Elegance

Mahogany Cabinet redux~ annie sloan chalk paint
Mahogany Cabinet redux~
annie sloan chalk paint

 

The elegant bones were the give away. Once hers held richer presence. Austere yet luxurious, polished and shiny, shades of auburn and chestnut beckoned.

She stood behind a door, snugged against a wall, opposite a front window, preferring to stand in the light. The overcast  days cast too many shadows. Yet it was from behind the door that she listened.

Beauty fades, even hers. Bought on time; she should have seen the coming settlement of account. She was disposable. The carpenter’s base upon which she stood once solid, now broken. The scratches, scuffs and scrapes of time, earned and more than paid for.

Behind a glass exterior were hidden her best kept secrets. Evidence of coveted treasure and tales from a far away land. Slipped away whispers of hushed conversations as the china teapot passed from hand to hand.

Yet she stands whitewashed, transformed.

The Nest

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The nest loosened from the crutch of a branch, sailed on the back of a gust, to land upon the boulevard. Far from the tree, it lay empty, in a discarded heap.

 

A hammering wind pounded at the city’s core, splitting and tossing everything that wasn’t nailed down. Sheltered inside her home, a woman sat at a computer. She read the words that came across the screen. “A real rip-snorter,” her friend wrote on chat.“ I’ve already brewed my morning coffee and poured it into a thermos. Just can’t function without coffee.”

The woman smiled in silent agreement. First World Problems.

Throughout the lower mainland, people hunkered inside and watched through candle lit windows as the earth heaved and trees upended before their eyes. Splinters of debris fell upon the streets; tree limbs hit the ground, scattered askew like victims of a crime scene.

She sat front row, safe within the darkness of a home and listened as the wind howled outside the window. She saw the towering evergreens bend and accept fury. Temper, temper, she silently scolded. The blast rattled the window panes.

Storms didn’t worry her anymore. She had lived through many.  There was something edgy in the bluster. As the gusts gathered momentum, she pulled a blanket higher to cover her shoulders. Tucked in, she wasn’t afraid. As the maniacal fury shook the window panes, she sighed. It will pass.

She had sensed the wind’s approach, felt the electricity deep within her bones, had noted the eerie silence that hung in mid-air. Far away, somewhere over the ocean, the wind’s muffled howls announced a supernatural force. With a huff and a puff, the winds unleashed. Afterwards, a hush settled upon the land, false comfort from an untrustworthy and sinister phantom’s whisper.

Once upon a time she had rocked her babies to sleep as the wind blew outside their window. Frightened, they asked in turn, “ Mama, will it blow us away?” Her hands tucked each child closer, arms brought them nearer to heartbeat; their fear calmed by a steady rhythm. And she changed the story. They learned that big, bad wolves can be tamed and that it’s wise to straighten and face a storm with brick strength. And they knew her love was constant.

 

Outside her home, the evergreen branches shuddered, cowered under the force of the wind. Snug, she waited for the storm to pass.

They always do. She understood storms; their patterns so predictable. While the center unraveled, broke apart and nicked that which stood in its path; she kept calm in the knowledge that this one held no lasting power. Faith comforted her as she drifted to sleep protected by gentle dreams.

 

It was the chirping that woke her. Sunlight streamed through glass. As her sleepy eyes opened, she understood there was some truth to words, those clichéd daily mantras of positivity that arrived to her inbox. Yes, yes, the sun shines after the storm and true, tomorrow’s a new day. There was no need to attempt a conversion; she clung to hope. There was no choice.

In a sunny room high above the street, she surveyed the storm’s aftermath, the messy beauty left. Beyond the window, a bird’s nest lay in disarray.

She wanted to touch it, keep it. The nest symbolized a home, a place of protection and love. At that thought, she paused. Instinctively, one hand reached to cover her heart. What was it about a discarded nest that caught her eye? How could she ever sanely explain the need to protect such a simple yet complex object?

