Love Letters

Keepsakes…

A week ago I wrote about the way a friend is grieving the loss of her mother. I am deeply moved by the love she pours out every day for her Ma, and I was honoured that she allowed me to share her very personal journey. The responses to that post showed me how many of us have experienced that same sense of loss, and how valuable it is to celebrate the life of the loved one we are missing…

This picture is of my grandmother, who died (at the age of 95) ten years ago. I still miss her every day.

Bami kept this frame next to her bed – the inset photo is one she cut out of a school photo from her own childhood. It reminded her of the little girl she had been and the place she had come from… Her keepsake has become mine.

Thinking about the keepsakes we carry made me strongly aware of the little things full of memories that I have saved – transferred from home to home through my nomadic years:

Bami’s sherry glasses – used for Bristol Cream on special occasions…

…and her Royal Albert china (“Blossomtime”) which reminds me of the springtime view from her old apartment on McBride Boulevard.  We never use the set (pink dishes aren’t always in season) but I can’t bear to part with it. The blossom trees are still there along the boulevard, but the view has been filled up with overpasses and billboards.  I keep the china cups and plates in the same cabinet that Bami used – a tiny permanent spring.

My favourite dishes in the world: T.G.Green and Co.’s Cornish Blue kitchen ware (with the occasional piece of Irish Carragaline mixed in) which decorated Bami’s kitchen my whole life. I loved to look at them as a child, and loved even more when Bami would use them to serve up flapjacks or grilled cheese from the heavy cast iron pans in her tiny green kitchen… This blue remains my favourite colour – the fact that it is used widely in the school where I work makes me happy everyday.

The dishes were originally passed down to my cousin Kim who thoughtfully gave them to me when she heard how much I loved them. Every time I find a random piece to buy at rummage sales or flea markets my heart leaps just a little…

Bami’s love of kitchen is one of my great inheritances. The smells and noises of a working kitchen comfort me endlessly – I have worked in many (coffee shops, caterers, restaurants, b&b’s…) and love the joy that comes from feeding others. In tiny apartment kitchens I have cooked turkeys and tenderloins to feed family and friends – if Bami cooked for us in her closet sized kitchen I could do the same!  I have also inherited her brand loyalties for ingredients, particularly when it comes to baking.  If it was Bami’s favourite it is my favourite too.

Bami’s greatest talent was with a needle and thread.  Sewing during the day (and knitting at night) she made beautiful clothes for herself, her children, her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She made quilts, coats (with bemberg lining), dresses, pants and seemingly endless sweaters… I have some of her creations in my closet to this day and wear them often, but the most sentimental keepsakes are the fat quarters for quilting (which I don’t do but can’t let go), the wooden spools of thread, and the torn old yellow envelope containing custom made sweater labels…

  

I also love the pewter shoe shaped pin cushion she passed on to me – one of a huge decorative shoe collection that she gave to my cousin Mark – which represents another hobby we have in common…

Bami loved shoes and clothes, which is part of what drove her passion for sewing. Having little money meant no means to acquire a fashionable wardrobe, but her thrifty ingenuity served her fashion sense well. She only used the best materials and made classic things to last. Her greatest luxuries were perfume (Pavlova) and jewelry – pearls, pearls, pearls were her trademark accessory. (Naturally, she was born in June.) Even into her 90s she read and discussed the fashion news – creative construction, quality materials and modern classics always received her approval.

Some of her jewelry was passed on to my mother who has in turn passed it on to me. Bami would have loved to see the way her classic pieces are still gorgeous today in a completely new way.

These brooches are resting on one of Bami’s handkerchiefs – another essential accessory (besides the white gloves) that her handbag was never without. My cousin Shannon found the stash when we were cleaning out Bami’s apartment and gave one to each grand daughter at her memorial service.

Bami was never religious, but she was always spiritual. Years before she died she gave me one of the most amazing and fragile keepsakes I could imagine… Her own mothers bible.

