm and rational. But when it comes to beestings, I am an over-reactor of the highest order. I am not technically allergic to beestings, but wow does my body ever respond dramatically to bee venom!
By evening, the eye closest to the sting was beginning to look puffy. I joked that it was ‘heinous’ but really, I thought I was getting off easy this time. But by the next morning, my eye was swollen shut and so began several days of facial deformity, agonizing itchinesss and partial blindness. While I am in no way comparing my experience to those with genuine disease and disability, I have to tell you that I learned a lot through this recent happening. I certainly learned to laugh at myself, to give ridiculous-sounding remedies a try and to appreciate the value of a good bag of frozen corn. But above all, I came to have a new appreciation for perspective.
I could no longer see out of my right eye. My visual field was fifty percent smaller without that eye and that meant that my world was shrinking. And that’s what got me thinking about perspective. When we have two functioning eyes, they each gather information from each side of the picture, so to speak, and then put the two views together to create an accurate view of the world. With only one eye, I no longer had a balanced view of the world and it handicapped my ability to make judgements and decisions. It also made me vulnerable to sneak attacks by my toddler, but that’s another story. Mostly, I felt impaired. And that’s when I started to think about the value of different perspectives when it comes to our lives and our world.
We live in a time when it is very easy to narrow our field of vision when it comes to perspectives on the world. In the realm of social media, we follow and like those who are most like us, and in doing so, shrink our world. When people possess ideas that run counter to our own, it’s possible to delete them, unfollow them, or post angry online diatribes about them and those just like them. We’ve just come through a pretty rough election year in Canada and are now, along with the rest of the world, following the disturbingly divisive election to the South of us with the same sort of morbid curiosity and horror that I am sure possessed the onlookers during the toddler/gorilla saga earlier this year. There seems to be a huge divide between perspectives these days, whether it’s political parties, denominational differences or parenting styles. Somewhere along the way, ideas have become identity for many people and to counter those ideas or express different ones, constitutes an attack on the person. To concede points to ‘the other side’ is to undermine one’s own identity and entire perspective on life. So we choose one side, ignore the other view of the world, and deliberately limit our field of vision by doing so. Gone is the balanced perspective that comes from taking both sides into account. Gone is the reasonable middle ground, the area where the best aspects of both views meet to form a pretty accurate view of the world. And this is frightening to me.
I was so pleased to regain my sight as the swelling decreased over the next few days, even though it really just migrated to my cheeks. At first it was work to keep that swollen eye open. It difficult but it was worth it, knowing that I could have a more complete view of the world around me if I was willing to make the effort to open that eye, even partially. Turning a blind eye was the easy way out but it came at a high cost, particularly when I was trying to drive. I could only trust my own judgements and make safe, right, rational decisions, when I knew that I had all the information I needed, from both sides. Even when I couldn’t see clearly out that right eye, it was still better than darkness. It still contributed to a better understanding of the world around me. So I am trying to learn from this experience and going forward, I am choosing to see both sides of issues as they come my way, recognizing that a fuller, more accurate view of the world can be its own reward as well as the means to a much better end in any scenario. Eyes wide open!
There’s an old building in Paris that has gripped my imagination since the first time I saw it. I tried my darnedest to book it for our wedding, but it was impossible. Then when it went up for sale in 2009, I spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out how I could purchase the building and make it into something lovely and useful again. If I had sold everything I owned, I still couldn’t have done it, but I enjoyed the dream anyways. And now, as a citizen and taxpayer of Brant County, I can celebrate the fact that I own that gorgeous old building because a generous private donation made possible the purchase of the property by the County. Known to many as the Paris Old Town Hall, the building has had many reincarnations over the years and is soon to play, once again, a beautiful role as the centre of our community.
I get so excited when I start talking about the Paris Old Town Hall. Part of it is because the historian in me relishes the historic significance of this building. Experts will attest to the exceptionality of this particular piece of architecture. Its unique design has national and international significance because it is the earliest example of a Gothic style civic building in North America. At the time that architect John Maxwell designed this town hall in Paris, it was a brand new idea to create civic buildings in the Gothic style that was traditionally used only for churches. Our Houses of Parliament in Ottawa were built in a similar style five years later. Think about that. Our little Paris was actually cutting edge and our town hall was the first example of civic Gothic architecture in Canada. It was a time of great growth and ambition for little Paris, which sat at the junction of two main rivers and along the Governor’s Road that marched straight through Southern Ontario. The building embodied the spirit of enterprise and democracy, and a devotion to all things English. It was modeled on the old medieval guild halls of England, where markets and offices shared a building and formed the heart of a community. The basement featured market stalls for local vendors to hawk their wares, and a few prison cells which still bear messages carved into the walls by the unfortunate inmates who occupied them over the years. The police and fire departments also operated out of the basement while the main floor held the government offices for the town, including the Magistrate’s and Treasurer’s offices and the Council Chambers. This was the seat of local government, and local government was a new thing at the time in what was yet to become Canada. The idea of local decision-making was fresh and exciting and people saw this building as a symbol of the power of democracy and community in Paris.
And then there was the second floor, with its magnificent open timber roof. It was the Assembly Hall – used for concerts and meetings and weddings and lectures and all manner of get-togethers for the community. It was acoustically perfect (no small feat) and even functioned as an opera hall from time to time. The early citizens of Paris envisioned this building, erected this building, used this building and cherished this building. It was the heart of the community and worth every cent of the approximately $12,000 it cost to build it in 1853/54. Before Canada was even a country, the Paris Town Hall was the hub and heart of this community.