To know this woman, you’d understand. Born beneath a shield of loyalty, an invisible string circled around her, included those she loved, slip knotted by others that came before. Guardians of hope and love, shoulder to shoulder, family united, they circled.

Hers was never a life of entitlement; it was a life of enough. She lived simply, feathering her nest with bits of beauty and heartfelt devotion. Flawed objects intrigued her and once she heard their stories , a precious connection made it near impossible to let them go. Protective, she took care to nurture for she understood loss. You had to leave her.

Go and get it. Swiftly, she crossed the street, hoped the neighbor wouldn’t peek through the shutters and see her, a grown woman standing on the boulevard, bent over an object. Would he even notice? It seemed no one was home anymore. When did the street become so silent? Was it when the children left?

Carefully she cupped the nest. Gently she placed it into a discarded cardboard box. A temporary place, she mused. Something so humble deserves a grander setting. Her probing fingers turned it over; she felt twigs snap beneath her touch. She marveled at the nest’s intricate construction, strong yet fragile. One section had torn away.

The nest had belonged to an enterprising crow. Tiny dark feathers lined the hollow of the cup. Tufts of spun animal hair padded one turn of the nest’s edge. Rabbit, she wondered? A long length of string was woven in between thin twigs. Strands of tinsel glittered and peeked from between smatterings of mud. Beautiful in all of its ugliness, the nest had been carefully curated. It was a home to warm the eggs and coddle the fledglings that it had once housed.

How earnest, she thought. How sincere the want to nurture, how it clutches and pulls at one’s heart to be both resourceful and creative, to make a protective space, a home.

At the thought of home she paused and looked off into the distance. She recalled one home. It was long ago. For a time, she had lived with her grandfather, a silent, hidden away Scot. After he graced her with a second floor bedroom, he had all but disappeared to the attic. To this day, she could not recall his voice. He had made room for her, shown a hint of kindness and a touch of love.

In her humble opinion, this was the loveliest room in the house. Along an outer wall was a window with a wide angled view of the backyard. It wasn’t much of a yard. Grandfather had portioned off a rectangular patch to plant vegetables, constructed a compost box, nearby. There were few flowers planted except for Lily of the Valley. In the center of the yard was a majestic cherry tree. Its sturdy branches touched her windowpane.

At first she was afraid to sleep in the room. From behind the curtains came scratching sounds. It was the tree summoning her.

She recalled how she had stood at the window and watched the cherry tree change with the seasons. Positioned high above the ground, it was as if she had sprouted wings. From this viewpoint, she looked down upon the gnarled branches. The tree brought gifts to behold.

It was a wondrous time to be a child within this house. There was music and laughter. Sometimes, a family member would place her high into the cherry tree and run away. As she clung, cheek pressed to bark, she learned patience. He always returned to swing her around until her feet touched ground.

Winter was her favourite season.  Vulnerable, the tree allowed a look deep within its angles. On one such occasion she had spied an abandoned nest.

And then one morning in early spring, a bird returned to the nest. Fascinated she watched as it dipped and fluttered to finally reveal three eggs. The eggs reminded her of the ocean, how the waters blended, washed and mixed from dark to the lightest shade of blue.

Under a blanket of stars she had drifted to sleep. Songs threaded through dreams, the notes traveled up through the clouds and beyond delighting the stars. The stalwart cherry tree stood, a sentry outside her window.

Snap shot memories surface on a whim, the grainy Polaroid images of long ago spent in a small house on a quiet street. She remembered how the wind sang as it passed through the cherry tree’s branches. Sometimes the notes rang soft as a lullaby. Other times, the notes were ominous, a slow, steady drumbeat of noise.

Now she stands, on a storm strewn street. In her hands is an empty and broken nest. She thinks, there is a certain beauty and strength here.