The fact that Bami was one of 11 children makes it quite amazing that it came into our branch of the family at all… The date 1930, when Bami was 20) makes me wonder if my great-gran gave it to her daughter as a keepsake in turn when she married and moved three provinces west in 1933…

The bible is filled with clippings from newspapers, newsletters, magazines and cookbooks. I don’t know who clipped them, but I have left them all in their original places… Some of them are funny and some of them are sad, but my favourite is this prayer of gratitude which resonates with me as much today as ever…


 
I miss my grandmother every day. I remember clearly the soapy smell of her apartment, the powdery softness of her cheek, the texture of the silk pillow she always slept with (so as to preserve her weekly hairdo…)

The endless snippets of memories are not nearly enough to fill the space in my life that she left, little by little, as the Alzheimer’s took her away. The keepsakes and photos can not contain the spirit of the woman who changed her own life in a time when women just didn’t…  But it’s not just about keepsakes, and it’s not just about memories.  Last night in church the choir sang out her favourite hymn – Amazing Grace- and hearing it filled my heart with joy.

“Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease;

I shall profess, within the veil,

A life of joy and peace.”

The space left in me when Bami died may never disappear but it can be filled to the brim with love, and that helps. Every keepsake carries the same message: find what brings love and joy into your life.  Hold on to the love in every moment. Be grateful for it, and share it.

 
 
 
 

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Love Letters

Feeding Love…

One of my friends has been grieving the loss of her mother for the last fourteen months. I can only begin to imagine the depth of her feelings; I have shared in her stories (happy and sad) as she travels this new road of life without her Ma.  I am in awe at the love that is not only woven through vivid memory, but living still in word and action every day…

Two months ago, on the difficult first anniversary of losing her Ma, my friend marked the moment with a heartfelt tribute.  What started out as a way to honour one woman’s amazing and generous spirit has quickly become something so much more. One act of love, in memory of a woman who’s life was love in action, is beginning to multiply like the loaves and fishes.  With her blessing I will share it with you, so that you in turn can pass the love along…

 It started with this little container, and a story. 

  

  

In honour of “Auntie” Anita’s great gift for sharing we were charged with this task: share the love, fill the container, pass it on. I was in awe. 

The container sat, empty, on my kitchen counter for some time. Here was a token from a generous and loving heart – a woman I never met – that represented so much.  Every time it caught my eye I thought about the life of this woman and the many lives she influenced. I relished sharing in the spirit of her generosity, which filled me up like food for the soul. Auntie Anita lived in my heart and kitchen alongside her container until I knew just what to do… I began to bake. 

As always, when baking takes place here at the Martini house there is a purposeful abundance to share. Like Auntie we have a collection of containers saved to fill and distribute amongst friends, teachers, and co-workers in gratitude for the many ways that they share in our lives. This container, though, was special. It needed to go to a special home. I packed it full of chocolate pumpkin spice cake…

    

…and included the story of Auntie with my note. 

I knew exactly who it should go to; another friend of mine, experiencing her own struggles, was in need of something special in her life. 
  

I left this little package on her desk coincidentally on a day that had been a huge challenge for both of us – turning tears of frustration into tears of love and laughter.  

  

One tiny moment leads to another. One tiny token begins to spread. One gesture, one smile, one act of kindness multiplies across the universe. Now when I think of all those containers piled up waiting to give I think of how much love can be shared. As my wonderful friend wrote recently  about her Ma: “perhaps feeding others fills you up too…”

” If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain. ”

(Emily Dickinson)

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Love Letters

F is for Fathers’ Day…

I am not the best observer of Father’s Day. (I am not the best observer of most formal occasions, as I prefer to make my celebrations when they occur and avoid them when they are prescribed.) Father’s Day over the years has been difficult for complicated reasons, and so largely I have ignored it and carried on with daily life.

However. I have come to a time in my stubborn adult life when these things are no longer up to me.

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For the past week my house has been a bustle of “When is it Father’s Day?” and “Shhh. Don’t tell him!” My children think Father’s Day is an International Day of Note. They have been colouring, cutting, gluing and hiding their secrets with gleeful enthusiasm…

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…their uncensored expressions of love for their father are equaled only by the love their father has for them:

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…just looking at these pictures – moments I barely remember living through at the time- makes me suddenly aware of the reasons why Father’s Day is so incredibly important…

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When I met Mr. Martini – fifteen years ago – I knew he was kind and devoted and passionate about life and family, but having children was not on our immediate “to do” list. We were living busy lives and working hard to build security for our future together. It wasn’t until we wanted children and then so heart-breakingly couldn’t have them that I realized how important fatherhood could be.

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By absolute miracle we now have two incredible children, and they have made all the difference. Learning to parent alongside such an incredible partner has brought clarity and purpose to my daily life. Father’s Day is a celebration of that love that carries us through.

Happy Father’s Day!