The centre of town eventually moved from the hill to down by the rivers when the mills were built and downtown surpassed uptown in terms of power and population. St James Anglican Church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church and the Paris Old Town Hall were relics of an earlier time, and people were lured down the hill by all the new factories, homes and businesses that were being constructed there. Folks continued to set their watches by the bell in the town hall’s distinctive tower, and its chimes also sounded the alarm for fire or announced a death in the community. But most of the town’s activities shifted to the commercial area downtown and by the turn of the century, even the local government offices moved down the hill and the extraordinary building was left to take on new roles in the town’s story. Over the years, the building served as a munitions factory, part of the textile industry (needleworks), offices for the famous Mary Maxim enterprise, and most recently, an antique auction house. Much of the building is in disrepair and you have to look past a lot of dust and debris to glimpse its former glory. But I guess that’s the part that draws me to this glorious old building. It has so much history, but also so much wonderful potential.
While the history of the Paris Old Town Hall is fascinating and I honour the architectural significance of this grand old building, it is its future that excites me the most. Our community needs a centre again, so it’s the future, the Bawcutt Centre, which really makes me dizzy with ideas. Linda Schuyler (of Degrassi fame) and her family knew exactly what they were doing when they made the extraordinary gift of one million dollars to allow the County of Brant to purchase this building and restore it to its rightful place as the heart of the community. She cherishes democracy and community, as well as arts and culture. Her speech in which she talked about her family and the importance of this building can be seen here. It inspired me to get involved in the project to help bring this dream to fruition. This community desperately needs a place where people can gather, for community events and for concerts, for weddings and recitals, for dances and exhibitions, for shindigs and good old-fashioned town hall meetings. Imagine your favourite indie band choosing to play such a funky and acoustically fabulous venue, or a film festival running in our own hometown! My Airbnb guests regularly note that Paris has amazing restaurants and absolutely nothing else to do in the evenings. In fact, we often have guests who stay with us because they are going to yet another fantastic concert in Waterford. Well, we deserve to have our own fantastic concerts in our own fantastic venue, not for the tourists but for us – the people of Brant County. And it will only happen if we work together to make it happen.
So here is my plea: make it happen. This is our community and our project. Your council members need to know that you value this project and that you want to see the Paris Old Town Hall, now known as The Bawcutt Centre, returned to its former glory and rightful place in this community. Please contact your elected officials and let them know that this is important for the people of the County of Brant. Ask them how you can be involved because we need many people with various talents to participate in this project. You have a part to play. Read more about the history and the project – here, here and here. Join the facebook group here and sign up for the newsletter here. Watch David Powell and Holly O talk about The Bawcutt Centre on this recent interview with Global TV. Talk to your neighbours about The Bawcutt Centre. Take your own amazing photos of #bawcuttcentre and filter them like crazy and post them to instagram. Share your ideas and input, online and in person. Make yourselves heard. The citizens of Paris in 1850 knew what they wanted and they made it happen. They dreamed big and created something of international significance and extraordinary beauty, here in Paris. We have an opportunity to do the same, and to enrich our own lives and our own community in the process.
Full disclosure: I was able to tour the Old Town Hall one morning in June because I am one of the citizens appointed to sit on the mayor's Advisory Committee for The Bawcutt Centre. I was so intrigued when I saw the call for applicants but figured no one as new as I am to this small town would ever be appointed to such a committee. Then I forced myself to apply, simply because it didn’t seem fair to make that judgement without actually giving them the opportunity to turn me down because I wasn’t born and raised in Paris. So imagine my surprise when I learned that I was appointed to the committee! I think I had the perfect, freakish constellation of qualifications (from my career as a history teacher to my ownership of historic properties in Kitchener to my previous work as an event planner and my charity undertakings) and I somehow earned a seat at the table. So while I am new to this community, I am thrilled to play a part in this project that really will change Brant County for the better. I’d love to talk to you about any ideas or suggestions you might have for us as we work together to bring The Bawcutt Centre to Brant County.
It’s been three weeks since my Dad went in for his big surgery. Henry and I spent a few days in Toronto, supporting my mom, visiting my dad, and riding the subways. Baba, as Henry calls him, survived the surgery despite his heart condition and actually convinced the doctors to let him go home after only eight days in the hospital. It was a pretty big surgery and lots of pieces of him had to heal, but he is strong and stubborn and I think he impressed the experts. They, the surgeons, had been overwhelmed by how much cancer there was in his tongue and how much it all could have been prevented if he’d been taken seriously sooner. They looked so disheartened when they came out of surgery and told us that they had removed most of Dad’s tongue – when he had gone in believing that he would lose a chunk of tongue on the left side. The surgeons told us that they had decided to treat him as a forty-year-old instead of a seventy-year-old because he struck them as someone who had plans and goals still at his age. So that meant cutting drastically to beat the cancer instead of just gaining Dad a couple more years. It also meant that he lost his tongue and they replaced it with a chunk of muscle from his thigh. So besides having his tongue cut off, his lymph nodes removed, a trach put in his throat, and a feeding tube put in his stomach, he also had a large incision down his leg where muscle had been removed. And the promise that maybe, in a year, he could hope to speak and eat liquids. Maybe, in a year. It took us a couple of days to really break all that to him. And Dad’s response? His usual pppfffffff and a thumb’s up. This guy is my hero.