The woman yearns to return to her earliest memory of love, to a gentler time, to a moment when the window frame lifted to allow a peek at the world. Beyond the glass, life beckoned. She aches to rewrite her story. It was in that space of endless time, that she had felt at home.

She lifts the nest from the worn box and places it upon a glass pedestal plate, something a wee bit fancy. The woven twigs, the simple bits and bobs that fill it suggest an understated elegance. She sets the pedestal onto a worn whitewashed sideboard.

The nest was once strong and protective. This fact is not lost on her. Once upon a time it was a home. She notices the length of thick string that circles round. She resists an urge to pull the string loose.

Here on the sideboard the nest will sit. People wonder, why keep it? She smiles. Of course its true that the sun loves the moon. It will always return to kiss and tame the darkness. There is magic in the universe and beauty in the broken. The nest reminds her of all that truly matters in a life.

It’s also true that hope endures. The solid cherry tree still stands on guard in the middle of a backyard. She imagines that a gentle soul inhabits the room with the best view. She prays that the child is loved. The branches continue to tap on the windowpane. As the seasons change, the tree leaves gifts for another child to behold.

 

 

Two Minutes About A Storm

Two Minutes About A Storm

 

I have seen many storms in my life. Most storms have caught me by surprise, so I had to learn very quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature.

Paulo Coelho
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/storms.html#ThVdLkLO3ue5iYQj.99

Storm watching isn’t for amateurs. Gale force winds pummeled the house. Gusts tunneled through the nooks and crannies. Wind whistled like a freight train, assaulted the weak in its path. A rip- snorter of a storm had caught the West Coast somewhat by surprise.

Surprise because it is seasonally too early to experience such chaos. Drought like conditions created this “perfect storm.” Stressed coastal trees, their root systems dried and brittle from a lack of rainfall and necessary water restrictions. Meteorologists describe this type of storm phenomenon as a Pineapple Express. There was nothing sweet about this rebel train.

As a child I feared storms, cowered with fright as thunder clapped and lightning struck just beyond my world. I peeked through my bedroom window, listened to the rhythmic taps; imagined slender witch’s fingers a ‘waiting to snatch. A blanket was my armor. It’s different now. Altered, older, stronger, I have faced fear.

Trepidation and wild curiosity fueled me. I ventured outdoors to stand in the fury. The advisory recommended, stay indoors. Foolishly lawless, I steadied for the fight. The street was eerily silent, the quietest calm. The only sounds heard were the snap of branches, the crash of metal falling, and then, the unrelenting screams of wind. Nature unleashed a beast.

Bravely I filmed. In between scenes, wild became calm and still. Stealthily the beast circled, at first the only clue, a faint whooshing as it whistled and teased the branches. Momentum gathered to unleash a fury.

Evergreen limbs jitterbugged, a frenzy of branches whipped about. Pinecones scattered. Boughs snapped and thumped to the ground. Later I would hear the news, power lines fell and arced. Someone’s forgotten laundry sailed past my windowpane. A cast of tea towels, ghosts to a gathering. Sirens screamed.

Defeated and spent the storm abated. The clouds parted and a heart formed within the gossamer. Humanity ventured out from the safety of their shelters and began to tidy the debris left. Usually silent neighbours spoke, stepped in to aid one another with the clean up. Random acts of kindness shone.

Sometimes it takes a storm to remind us of the grace that follows. Life storms happen and in the moments of peace and quiet that follow; we realize how much there is to be grateful for.

 

 

 

The Cradle

Annie Sloan~ Pure White Chalk Paint
Annie Sloan~ Pure White Chalk Paint
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Cece Caldwell~ Santa Fe Turquoise Chalk paint
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Grandpa’s Barn Red paint peeks through the sanded edges of the cradle.
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A coat of Annie Sloan Soft Wax slips over the paint.

Grandpa fashioned the wooden cradle by hand and painted it Barn Red. I remember that afternoon; his hands set the cradle onto the linoleum floor. My small hands reached forth, rocked the cradle. His gentle eyes looked into mine,
“For your doll, rock her to sleep,” he said. He turned to my mother, “I found the pattern in the newspaper.”