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T is for Tulips…

Spring does not always come easy. As I often tell my children, everything worth having must come with effort, and is all the better for it. So Spring comes with stops and starts. One morning is warm and sunny, the next is frosty or back to grey. The restlessness of the changing season wrestles inside each of us. We are unraveling our winter selves and recreating them for Spring.

“Deep in their roots all flowers keep the light.” (Theodore Roethke)

I find myself squinting slightly at the bright light, and surprised at every bud or blossom opening up to the season. So brave, as we are still waking up to morning frost…

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As I shake off the layers of winter and stretch myself to the new season I think of what changes have taken root over the winter. I think of the changes that have shaped my understanding, my relationships, my actions.

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This winter has lead to a new season of communication in my world. I have started to document my daily life as a wife, mother, teacher, learner… The process both takes and gives energy, but it also takes time. Time is the most precious commodity in family life. My family has given me the gift of time, and I hope to return their gift with energy and love…

 

My favourite flower has always been the tulip, and every Spring I wait (im)patiently for them to arrive in season at the flower shop. In my mind the tulip blossoms are a sign that simpler times are about to arrive – no jackets needed, no boots or gloves – the slender tulip silhouette speaks of an easy season on our doorstep with freshness and bright colours to soothe our winter worn senses. I look (longingly) at the bunches clustered in buckets but resist the temptation to buy them and then…

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And then… Mr.Martini came home with the groceries and a special gift for me…

I am cherished. I am known. I am valued and loved in the midst of life’s shifting seasons, and for that I am so grateful.

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As long as we have known each other, Mr. Martini has brought me tulips in spring. Sometimes I have taken photos, and sometimes I have drawn them…

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More than any other spring flowers,

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…(all so lovely!)…

tulips are simple… sweet… classic…

 

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Calm your worries. Open your eyes. See the change of the season (within and without!) and explore the possibilities in it – deep, deep in your roots your light is waiting too.

(Not to be outdone – my daughter created a tribute to tulips that had to be included.)

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E is for Equality…

Today is International Women’s Day. I didn’t pay it too much attention initially, but it crept up on me as the day wore on…

I have a pretty ideal life. I live in a well “developed” nation, I had access to food, shelter and education as a child, I have a secure job and a family that supports me. Why do I need women’s day? But today isn’t about me.

Today is about women, all over the world, having the luxuries of freedom and encouragement to do or say or be whatever their hearts desire…

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I have grown up in an era rich in role models. Audrey Hepburn, who chose family and service over money and fame…

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Maya Angelou who showed the world that a woman could be literate and wise…

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And the endlessly kind Mother Teresa. Selfless, caring – a light for the kind of love that should blanket the world over. Just love.

I grew up thinking, knowing, that I was strong and powerful and that I deserved respect absolutely- first of all from myself. I married a man who lets me be myself, and who even in the roughest moments reminds me that we are on the same team!

I am a woman. It doesn’t make me less, it doesn’t make me more, (although sometimes I joke…) – I am equal and unique. I am me. Being a woman is a gift and responsibility that I take seriously.

Thinking about “womanhood” and what it entails brought to mind an old ad starring the talented Tina Fey:

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I first saw this in a magazine many years ago, and what struck me most about it was the “honesty” in advertising. The house is a mess (mine is), the child is in charge (mine try), and the theoretical perfect day actually “might not be possible”. So true. Real life as a woman (wife, mother, teacher…) even for the talented and famous, is full of trials and tasks which tax our patience and potential!

Mr.Martini and I have often joked that ours is a 1950s marriage. We have different talents and different roles to play in the running of our little world. He fixes the cars, I fix the dinners, we follow the guidelines set out in the implied “Old School Handbook for Stereotypical Living” and we stick to our system, not because I am less or he is more but because we are partners in a busy world where divide and conquer is the only strategy that works!

No system is infallible, though, and this past year turned ours upside down. A workplace injury put my sweetheart on the sofa for months (Folding laundry! He’s good at it!) and left me mowing the lawn, planting trees, pressure washing, house painting, you name it. But we are a team. It doesn’t matter which one of us does which jobs. What matters is that we respect ourselves, that we respect each other, and that we work together. We work as a team for our common purpose- for me that defines equality.

Use your heart as your guide. If you believe in yourself and what you do, others will believe in you too. Live for, work for and model truth, justice and love in all that you do. In this way, we can create a path to equality for those who live without it – for women and girls all over the world who dream of the chance to do the same.

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