Know who else is my hero? My mom. This woman is rising to the occasion like nobody’s business. They’ve always been very realistic about what old age could and would mean for them. They have been gallivanting around the world for the past decade, living the dream, and telling me that they had ‘ten good years or so before it could all fall apart’. My mom has never let her painful rheumatoid arthritis slow her down, even though she’s lived with it for thirty years now. She just keeps on following Dad, wherever the next adventure leads them. And this is their current adventure. Mom told me, as we sat there after receiving the difficult news from the surgeons, that she was grateful. Grateful. She was grateful that if something was going to happen to my dad, that she was still well enough to care for him, that she still had her wits and her strength to do what needs to be done. And she has really gone above and beyond in that department. My mom is a nurse. An old-school nurse. She hasn’t practiced hands-on nursing for many years, but boy is she ever doing it now. She is navigating the medical system like a ninja, keeping experts on their toes, and single-handedly ensuring that my dad will not only survive but thrive. Their house is full of medical supplies and machines. She charts and medicates and suctions and swabs. She takes him back to the hospital when necessary and doesn’t leave until he is cared for. She is his protector and monitor and nurturer and gatekeeper and drugpusher. And we didn’t even razz her when she drowned her phone this week for the umpteenth time. She has earned a new phone and I will have lots of time tomorrow to teach her how to use it.
Because tomorrow they are taking another leap of faith in the interest of ensuring the best possible outcome for my dad. We are going back to Toronto General Hospital for more surgery. All the lymph nodes came back negative for cancer, praise the Lord, but they are still going to do six weeks of daily radiation treatment when Dad has recovered, just to be sure. But Dad has decided to take the surgeons’ advice and return to Toronto for another surgery tomorrow. The transplant in Dad’s mouth is not terrible, but it is not excellent at this point. They typically go back in a year later with another big surgery to tidy things up, but as Dad pointed out, why wait? Why not do the surgery now and overlap recoveries instead of waiting to go through all of this again in a year? So, they are trusting that good can become great with some more surgery and tomorrow is the day. They will take more muscle tissue from his other thigh (might as well go for symmetry?) and also find more arteries and veins to feed the ‘tongue’ in his mouth so that he can have a functioning tongue in the months to come. He has already wowed us with his ability to talk without his tongue (try that sometime!) and I can even understand him on the phone! But it’s hard to live without eating. He spends hours each day putting food directly into his stomach through the feeding tube (even his Tim’s coffee!) but it’s not the same as sitting with friends and eating a homemade meal. So, back to Toronto we go. Tomorrow I will sit with Mom again as we spend another long day with other worried families in the surgical lounge. And we will anxiously wait for Dad to give us that groggy thumbs up after he’s out of recovery. Always the thumbs up, always ready for what’s next. Those two amaze me.
Dad and I went out to inspect our bees this morning, for the last time – at least for a while. Russ and I will carry on with the beekeeping this summer, but my dad is pretty busy for the next several weeks. My dad has cancer. This is new for us and while I am getting pretty good at typing it, I am still not okay with saying it out loud. My dad has oral cancer, and he spent months trying to get his various doctors to help him. They failed him and they failed us, and they said that it was just a sore and that he would just have to live with the chronic pain. It finally took a dentist to take him seriously and we are so very grateful because that dentist did his job and did it well. The dentist said ‘this is cancer’, said ‘come back tomorrow and I will biopsy it’, said ‘we will have the results in five days’, said ‘we will have you into Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in a few days after that’ and he was right. The gulf between negligence and excellence is so very, very wide and deep. The professionals at Princess Margaret have also been mind-blowingly kind and brilliant and efficient and optimistic. They first met him last week and his surgery is scheduled for this week. These people don’t mess around or just wait and see. Dad is scheduled for a big 8-hour surgery this Friday. The surgeon will remove the cancerous tumour at the back of his tongue and he will finally be free of the constant pain in his throat and ear that came from having cancer eating away at the nerve at the back of his mouth. The other surgeon will rebuild his tongue with muscle from his arm and arteries and veins from his leg. It’s a pretty big deal. Throw in dad’s heart condition and this surgery seems pretty scary right now. But my dad is so at peace that his calm courage tends to help the rest of us face this scary thing with a little more faith and a little less fear.
So, what do you talk about on a beautiful summer morning when it’s just the two of you and you don’t want to ruin it by talking about cancer? We talked about honeybees and hazelnuts, Grammie’s doughnuts and flyfishing. We talked about the stock market and ventured just a little bit into what to do with his portfolio should anything happen. But mostly, we didn’t talk. Dad and I never really need to talk. We love our comfortable silence. Today he even let me hold his hand a bit while I was driving, until he reminded me that my hands should be at ten and two. Safety Bob is always on the job.
The bee inspections went off without a hitch. Our homemade hive feeders worked brilliantly. A few naysayers on the beekeeping forums had heckled me for my McGivered hive feeders and told me that many bees would drown trying to get at the syrup. We figured it was worth a try and that we would just wait and see if it worked. Well, the verdict is in and I call it a win. Nineteen hive inspections revealed that only a couple of dozen bees had drowned, and mainly in just a couple of hives. I have no idea why certain hives would have more trouble than others, but so few bee deaths was a relief. Feeding the bees was important to us because the drought has really limited the availability of nectar for our bees this summer. Now, all our hives are growing quickly with gorgeous honeycomb filling up the boxes, frame by frame. For those who have been asking, we will likely start harvesting our first batch of Bishop Family Bees honey by the end of the month.
Pleased with our healthy hives and our own efficiency, we packed up our gear at the last beeyard and were heading home for lunch when I heard from Robyn at Devon Acres. He said that shortly after we had left his farm, they had observed a large black cloud of bees hover over our hives and then head for the woods. A swarm!!! Now, I have been waiting to hear from someone, anyone, about a swarm because this year I think we are equipped to capture one. And if I capture a swarm, it will replace the hive that died. I have the perfect, pretty hive in St George, just waiting for a swarm. But I never wanted one of our own hives to swarm! And that is exactly what appeared to have happened. We raced back over to Devon Acres and located the swarm on a low-hanging branch of a tree at the edge of the woods. It was an ideal scenario for a swarm capture and we quickly gathered the necessary tools for removing the branch and nabbing the bees. But first, we wanted to check and see what was happening at our hives and determine which hive had swarmed. It didn’t really make sense that any of our hives would have swarmed because they aren’t crowded, having started as such small colonies to begin with. And we couldn’t identify any change in behavior for any of the hives, except for one hive that had many bees out front, vigourously ventilating the hive with their wings. Other than that, there didn’t seem to be any bees missing. We trudged back through the long grass to the tree at the edge of the woods where we soon discovered that the swarm had disappeared. It was gone. A few stragglers buzzed around, as if to say ‘Wait a sec, this is the spot, where is everyone?’ But the swarm was gone. After fifteen or so minutes of searching through the woods for the missing swarm (I may have been distracted by some yummy blackcaps), we gave up. There’s no way to know if the bees that swarmed were ours. Some things just don’t make sense and all you can do is wait and see.