I recall the cradle was the colour of a shiny fire truck. Grandpa used any old paint, whatever was on hand. Barn Red sat on top of the work-bench, so Barn Red it was. It wasn’t about beauty or matching decor; it was about finishing up a project. It was about frugality. It was about the hand-made gift, lovingly bestowed on a young child.

Over the years, the doll’s cradle was set aside. My sister and I grew older, chose other forms of play. Somehow the cradle survived several moves, furniture purges, life changes, re dos and pure neglect. Yet, I always knew where to find it.

A few days ago, I thought about the man who fashioned the wood into a doll’s cradle. An urge to sit awhile in his space, hold to a memory over took me.

It was clear how to find him. I searched the cobwebbed crawl space until its rocker came to view,hidden behind the box of Christmas decorations. Slowly, I lifted the cradle. The heaviness of the plywood, the slivered edges, and the pea green paint, pricked for attention. I craved evidence from a moment.

Confidently, my hand gripped the block as I sanded the sharp and dented edges of the cradle. Each layer of paint lifted to show moments from a life. The memories that linger. The horrid pea green paint my mother applied in the mid 70’s, a wish to update and repurpose the cradle for magazine storage. Turquoise, her favourite colour from a 60’s craze to match a floral slip coloured couch, came to the surface. Still I sanded. Where was the red I remembered?

Slowly the layers of paint lifted until patches of Barn Red peeked through, evidence, it was real. I had found the moment so long ago.

This week I restored the old wooden cradle with chalk paint. Pure White by Annie Sloan covered the patches of colour that remain deeply ingrained within the wood. One coat of Santa fe Turquoise by Cece Caldwell, slip covered white. Once slipped in wax, the chippy old cradle’s patina shone restored. My hands reached forth, rocked the cradle.

The cradle’s story lives, once again made real, a grandfather’s simple loving action layered by moments that survive time. Love lives on.

There Must Be Some Mistake

Sometimes life makes you smile. This morning I sat in the specialist’s office waiting for my annual eye exam. This particular doctor is either very competent or extremely overbooked. Most times the waiting room of patients extends outside the office door and winds through the hallway of the building. Today was a good day; I saw twenty patients ahead of me.

After the “screens” and drops that should really come with a warning label, I rubbed my bleary eyes enough to see the patients seated next to me. An elderly gentleman by the name of Mr. Hobbs struck up a conversation that revolved around Stephen Hawkings and the revolutionary effects of electricity. A Mr. Robataille chimed in and wondered why women keep so many items stuffed inside a purse? He had noticed my fingers rooting for a Kleenex tissue hidden deep within the folds of my tote. My attempt to explain the psychology of the purse as a symbol for a life, failed to convince him.

I had my own questions. As I sat blindly attempting to make out the faces of the other patients, I noticed a similar attribute of each and every one. Not one of the patients in the waiting room wore glasses. Some were actually reading newsprint. I was the youngest patient in the room and the only one wearing glasses.

After what felt like a small eternity,I heard my name called. I sat in the chair to await the arrival of the Eye God. As I waited, I attempted to study the eye chart posters pinned around the closeted walls. Front and centre was the big question: why am I the only one wearing glasses in this man’s office?

The God entered the examining room and smiled.He studied my chart notes, “Very good. Very good,” he chortled. He had me place my chin onto a bar and swung a metal contraption across my face.
“Look into my eye,” he said. The fingers of his right hand held a small disc that looked like a magnifying glass and suddenly lights shone, and screens slid.
“All good. You’re healthy. Perfect vision.”
Had there been an error?
“Perfect vision? I’m the only patient in your waiting room wearing glasses.”
The doctor’s face smiled and he broke into laughter.
“Very good. Very good,” he giggled. “Later. Later. When you’re older, I fix you like the others. Too young, too young.”
Sometimes life is puzzling.