When you are a doer and a fixer like I am, the wait and see situations in life are pretty hard to sit through but I am learning to take it as it comes! We Raymers embrace most challenges pretty enthusiastically. As a family, we are ready for this next big challenge and certainly have a great team cheering us on. My parents have always shown up for people, offering support, service, sympathy, and, more often than not, salmon. So their support network is pretty extensive and we are so grateful for all the offers of help and well wishes and prayers. For all those who sent up so many prayers on behalf of Baby Henry three summers ago, I am asking again for your prayers as Dad heads into surgery this Friday morning and as he endures a fairly tricky recovery. He will have a tracheotomy and a feeding tube since the swelling will make breathing and eating impossible for a couple of weeks. Mom will spend the next couple of weeks in Toronto with him, and then he will recuperate at home in Elmira. Henry and I will visit as much as possible, although I’m not sure a hospital can withstand Hurricane Henry. I guess we will find out. So much remains to be seen.
I have a new phone and it’s glorious, but wow was there ever a lot of drama involved in getting this new phone. First world problems, I know, but I’m going to share it with you anyways.
It all began with Fathers’ Day. We like to go to Port Dover for the day, with the family. It’s our new tradition since my father-in-law loves it, my dad loves it and Russ loves it. We typically go for fish and chips and then walk along the beach or the pier with our ice cream cones. This year, dad suggested that he bring his fishing boat to Port Dover so we could all go out for a ride on the lake. That sounded fantastic!!!
It was fantastic. The day was beautiful but almost too hot, so we waited until later in the afternoon to hit the water. The folks at the boat ramp warned us that it was quite choppy out there, but we planned to stay close to shore anyways. So, off we went, all geared up in our life jackets and ready for some fun in the sun on the water. It was very choppy indeed, and probably worst just along the shore by the harbour, where we were. Mom and Henry and I were sitting up at the front, enjoying the occasional spray of water when suddenly a huge wave came up over the bow and drenched us. We shrieked with shock and delight. Henry laughed and laughed. My mom fussed about her hair. And all I could think about was my phone. I had my phone in my hand when the tsunami hit and it was splashed. That’s it. Just splashed. I reached over and grabbed the roll of paper towels and wiped off and wrapped up my phone within seconds. And then I left it to dry off. I was bummed because it was Fathers’ Day and I wanted to take pictures. I wanted pictures of my dad and of Grandpa Bill because you never know how long they will be around. I was feeling all sentimental and wanting to capture this perfect afternoon so I could have the pictures forever, and instead my phone was soaked and I had to put it away. And that is why there are no pictures on this blog entry, because I don’t have any to share.
The good news is that I had just backed up all my pictures and videos from my phone on to my computer two days before. The bad news is that the bag of rice did not do the trick and by Monday morning, eighteen hours later, I was going nuts without my phone. It’s true. I couldn’t last eighteen hours without my phone!!! We went to the park for the morning where, instead of checking on the news, I had to just sit and watch children playing, which really isn’t as interesting as the pinterest moms make it out to be. Do not judge me for this. Independence and resilience are qualities I deeply admire and try to nurture in our child. I do not get down in the dirt to play cars with Henry. He brings his construction vehicles to the park and he plays independently or with other children. I am the mom who is watching from a distance, in the shade, with a cold caffeinated beverage and my phone. When he falls, he gets back up, waves at me, and keeps on rolling. Because he is that kind of kid, I can be that kind of mom. Or perhaps, because I am that kind of mom, he can be that kind of kid. Who really knows?
All I know is that I had never realized just how much I rely on my phone until it was gone. And I don’t even use my phone as a phone. I hate talking on the phone. I just use it for everything else. For instance, I knew it was hot, but I couldn’t know exactly how hot it was. I like to know. Also, did they find the other capybara in Toronto’s High Park or was it still on the lamb? These are the news stories I follow and it was killing me to not know. I wanted to send Tanya a picture via BBM because I knew she would be so proud to see that I was sitting on a park bench, half-way through a bag of Tostitos and jar of cheese by 9-something-ish in the morning. I don’t know what time it was exactly because I didn't know what time it was at all. I didn’t know who else was on their way to the park or if our friends were really going to meet us at the splash pad later. My mom hadn’t checked in with her usual “what are you two up to this morning?” I couldn’t search for new patio cushions on amazon, or send a grocery list to Russ. I was completely lost without my phone. Did I have any new chocolate orders for my business? Had those beekeepers answered my question about feeders? Was there a new review on Airbnb from our weekend guests? It was like being in a sensory deprivation chamber. I was lost and stupid without my phone. I tried to be all philosophical about it, and learn from it, and take pictures with my heart…. whatever.
By noon, Henry and I were headed to the Telus store at the mall. We haven’t been to the mall in at least a year. There’s a reason for that. His name is Hurricane Henry. I thought we could be in and out quickly, that we were ready to face the mall again. Famous last words. The first stop at Telus revealed two service reps busy serving customers and four people hovering. We walked the loop around the mall and came back, only to find another four people had joined in the hovering. One of the hoverers was also a mom. Her husband was wheeling her two toddlers around the mall while she waited and she smiled sympathetically in my direction. Since I was on my own with Henry, and without a stroller, I needed a solid strategy. We went for fries, because I figured Henry could sit down in the corner of the store and eat his fries while the rep helped me solve my phone issue. Sadly, the fries were almost gone and there were still several hoverers ahead of me. We went for another walk and when another pop-in confirmed that they were still too busy, I headed for the stroller rental booth. I desperately needed to contain this kid and the fries had not done their job. While I was trying to sign out the stroller, Henry made a break for it. He ran right through the jewelry store and right into the back where their safe is located. I found myself leaning over the counter, doing that uber-quiet, uber-angry mom yell through clenched teeth. There was some hissing involved. He sheepishly came out before security arrived and I swooped him up and plunked him on the counter at the lottery kiosk / stroller rental place. The lady was sympathetic, even when his remaining fries dumped all over the counter and into her booth. She agreed that I definitely needed that stroller. I had to leave my car keys as collateral. I asked if I could leave Henry instead. She didn’t think it was funny. I was close to tears.
We wheeled back to Telus, where a throng had gathered, just to spite me. So, deciding that I was not going to lose my place ‘in line’ again, I began pushing the stroller around and around the outer aisles of the store. Around and around and around. I was like the lion at the zoo, just pacing the perimeter and ready to bite someone’s, anyone’s head off at any moment. Henry was eating Timbits, at this point, and yelling whenever he couldn’t see the parrots and monkeys on the screen at the front of the store. Finally the third service rep came back from lunch and one of the other workers told him that he’d better help me first, for everyone’s sake. The multitude agreed. Long story short, the rep told me that it would cost between $200 and $300 to fix my phone. If I upgraded to the newest Samsung, I would get $200 on the trade-in and only have to pay $320 up front. It seemed like the logical solution. And so he began to, ever so slowly, set up the new phone with all kinds of apps I didn’t need or want. He couldn’t save my contacts, but he made darn sure I had the Telus app on my phone. And then he wanted to show me every case available for the new phone. I was trying to explain that I didn’t want to get a case at this point, that we just needed to go and he was not listening to me…. when it became apparent to all of us that Henry had pooped his pants. Telus guy was suddenly efficient. There was no more sales pitch, upselling, app-adding and the like. That guy rang us through pronto and we were free to go home. We dropped off the stroller and poor Henry waddled his poopy self across the parking lot to our hot car, where I was able to change him in the trunk. It was only 31 degrees out. No biggie. It was all good.
Because I had a glorious new phone. The world was right again.
Oh mercy. You would not believe how sticky things have gotten around here, and it’s not even honey harvest time yet!
So, I learned the hard way that a hive can starve even when surrounded by beautiful blossoms. We lost one of our hives just a few days after we put the nucs in. The bees needed to draw honeycomb before they could store food and those in the hive were eating more than the forager bees could provide and the hive died. At least that’s what we think happened. So, after doing some research, we decided to feed our bees since they were small nucs to begin with and because they have to draw so much honeycomb before they can start to store much honey. If we make it that much easier for them to get the food they need, they will be making honey that much sooner. Typically, beekeepers feed in the spring and the fall to ensure their bees survive the winter. The feeding we are doing now is just to help them get established and then we will leave them to do their thing the natural way.
And here’s where things started to get sticky. I went to look at hive top feeders that hold a lot of sugar water so you don’t need to refill every couple of days. Many beekeepers use jar feeders at the entrance to their hives, but I would be driving all over Brant County every other day trying to keep those filled, so I was looking for something larger. With a price tag of $38, the hive top feeders were just too expensive for this operation, given that we have 22, er 21, hives. So an older, wiser beekeeper showed me his homemade system which involved a 10-litre bucket with holes drilled in along the upper rim. You fill the bucket with sugar water, put the lid on, and tip it over. It airlocks and the bees get what they need through the holes without drowning in an open container of syrup. This sounded great to me. I bought six buckets from him and set about retrofitting them. Russ brought home 32 kg of sugar for me. I mixed 30 kg of sugar into 30 l of water and stirred until my forearms were screaming for relief. Everything in that area of the basement was sticky. That was just the beginning.
I was worried about those holes and tried to seal them with duct tape for the journey. Russ loaded them into the back of my car, on a blanket – which in hindsight wasn’t the best idea since they were a bit wobbly. I was waiting for a break in the traffic so I could pull out of our parking lot when Russ, exasperated, finally yelled “GO NOW”. So I did. And then he began to yell even more because the buckets had clearly tipped over in the back. I pulled over at the corner and he hopped out and righted the buckets and then just stood there looking in the trunk and yelling. I got out and yelled too. Passersby were very amused. We were not. It was one of those marital moments. I wanted to give up right then and there, now that my trunk was sugar-coated and I did not feel like working together on anything. Russ said he would do the job alone and took the buckets and put them in his trunk. (Because it made sense to ensure that his trunk would now be covered in sugar too). I decided to go to the beeyards anyways, but there was no way I was going with him because I was too angry. So we went in our separate, sticky cars.
At the beeyards, things went from bad to worse. Russ now had a trunk full of sugar water as well. So there was that. And then the first time I took off the duct tape and turned over the bucket, it just began to glug and ooze out of those holes. It flowed in every direction and showed no sign of stopping. I finally turned it back upright, plunked it on the top of the ‘dead hive’ and told the bees to have at it. I warned them not to drown and drove off to our next spot. At the farm, it only took a few seconds for me to determine that this was definitely not going to work. That bucket was oozing everywhere and I no longer cared. I just left it. I figured if they didn’t like it, the rain would wash it away anyways. We didn’t even bother going to the third yard. When we got home, we tossed the rest of the buckets in the basement and spent the evening not talking to each other.