Alice Reflects

This is a “flashback” written in “Alice’s” POV. She is in the kitchen, recalls her son. Hope you enjoy reading this passage.

Alice stood in the kitchen and gazed through the window. It was oddly quiet for five o’clock, suppertime. The children from the neighbouring yard were silent. Thank God, she mused. Most afternoons, the neighbour’s offspring tussled and tumbled about the fence line. Their play stretched on for hours. Out of control crossed her mind. This thought from a woman who believed children should be seen and not heard. Alice lit the stove’s burner, felt the heat leap forth to warm her cold hand. She dropped the matchstick. All day she’d felt chilled, out of sorts.

She thought about when she’d gazed into the mirror earlier that morning, when she’d seen the face of an unrecognizable woman reflected back. Lines formed around the corners of her once bright eyes. Were the lines deeper? Silver threads edged along her hairline. Who was this time-worn woman who reflected back?

Focus on the task at hand, she reminded herself as she reached beneath the oven door and pulled out the warming drawer. Fingers searched through metal baking sheets until they felt the familiar handle of the blackened frying pan. This action caused her to smile. She recalled a memory from two years ago. Had it been two years? It was the day Roy unexpectedly returned home, catching the two sisters by surprise. The now faded mental image of her sister, Molly, as she held the heavy cast iron pan like a shield for protection, was comical.

Always, Roy haunted her thoughts. That was the reason Alice so often felt out of sorts and irritable. When he snuck into her head, she got busy. Placing the frying pan onto the stove element, she carefully poured out the correct amount of oil, just enough to brown the waiting onions. Soon the heady scent of caramelized onions filled the tiny room. Alice trimmed a small cut of beef and added it to the pan. As she stirred the mixture, the meat sizzled and browned. Cooking comforted her, gave purpose and routine to each day. It was just the two of them now. Did she mean anything, anymore to her husband?

She recalled Roy’s last visit home, checked the tallies on the new calendar that hung beside the telephone. When last year’s addition ran out, she added the number 365 to the present copy. It was exactly two years and fifteen days ago. The calendar protected the evidence, an ink mark scrawled through each day that passed, signs of her son’s absence. Proof that he was remembered.

Alice didn’t know how to fix her broken family, didn’t realize that it was simple. Shame and pride beat her down. Was she a good enough mother? Pride demanded she hold her head high and whispered back, you were.

Unconvinced, Alice thought about the last time she sat with Roy, remembered the bottled up anger that simmered in silence as they sipped tea. When Roy had left, he slammed the back door. She had noticed, even winced as the door hit the frame. After such a loud exit, Molly startled, hurried to the front door to wave goodbye to her nephew. As he roared off on his flashy motorcycle, Molly had quietly shut the door and marched back into the kitchen. She saw her sister, the cup poised mid-air.

“Alice.”

Stone faced, Alice set her cup onto the saucer and turned toward her older sister.

“Did you have to be so aloof?”

Alice tightened. Molly noticed her sister’s purposeful silence. At last, Alice commented,

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Of course you do, Alice. You didn’t say a meaningful word to the lad.”

Molly moved closer to the table, positioned herself directly in front of her younger sister.

“Roy comes home, after two years gone and all you can do is sit silent, sipping tea?”

Alice set her jaw, looked away.

“It was Roy’s choice to leave in the first place, “Alice said.

Enraged, Molly grabbed her sister’s wrist, a bit too hard. It hurt. Her words bit Alice.

“For the love of Mike, Alice. Everyone makes mistakes. Including you.”

Alice felt her cheeks warm at Molly’s comment, a reminder of a past she would rather forget. A secret they shared. She shook free of Molly’s grip.

Molly continued, “No one sent you away.”

Alice bristled, “I didn’t send Roy away.”

Molly’s words flew back, “You never gave him a reason to stay.”