So it was back to the drawing board. I eventually came up with, what I think, was a pretty good plan. I found an inexpensive alternative to the hive top feeders by walking the aisles at Dollarama until I discovered items that could hold the syrup and provide a ladder for the bees to keep them from drowning. I purchases all six of the store’s salad spinners – a bowl for the syrup and a basket that sits in it and acts as a ladder. And then I purchased many simple basins and in them I placed colanders to act as ladders. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, for $3 per hive.
On Tuesday, Dad, Russ and I planned to go out and inspect the hives and install the feeders. Dad arrived with another 30 kg of sugar he’d picked up at a wholesaler. We stirred and stirred and stirred. We filled the holey buckets and tried to tape the holes again. Dad suggested that we take their SUV this time, so we left my sugary car at home in case Mom needed it to drive Henry somewhere. As Dad was loading the buckets into his trunk, I kept warning him that they would tip. He assured me that they wouldn’t. There was not going to be sugar in his trunk. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 43 years on this earth, it’s that I am not going to win an argument against my dad. He is always right. Well, like, 99% of the time.
Long story short, we got our beautiful new McGyvered hive top feeders installed in all three beeyards’ worth of hives. It was a hot afternoon and a lot of work, but we did it. We inspected the hives (they are doing just fine) and installed the feeders. And when we arrived home, we were very sweaty and very sticky. But at least we were all still talking to one another.
Saw my mom yesterday. She wondered what we had done to her trunk. She took a trip to the grocery store, grabbed her reusable bag from the trunk and at the checkout realized she was stuck to her wallet and her purse. Then her bank card. Then she stuck to the car keys, the door handle, the gear shift and the steering wheel. She’s not sure how the sugar ended up on her sandal, but everything stuck to her shoe. She left a trail of stickiness all the way home and it all started with the sticky grocery bag, in the trunk that most definitely did have its share of syrup spilled throughout.
Just another adventure in apiculture. As mom pointed out, this is nothing compared to how sticky things are going to get once we start to harvest that much honey!
I spent a good chunk of my childhood living overseas, in developing countries, where life was hard for everyone and there was always the potential for bad stuff to happen. My mom taught me very early on that if I were ever to find myself in trouble, I needed to find the mamas. When I was older and I moved to Haiti, and later to Kenya, she reminded me again, to find the mamas. When I backpacked around the world by myself, her words went with me and I knew that, should things go bad, I should find the mamas. To find the mamas, in my experience, means to find a woman. Because more often than not, a woman will help. They don’t have to be mothers, in the biological sense, and perhaps ‘find the sisters’ might be a better phrase. But in many cultures, and certainly in the ones I grew up in, the mamas are older, wiser women who will always offer assistance if you need it.
Time and again, without fail, the mamas have come through for me. Around the world, I have been rescued by mamas. Housekeepers have nagged and cajoled me for not being more careful. Market ladies have warned me and herded me in the other direction when they knew what I didn’t - that there was trouble ahead. Women have lingered when I have been threatened, have yelled when I have been followed and have delivered warnings with their eyes when we did not share the same language. Mamas have picked me up when I have fallen on dirty, crowded streets. Mamas have guided me, in person, when I have lost my way in a foreign city. Mamas have fed me and lavished me with gifts given out of their own poverty. Mamas have never let me down and I am forever indebted to the mamas of this world.
Life here in Paris is pretty safe compared to the big world out there. But it was hard for me for the first couple of years as I tried to adjust to life in a new town. It got even worse when I was no longer working but was, instead, home on maternity leave with a vulnerable baby who wasn’t supposed to be out and about in the community because of the germs. That was a very long and lonely winter. But then I found the mamas and my life changed entirely.
I know that a lot of people say that they hate Facebook for all the drama and pettiness and I just don’t understand that. Maybe I just have a really good quality filter on my Facebook, because for me it has always been a wonderful means of building community and connecting with people. In Paris, I found community through a Facebook group called Paris Mommas. It was started by a mama who saw a need in the community and came up with the solution. Since she started the community group on Facebook a couple of years ago, the group has become a very popular way for mamas in the area to connect and to help each other. The mamas may be at home or at work, but they are still connected with their phones. With over eight hundred members, the group is a treasure trove of wisdom. I honestly use the Paris Mommas more than I use google, because the mamas are faster. They can tell you what sunscreen to use and which shops in town sell it, who the best pediatrician is, what the price of gas is, where kids can eat free, what that loud noise was, how long the line up at the walk-in is at any given time, if your kid’s hat is still at the park, if there is a dog loose on the main street, where the power is out, if a rainbow has emerged over the town, what that rash is, who can paint your house, how to get that stain out, where to throw a party, which mechanic to trust, which neighbourhood is being hit by door-to-door salesmen, what that flower in your garden is called, if the splashpad is finally working, what time anything opens, where peanut butter is on sale or what baby food has been recalled. They sell anything and everything, and also just give things away all the time. I swear nothing is wasted in this town. Even coupons and bonus codes are passed on to those who can use them before they expire. This is just like an old time village, except they are all connected by the magic of wifi instead of gathering around the well or the marketplace. You can’t tell me that life is so different in our modern world, after all. We aren’t as alienated and alone as they tell us we are. Even in our modern society, we are connected and when someone needs help, the mamas still show up. I have never put out a request for help or advice that wasn’t answered. Several times, I have asked for specific donations to help out a teenaged mom or a new refugee family, and complete strangers have shown up at my back door with their generous gifts. Every single time. The mamas in this community are a never-ending source of advice, encouragement, information and assistance.
There has been very little drama or conflict in our group, although I think we've learned, the hard way, to avoid such topics as circuses or circumcision. The Paris Mommas aren’t particularly political (who has time?!) but they are very practical. This week, one of the mamas sent out a message about a homeless gentleman she had been chatting with in the park. He had shared that he was having a difficult time and could use some help. I waited for the comments to come, the warnings and watch-outs, the cautionary tales. They never came. What did come was comment after comment after comment, an entire column, of suggestions and offers of help. Within hours, the mamas of this community had provided this gentleman with a new tent and warm blanket and nourishing food and toiletries and a flashlight and new shoes and grocery store gift cards. They all spoke of him with respect and compassion. They met his needs in a very practical and kind way. And they did it as individuals coming together as community to reach a very specific need, instead of just assuming that agencies and organizations would ‘take care of the issue’. Wayne is not an issue; he is a person. And the Paris Mommas treated this person with such love this week that I teared up every time I read another message on my phone. And many of them did so with their kids in tow, so that they could model what it means to show kindness and respect to those who are different from us. As one mama wrote: “Our job is not to judge. Our job is not to figure out if someone deserves something. Our job as human beings is to lift the fallen, restore the broken and to heal the hurting”.
Wayne found the mamas.
So this blog entry goes out to the Paris Mommas, most of whom I have never met but all of whom I deeply admire and appreciate. I am grateful for the community within the community that we have built for ourselves. I am grateful that I found the mamas.
People often ask me what it’s like to be a stepmom. I had this very conversation with some Airbnb guests this past weekend as we sat chatting in the shade of my back yard. As I looked out over my garden, it came to me that step-parenting is a lot like tending someone else’s garden. Someone else planned and planted that garden. They set it in motion and continue to work it, but as a stepmom, you become a partner in the project - a very gentle partner. You don’t make the big decisions and you certainly tread carefully, but as the years go by, you do gently prune when the situation calls for it and weed when necessary. You feed and water the plants, nurturing them at every opportunity. You do a lot of work, in the sunshine and the rain, pouring yourself into a garden that isn’t really yours, for very little credit, and yet it is totally worth it to see your efforts pay off. Those efforts are never in vain. And every so often there’s a little spot in the garden that has perhaps been left untended, and you take some time to plant a few seedlings there and nurture something in an area that may have been overlooked. When those little corners blossom and something new emerges, it can be so very rewarding! But most of the time you just do your part to nurture the garden and its beauty is reward enough. Some days, to be honest, you are just glad it's still alive and didn't wither away on your watch.
A social worker friend of mine said that step-parenting is not parenting; it’s being a caring witness to the life of a child. While I agree with her, and love the idea of carrying the memories as we do life together, I think there’s a whole lot more work to being a stepmom than just being a witness!!! There is the physical work of feeding and cleaning and doing homework. There is the mental work of running a household and trying to have some semblance of a reasonable schedule even though much of it is dependent on the other household’s plans. There is the social work of ensuring that the kids are okay, in every sense. And there is the emotional work of choosing to love on someone else’s kids. Now, I am teacher, so many of the challenges that come with being a stepmom are actually things I am well-equipped to handle. I am pretty good at loving on and investing in other people’s children. I’ve been disciplining and nurturing other people’s children for years. But, I will be honest and say that it’s harder than teaching. As a step-parent, you have tons of responsibility and zero power. If you can’t accept that from the get-go, you will make yourself crazy. So, you let go of power and any concept of justice you might have had, and you just choose love.
That’s the thing about being a stepmom; you have to choose to love those kids. Every day, it is a conscious decision to love them; there is no biological drive to do so. You didn’t conceive them in love, anticipate them for nine months, give birth to them and become so filled with love that you couldn’t imagine ever going back to life before them. You aren’t blinded by biology and hormones, easily able to overlook the not-so-great stuff. You don’t have the primal mama bear instinct that drives you to act in selfless ways to protect and nurture your children above all else. Instead, you fell in love with their dad and became an instant family. And so you must make the conscious and deliberate choice to love those children, each and every day. But eventually, you realize that you no longer have a choice. You have nurtured them, invested in them, become a part of their story and you love them fiercely. You are proud of them and protective of them. You can’t help but love them, at their worst and at their best. You can’t imagine life without them. They are your people, your family. At least this has been my experience. It is difficult and it is wonderful.
When I head to bed early on a Friday evening to indulge in some Netflix and solitude, and Isobel crawls in beside me, I relish the opportunity to snuggle in and watch youtube videos of unlikely animal friendships with this kid who has now spent more than half of her life with me. Those are welcome interruptions. She is lovely and amazing and will most likely start to push us away a bit over the years to come as she navigates adolescence and asserts her independence. I am bracing myself for this change, so I, like any other parent of a 13-year-old, savour those few special times together. And when Rachel comes over, just full of love for her wee brother, my heart smiles as I watch them together. She sits at my kitchen counter, hunched over a bowl of her dad’s guacamole, and tells me all about her plans, short-term and long-term, for school and for life, and I wish we could talk forever. She is so full of interesting ideas and articulate opinions - all the idealism and convictions that come with being eighteen and ready to head out into the world. And when she, the daughter of an English professor and a Biochemistry professor, said she had decided to take Political Science and Global Studies in university, I felt a wicked sense of triumph. I won!!! I won!!! (I like to think that maybe a few of the seeds I planted over the years had some influence on that decision and I hope she will let me keep that illusion.) Most importantly, when they come to me and tell me about something good they have done – something done with love and wisdom and respect, something that is the very best of themselves – and they admit that they couldn’t wait to tell me because they knew I would be so proud of them…. well, then, in those moments, my heart almost bursts with love and joy and pride. I am so very honoured to have shared in the tending of two such uniquely beautiful gardens. They tell me that they lucked out in the stepmom department, but I am the lucky one.
More people need to tell these stories of step-parenthood. I know there are nightmarish scenarios out there. Those are the stories we hear all too often. But there are a whole lot of families out there, like us, who have taken a risk, chosen to love and have gained more than they ever imagined. And those who are struggling need to know both truths: that it is definitely hard and that it is definitely worth it.
I never would have chosen Iceland as a destination. It’s the ‘ice’ part that deterred me. I am definitely a tropical girl and even the Gulf Stream and molten lava that lend extra warmth to Iceland weren’t enough of an incentive for me. My husband, with his Viking ancestry, talked about Iceland as his dream vacation, every time he was hiding out in the air-conditioned restaurant of whatever Caribbean resort I had dragged him to. Iceland, to him, seemed like a dream come true for a guy who hates the heat and loves geology. When his family members from far and wide decided to converge on Iceland for a family reunion / group trip, I gave in. It was his turn, I reminded myself, as I booked tickets to Iceland just as the snow was melting and spring was coming to our home in Paris, Ontario.
People thought it was cool and a little bit crazy that we were headed to Iceland for a family reunion, particularly since none of the family members were actually from Iceland. Then there was the toddler factor. Folks thought we were nuts to be taking our toddler on a tour of Iceland. A quick search on the web brought up a few articles by people who had taken their tinies there and had enjoyed it, even though they found it to be an enormous logistical challenge. Every day is a logistical challenge with Henry, so I figured it couldn’t possibly be too tricky if we took our toddler to Iceland, could it?
With some solid planning in place, it turned out to be the best vacation ever! Iceland has a reputation for being expensive, and it’s a well-deserved reputation. But if you plan correctly, it is doable. In an attempt to lure tourists to Iceland, they have made it very inexpensive to fly there. Iceland Air even offers stopovers to allow people to have brief vacations there while en route to Europe, without an extra surcharge for doing so. The Iceland stopover has, apparently, become quite a thing. In order to save wherever possible, I watched for a seat sale and nabbed cheap tickets on the red eye which allowed our busy boy to sleep instead of screaming “I’m stuck!” over and over again like the last time we flew. So it took less time, and less money, to fly to Iceland than it does for us to fly to Vancouver.
Instead of expensive hotels, which are both too costly and too tiny for a family, I found amazing accommodations for us on AirBnB. We had a fantastic flat, centrally located and fully appointed, for less than half the cost of a hotel room. Our host told us that the government would like to crack down on all the AirBnB listings that have popped up, but recognizes that the country would not be able to accommodate all its tourists without them. So they have become a crucial part of the country’s tourist industry. When we went south, to the coast, we booked a beautiful little cottage with a view to die for. Again, it was less expensive and afforded us more room and amenities to suit our needs. We loved our little cottage by the sea! And since we had access to kitchens, I was able to pack a suitcase of food from home, so that I could cook whenever possible. Russ is allergic to wheat and Henry is a picky eater. It was so much easier to just cook breakfast or pack some snacks, than to assume that we could find suitable food on the road. Then we were free to go out some nights for amazing dinners with the family, knowing we had saved elsewhere during the day. Going out and about was also an opportunity for us to connect with Icelanders, and everyone we met was very friendly and helpful.
Iceland itself is a natural wonder. It is stunningly beautiful in every direction, but in an other-worldly way. Unlike anywhere else we had ever been, it consistently surprised us. We hadn’t done a lot of research ahead of time and relied on the diligent and thorough planning of our group members. Even if you are just there for a few days, you can see most of the highlights of Iceland and promise yourself that you will return again someday to see the rest. It is a destination for people who like to be active. I realized this when I observed that everyone waiting to board the flight for Reykjavik was wearing hiking boots. Everyone except us!
What I really wanted to say here in this piece is that you should take your kids to Iceland. Seriously. It provides an opportunity for them to run wild and free. I could not have taken Henry to London or Paris without him wreaking havoc. I would have had to tie him down anywhere else, just to minimize the damage and keep him safe. In Iceland, Henry was able to be a kid - the kind of kid he was meant to be. He ran and climbed and jumped and explored. He was intrigued by everything he saw from the car window as we wandered about the countryside, along fjords, over lava fields and around volcanoes. “Water volcanoes” (geysers) and the black beach were his favourite features. In Iceland, it didn’t matter if he was dirty or noisy or distracted by pretty rocks or pretty horses. Every day was an adventure for him, where he was able to explore nature and learn about the world. He climbed volcanoes and glaciers. He soaked in hot pools and played on volcanic beaches. He watched goats being born and brand new little lambs learning to walk. He clambered along waterfalls and slid down sandy hills. He tossed stones into the ocean and threw sticks into mountain streams. And he played with other kids, wherever he found them, regardless of the language barrier. And even though Iceland is rugged and untamed and definitely has too few guard rails for my liking, it was safe. I have traveled all over the world and I don’t ever remember being somewhere that felt so safe. Personal safety and security didn’t really cross my mind. We weren’t going to be robbed or high-jacked. Henry wasn’t going to be kidnapped. We were just safe to explore and it felt wonderful.
Take your kids to Iceland for a family vacation. You will see things you had only ever imagined. You will experience nature in a whole new way. And you will make memories, together, that are out of this world. If you've been there, and have some tips for travelers that you'd be willing to share, I'd love to hear from you!
Kari Raymer Bishop
Lover of Jesus, cheeses and tropical breezes... seeking balance in life, even as I embrace new challenges and chase new dreams. I am wife, mother, daughter and friend, as well as teacher, entrepreneur, activist, writer, beekeeper and hostess. Come along on the journey through my long-awaited midlife crisis!